Darling Valley has been described as The Decemberists on anti-depressants, and they are okay with that. — Photo by Dino Petrocelli
Darling Valley, winner of the WVCR-FM The Saint’s “Play to Play” Rockin’ on the River band contest, has had a busy year.
They played the MOVE Music Festival in April, will be playing Troy’s Rockin’ on the River July 6th show, and, on June 25, the band — formerly known as Accents — will release their first album under their new moniker.
“It’s kind of like a nice hybrid between folk and pop rock,” said band member TJ Foster, of Darling Valley’s debut album. “I’m kind of a sucker for a good pop rock song with a nice hook, so that’s kind of how I write, but we do it very organically, with a lot of folk instruments—mandolins, acoustic guitars—and in our live sets, we each cover different pieces of percussion. It’s very vocal-based too. So, folk and pop rock, I guess. What would you call that? Fop rock?”
Sitting at a table in front of the stage at Savoy Taproom on Lark Street in Albany — where the group will perform for the release of “Crooked Orchards” on Saturday, June 24 — TJ and Lauren Foster, Jordan Stewart and Ashleigh Whitfield, two married couples in their late 20’s, talked about their music, recording, and what it’s like to be married to your bandmate.
TJ and Jordan met each other while music industry majors at SUNY Oneonta in 2006 and began playing music together right away. Over the years, the two have worked on various projects, both together and separately.
“It’s our ten year anniversary,” exclaimed Jordon suddenly. “Happy anniversary, buddy!”
“Woo hoo,” laughed TJ. “Happy anniversary!”
Jordan didn’t meet his wife, Ashleigh until college, even though the two went to the same high school in Colonie and attended different colleges. “We just never really hung out,” said Jordan. Home on break from school, Ashleigh, who was double-majoring in English and Theatre at Marist College at the time, said that she and Jordan ran into each other at an ice cream shop, where they happened to be with acquainted groups of friends.
“Jordan came back from that break and was like, ‘I smooched somebody,’” teased a grinning TJ. “And I was like, ‘Good job, Jordan.’”
“I don’t believe I said smooched,” Jordan laughed. “Well, I probably did. That sounds like something I would say.”
“That’s the way I remember it,” said TJ.
“I talk mostly like I’m in a 1940s gangster movie at all times.”
Lauren and TJ met while working at FYE, an entertainment store at the mall; TJ was her manager. After they moved in together, he said he “forced” her to sing on an album with him after hearing her sing along with songs in the car. “And the rest is history there,” he said.
After Ashleigh, who has been singing since kindergarten, joined the band more than a year ago and they took their current name, TJ, Jordan and Lauren were in a band called Accents.
“We’re still Accents,” said Lauren. “We’re like the new Accents.”
Originally TJ’s solo project, Jordan and Lauren used to help him out with live shows. As Accents, the trio—along with a drummer and a bass player— has played venues such as Tulip Fest, The Hollow and Parish Public House since they began doing live shows in 2012. They’ve also been featured on MTV shows like Awkward and Teen Mom.
When Ashleigh joined the band, said Jordan, “The live show changed pretty significantly from what it was and we went from trying to be a full band with distorted guitars, to trying to be more of an indie rock band at that point.”
“It wasn’t working,” explained TJ. “Lauren and I were into a lot of folky stuff and the two other guys in the band were really more into hard rock. We were always trying to find that balance. When the four of us started playing together and playing more acoustic stuff, we decided we really liked that sound and wanted to do more of that and see where it took us.”
Each member of the band claims different influences when it comes to music. TJ said he’s a fan of Death Cab For Cutie and Ryan Adams, before teasing his wife for liking Pearl Jam; Jordan said he spent a lot of time listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young while working on the album, and Ashleigh has apparently been jamming out to the Hamilton soundtrack lately, “And Frank Turner,” she added.
The Decemberists are one band of which every member of Darling Valley is a fan, and so it’s fitting that Decoy Music has described them as “basically what The Decembrists would sound like on anti-depressants” due to “their complimentary male and female duets and penchant for storytelling.”
