High Valley: Breaking Down Barriers

By Keith Sharp

It’s a long way from La Crete Alberta to Nashville Tennessee but for Brad and Curtis Rempel, a.k.a High Valley, their blind faith and committment has paid off handsomely. With the release of their new recording `Dear Life’ on Atlantic Records Nashville (released November 18th) , High Valley has earned the rare distinction of being a Canadian Country music band signed to an American record label.
For brothers who only six years ago, were living off food stamps, High Valley now find themselves performing at Nashville’s famed Grand Ol Opry and compiling a concert itinerary that is taking them all over Europe as well as major festivals in the USA and Canada.
“We were brand new in Canada in 2009 and now, seven years later, we’re brand new in the United States,” observed Brad Rempel, on the phone from his Nashville home. “It’s a great time for country music. Not just for Canada and the U.S.A but also in the UK and Europe. It’s great to see that country music is taking off all over the world.”
Having been courted by four major US record companies, High Valley signed with Atlantic Records in October 2015 and the label quickly provide their marketing clout, pushing “Make You Mine” into a Top 40 position in the US Country chart. “I am told we are the first Canadians to achieve this fete since Shania Twain – that’s cool company to be in.”
An amazing achievement for the two Rempel brothers, who along with a third brother, Bryan grew up in the small Mennonite community of La Crete, some 700 kilometres north of Edmonton and who didn’t have access to an FM radio station until they were in their teens.
“If you were to make a list of bands that would not get record deals, we’d be close to the top of that list. We felt we had no chance considering our geographical location,” cracked Rempel. “La Crete is so isolated, we tweeted a picture the other day of the ice road linked to our home town and people around here (Nashville) don’t believe us when we tell them that’s where we are from”.
Yet it was sheer determination by the three Rempel brothers to forge a musical career with no access to a television, limited awareness of radio and only a broken down record player which constantly spun a Ricky Skaggs disc.
high-valley-2“These days our musical direction is influenced by the likes of Imagine Dragons, Keith Urban, Mumford And Sons and Foster The People, we’re kind of Old School but Progressive at the same time,” noted Rempel. “But growing up, we didn’t have a lot of exposure to current music, Ricky Skaggs was our main influence.”
Having cut their teeth in 2007 with a self-released `Broken Borders’ indie effort which won two GMA Canada Covenant Awards, Rempel undertook an epic gamble to bring serious industry attention to their 2010 follow-up, self-tilted released.
“I had heard that John Mays, head of A&R for Centricity Records (Nashville)was a guest speaker at a convention in Calgary,” Rempel explained. “He said he didn’t have time to meet with me but said I could drive with him out to the airport. So I drove 11 hours from La Crete to Calgary for a 10 minute meeting where I handed him our CD, then turned around and drove another 11 hours back to La Crete.”
Rempel’s persistance paid dividends. Mays felt he could do something with the disc and as Centricity had a distribution deal with Toronto-based Open Road Records, High Valley suddenly had North American distribution. “Who knows what would have happened if I hadn’t made that trip,” mused Rempel. “But ‘High River’ broke a lot of ground for us. It gave us an opportunity to make music and tell our story and we generated three singles (“I Will Stand By You”, “On The Combine” and “A Father’s Love (The Only Way He Knew How”).
Co-produced by Paul Brandt, High Valley used their Open Roads connection to tour Canada and it was during a concert appearance at Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum in 2009 opening for Michael W Smith that Rempel finally sensed the band was making some headway.
“During the intermission following our set, we sold over 500 CD’s and at that moment I kinda thought Wow!,” enthused Rempel. “I was overwhelmed, I started to cry. I realized at that point things were going to work out.”
Although the band jumped in their truck and toured constantly, spending as much time as possible in Nashville, things were so tight at one point that they were subsiding on food stamps. Yet they hung tight and although Bryan bailed out of the band to return to La Crete with his wife and two children, following the release of their `Love Is A Long Road’ 2012 release, Brad and Curtis hung in and, with the release of “Country Line” in October 2014, earned their first Canadian gold record.
Produced by Seth Mosely, `Country Line’ generated two hit singles “She’s With Me” and “Make You Mine” , while earning them the first of two consecutive Canadian Country Music Awards as top group and their success in signing with Atlantic Nashville, will hopefully open the door for other domestic acts.
In recording` Dear Life’ (again produced by Mosely), Rempel notes the band could have worked in any studio in the world, but we said “do you mind if we still record in our buddy’s house” Their response was “yes please”.
“We try to convey that we’ve still got the same roots that we’ve always had, that’s what makes Country music such a great musical genre,” he reflected.
According to Rempel, `Dear Life’ is an open letter to life in general which expresses how incredibly thankful the Rempels.’ are about their good fortune. “If you listen to the lyrics, in many ways it’s a very nostalgic record, very upbeat, very hopeful and very reflective of our present status.
“Every Week’s Got A Friday” is the album’s lead off party anthem, “We wanted at least one party kind of song on the record,” noted Rempel. Ironically though, this track has been deleted from the U.S version as Atlantic wants to capitalize on the chart success of “Make You Mine” by including that track on the new record.
With a U.S tour set to open for Martina McBride, a few Western Canadian dates in November and a hectic 2017 itinerary which will see High River in Europe as well as appearing at major U.S and Canadian festivals, the Rempels’ dance card is pretty full. Yet they still have no intentions of forgetting about their La Crete roots.
“We want to play in La Crete often enough that people still remember us when we return but seldom enough that it is a major event when we do go back”, Rempel concluded.
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