The Making of “Valley of the Sun”

Here is a story about the making of the song “Valley of the Sun”. The inspiration in many ways came from a road trip Allison and I took to Utah and Colorado in the spring of 2016. The band had just started writing its first songs about a month or two prior, so I decided to take my acoustic guitar along with us to hopefully develop those ideas and maybe even come up with some new ones out on the road.

It took two and a half days to drive from Pittsburgh to Western Colorado and it more or less rained the entire time. I say more or less because we also had some light snow and hail around the Toledo, Ohio area.

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Day 1: Rain in Ohio

On the second day, the drive across the seemingly never-ending state of Nebraska was met with unrelenting and oftentimes torrential rain. After ten or eleven hours out on the road, we stopped for the night about seventy miles outside of Denver. The local news reported that there had been tornadoes in the area earlier, and that the path through the mountains, which was where we were heading the next day, had received upwards of twelve inches of snow at some elevations.

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Day 2: Rain in Nebraska
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Day 2: Rain in Eastern Colorado

The next morning we woke up to more rain, which steadily turned to light snow once we passed  through Denver and into the mountains. Luckily the snow had been successfully cleared from most of the roadways overnight, which made the three to four hour drive through the Rockies a little more manageable. Of course, as soon as we got out of the mountains, the rain returned, following us as we made our way to our first stop- the Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction.

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Day 3: Rain in Denver
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Day 3: Rain turned to snow in the Rocky Mountains

We paid the fee at the park gate and drove up into the cliffs that overlooked the valley. We were basically at the same level as the cloud layer, the same clouds which felt like they had been haunting us for over sixteen-hundred miles across the country. We thought the rest of the day would be ruined. Out of nowhere, the clouds parted and we saw the first sign of sun in nearly three days. Everything dried up unbelievably fast, and in less than hour it was like it hadn’t rained at all. We were able to do some light hiking, took some pictures and even had time to pick out our camping spot before it got dark.

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Rain clouds exiting the scene
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Allison and I happy to see blue sky for the first time in nearly three days

The next morning we woke up just before dawn and took a walk through the nearby juniper forest leading to an overlook of the town below. We sat there a while, watching the rays of sun inch their way across the valley floor, and then heading back to the campsite to eat a cold breakfast of granola bars and instant coffee. It was turning out to be a clear and sunny day and the remaining clouds rapidly disappeared as the sun rose higher in the sky.

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Forest at dawn on the way to the overlook

It was in that morning calm that I decided to pick up the acoustic guitar and work through some of those early Long Hunt songs. Elements of “Valley of the Sun” did exist in a very primordial form at that point (though mostly just a collection of successive riffs), but didn’t have any sort of name, and was far from being a completed song by any stretch of the imagination. Mark had mentioned that the tune reminded him of the band Sun City Girls, so the song’s final title is in some ways a nod to that as well.

Anyhow, something about the environment really fit the mood of that song and really helped actively shape its final form. The first sunny day, mixed with the vast openness of the valley and the sky, made its influence known and worked its way into the music. Suddenly space and silence was just as important as the notes themselves. Everything just spread out and each note felt like a buzzard floating on a column of hot air over that desert-like vista between the mountains and the canyon wall.

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Rays of sun just after dawn
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View from Colorado National Monument

In those ways and more, Valley of the Sun helped define the direction that the band took for the remaining songs on Wilderness Tails and also solidified a songwriting style that took my toying with minimalism -and the use of empty space as a sort of fourth member in the band- to a level it had not been at before . The song to me summarizes the quintessential sound of The Long Hunt, especially in those early stages of writing, and sets a narrative for future compositions to build upon.

A free download of the song “Valley of the Sun” is now being offered for a limited time by following the link below:

http://www.pghcitypaper.com/FFW/archives/2017/02/13/mp3-monday-the-long-hunt

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