Folk rock foursome Darling Valley released their newest album Crooked Orchards last month and we have a very special treat for you all! The band has given us a look into their writing process and how each of the tracks came to be. You can listen to the album below and check out our exclusive track-by-track of Crooked Orchards after the jump!
If you like what you hear, and we’re positive you will, you can purchase a CD from Darling Valley here.
Darling Valley recently put together an amazing playlist of songs you can drink wine to for us, and you can check that out here.
“WHO YOU HOLD ON TO”
Lauren Foster: If we’re going to talk about songs that, comparing demo to final mix, are like night and day – this would be the one. We all loved this tune for the sweet and soft melody and lyrics that TJ [Foster] wrote, but we knew it had potential to be huge. We also all bickered so much over who sang where and how and when that it was the last song we tackled with recording the bulk of the vocals. Jordan [Stewart]’s idea for each of us taking a line of the chorus and having us fade into each other was odd, but brilliant. When the song was done and we all talked track listing, this one was everyone’s favorite – but did it fit? Was it too post-rock anthemic for our folky quartet? After falling in love (seriously, in love) with the lap steel in “Written On My Bones,” I asked TJ to try it out in “Who You Hold On To.” It was gold. Once I put in the horn part and we listened to the whole mix, we couldn’t deny that this song was made for the record.
Ashleigh Whitfield: As Lauren hinted, this one almost didn’t make the album because we weren’t sure if it fit in with the other songs. I had mentioned the idea of having it start the album, and Jordan agreed that it seemed to be a good representation of our transition from Accents to Darling Valley. When Lauren hesitantly said she had a crazy idea to make it the opening track, that pretty much settled that!
Jordan Stewart: This song went from being one that everyone was feeling a bit lukewarm on, to becoming the first single from the album and one of our absolute favorites. It’s definitely proof of how much songs can develop when you actually enter the recording process. I did hear all of the potential in TJ’s original demo though; it gave me this 90’s pop rock vibe with a folky flair, and so that was what I wanted to embrace when it came time for recording. I love how the harmonies from Ashleigh and Lauren on this one are varied on the verses, but then all three come together on the chorus to give it that extra punch. I remember Ashleigh diagraming where she was hearing the harmonies weave in and out on the verses…she looked like a mad scientist. Anyhow, the one thing I always heard on the song was adding in some kind of extra hook in addition to the chorus. I’m always a fan of sing-songy simple parts that get stuck in your head, so originally those “da-da’s” after the chorus were just a guitar part. I thought the idea of layering that with a group vocal might play well off the chorus. The trumpet in the background was something Lauren layered in after I thought the song was already finished…and I am so glad she did. The horn brightens the chorus up perfectly. I love the imagery with TJ’s lyrics on this song as well.
AW: TJ wrote and sang the original version of “Moonshine,” called “Cry Me a River,” and I was the only one of the four of us who really wanted to move forward with it. Asking to take the lead on this one was pretty much the first thing I did with the band. I tried to make the new lyrics represent me in some way, so it became our feminist anthem (despite being completely gender neutral).
TF: Yes, this song was admittedly one of my least favorites from the demoing process, but after taking it through its paces and building upon the foundation in the studio, it’s easily become the opposite. Jordan and I collaborated on the electrics and the bass on this one, and the result gave the song this fun twang to it. Then when Lauren introduced her pocket trumpet to the song, it sealed the deal for me. And of course, the ladies absolutely kill it on this one vocally – this is definitely our ‘girl power’ song.
LF: This song was actually not part of the very original demos that TJ put together. It came to fruition one evening when TJ was playing a new song and I hummed a melody to go over it, which is one of my favorite things to do! I wrote down some quick filler lyrics so we could record a demo and the only line that truly stuck was “I’ll always be the reason for your going.” I wrote the final lyrics around that one line. Many of us can probably recall a relationship that was mostly one-sided. Whether you wanted it to work or didn’t want it to work, there was that question of how will it end? And when you knew that relationship was coming to a close, even if it was the best thing to do, there was always sadness behind it.
“MAKE IT RIGHT”
TF: Although we went into this album without a bass player or drummer, we made a conscious decision that we wanted the record to still be a “full band” record. Rather than hire musicians, we took it upon ourselves to learn some new instruments and figure out arrangements along the way. We had pretty clear visions for most of these songs, and we felt in order to best execute those visions we should at least try and tackle everything ourselves. I’m very proud of that, and this song in particular was the highlight for me. Two of the instruments I play for the first time on this album are drums and banjo, and writing the parts for this song was a blast. I love right after the first chorus when the drums kick in and you have two finger picked guitars, a banjo and a ukulele all playing off each other. (Listen in headphones!) Not to mention Jordan’s bass (an instrument he played for the first time on this record). This song, to terribly oversimplify, is really just about growing pains. It’s one that I wanted to leave open to interpretation – part of it is biographical, part of it isn’t, but I think it’s one of the more relatable songs on the record. And Lauren maintains it’s the best song I’ve ever written, so if you listen to only one song on the record, she would say listen to this one.
