Let's take a quick road trip from Ames, Iowa, to Berklee College and then to Los Angeles. Talk about the origins of your band.
I'm Robb Vallier and I sing and play guitar. I'm originally from the Midwest and like the rest of my band, I have a strong work ethic. I learned a lot about production and music growing up in Iowa. I had all of these songs and ideas in my head. I learned to pretty much play every instrument so I could get the parts down. There was a recording studio, literally on a farm in an old chicken coop, that Columbia Records had built in the 80's for a band that they immediately dropped. I found that beautiful recording studio, sitting there in the middle of nowhere. I befriended the guy, told him I was 15 and that I'd love to learn. He told me that he wouldn't teach me anything, but that I could use it for free anytime that he wasn't in there. It was cool; I taught myself how to record and produce. I was in there every chance I got and after three or four years, I had a nice catalog of material that I sent to Berklee College of Music. Luckily, I received the Quincy Jones Scholarship, and I attended Berklee for three and a half years. I learned a lot and met a lot of people. I did my first big record, working on a Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, which was Will Smith's stuff. That was a big break. I moved to Los Angeles on the day that I graduated, and I started networking. I did some production with Dave Stewart from The Eurythmics and I worked with Michael Kamen. I decided to open my own studio, The Rumpus Room, and I met our guitar player Todd McCool. We hit it off immediately and starting writing songs. The songs were in acoustic guitar form when we met George Nakonechny, our bass player. I had my own studio so we started plugging away. We used a few buddies of mine on drums, including Abe Laboriel Jr. We had enough songs, and the record came together real fast. We threw it together, started playing out, and we've had a lot of great response about the record and our live shows.
I'd like you to expand on a quote of yours I read and describe Grandville's sound and musical direction: "We don't try to be anything we aren't."
Producing records for a living, I see so many artists and record companies chasing what is perceived to be hip and selling right now. Chris Blackwell from Island Records mentored me. He told me that if you're trying to do what everybody is doing right now, you've already lost. By the time you get everything together and put a record out, that sound is already dead. You have to believe in what you think sounds good. That's what Grandville does. We didn't try to make a specific type of record. We just wrote songs that were fun and cool. We play power-pop, and yes, there are a lot of pop-rock bands. But we have a distinct sound that's just us. Our guitars, bass, and drums are very driving. At the same time, simple melodies are always the key to a good song. You can't listen to Grandville and say that they sound just like _____. We have a hodge-podge of influences. I'm a Todd Rundgren fan, I'm a Beatles guy, and I love Daniel Lanois' production work. Our guitar player, Todd, who did a lot of the writing with me, is into John Mayer. I think our ingredients are just right and that the record will still sound good five years from now. Almost every song from our record has been placed in a film or on television. Our production was basic, with just the stuff that had to be there. We didn't want to sound dated.
Robb, you mentioned how Grandville's songs have been placed in films or on television. A musician that I interviewed recently commented that television is the radio of the 21st century, and that if you can get your music placed on television somewhere, it reaches so many more people. Would you agree?
That's so true. I had the same conversation in L.A. last week. It's too hard to get songs on the radio these days, especially ones that will stay there long enough to get your money back. Placing a song on television, in a film, or even on a video game is where you can make money right now. We have two songs on the new Farley Brothers movie and that's going to be big for us. Here's a good example: CBS Records re-opened and they are not promoting the records in a sense. They're promoting the artists by placing the songs on CBS television shows. Whoever made that comment to you is right on the money.
Tell me about both your self-titled debut CD and the soon-to-be-released EP "Chasing The Sun." Also, feel free to promote anything else you'd like that applies to your band and talk about your touring plans for 2007.
We released our debut in September of 2006. It's drummed up a lot of interest. Fans can hear it at our website, our MySpace page, and they purchase it there as well. It's also sold at CDBaby. You can download it at iTunes. We'll have our five-song EP ready for release real soon. It's our strongest stuff. It has a lot more continuity. On our older stuff, we were trying everything and we were enjoying ourselves. Now, we can sense where we are going on a broader aspect.
We'll be touring regionally in California and Las Vegas. We're trying to expand into Tucson, Phoenix, and Albuquerque. I've become a big fan of acoustic shows. We write the songs on acoustic. If the songs don't work on acoustic, the band doesn't work. It's scaled down versions, but it's more intimate, and the energy is still there. When we play, our songs are all about the vocals, the melody, the rhythm, and the chords. I'm glad we did it that way. It works and we're playing small rooms anyway. Too many bands never sound good live because they're trying to re-do their record. Fans visiting our MySpace page can check out a live video of our song "Lips" from a show we did. We showed up and somebody asked if they could film us. We agreed of course and they set up eight cameras and took the mix right off the soundboard. They edited it and e-mailed it to us. I couldn't believe it! That video's also at YouTube. There's also a link on MySpace to our electronic press kit.
A musician in the 21st century has the Internet and a tool like a MySpace page that allows him to self-market his project and communicate with his fans on an intimate level. Some see that as a positive, while others state that it's a negative because the amount of time spent on the computer takes away from their time writing or rehearsing. What's your take?
It's both. It's a positive that you can create and make a record in your own house for a small sum of money. It's positive that you can distribute it online and get people to listen. The concept of MySpace is a great idea. It lets you reach out to people who never would have seen you or heard of you. Yet MySpace is so inundated with bands that you've become just one in a billion. People who want to hear new music are blown over by the sheer volume of bands. The music pool has become thinned out. I don't want to sound dismal, but it's the truth. The idea that you have to be best buddies with your audience is exhausting. It does take up too much effort. If you have to spend eight hours a day online, when do you have time to write? I work with a lot of people every day who are involved with the major record labels. It's ugly over there right now. People are getting laid off like crazy; all of the A&R people are getting thrown out the window. If you're not between the ages of 12 and 16, you're not getting a record deal.
Please share your thoughts on the senseless murder of Dimebag Darrell.
I remember how Pantera toured and toured and toured back in their day. They were a grass-roots type of band. You can't be an egotistical ass when doing that. You have to be able to reach out to people an a one-on-one level. I never met Dimebag, but I know many people who did. He was a real nice and a real genuine dude. When you have a "cult" type of band, where your fans live and breathe your music, the potential for something like that happening is much greater. I won't be surprised if something like that happens again. I think you're doing a great thing trying to keep his memory alive.