With the release of their debut album The New Speed in 1998, Portland, Oregon’s Sunset Valley emerged from relative obscurity to become one of the most buzzed about new bands of the year. Combining an indie rock ethic with disparate elements of post-punk often likened to the Pixies or Pavement, Sunset Valley arrived with songs about girls, rockets, and space to earn the praise of critics and fans alike. They returned the following year with another set of distinctive, slightly skewed guitar pop numbers entitled Boy-scout Superhero, solidifying their reputation. “Today’s indie bands are the true rock and roll foot soldiers, clearing the land mines, keeping the dream alive, riding in vans, playing shows for free beer with slightly out of tune guitars, “wrote one reviewer for Stinkweeds Online Music. “Among these noble young people, Sunset Valley has proven themselves in line for a promotion with their second release, Boyscout Superhero”
Sunset Valley’s lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Herman Jolly, is a surprisingly charismatic leader, even though his soft-spoken, understated demeanor and somewhat detached expression do not fit with the stereotypical mold of a gregarious frontman. His ability to craft exceptional pop tunes and carry them out with frenetic brilliance, however, makes him an ideal candidate. “The thing about Herman’s songwriting, “said keyboard player and producer Jeff Saltzman in an interview with Richard Martin of Willamette Week,” is that he has this cool personality that he’s not afraid to let out in his music. His particular sense of humor and sensitivity all come out.”
Although a newcomer to the Portland music scene in the mid 1990s, Jolly showed signs of talent long before Sunset Valley. During his grade school years in North Pole, Alaska, Jolly spent many a night gazing at the arctic sky. He later moved to Bozeman, Montana, where served as one of two lead singers for the local band Rollerball. Collectively, the group relocated to Portland in 1994, but Jolly quit after a year to start a solo project. Soon thereafter, he began collaborating with bass guitarist Eric Furlong and Furlong’s roommate, drummer and guitarist Jonathan Drews.
The three core members discovered an instant musical chemistry, and officially forming as a trio—with Drews focusing on drums—under the name Sunset Valley in September of 1996. At their first live performance in October of that year at the LaLuna club, onlookers stood in amazement as the band played what would become one of their signature songs. “California Now, “a cleverly-written melodic song reminiscent of the Pixies, features a stirring climax wherein Jolly repeats the title with such a range of emotion that he conveys frustration, despair, and hopefulness all at once. Generating a word-of-mouth following that grew with each show, Sunset Valley, many predicted, would surely become the next big thing in the Northwest. “I don’t think we felt any pressure, “Jolly noted to Martin. “It made us more excited.”
Inking a record deal with Chicago’s Sugar Free Records in 1997, Sunset Valley traveled to the town of Campbell in Southern California to record their debut album at Saltzman’s studio, who co-produced and mixed The New Speed. Completed during a 10-day spree, the album contained 11 songs that loosely surrounded a space theme. Some of those included “Skylab Love Scene,” “Red Room Rocket Ride” and “Statue, “which stood alongside diversions like “Red Thai Sunday” and “California Now.” Another track of interest is the haunting “Coral Man.” Jolly based the song on a fellow film student at Montana State University who made a movie for a class about a man who grows coral over his face, then disappears into the woods. After shooting the film, the filmmaker himself became a missing person. He was later found decapitated in the woods near the college.
Released in April of 1998, The New Speeds wonderfully twisted sounds captivated college and alternative radio listeners and generated favorable press. “If you like your power pop jagged and jewel-encrusted, “wrote Michael Evans for the Portland Citysearch website, “make the latest by Sunset Valley your sonic destination.”Billboard magazine, likewise, applauded the group’s debut set. “Outer space-imagery abounds, “wrote reviewer Moira McCormick. “But celestial elements are only part of what Jolly used for his sonic canvas: The New Speed practically vibrates with color, its skewed, aggressively melodic power-pop so vivid it’s almost visual.”
Members include Lenny America (joined group in 1999), drums; Jonathan Drews, guitar, drums; Eric Furlong, bass guitar; Herman Jolly, guitar, vocals; Tony Lash (joined group in 1997; left in 1999), drums; Jeff Saltzman (joined group in 1997; left in 1999), producer, keyboards.
Formed band in Portland, OR, 1996; signed with Sugar Free Records, 1997; released debut album The New Speed, 1998; released Boyscout Superhero, signed deal with RCA Records subsidiary Kneeling Elephant Records, 1999.
During the recording and production process, Saltzman became so impressed with the group that he began commuting to Portland to play keyboards with the band. He became a full-time member in August of 1997. Soon after the release of their debut, they expanded their lineup again with the addition of former Heatmiser drummer Tony Lash, known also for his production work with Elliott Smith, the Dandy Warhols, and Eric Matthews. With Drews switching to guitar, the new lineup recorded a 1998 single for the English Wurlitzer Jukebox label titled “Doll Hill.” “I knew that Jonathan was a guitar player, and they’d done a lot of cool guitar layering on the album, so I offered to play with them, “Lash explained to Martin. “They took me up on it.”
After a West Coast tour with Curve and the Dandy Warhols, Herman, in late 1998, recorded a solo album. Mad Cow Disease, released in early 1999 on Jolly’s own label, was by comparison more understated and acoustic than his work for Sunset Valley.
Soon after Mad Cow Disease hit record shops, Sunset Valley began mixing their second album. Their follow-up, Boyscout Superhero, was released in October of 1999, serving as proof that the band was no one-time affair. “Boyscout Superhero is a proliferation of the current indie-rock trend of respecting the recording process while maintaining a musically risky edge,” wrote Ezra Feinberg for Spin. “The record blends a number of styles from the canon of college rock: The quirky synth-bop of the Talking Heads, the ethereal voice of the Pixies, nasally R.E.M. melodies, and Sonic Youth guitar noise.” Though Sunset Valley did not break any new ground, their variety set them apart from other current guitar-pop acts.
Despite their continued success, Sunset Valley faced personnel changes that year prior to the album’s release date. While the core members remained, both Saltzman and Lash decided to leave, citing that Sunset Valley’s tour schedule conflicted with production commitments. The band hired a new drummer, Lenny America, but chose not to find a new keyboardist. In late 1999, the group signed a new record deal with the RCA-distributed Kneeling Elephant Records.
The New Speed, Sugar Free, 1998.
Boyscout Superhero, Sugar Free, 1999.
Billboard, June 13, 1998; October 9, 1999. Willamette Week, April 22-28, 1998.
iMusic Modern Showcase, http://www.imusic.artistdirect.com (December 21, 2000).
Pitchfork, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com (December 21, 2000).
Portland Citysearch, http://www.portland.citysearch.com (December 21, 2000).
Rocket Fuel, http://www.rocket-fuel.com (December 21, 2000).
Spin, http://www.spin.com (December 21, 2000).
Stinkweeds Online Music, http://www.stinkweeds.com (December 21, 2000).
Sugar Free Records, http://www.sugarfree.com (December 21, 2000).
"Sunset Valley." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 17, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/sunset-valley
"Sunset Valley." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/sunset-valley
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