Valley Young front man finds inspiration in the darkness
BY STEVE WILDSMITH (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It was a cold, snowy winter in that isolated cabin in the North Carolina mountains where Artemus James spent the last few months, but it suited him just fine.
James, who brings his latest band Valley Young to Brackins Blues Bar in downtown Maryville on Friday night, had plenty of time to ruminate on the dark places of the soul during his isolation, and those are the places he likes to explore the best.
“I have a tendency to sort of go in a dark direction anyway, and being alone like that really helped me get into that mindset, like an actor getting into character,” he told The Daily Times this week. “I was just hanging out and writing and being introspective, just me and my dog. It was cold, though — all I had was a wood stove for heat.”
As the snow flew and the cold crept through the beaten boards of that old place, new material for Valley Young formed in his mind. As the band gets back on its feet after James’ winter sojourn — playing Friday for the first time since November — the new material will no doubt provide plenty of fodder for his bandmates, Bowman Townsend and Annabelle LaFoy.
Locals will recognize LaFoy as a 2004 graduate of William Blount High School; local music aficionados might recognize her and James both from their duo Cain and Annabelle, which began when LaFoy answered a Craigslist ad that James (who’s dropped his last name, Crawford, from his role in this current project) posted.
He’d returned to East Tennessee after a growing up in the Cumberland Gap area and in North Carolina; a brief detour to Los Angeles led to a couple of small acting roles, but music was where his heart wanted to go. After moving back to the Knoxville area, he started work on an EP of songs he’d had rattling around in his head and sought a partner to flesh them out.
LaFoy, who grew up with bluegrass and folk music and remembers her grandmother singing to her on the family’s front porch, answered the call.
Their voices blended so beautifully that his solo songs were put on the back burner; Cain and Annabelle recorded “The Lake Takes” EP at LaFoy’s parents’ lake house on Tellico.
And after a handful of local appearances and a string of out-of-town shows, including a Northeast tour that took them as far as Burlington, Vt., James turned his attention back to his other material.
“This is more songs that I’ve written as opposed to a collaborative effort,” he said. “Everybody contributes to the music and making the songs become what they are, but it’s sort of my project. I feel like these songs are more metaphorical and maybe slightly less personal — more in the tradition of storytelling than the Cain and Annabelle stuff.
“They’re all sort of, like, manifestations of my thoughts on death. That’s just something I’ve always thought about — not really a fear of death, just a curiosity about the other side. And with this music, you hear that in some of it, for sure.”
There’s certainly an ethereal, gauzy quality to the songs of Valley Young, which drift on James’ mournful vocals across a windblown lake of instrumentation like a low-lying fog. It’s mysterious and beautiful and intense ... which makes his decision to hibernate in the mountains all the more logical.
“I think it was definitely a good place to create that sort of thing for Valley Young, which is where the focus is right now,” he said. “It’s the more alt-country side of me and the more metaphorical side. I just call it fringe-folk, because it’s floating out there around folk, somewhere on the fringes.”