Recording “Crooked Orchards” themselves was an endeavor the band described as both stressful and rewarding. “Jordan and I have done a few records in the past where we’ve dropped a few thousand dollars on a record,” said TJ. “Where you get a guy to do it and use their studio and you have only a finite amount of time in there. This time, we were just like, ‘you know what? Let’s just do this ourselves, spend a little extra money and get some nicer equipment and then we’ll have all the time in the world and we can do it at our own pace.’ And we’re all sort of perfectionists, so that seemed to cater to that.” They recorded the drums out in Connecticut, where TJ is originally from. “It was at a lake house with a big open room and high ceilings so the drums sounded great,” he said. “Everything else we did, we did at our house.”
TJ does the majority of the songwriting, according to the group. “Because I just don’t stop,” he said. “They kind of yell at me for it, I just keep writing and writing and writing. There are songs in my head all the time.
“How the process worked for this album was that Lauren and I, for the most part, recorded our thing and then sent it to these guys and Jordan would literally just sit for hours on end, late at night in his office, with his guitar plugged into his computer and coming up with these amazing guitar parts. And the ladies would do their harmonies. And then we layered all the parts.” The album, from start to finish, took about a year and a half.
Everyone in the band has a day job. Ashleigh, who went on to get her Masters degree in both English and Library Science from UAlbany after graduating from Marist, is a team librarian at Clifton Park-Halfmoon library; Lauren is a research coordinator for Albany Medical Center; TJ is an electronics buyer for TransWorld; and Jordan works in insurance.
“Truth is,” said Jordan, “I don’t know any musicians who don’t have to have another job. It’s just kind of where things are at. It’s great that, these days, it’s so easy to get your music out to people with Spotify and stuff like that—that’s awesome—but getting paid is hard. You basically have to pay to do this job.
“One of the greatest things about being in a band with your spouse,” he added, “is that pretty much all of our time outside of work is working on the band, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like work because we’re together.”
“Says you,” joked Ashleigh.
“I think being in a band as two married couples is super easy and super comfortable,” said TJ. “And we live about 60 seconds away from each other too, we boh bought houses recently and decided that we needed to live within a minute of each other because everyone else we know makes us miserable.” TJ and the rest of Darling Valley laughed. “We get together for band practice in out living room; we’ll play for two hours and then drink wine and watch John Oliver.”
At this point, they all agreed, Darling Valley is the project that they want to focus their energies on. “We have a lot of shows coming up,” said Jordan. “I think our biggest thing right now is that we just want to get out there as much as we can and try to hit up some new markets too.”
“I’m feeling proud, and kind of sentimental about this record,” he said. “It’s kind of like sending your kid off to college. We’re very happy. There are always things on a record that will kind of drive you crazy forever, because you can’t make it perfect and music shouldn’t be perfect. In this case, there are very few of those instances. And, with this record, I can just kind of sit back and listen and smile and appreciate what we created together.”
“I agree,” said Jordan. “I’ve also worked on a few records over the years and this is the one I think I feel most invested in. We put a lot of ourselves into this record. Not to overemphasize it, but this was a full year and half of our lives and as friends, as married couples, as bandmates—and, because we did it all on our own, it was just a very personal process.”
The album label on which Darling Valley is releasing “Crooked Records” is called Sounds and Tones Records, and is based out of North Adams, Mass. “They’ve been very awesome to us,” said Jordan. “And they have some amazing artists on their roster, including Francesca Shanks, who is playing our album release show.”
Darling Valley has already released an official video for their “Crooked Orchards” song “You’ll Go Far, Kid,” which was directed by eight-year-old Adeline Foster, TJ’s daughter. Anyone wanting a sneak preview can find the video on YouTube.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Darling Valley will host a CD Release party Saturday, June 25, at 9 p.m. at the Savoy Taproom at 301 Lark Street in Albany.