Valley Maker: To be experienced

by Kristen Stanovich

COURTESY PHOTO

Valley Maker founder Austin Crane’s story is one of movement. Whether measured by his transition from South Carolina to Washington state or the culmination of a his second album, five years after his initial self-titled project, Valley Maker’s progress over the years parallels Crane’s own life: in constant motion.

The new record, When I Was A Child, released on Brick Lane Records last year, features two former members of Bellingham math rock band Rooftops, Wendelin Wohlgemuth on drums and Drew Fitchette on bass. A similar yet elevated rendition of where Valley Maker left off in 2010, the album succeeds off the intricacies of its simplicity. With layered harmonies reminiscent of Seattle’s own Head and the Heart and Crane’s intonation, similar to that of Ohio’s Saintseneca, Valley Maker blends beautiful, heartfelt lyricism amongst unblemished instrumental backing. Haunting harmonies, sung by pianist Amy Godwin, ebb and flow looping ghostlike through verses in “Only Friend” and “By My Side.”

Since its conception, Crane has collaborated with musicians across the country, evolving Valley Maker from a college thesis project to a full-fledged touring band. Picking up new members along the way and recording half of When I Was A Child both at home and in Seattle, the project is a community effort to the letter. It takes a thematic approach drawn from experiences making a transition to a new city, meeting new artists and pursuing new passions.

“For the longest time I was focused on school and I thought music would be a way to stop reading and be in conversation with a different part of who I am and my experiences in my life,” Crane said. “Picking up a guitar and writing songs in the middle of the night was my chance to do that.”

Crane studied economics and Russian as an undergrad, but his professors at University of South Carolina encouraged students to focus their theses on creative pursuits outside the classroom. The 2010 album stems from his project where Crane explores several narratives from the Book of Genesis. He says he never imagined Valley Maker would amount to much beyond that.

“Even in places I have been touring in the last couple months, like Boulder, Colorado… people were coming to shows saying ‘I found that record five years ago and I’ve been waiting forever to see this,’” Crane said. “It’s kind of mind-blowing to me how you put music on the Internet and it takes on a life of its own, or it travels in ways that you can’t account for.”

Even before his move west, Crane didn’t anticipate the project would pick up again. School was his top priority but he never ceased to write songs. Those songs would later comprise half of the newest record.

“Since the first record I wasn’t really thinking of songwriting as creating another concept album, or even a collection of songs, they were just songs I was writing along the way when I was living in different places and processing movement in all these different contexts,” he said. “I think that’s what’s great about art and about music for me – it creates a space to sit with those questions.”

Crane’s move to Seattle opened myriad opportunities as he formed friendships with local musicians, some affluent in the scene, and some of whom were involved with a label, Brick Lane Records. What began as a creative pastime quickly transitioned into a contracted gig – something Crane says he owes to the support and partnerships with musicians and friends both at home and in Seattle.

“I’m really surprised, and just humbled and honored that people have connected with the music and can continue to be a part of my life.”

LIVE SHOW: Valley Maker plays April 29 at The Green Frog with Kris Orlowski. For more information, visit their website at valleymaker.com.