by Laura Stanley
Like many part of Generation Y, Ottawa based musician and graphic designer Isaac Vallentin is trying to find where he fits in the world. In three year’s time, he dropped out of university, toured across Canada with Kalle Mattson, and started the multidisciplinary studio LOG Creative Bureau alongside Pascal Huot (of Pony Girl). After failing numerous times to write a solo album that he was happy with throughout these years, a burned-out Vallentin took a spontaneous trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico in hopes that the change of scenery would give him a new perspective on things. It worked.
The result of Vallentin’s spontaneity became a near 40 minutes of emotional prose merged with skittery electronics and folk music. “When I came back [from San Juan] I thought, okay, well I think I have enough ideas that I could try and make a record out of it,” he tells me over the phone.
“I was pretty pessimistic about it at first. Every time I took a step forward I thought this is going in a better direction, I should keep on going.”
Entitled Hedera, the proper name for ground ivy, the album focuses on the intricacies of relationships, often doing so through a shroud of naturalistic imagery – two entities that are very much part of Vallentin’s search for meaning. In “Garden I (You Own To Fight)” and “Garden II (Yellow Ire)” we find Vallentin (or Vallentin’s narrator though the intimacy of the lyrics makes it hard to differentiate between singer and subject) walking through a garden, both times it represents a place full of memories and knowledge. Later in “I Will Be Water,” Vallentin compares himself to water; the unshakeable wonder that it is.
“[I look] at more basic elements. Things like water and what that actually is as a tool for survival and for humanity and how you can learn from that. I think in different philosophies and pretty abstract things. I get stuck in my head a lot so I found myself focusing on a lot of those things,” Vallentin explains.
“I’m a pretty young dude and I’m trying to figure out what my deal is here in life and how I’m able to get through life and what’s important to me. How do I absorb these lessons that are all around me. From nature is a big one and from other people and from relationships. That’s all the record really talks about – me trying to figure that stuff out.”
Fittingly, the backdrop of Vallentin’s search for answers is as crowded as his headspace. As previously described, Hedera is one of the most detailed recordings of the year. Every moment is occupied by a pluck of a guitar string, a spasmodic synth, the light reverb of Vallentin’s voice. The album’s layers is a quality that Vallentin crafted not by adding each element piece by piece but by editing down much larger works.
“It feels a lot like sculpting. You have a huge kind of grotesque block of stuff and you have to carve it out. It’s really about trying to get a bunch of ideas down and then saying, ‘okay, what actually fits here. What is the goal or idea here.’ A lot of the time it’s a melody or another time it’s a groove that kind of gets thrown underneath things.”
This detailed approach to music is one that is informed by Vallentin’s work as a graphic designer and vice versa. Though he tries to maintain 9-5 days, Vallentin says he pretty much works non-stop from when he gets up to when he goes to bed. “I feel like the record is pretty inspired be a lot of the things I was working on,” he says.
“Every single thing that I’m working on – be it design work or be it music – they all inform each other. They are all lessons that can be applied to different context sometimes you’ll be working on a poster or a working on a corporate identity and anything about it can make you think of music. Those two worlds are becoming less and less separate in my mind. I bounce back and forth off each other so it’s all really dependent on what I’m working on. I find that when I’m not producing good design work I’m not producing very good musical work either so I think that’s a good hint how they help each other out.”
Whether it’s his own music, helping out his friends in Pony Girl, Owen Davies, and others in Ottawa’s diverse music scene through any creative means necessary, Vallentin’s approach to work is marked by sincerity and determination and he’s ultimately thankful for how busy he is.
“I’m always thinking about the things I’m working on and that’s really a good thing for me because it keeps me motivated and keeps me distracted from anything else that could really get me down.”
If you live in the Ottawa region, Isaac is playing the Raw Sugar Café tonight – check him out!