The Seldom-Seen Band: For Valkyrie, 'It's All About Quality Over Quantity'
Valkyrie. L-R: Alan Fary, Jake Adams, Warren Hawkins, Pete Adams
Photo by Nicole Butler
Virginia-based heavy rock band Valkyrie may not be a household name, but now that they've signed with Brooklyn-based Relapse Records, they've gotten a lot more publicity for their newest full-length, 2015's Shadows. Brothers Jake and Pete Adams trade solos and harmonize guitar riffs effortlessly, and the band's guitar-driven heft, fiery solos, and clean vocals are accessible well beyond their mostly metalhead fanbase.
Jake, the band's founder and principal songwriter, is a full-time eighth-grade teacher, so Valkyrie is a school-break band, recording and touring during the summer and holiday seasons. When Jake’s teaching, Pete often tours with Savannah sludge band Baroness, which he joined in 2008.
In anticipation of Valkyrie's show at Saint Vitus on Wednesday, the Voice spoke with Jake to discuss growing up in Virginia, the dynamic of a sibling band, and how he balances Valkyrie with his career as a social studies teacher.
Village Voice: Shadows came out quite a number of years after your previous album, 2008's Man of Two Visions. What were you guys up to during the seven years in between?
Jake Adams: That was a busy time! My wife and I had two kids, we lived in Honduras for a while, my brother joined Baroness, I finished school, and I got my teacher's license and started teaching public school. When Pete joined Baroness, they started touring constantly. [It was] a limited time frame [to make music as Valkyrie]. But it gave us time to let the songs stew and ferment. And we would tweak them, so when we recorded Shadows, it just happened really fast. We recorded it in four and a half days. So it was a long time; it's really not good from a commercial standpoint or maybe even the fans' standpoint, but it was good for us and the music itself.
I've seen a few different genres thrown around for Valkyrie; how do you describe your music?
Generally I say "classic hard rock." Sometimes "classic heavy metal." It's classic just because our main influences are older, like [a] late-Seventies/early-Eighties type vibe, but at the same time we're not and never were trying to be a retro band. Especially not compared to the retro bands of the modern age, because we don't have that aesthetic. We don't buy all of our clothes at vintage clothing stores and dress like we're from the Seventies and have Seventies mustaches and everything. We're not a retro band. But we do have those influences.
I've also seen you called a doom band, and that's not quite right either.
Well, I think at times we've described ourselves as "traditional doom," but, ehhh [laughs]. Virtually all the bands that we started playing with when we were seeking out like-minded bands were all self-identified as doom. The Maryland doom scene is where we got our footing, [with the band] Spirit Caravan being a major influence. But then I realized later, we're way too positive and upbeat to be labeled as doom. One reason we stopped using [that description] so much is because we played with a lot of bands calling themselves doom, and it was just a snoozefest.
You guys actually played a few shows with Spirit Caravan last year.
Yeah! That was amazing for us — we played two shows one weekend with them. That was a major milestone for us because they were a primary influence when we got started. Even the decision to play music like this was partly inspired by listening to Spirit Caravan, and just being like, man, we gotta get back to this. Pete and I grew up listening to all of our parents' records, Zeppelin and Sabbath and Hendrix and all this riffy blues-based type stuff, but at the time when I first heard Spirit Caravan I was playing more garage-y, spacey, Wipers/post-Nirvana type rock. And it was just like, man, I've got to get back to this.
Did you guys grow up playing music together, or were you each playing and doing your own thing?
We shared a bedroom growing up, and when I learned how to play guitar, I quickly taught him — he’s a couple years younger — and he picked it right up. I mean, his learning curve was much quicker than mine, and he just really ran with it and started mastering all kinds of different styles. We started off with basic punk and rock 'n' roll, and then he got into rockabilly and learned a lot of that technique. But we jammed together, we played all the same stuff. [This happened in] the early Nineties, so we were lucky that all the music then was just three chords — we could just play a million songs.
So at what point did you and Pete start writing music together instead of just messing around with covers?
Almost immediately. Even when I only knew how to play power chords, I was writing music, and he was doing the same, right from the start. But we were writing. We had a band together with [John] Baizley from Baroness. He was the drummer, Pete was the bass player, and I was the guitar player, and it was called JAB. I was about fifteen, so my brother would've been twelve.
You started Valkyrie in 2002, and Pete joined a few years later. Did you think he'd join the band when you started it?
I definitely didn't start it thinking, "Oh, Pete's going to join this band," because Pete was stationed in Savannah — he was in the Army. And then he got shipped off to Iraq. I sent him our first demo in Baghdad. And he was listening to it over there.
[Before going to Iraq], he was working with Baizley and Summer Welch and Alan Blickle, who founded Baroness. [But] the stuff that Baizley was writing when Pete came back was totally different, so Pete was not really feeling it. So it was natural for him to just do what his brother was doing. It's just funny how, many years later, Baizley would call on him again and be like, "Do you want to go on tour with High on Fire and Opeth?" and Pete was like, "Uhhh, yeah!" He called me [to ask if it was OK] and I said, "Dude! Who am I to tell you not to do that? C'mon. Thank you for asking, but of course you need to go on tour with High on Fire and Opeth."
When he then ultimately joined Baroness full-time. Was there ever a time where you thought that he might leave Valkyrie?
No, I don't think so. I think Valkyrie always has a special place in Pete's heart. He's making money doing [Baroness], he's been making a living off it for a while, so it's a good gig. But [leaving Valkyrie] was really never part of the conversation. I'm teaching anyway, and I was in Honduras. We have these small windows of time where Valkyrie is available and so we might get a cool offer, but it might conflict with something Baroness already has planned or will soon have planned. I think Pete feels bad about that, but it's all gravy. It's all about quality over quantity with us anyway. I've been on that academic schedule for my whole life pretty much, where it's semesters and summer breaks. I'm not trying to make a living off this band; this isn't my main thing, so it works.
Valkyrie play Saint Vitus on Wednesday, June 15. This interview has been edited and condensed.
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