Northern Transmissions spoke to Jeffrey Jacob and Angela Gail from In the Valley Below while they were hanging out in their rehearsal space/recording studio in downtown Los Angeles. There’s a bit of advance buzz about the new album, The Belt, which is coming out August 26. The arty video for “Peaches” is racing around the internet. And with a slightly dark image that German Vogue saw fit to immortalize within their pages last winter, the pair that may or may not be together are keeping mystery alive with their retro American Gothic by Grant Wood meets LA look and a lot of chemistry. At the same time, they have a solid grip on the Southern California laid back vibe. Their sound manages to mix it all together, somehow. Alice Severin talked to Jeff and Angela about being inspired by David Lynch and how they create the songs. And making beer.
NT: How are you doing?
Angela: Trying to keep cool here in Los Angeles, it’s very hot.
NT: We’re about to get some giant storm here in NYC. So – the album The Belt is coming out very soon. You were touring last spring, and you were on David Letterman last year. Have you got plans to do a big supporting tour this fall and winter?
Angela: There’s nothing really set in stone yet, but more than likely that’s what we’ll be doing.
NT: You are planning to play at a club here in NYC, The Westway, August 21st. Do you choose the places that you’re going to play?
A: Well, not really, because we usually wait until the last minute. So we have to find a place where we can play.
NT: How did the two of you meet? The story goes that you were in a band together. What made you decide to leave and start something together?
A: We did an experiment to just try to write some songs together for whatever reason, and then, we were like, why not just start a band?
NT: And it was a good idea. You were in a grunge band before?
A: I don’t know if I’d say grunge, but it was sort of like Smashing Pumpkins meets Sigur Rós?? Whatever you’d call that. (Laughs)
NT: There’s this mysterious undercurrent to your songs, a sense of secrets beneath the surface of things. Do you feel that’s a big part of what you’re doing?
A: I think so. I don’t know if it’s necessarily intentional. I think that’s the kind of music that we like. And I think a lot of times when we write, we write about things that we don’t necessarily want a certain person to know what we’re writing about.
NT: There really is this sense of mystery to a lot of your lyrics. And the way your voice interacts with everything going on adds to that.
A: Thank you.
NT: Do you have an art background? Your image is very intriguing. You have this allure, the two of you together, that’s sexual without being overtly so.
A: I don’t really have a background in it. I guess I sort of dabble in different aspects of art, you know, good at everything, great at nothing.
NT: The song “Hymnal” has a line “I wish I found you sooner I could have loved you longer.” It feels like the song is looking back at some timeless event. Are you inspired by the past?
A: I think I’m inspired by my personal past and you know, all the different things that have happened to me. I don’t know about past history necessarily. It’s interesting but I don’t know that it inspires my work, I don’t think it does.
NT: You mention Twin Peaks on your Facebook page. Is David Lynch important to you?
A: I think one of the first things that I was ever …exposed to out of the mainstream was his movie Fire Walk With Me, when I was young, and it sort of opened up my mind to…that things can be created that aren’t vanilla or whatever, so. I’ve always had a sort of special connection to his work.
NT: How did the remix of “Peaches” by Kele from Bloc Party come about?
A: Yeah, we put it out there that we wanted some remixes and he was one of the people that wanted to do it and we were very excited. I love his remix.
NT: Did you talk to him about it at all?
A: No, he just did whatever the hell he wanted to do. It was fun for us to see what people come up with.
NT: Your album was released in the UK first and you were playing a lot over in Europe. Do you feel that European audiences relate to your music differently?
Jeff: It’s hard to generalize, because we found that there were a lot of different types of audiences within Europe itself, as well as the difference between Europe and the UK. So as far as differences between them and the US, I’m not really sure. I mean we’ve been really fortunate to play to some really good crowds, opening for other bands. And we’ve been well received. The crowds have been really nice.
A: Every country is a little bit different.
NT: Do you think there were places where the audiences were particularly good?
A: Well there’s a few that were a little more enthusiastic like Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy. As far as Europe goes. It’s fun playing Southern California too. Kentucky is nice too. (laughs)
NT: You make your own beer. As it says on the website, with a video, the drink of the “robust pleasure body”. How did that start? And why “robust pleasure body”? That’s an interesting phrase.
