Meet High Valley, Aliens of Exceptional Ability
Sibling country duo High Valley have thrived and persevered. They’ve been insiders and outsiders, and remain newcomers despite a Linkedin profile full of successes. Brad and Curtis Rempel are remarkably down to earth, a surprise that's tempered when you learn key details of their Canadian upbringing.
The “Make You Mine” singers' success trajectory got an upward jolt within the last five years when bluegrass music started to turn up on every radio format but country. Pop-rock bands like Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers led the charge.
“Other people use cooler words like ‘Americana’ or ‘folk,’” Brad, the deeper-voiced, taller of the two brothers, says. “We just thought ‘Man, if pop radio is playing bluegrass, maybe country radio will do it, too.”
That’s kind of exactly what happened. Months after High Valley let their fans choose the 10 songs and single from their most recent album, “Make You Mine” started to catch the ears of music critics in America. Taste of Country named the duo No. 8 in the annual Hot Artists to Watch list.
I remember calling Curtis and saying ‘I guess somebody in Nashville decided yesterday we were cool because all of a sudden we had all these record label offers that weren’t there the day before.’
The irony is that suddenly High Valley, a group with multiple Canadian Country Music Awards, three studio albums and five Top 10 hits in Canada, were newcomers once again. That’s a title that fits the Rempel boys just fine, they say. There are advantages this time around.
“The good thing for us is we are brand new, and we’re not nervous like we were when we were brand new the first time,” Curtis says.
High Valley may in fact be the most experienced newcomers since Darius Rucker threw his hat into country circles. For over a decade they’d been traveling from La Crete, Alberta (latitudinally level with southern, mainland Alaska) to Nashville, establishing writing and business relationships. Songwriting legends like Marcus Hummon, Jim Beavers and Rivers Rutherford have written with Brad for years. Chris DeStafano and Tom Douglas are new friends. Others like Ross Copperman are, too. They needed a little help to get to Nashville permanently. You see, to live in America full-time as a musician, you need to be what the U.S. government calls an "Alien of Exceptional Ability."
“So you need letters,” Brad explains, appreciating the humor. “Like Ricky Skaggs offered to write a letter. I don’t think we ended up needing it after all.”
One may joke that a country newcomer is often treated like an alien, and for years High Valley’s bluegrass-heavy sound was outsider music. The genre has sort of come back to them, however. Skaggs is being named as an influence by more artists with more frequency. Dierks Bentley has helped usher in a rambling bluegrass beat with consistency.
“I love it when our songs sound like a barn dance from the 1800s that magically landed in 2016, maybe as aliens,” Brad says.
Any good science fiction movie finds aliens having a difficult time adjusting to local customs. Pop culture trips up High Valley. They grew up without a radio or television, so mainstream acts like Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna were new to them when they started playing in the U.S. This isn’t an exaggeration; the brothers Rempel would make the world's worst cover band (once they covered Vern Gosdin, Brad says).
“In ’07 I was at a songwriting session,” Brad says. “Everyone played their favorite song and said why it had influenced them. I played ’Sawmill Road’ by Diamond Rio. Next guy played 'Billie Jean,' and everybody was oooing and ahhing about how iconic and life changing (it was). I had never heard it before and said … ‘Excuse me, who is that girl?’”
It’s awkward in the studio when a producer or fellow musician compares a riff or song to a band like, say Nirvana. “I have no idea. Anybody from Nirvana could walk into this room and say ‘Hi’ right now and I wouldn’t know who they were.”
Thank God for the "Extraordinary Ability" part of that label.
This month High Valley kicked off the Make You Mine Tour, a summer-long stretch of dates that will take them through the United States and Canada, and include stops at the CMA Music Festival in June. High Valley will steer their tour to Grand Junction, Colo., in mid-June to play Country Jam 2016, then head to Detroit Lakes, Minn., for a show at WE Fest.
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