by Michael Thomas
“I’ve always been saying it’s like Terence McKenna and James Joyce got in an MMA fight, but the precursor to that fight was that you have to do mushrooms,” says Justus, one half of Valued Customer. I asked him how the band describes their sound to those who haven’t heard their music.
“If you need to be really concise, it’s like Frank Zappa, with rap,” adds Patrick Power, the duo’s other half. “‘Cause Frank Zappa is like the weirdest thing that most people know about, so you just say that and people are like ‘Oh, so it’s weird and fun.'”
These are good stabs at trying to put Valued Customer into words, because their music is almost beyond description. Their latest album, Kalpa, is a trip of an album. It fuses disparate musical elements to create a huge piece of music that touches on several genres, most notably rock and hip-hop, though just calling it a rock and hip-hop album would be an insult.
Power and Justus have been friends since they were kids, first meeting in Belleville, Ontario.
“I met [Justus] because in Belleville there’s not a lot of musicians and you tend to meet everybody,” Power says. “We had this band called Acid Rainbow that we started when we were, like, 14. It was pretty hilarious.”
The two would split ways for some time, though both in the same pursuit; studying in a classical music program and focusing on guitar. Power went to the University of Toronto; Justus went to University of Ottawa.
A few years later, Justus moved back to Toronto and Valued Customer started up. Their first project was to create an album in 24 hours, which they did. Somewhere in that marathon recording session, the band name came up, but who said it or why remains a mystery.
Their next album, Babylon Hill, came about in four days. At this point, Justus was still based in Ottawa. Power recalls a friend giving him meditation tapes, which the friend used as a method of self-hypnosis.
“It was ‘What if you had one of those hypnosis things that just went off on a wild tangent?'” Power says.
“We were talking on the phone and shit, we were talking for an hour every day,” Justus says. “He was like ‘I got this really bad idea, where we’ll mask it as a meditation tape.’ And I was like ‘You’re an idiot, this is poor,’ but he visited and we just banged the shit out of that.”
Powers also watched the classic Black Orpheus on the bus up to Ottawa—the album title came out of the English translation of where Orpheus lived in the film.
“We’re super referential, you know, we don’t have any actual personality,” Justus says. “You seen that Pink Floyd cover, Dark Side of the Moon? That’s us. We’re the white light. You know what that is? Everything’s coming into us.”
Despite Babylon Hill and Voice/Drum being pretty compelling works, the duo sees Kalpa as their first “real album.”
“We had more time to work on it, so we had more time to think about good ideas that we wanted to try out,” Power says. “We planned everything out. That’s just the kind of music we like to make. We’re like ‘We’ve got to make it, finally.'”
“We’re pretty nerdy dudes. We like fuckin’ weird shit. But that’s bullshit. Fuck that shit, unless you can connect with regular people,” Justus adds. “I think the drums sort of dial that in. I think the drums really hit. I always thought the drums were like the fire dance, and the rest were like the fire. What does that mean? I don’t know. I don’t feel it’s alienating.”
Given the heavy textures of Kalpa, one might get the idea that playing live is tricky, but the duo have that figured out.
“We were demoing [Kalpa] at little house shows before with just the three of us,” Power says, the third person referring to drummer Chris Baragar. “We could play everything in a really simplified form with the three of us, and we sort of maximalized the texture on the album. But from the root of that we were able to boil most of it back down to the three of us. There is some stuff that sort of got added where it sort of loses a lot on the other side if we just have three people, so we’ve sort of been adding other musicians. ”
Their current live incarnation now includes six people, though they’re looking to bring it to eight.
“We have in our sights a piano player and a violin player who are extremely good,” Justus says. “All they play is modern classical. That’s what trippy.”
Being classically-trained themselves, Justus and Power have been mingling with local classical musicians, who they hope to collaborate with for their next album, or perhaps their next, next album.
“We’ve been making friends with a lot of the local, classical scene, say the 30-year-old crowd of pro musicians,” Justus says.
“They’re into what we’re doing, and vice versa. So we’re like ‘You should play our stuff’ and they’re like ‘Of course,'” Power says. “So we want to take advantage of that and do something like what we did with Kalpa and compose everything, and basically have this weird classical ensemble with us doing our vocals on top and everything.”
Where does the inspiration for the weirdness come from? At least partially from their own blog Peacefork, where they post music that they like.
Whatever the case, Valued Customer certainly have a niche all to themselves.
To witness the weirdness first hand, check out Valued Customer at Grayowl Point’s co-presentation with Crosswires on Sunday, November 24 in Toronto at Handlebar. For more information, see the Facebook event.