[INTERVIEW] Valley brings back nostalgia to Korea with 'Like 1999'

Canadian pop band Valley poses for photos after an interview with the local press on Tuesday morning at the InterContinental Seoul COEX hotel in southern Seoul held ahead of its concert in the evening the same day. [UNIVERSAL MUSIC]

From the moment they met until their global hit “Like 1999” (2021), and for every song they've made since, it’s all been a series of “happy accidents” for Canadian pop band Valley in their ongoing journey through music.

Valley is a four-member band that became a world-wide name with “Like 1999,” a nostalgic shout-out to the final year of last millennium that was released amid the escalating frustrations of the Covid-19 pandemic. The song’s relatable lyrics and catchy melody garnered millions of listeners around the world who wished to escape the suffocating reality and immerse themselves in the comfort of their childhood memories.

“It happened organically, by accident,” said guitarist Mickey Bradolino to Korean reporters when asked about the reason for the popularity of “Like 1999” in an interview Tuesday morning in southern Seoul, ahead of a concert held the same evening.

“The song was very much about putting your phone down, living in the moment and getting back to what life is really about,” he said. “At the time, the pandemic was in full heat and it was very nostalgic for people who felt connected to the idea of the song. And then on top of that, it’s just a catchy, fun melody. It also had some sort of escapism — it gave them the feeling of forgetting that bad things are happening and daydreaming about the good stuff.”

This is the second time for the band to perform in Korea, following its participation in the Slow Life Slow Live festival held last October. The song, although popular in its own right, became more widely known to the public when K-pop artists such as D.O of boy band EXO and Wonpil of rock band DAY6 recommended the song to their fans.

Canadian pop band Valley poses for photos speaks to the local press on Tuesday morning at the InterContinental Seoul COEX hotel in southern Seoul held ahead of its concert in the evening the same day. [UNIVERSAL MUSIC]

The tale of how the four Valley members came together is quite well-known in the pop scene.

Two duos completely unaware of each other — Brandolino and Karah James’ band and Rob Laska and Alex DiMauro’s band — were mistakenly booked for the same time slot at a recording studio. Rather than one team graciously backing away, the artists shared their musical notes and instantly felt “a spark,” according to drummer and vocalist James.

“We were both there accidentally at the same time,” she said. “We always say that from that day, we had a spark with each other and saw something in each band that we were missing in the current band that we were in. We got along very well and we just say that we’ve been ‘hanging out’ ever since that day. It’s just been one eight-year hangout."

The joining of the two different bands with all members pitching in ideas for the songwriting and singing has given Valley’s songs a unique depth, achieved by the wide range of pitches and textures of different gendered members with different voices. Such was the case with the band’s other hits including “hiccup” (2020), “sucks to see you doing better” (2020), “Champagne” (2022) and their latest track “Lost in Translation,” released last June.

Rather than having one vocalist to front the whole band, as is customary for most rock or indie bands, members made the most of their diverse makeup for a simple reason: “Why not?”

Canadian pop band Valley [UNIVERSAL MUSIC]

“Ever since we started the band years ago, we’ve always been fascinated with the idea of one person fronting the band and being the singer, especially when everyone in the band can sing and has a beautiful voice,” Laska, guitarist and vocalist of Valley, said.

“We’ve also been very fascinated with harmonies and harmonics — just layering vocals. It’s just fascinating to have another voice, like another heartbeat in the song, which I think is important. It just kind of happened.”

On top of the vocals, Valley also puts extra emphasis on the visuals of a song, so much so that the band’s name was chosen because of the balanced look of the letters. Many of its songs are also visually descriptive, making it easy for listeners to engage with, such as the chorus of “Like 1999” that goes, “If you wanna come over, watch ‘Friends’ and then get high, use my phone as a coaster, we'll travel back in time.”

Everything else may have been an accident, but certainly not the focus on delivering a picturesque experience to listeners. Collecting the different scenes throughout the year comes with intentional effort to make their narrative as relatable as possible, Laska said.

Canadian pop band Valley [UNIVERSAL MUSIC]

“We collect many different moments throughout the year — our past, sometimes we think about the future, our present — and stick it all together until we make it into something beautiful,” he said.

“So we’ll get together some day and write about something that happened five years ago, or something that our friend is going through. We’re so inspired by everything around us. I know that’s very kitschy and obvious to say, but that’s really just how a song is born. It’s just very tiny moments that turn into one big moment, which is part of the journey of the job.”

Having just finished its full-length album two months ago, the band is now in its “playing phase,” where they lay out all their ideas and experiment with everything to look for potential possibilities. Nothing has been decided yet, but one thing is for sure: Valley’s new songs will always have a little bit of its own songs from the past — the Valley “DNA.”

“A lot of the songs have what we call ‘ear candy,’” Laska said. “Like in ‘Lost in Translation,’ we call back a lot of the lyrics from the past few albums. We take a lot of sounds from the past, and that kind of gives the album its DNA. We put a lot of thought into the album to make it feel like a real person that you know. I think that’s very important to our fans because they tune into that and it feels like they’re catching up with an old friend.”