The Dark Love Gets Us High: Exploring Grant Earl LaValley’s "From LaValley Below" in Six Short Pieces
Luna Arcana, Spring 2018
“You’re only dreaming,” he said.
“I want you to hold me down,” she replied.
He pulls off the road. Columbus, Ohio / Joshua Tree, California. How did he get here?
The hardwood floor, with its combination of maple and redwood, smells of acrid stain.
She collapses into the grass. He never loved her more than in this moment.
They’re gone with the dogs.
The hellhounds – they follow.
This is what I’ve become.
Date: September 24, 2017
Subject: Songwriter Grant Earl LaValley
Location: Sky Village Swap Meet Café. Yucca Valley, CA
Lavelley: Up until I moved [to the high desert], I was more focused on being a visual artist, but I switched gears. I lived on a mountainside in Covelo, California and wrote the first two songs on the record there.
BG: What inspires you?
LaVelley: Musically, George Jones and all the country guys. Anyone who’s living here and working on a craft. The grotesque. The beauty. The scuzz you leave behind.
BG: Could you describe your writing process?
LaValley: I [approach writing] like a collage. I lay a basic track down (usually on an old 1950’s hollowbody acoustic), and then add as much as my imagination can allow over it. I have a notebook that I rant in, too. I’ll tape record myself to get out some melodies. Fine tuning all that until it’s something I’m happy with.
BG: How did you end up living in the high desert?
LaValley: I went on a long road trip. I was looking for a home base. The desert was a home I could afford and affords me the ability to be free, to tour, to live my life in a free way. I bought a shack in North Joshua Tree, off the grid. I owe the desert that. It doesn’t hurt that it’s beautiful here.
The lights twinkle below. Here we are, in the west, and I’m your greatest defender.
Review: Grant Earl LaValley. From LaValley Below (Exit Stencil Recordings, 2017)
The narrator of Grant Earl LaValley’s dark and brilliant record From Lavelley Below is a bit of lost soul, wandering through an atmospheric landscape of acoustic guitars, droning keyboards, harmonicas and spooky harmonies. Recorded in a variety of locations, including Joshua Tree, Los Angeles and LaValley’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio, From LaValley Below hooks you in with a strangeness that weaves through the record.
Its subtleties demand repeated spins. Listening with headphones, one hears a variety of touches easily missed from inattention: the crackle of fire, bells ring, howls moan just below the surface. LaValley’s crooning voice, raspy and low with just a trace of a country twang, tells stories that hint of something menacing afoot, but his writing avoids being too obvious, allowing the listener their own interpretations.
Stylistically, From LaValley Below borrows from the freak-folk playbook, but unlike many of that genre’s trappings (weirdness for the sake of being weird, overly precious imagery), the record is unpretentious and honest, creating a sound that could be described as “Americana baroque”, a rootsy mix of acoustic guitar fingerpicking, occasional string sections and heavy, complex arrangements. In addition to the eight original songs, LaValley covers a faithful version of Neil Young’s classic tune “Don’t Let it Bring You Down”.
Let the strobe lights blind us in the garden. Our love is dark, demonic. Candles burn forever – then quickly vanish in the wind. Burn the roses and read out the ring of smoke. Don’t speak the word.