It’s been over a decade since Austin Crane, the man behind Valley Maker, shared his self-titled debut album, a record he made as part of this thesis at the University of South Carolina. A lot has changed since then: two more albums; a PhD and seven years in Seattle, and then in 2019 a return home to Carolina. That move is at the heart of the new Valley Maker album, When The Day Leaves, a record that reflects on ideas of ageing, going home and starting life anew.
The album, recorded with producer Trevor Spencer and long-time harmonizing partner Amy Godwin, was made during a three week stay in a studio in the woods at the foot of the Cascade mountains. The result is a record, perhaps inevitability, that feels like a true commitment; for three quarters of an hour, Austin seems to dig deep into his very being, intimately reflecting on his whirring mind, full of hope, excitement and fear for a new future, and whatever comes along with it. Across eleven tracks, we’re treated to a gorgeous slice of Americana, Austin channelling a similar spirit to the likes of Kurt Vile or Kevin Morby, as he combines a modern world view with a rich, timeless musical style. While much of the record seems to muse on Austin’s anxieties about the state of the world around him, he never quite seems to bow to those pressures, he always remains hopeful, life will ebb and flow but it will always offer the chance to come back, as he sings at the end of the beautiful stand-out Mockingbird, “when it’s over, it begins”.
FTR: For those who don’t know who are Valley Maker?
Austin: Valley Maker is a songwriting-based musical project that I began in 2010 in Columbia, SC. From the beginning, Valley Maker has been an outlet for my songs, as well as a project for collaborating on recordings and live shows with a community of friends around the U.S. The project began with a collection of songs that I wrote for my thesis project in the final year of my undergrad. I didn’t play many shows in the years following that, because I was traveling a lot and starting grad school. It was when I moved to Seattle in 2013, to enter a PhD program in Geography, that I started to play shows more frequently, and then eventually tour as opportunities arose. In 2018, I released a record titled Rhododendron and played a good number of shows around the US and Europe. I recently moved back to South Carolina and have a new album, When The Day Leaves, coming out February 19th on Frenchkiss Records. I’m really proud of this new record and am happy for it to be out in the world!
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
Austin: I think the first show where I played my own songs was at a small coffee shop named the Midnight Rooster, near where I grew up in South Carolina. I was probably around 15 years old, and it was only me and a few friends there. I was nervous, and no doubt the set was rough, but I remember the owner, Jessie, being super kind and telling me to come back and play again, which meant a lot. The first proper Valley Maker show was in 2010 at an art house movie theatre here in Columbia, SC, with a bunch of friends packed into the space. That’s still one of my favorite shows that I’ve played to this day.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
Austin: I grew up in a musical family – my mom played piano and my dad played guitar. My family also went to a church where music and collective singing were a regular part of the services. So I was always around music from a young age. I took basic piano lessons for a few years until I got my first guitar at age 13 – which was when I discovered that I could learn how to play songs I actually listened to. In the years that followed, I spent a lot of time in my room playing guitar along with CDs on my boombox. I’ve also just always been drawn to songs, even from a young age, inclined to memorize and dissect lyrics. As soon as I learned a few chords on the guitar, I started experimenting with writing melodies and my own lyrics. I was lucky enough to have a few musical friends to start bands with in my teenage years, which I think was really formative for learning how to share ideas and build something collectively with other musicians.
The pandemic has highlighted how important music is for my personal well-being, as it has also revealed how much I rely on music as a source of community in my life. So I suppose I write songs and play music for both personal and relational reasons. On a personal level, writing songs help me to encounter some of life’s persistent questions about existence, purpose, time, etc. But when I’m writing a song, I don’t feel pressured to arrive at any final conclusions, or to make a thesis statement; I love how songs provide an opening to sit with questions, to document a journey, to revisit memories and peer into the future. On a relational level, music is also something that has brought a lot of people and places into my life, in ways that I often cannot account for. Being in a band, going on tour, playing shows, making records – these are beautifully relational processes. Music has provided me with a real source of community, across an increasingly wide geographical area – and those relationships are something I’m really grateful for. So, personally and relationally, I’d say music continues to help me find my way in the world.
FTR: What can people expect from the Valley Maker live show?
Austin: I’ve been really missing shows and feeling a little sad about not being able to tour in the weeks and months after this record comes out. But hopefully we’ll be living in a reality where that is possible again soon. I am going to play a ticketed virtual concert on March 20th. This will be filmed in a special location near where I live in Columbia, and I’ll play the songs from the new record, in addition to some older ones.
FTR: What’s next for Valley Maker?
Austin: Well, with all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it’s hard to know how to look too far into the future. But I really hope that shows and touring can happen safely again soon. For me, the past year has provided a season to settle into my new home and life here in SC, but it’s also been somewhat consumed by steady renovation projects on our house. My wife and I moved into a 90 year old house that was in a state of relative disrepair and needed a lot of work – but thankfully the renovation is mostly finished up now, and the house is a much more peaceful place to be! I’ve set up a dedicated music space in the basement, and I’m looking forward to getting back into a steady flow of writing. Outside of music, I’m teaching a couple Geography classes online and writing the final chapters of my PhD dissertation, aiming to have that completed by the summer!
They Listen To…
Gillian Welch – Wrecking Ball
Sam Amidon – I See The Sign
Bob Dylan – Sara
Les Filles de Illighadad – Telillite
Arthur Russell – Soon-To-Be Innocent Fun/Let’s See