Have a little faith. This may well be the signature catchphrase of High Valley, the country band which originated in a small Mennonite community in Alberta and is now based in Nashville. Family values have always been an integral part of the band’s music and this remains an important underlying theme on their latest album ‘Way Back’. Lead singer Brad Rempel co-wrote all of the tracks on this reflective record and he seems to be on a mission to bring people together through the songs’ common elements. The title track is a good example as Brad reflects on an early love in which the happy couple ‘traces hatchback hearts in the dust on the back of (his) Dodge’. Still, he says the record is not meant to be a total nostalgia trip.
“A lot of High Valley’s music is about looking back at the good old days and all that,” says Brad, who is calling from his home in Spring Hill Tennessee. “But I never wanted our records to be so nostalgic that it’s just like a crotchety old man saying ‘things were better in the day’. I want it to be more of a hopeful thing where people look at the past and see the beautiful memories that they have. There is also a lot of upbeat hopefulness for the future in the songs so that’s kind of where we’re going with that.”
The album contains the previously released single, “Whatever It Takes,” which landed at No. 2 on the Canadian radio charts and is climbing U.S. country radio charts now. Also featured is the previously released, “Somebody Tell That Girl“ a collaboration with Christian breakout artist Anne Wilson.
“Our A&R person dug through the vault and she found that song which is actually six years old,” Brad recalls. “She said she thought it needs to be a duet with a girl and I agreed because the lyrics, which are about building a girl’s confidence, makes a lot more sense and hit home a lot more. Anne Wilson’s kind of the new ‘it’ girl in Nashville. She’s 19 years old and she’s got a huge career ahead of her, and she was the first person we thought of when we thought of finding a female for the song. Thank goodness she said that she had always wanted to be on a country record, so it worked out really well.”
Brad had more than a dozen different co-writers on the record and this is a testament to the depth and breadth of the Nashville songwriting community. It was definitely the magnet that pulled him from his Alberta farm into the artistic hotbed of Music City.
“It was certainly the biggest benefit that drew me here,” he admits.“Starting in 2007 I was staying here in extended stay hotels, and I’ve been here full-time since 2010. The collaboration and vibes are such that, honestly, you can just walk down the street and run into someone that’s written one of your favourite songs. I’m still as big a fan as when I first came here but now I can call them my friends and co-creators. I’m still like a kid in the candy store, amazed at the opportunity to get to go to work every day, rhyming words with my buddies.”
Love songs have always been one of High Valley’s strengths and it’s not surprising to find a few more tunes in that vein on “Way Back”, “Do This Life” is a heartfelt ballad in which the singer realizes that “The world don’t turn and that sun don’t burn” without his one and only. “Praying Woman” is another powerful tribute, this time from the singer to multiple women in his life.
“I always wrote positive stuff because it was just what I felt and I still do feel that it is my calling. There are people out there that do a good job with drinking songs, leaving songs, hurting and cheating songs, and whatever else. I always felt it was our calling to have these incredibly positive country records like “Do This Life”. When you start having people come up in the autograph line saying ‘Thank you so much for making this music that encouraged me’ or ‘Thanks for putting together a show I can take my kids to’, that means the world to me.
“I still want to stretch and tell true stories,” Brad continues. “Praying Women is an example of that where it’s like, I know everything’s positive and uplifting and all that but, let’s be honest, I’m still a messed up dude that needs as much help as anyone else. I wanted to give some credit to my wife and my three sisters and my mom and everybody else out there who’s praying for me.”
While Brad said that he tends to stay away from typical country clichés in his songs, he does submit to at least one guilty pleasure on the record in the form of “Country Music, Girls and Trucks”, a rollicking affair in which he name drops Hank Jr. and Dolly. The number features a duet with Granger Smith, a good ol’ boy if there ever was one, whose biggest hit, “Backroad Song” was an anthemic tribute to a two-lane blacktop.
“Me and Granger have been buddies for a long time,” Brad says. “My favourite song I’ve ever written was “Buy A Boy A Baseball”, and he recorded that one. When we wrote “Country Music”, we thought it was the most stereotypical country lyric of all time and that it was perfect for Granger. But I got a little selfish and didn’t just want to pitch it to him so I asked him to sing on the record with me and he said yes. He then invited me out to his ranch in Texas to shoot the music video where we tear around in a mud racer. That turned out to be easily the most country experience of my life. I thought I was very country until I got there and hung out with his crew and I thought I might have some catching up to do. It looked like I was having a blast but in reality, I was just hanging on for dear life trying not to get nauseous and praying that we wouldn’t roll.”
High Valley is the highest-selling Canadian band in country music history. This may come as a surprise since the band never set out to be a ‘hits’ machine. In fact, Brad says that landing the group in the Top 10 on country radio has never been one of his objectives.