“WIDOWS AND REVOLUTIONARIES”
TF: Another thing I wanted to try on this record was some different guitar tunings. I stumbled upon what people lovingly refer to as the “Nick Drake tuning” and fell in love with how open and melodic it sounded. This is one of the songs that ended up in that tuning. Typically when writing songs, I write guitar and vocal melodies simultaneously, but this one I wrote entirely on guitar first while I was experimenting with the tuning. It came out sounding very Irish to us and rather than write another heavily personal song, I decided to try and shape the lyrics around a true story from Irish history, which happened to be an Irish Revolution that took place in the early 1900s. The song was almost called “The Ballad of Joseph and Grace” in honor of the subjects. The two fell in love during the revolution, and Joseph was arrested as part of an uprising in Ireland. He married Grace in his cell hours before his execution. It’s a pretty phenomenal story if you ever get the chance to look it up. It was my first foray into tackling something from history and I had a lot of fun with it. That fun continued when we started piecing the song together and playing it live. It’s a really upbeat, singalong track and I think that resonates with people even if the lyrics don’t necessarily.
“WRITTEN ON MY BONES”
LF: “Written on My Bones” was not a favorite of the group until we really figured out vocal parts and re-hashed the chorus melody and lyrics. One of my favorite moments while recording this record was listening to our demo of this song with Ashleigh and I singing the stripped down verses. It was the first time I really fell in love with the way our voices blended together within the harmonies. It gave me chills. From that moment I knew this song had to be on the full length album. There was just one thing it was missing: lap steel! The addition of the lap steel really set this song up on a pedestal for me, and I thank TJ every day for introducing me to its magic.
TF: This was the first song I wrote for the record and for whatever reason, I strongly believed in its potential from the get-go. That being said, it was actually one of the tougher ones to assemble. We tried a few different keys until it sat right. We tried different vocal arrangements. (Originally, I sang lead on this song. Turning it over almost entirely to the ladies was the best decision we made.) The layout of the chorus vocals was actually all Jordan’s idea. Once we sorted all that out and recorded the parts, we still found ourselves a little stumped as it continued to feel a bit empty. It’s the only song on the record Jordan doesn’t play electric guitar in and it started feeling a bit sparse by comparison. In the 11th hour, I remembered an impulse purchase I’d made the previous year, which was, as Lauren indicated, a lap steel. I decided to try and figure out how to play the damn thing well enough and eventually came up with the parts you hear today, all the while trying not to crumble from self-doubt. While listening back to an early take of the chorus part, I hear Lauren yell from upstairs “I love that!” at 10:00 at night. That was pretty much all the encouragement I needed to keep truckin’ along.
JS: While I was sitting down to write some guitar parts to a few other songs one day, I just start jamming around with a ton of reverb on while playing some chords. I really had no idea it would develop to be a full song, let alone make the album. I had a basic melody in mind for the chorus, so I showed Ashleigh what I had instrumentally and let her develop the lyrics and melody from there.
AW: Jordan and I sent a very basic demo with just my vocals and his acoustic to TJ and Lauren, and they sent it back with 1200 Lauren’s singing harmonies. I thought it was a joke at first – What IS this?! Fortunately, we realized our friends weren’t completely crazy after a few listens. I think they had a lot of fun doing new things on this one, especially since Jordan normally handles the guitar solos – we lovingly refer to the ending as TJ’s baby making solo. I made up most of the lyrics on the spot, and I think they stuck because we all seemed to agree that there isn’t anything else in the world that will make you doubt yourself more than writing music.
“YOU’LL GO FAR, KID”
TF: This might be the most uplifting song I’ve ever written. It doubles as both a letter to my former self and a letter to the next generation about not giving up on your dreams. I realize that’s considered sort of cliché by today’s standards, but I think it’s still an important message to get across, especially in today’s social climate. We recently filmed a music video for this song that we had directed by an 8-year-old. We wanted to capture that youthful wonder that is unique to a child. We asked her to listen to the song a few times and think about what the message was. Her response was that ‘anyone can be who they want to be.’ I think that sums up this song perfectly.
“FIVE YEARS AT SEA”
JS: I’ve always been a sucker for a concept song. Whether it is something as grandiose and sci-fi as Rush and Coheed & Cambria, or more historical and fantastical like The Decemberists, I think telling a story within a musical sequence is such a cool idea. I basically presented my story to the vocalists of the band, and asked them to come up with the actual lyrics. They ended up dividing it into the three “acts” so to speak, with each person taking a section of the song on lyrics and vocals. My general concept was to tell the story of this young man who dreams of leaving his home and going on an adventure at sea, only to come home after five years to realize he should have appreciated the people who loved him more since they were no longer around. It kind of sounds “anti-adventure” as I write this, but the underlying meaning is more about not taking any moment with the people you love for granted. Not every second will be full of action and adventure, but any time you are able to share with people who generally care for you and love you is so valuable. Don’t forget them even if you do go on your great adventure.
“HALF YOUR LIFE”
TF: This is the most personal song on the record. I’ve written a lot of those over the years, but so far this one is my favorite. It’s for my daughter and about watching her grow up but only seeing her do so half the time. Often times I go out of my way to mask what I’m trying to say in metaphor for fear of being TOO forthcoming, but on “Half Your Life” I forced myself to get over that and write exactly what I was feeling. That exercise actually produced too many lyrics and I had to scale it back a bit. The last line of the song is my favorite line of the whole record though. “You won’t always love me like you do now” is really a testament to raising a kid. The smaller they are, the more they look to you with admiration and wonder, but the more they grow up, the more independent they become. It’s as much a point of pride as it is a point of longing. I wanted to document the feeling of childhood going by way too quickly from a parent’s perspective but coming to terms with it, and saying “okay, we may not spend every day together and I may long for the days when you could barely speak a word and you would run up and wrap your arms around me for no reason at all, but if you’re growing up happy and becoming an independent young lady then I’m doing the best job I can.” At the end of the day, all we can hope for the next generation is that they come into their world with feelings of comfort and love. As Ted Mosby said, love truly is the best thing we do.