A: That’s a slogan that we came up with after many hours of trying to come up with something. We thought it represented how we feel about our music and our creations.
J: We like drinking and we like making darker, more complex beers. So that’s kind of like what the robust is referring to, but we just really like to drink beer so we figured we should make some that we wanted to drink.
A: We feel like mad scientists who are making it. A little break from music.
NT: Have you got a favorite hop that you use, or a combination, or is that a trade secret?
J: Well, we don’t have a specific hop that’s our favorite. They all have their own distinct flavors. We actually, we usually go pretty easy on the hops, we’re not super into IPAs like a lot of people are. We usually go for the roastier, malty flavors of the grains rather than covering it all up with hops. That’s just our personal taste.
NT: Can you describe the flavor of your beer for people that want to try it?
A: Well, you can’t try it because we can’t sell it legally or anything. But we’ve made almost every different kind of beer. But it’s always a little, like Jeff said, roasted, not too hoppy. We make a wide variety. We just made a ginger-peach Hefeweizen. And a coffee stout.
NT: Listening to the song “Take Me Back,” it has the harmonies, the bass, and the keyboard counterpoint producing this big emotional impact. So how do you sit down to write a song? Is there any particular way that you go about it?
J: Well, every song starts out a different way. Some songs start out on keyboard, some start on electric guitar or bass or drums. That one, thinking back in particular, started on acoustic guitar, and just kind of evolved from there. And we kind of gave it some parameters as far as the production goes, to try to put it into an interesting space.
A: That one actually came from…one of us usually starts with the idea or the thought and that was Jeffery’s song. And we… he played it for me on acoustic guitar, cause it’s gorgeous. And then we go into the studio together and try to make it into something, you know, a final product.
NT: Do you like going into the studio? How was recording for you?
J: Yeah, we love working in the studio. We don’t have a fancy place to go record, so everything we do is just with a pretty limited set of tools.
A: Yeah. Which I think helps. You know you can be creative in certain ways. We have a little rehearsal space, recording studio in downtown Los Angeles, that’s where we are right now, actually. That’s where we recorded our album.
NT: Are you working on songs for the next one now?
J: Yeah, yeah, even though The Bell is just about to come out, we are already kind of stockpiling songs for hopefully a second album, if people want a second album.
NT: Is LA an interesting place to work for you, in terms of creativity?
A: Definitely, you know being in this industry has inspired us a lot, lyrically. I guess you know you have to play a lot of shows and you have to get good, and not to mention the ocean, the desert. Yeah, there’s definitely a lot here to inspire.
NT: Definitely. So, let me ask – what are five albums that inspire you?
A: There’s just so many, it’s hard to narrow it down.
NT: Well, five for today. Today’s five.
A: OK. I think maybe Peter Gabriel, So. And for me, Patti Griffin, Living with Ghosts.
J: I don’t know if Bob Seger’s Greatest Hits counts as an album.
A: We listen to it a lot. That album inspires us. (laughs) And we love Phil Collins. We’re trying to narrow it down to one album.
J: I think we’ll go with Face Value.
A: Yeah, Phil Collins – Face Value. Ok that’s four – one more. The Fire Walk with Me Soundtrack, it’s the composer Angelo Badalamenti. Mostly. And a few guest singers and stuff.
NT:What about it keeps drawing you back?
A: The soundtrack just makes me feel a certain way, like I’m in on something. Like I know something that someone doesn’t know or something? I don’t know. It makes me feel like it’s ok to do what I want to do and think the way that I want to think. Somehow.
NT: Any thoughts on what the new songs are going to be like? Are you trying anything different or just expanding on your current ideas?
J: I think with every song that we work on we’re always trying to find something new for ourselves, whether it’s a sound or a lyric or a mood or an instrument. But every song is its own little world for us. And then when we have enough of them then we kind of try to pick which ones fit together and make a nice little story when they’re put together. But when we are writing the songs we really just focus on one at a time and try to just get as much interesting stuff out of each song as we can.
In the Valley Below will be playing dates in NYC, LA, Chicago, San Diego, and Denver starting August 16.