High Valley + Mike Tyson Walked Into a Room … [Interview]
Brad Rempel of High Valley likes to tell a story about his younger brother, Curtis. Together, the pair formed the nucleus of a bluegrass and Americana-fed country band that notched a pair of Top 20 hits in 2016 and 2017, while building a fervent following on the road.
Curtis Rempel left the band during the pandemic, choosing to take his family back to La Crete, Alb., in northern Canada to pursue some of his other passions. So, you won't hear him on High Valley's new Way Back album (available May 20), a project that speaks to the band's past as much as it does their future.
"Everybody knows that we grew up isolated, Mennonite and sheltered and didn't have TV," Brad Rempel begins. "But I kind of — as life moved on — paid a lot of attention to ESPN and watching highlights and trying to catch up with what's going on in the world. Curtis? Not so much."
"So one day we're in the Delta lounge in Detroit ... right behind us is Mike Tyson and his manager, I guess? He's like a tall, skinny white dude who looked like a Sunday school teacher. I said, 'Curtis, Mike Tyson's right there.' And he turns around and looks and he says, 'Which one?'"
While older brother misses younger brother's hilarious naïveté, the music doesn't suffer without him. That's no slight to the talented multi-instrumentalist — it's just how High Valley was made. Before Curtis left, another brother named Bryan split (in 2014). Originally it was a huge family band with a focus on Christian music, but by 2007, their country sound began to take hold on Canadian radio. Wikipedia lists five albums before Way Back, but Rempel will talk about more before their "official" debut.
Sonically, the 13 new songs are a natural maturation of a tightly-crafted, alt-country sound that they relied on while with Warner Music Nashville. "Make You Mine" peaked at No. 17 on U.S. airplay charts, but when you hear Elle King's "Drunk (And I Don't Wanna Go Home)" it's impossible not to wonder if the band was just ahead of its time. "Whatever It Takes" relies on a similar anthemic chorus to accentuate a love story. Watch an acoustic performance of the track in the video above.
Granger Smith appears on the made-for-radio "World Could Use a Dirt Road," but Christian music star Anne Wilson's appearance on "Somebody Tell That Girl" is the revelation. It's a softer, more progressive arrangement with crossover potential. It's also about six years old. Talking to Taste of Country Nights, Rempel shares that an ambitious A&R woman he works with dug through old demos of his and urged him to give this song life as a duet.
"I think the message of it felt almost preachy for me singing it by myself, but with her singing it, it felt natural. Like, 'OK, now, a girl would actually want to hear this.'"
Rempel's religious side turns up again on "Prayin' Woman," the song he fingers as the most personal on Way Back. The efficient (only two of 13 songs on Way Back exceed three minutes) love song is specifically about his wife, but really it's about his mother and sisters, too. Beyond that, it challenges the notion that real men find God alone on some dirt road.
"We're all about faith and family and positive values, but at the core of who I am, I need to be real and be like, 'I'm just a messed up dude who needs all the help I can get,'" Rempel says. "That's what 'Prayin' Woman' is about."
During a previous interview with Taste of Country, Rempel explained why High Valley is pulling back on touring commitments in 2022. A look at the band's official calendar shows just two dates in Canada and one in Iowa.
He's keeping active in other ways, however — NHL Playoff season is big in his house, especially with two teams remaining from his home providence.