“I remember the day we wrote our first hit “Make You Mine”, he explains. “ I recall thinking that we grew up on bluegrass music and we still play “I’ll Fly Away” and “I Saw The Light” every night at our shows, so I wondered what the soundtrack to a barn dance would sound like today. “Make You Mine” came out of that thought process and it turned out really authentic and real to my childhood, and what our band always did. We probably thought it was the furthest thing from a radio hit, but it ended up changing everything for us. It works better for me creatively to not try to aim for radio, but I am thankful every time it happens. I make it very important to do whatever I can to visit radio, talk to radio, meet the fans and listeners of those stations, and of course tour out in those markets where people have been hearing the song on the radio. Whether it’s the U.S., Canada or overseas, I just love to go where wherever the fans are going to sing the song the loudest.”
Although High Valley sounds most in its element on new songs like “Whatever It Takes” and “Be There For You” there are a couple of numbers on which they push the musical envelope. The beginning of “Remember You Now”, in fact, makes it sound like you may be in store for an Electronic Dance Music track.
“A lot of people don’t know this but we had an EDM deal early on,” Brad says. “We had an EDM deal on the table from Ultra Records to take “Make You Mine” to the pop world. Everyone in Nashville kind of got wind of that and started offering us deals instead so it never materialized. With 13 songs on the new album, it allowed us to do a couple of things that are a little off-centre. “Never Not” has a pop production and “All My Loving” has a real 90’s country vibe with that intense telecaster electric guitar on it. Our producer, Sam Bergeson, who plays in the band, comes from an EDM background but his mom is a bluegrass legend. I always thought that bluegrass and EDM are kind of distant second cousins and it’s cool to put that four-on-the-floor beat behind some of our songs.”
The fact that the album has 13 songs also allowed the band to have a little fun when it came to picking the songs, as they let their fans into the process. “We had the bulk of it, seven or eight songs, figured out. Maybe I was just starting to get antsy but we just started putting out demos of song choruses or verses on social media and let the fans put their two cents in on which ones they were excited about,” Brad shares. Hopefully, there will be a couple of future High Valley classics in the mix, songs that take the listener back to Brad’s rural upbringing, a lifestyle he continues to emulate at the stunning cottage getaway that he had built in the Tennessee foothills, six or seven miles from his home (and recently featured on The Design Network).
“I think that people definitely know that I am syncopated with that lifestyle and that I do hold onto that quite tightly,” Brad says. “My wife and I are not downtown skyrise kind of people. Our boys are 13 and 15 and I wanted as much as possible to give them an opportunity to have some of that small-town vibe that I had growing up. We have side by side Polaris Rangers to give us a nice ride to a football game or baseball game or to drop the kids off at school so that keeps it pretty country.”
High Valley originated as a family band close to 25 years ago with Brad, his three sisters, and his mother and father comprising the group which at the time was known simply as The Rempel family. That band evolved into High Valley, led by Brad and his brother Bryan, and several years later they were joined by their brother Curtis. Bryan left the band in 2014 to spend more time with his family and more recently Curtis also bowed out, leaving Brad as the lone Rempel.
“When you look back to when my brother Bryan was in the band, we had just signed our first U.S. deal and he decided to stay in Canada when it was pretty important to be down here in Nashville. Curtis had moved down for a couple of years with three young kids but they moved back to our hometown about two years ago. He and his wife took positions as full-time camp directors of a bible camp, and I have nothing but love and respect for that decision. He would never worry about missing out on success and I think that’s the way it’s been for all of us since we started playing. There has never been a huge emphasis on being famous or anything like that.” Brad shares.
Other Country Stuff:
Another Alberta-born artist, Dan Davidson, dives into the summer season with the release of his latest anthem “Warm Beer.” “This is the beer garden banger I’ve always wanted to release,” Dan shares about his new summer smash. “It’s a little bit of Texas-style, drunken poet country and a little bit of that classic summer sing-along. I’m so proud of how this one came out”. Fans received an early taste of the new track with the early release of its hockey edit “We Want The Cup.” Showcasing his home team loyalty, the track is currently being used by the Edmonton Oilers throughout their Stanley Cup playoff run and is already charting on Canadian country radio.
Sticking with the prairie province, Brett Kissel debuted a new song, “Our Home” in collaboration with Travel Alberta, which highlights the region’s diversity and stunning natural beauty. “Having grown up in St. Paul and, as a fifth-generation Albertan, I am fiercely proud of this province and the people who call it home,” says Brett.
Three-time Canadian Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year Dallas Smith has delivered a brand new single and collaboration featuring label mate Mackenzie Porter. Dallas recently marked his return to Nashville with a performance at the iconic Ryman Auditorium. Smith who has previously performed on the Grand Ole Opry stage, made his much-anticipated debut at the Ryman, opening for country superstar Trace Adkins. On performing live with Dallas, Mackenzie says “In 2019 he took me out on tour with him for two months. Many of us know Dallas as an incredible artist, but what you might not know is how much he helps other artists around him. He shares his team, his band, his knowledge and connects the dots for artists he believes in.”