The Cherry Valence's third: Somehow, someway, sometime, with some players, on some label, it was just going to happen. Friday night, it finally does. The story of TCV's third full-length record, TCV3, is long and convoluted, a mini-drama with plot branches of goodbyes, hellos, new bands, new bandmates and--as with everything the band has done since its inception in 1998--lots and lots of sweat. But for the three that stuck with the two-drum, two-guitar gargantuan--Jamie Williams, Nick Whitley and Brian Quast--one thing was always certain.
"We all knew that there had to be a number three," says Williams, half of TCV's two-guitar attack, sitting in the band's Capital Boulevard practice space on a Saturday night.
It's impossible to imagine TCV not in this room, old rugs lining the floor every few feet, ends tattered and covered in cigarette butts stomped out like spiders. Busted cymbals line the wall behind three drum kits, and a dozen amps and a beer fridge crowd two ends. A ripped Wu-Tang poster Quast brought home from Portland hangs on one wall, and a poster from their 2003 appearance at the Azkena Rock Festival in Spain with Iggy Pop triumphantly claims the back door. Quast spent several weeks with former Greatest Hits bassist Kerry Spring turning this place into a studio two years ago.
Half of the band's drumming "section," Quast looks at home here, noting that he never doubted this album: "These were songs that just seemed like the next Cherry Valence album."
Riffin', the Valence's sophomore effort, was released in 2002 on Bellingham, Wash., straight-rock, no-chaser syndicate Estrus Records. Two years and several tours later, Cheetie Kumar and Paul Siler left the band, opting to take a break from its intense travel schedule and to pursue nascent interests in Birds of Avalon, or El Boa. As if band lines needed any more distracting obfuscation, The Weather's Craig Tilley was fronting El Boa, just as former Weather bandmate Charles Story joined the Valence on bass.
Those encampments could break music communities this size and this close (after all, Siler is a partner in Kings, the club to which TCV will return to for the first time since the split), but the break has been surprisingly amicable. In the Erik Sugg-penned bio for TCV3, the guitarist not only mentions El Boa, but he also adds that they are "another Raleigh supergroup that equals the power and shake appeal of TCV." The entire band confesses to being a fan of Paul and Cheetie's married-couple guitar dueling in El Boa, and Whitley was at their first show, nodding along and smiling.
"I saw the show at Superfest last year, and I was just like, 'Yeah, Paul's playing guitar. He's not playing bass. He's playing guitar," laughs Whitley, nursing an early evening forty of High Life until it's warm. "'And he's killin' that shit!'"
The split has proven healthy, producing two rock beasts of similar but noticeably different breeds. Like the name suggests, El Boa--with mythic, spiraling riffs--is more akin to psychedelic prog and late Led Zeppelin than The Cherry Valence's long-standing commitment to what Plant & Co. were going for with "Rock N' Roll."
"After Riffin', the whole band talked about finding new directions that we could do something different with, and I was interested in songs that people could relate to more. You see that with the split," says Quast. "I figured out that there are three things rock 'n' roll songs I like are about: workin' for a living, playing gigs and traveling, and girls. That's where this is."
The three-member core started recording demos, eventually recruiting Story and Sugg early last year. Even with two new band members, the signature Valence sound stood little chance of injury. Sugg hails from Richmond's Dragstrip Syndicate, a kindred spirit of TCV.
"The Cherry Valence was always a band that I held high in my heart, and I never saw a band that held me live like this one," says Sugg, who joined just weeks after Dragstrip Syndicate played its last show. "I remember the first time we played with 'em in Harrisonburg ... Two drummers followed by three loud-ass guitars in a basement. My jaw just dropped."
Story watched TCV live for years, and even caught a sneak peek of the band he would soon join after a Weather practice. "Charles said they were all pressing their ear to the door and that their jaws dropped, too, when they realized how good it sounded and it was just us three," Whitley laughs, speaking for the traveling Story.
As such, this isn't a reunion or a regrouping as much as it is a rebirth. TCV seems fresh, and--in talking--the high praise they pass to one another seems sincere and effusive, a bit like giddy teenagers. And, at long last, The Cherry Valence has produced a solid album from start to finish. The band's live show has always been the stuff of (international) legend, but the records--recorded in distant studios--sometimes seemed rushed and canned. But this one, recorded in their downtown practice space over two years, turns it up a notch, cocking 14 songs, 40 or so guitar solos and several hundred snare cracks inside of 40 tightly made minutes. Things sound live and determined.
When trying to calculate the hours they spent making the third album, the entire band is too lost in thought to laugh at the question's redundancy. Quast, leaning back and staring up, is really trying to count. Meekly, someone offers it up like it's all they've got: "A lot?
The Cherry Valence releases TCV3 on the second night of Kings' sixth anniversary weekend on Friday, July 8. The Dynamite Brothers and Esquimaux open. See Best Bets on page 5.