An exploration of timelessness through timeless hard-rock sonics.
There's nothing quite like the stimulating experience of getting immersed in the brushstrokes of an album cover while the riffs swarm over your senses, eating away at your spirit. Though this act remains alive with the resurgence of vinyl, the accessibility of streaming can often disconnect one from the wonders lying in an record's physical editions. It's the inner sleeves, gatefold art, matte varnishes, booklets and more that draw us into the worlds that musicians across our varied genre create. Bands like Virginia's heavy-rock powerhouse VALKYRIE are among those who understand the importance of visual investment as they welcome listeners into a journey of historical and theological learnings with the soul of southern rock.
VALKYRIE's fourth album Fear is fast approaching and stands as the quartet's most elaborate outing to date, merging ZZ TOP-like groove with the wondrous art of Jeremy Hush. Musically, it strikes forth with a soaring dual-guitar performance by brothers Jake and Pete Adams (ex-BARONESS), achieving a structural depth that stems from the group's long and expansive musical journey. Fear's jubilant soul is carried forward with a vibrant new cover by Hush, continuing the audiovisual partnership that began with 2015's Shadows. Together, VALKYRIE and Hush have built a composition that stands as one of this year's strongest pairings, attacking on all ends with pure enthusiasm.
We go Behind the Cover of Fear with guitarist/vocalist Jake Adams and artist Jeremy Hush to uncover the archetypes at play within the crow-ridden cover:
Five years from ‘Shadows’ and you’re back with the vast musical palette of ‘Fear’, a record that takes the musicianship of the predecessor to an energizing new level. Musically, what did you aim to achieve coming into the making of it?
Adams: We have always had the goal of making the most dynamic sound. As we evolve, we want to always have more dynamics and take the listener on a little bit more of a journey. I think we did that on the songs here, so I’m really happy about that. That’s what I like when I’m listening to music, these crescendos and highs and lows. That’s definitely one goal.
We also wanted to have more dimensions. That’s generally what we try to do when we ask ourselves, ‘What does this song mean?’ I think we did a decent job of that on this one.
You definitely did. You’re now nearing the two decade mark since first forming, undergoing growth through multiple lineup changes as evident in your sound. Who are you now as a musician compared to when this all started in 2002?
Adams: That’s a great question. I think I’m aware of myself as an artist more whereas before, I was just cranking out riffs because they were fun to play in the basement. It was fun to rock out with your friends and that was really kind of the vibe. Now, I’ve realized that there’s almost a therapeutic value in being an artist. When I write lyrics, I realize later that I was basically journaling. I could look back at these lyrics every last couple of albums and remember where I was and what that meant to me.
Also, I think I’ve come to appreciate the role that you play when you share it with a wider audience, giving them something of value. Though the stuff I write is a bit personal, it’s universal at the same time. We’re all human and we can relate to similar things. I’ve come to appreciate this aspect of things a bit more. I appreciate that aspect for a lot of musicians. When I think of people like Lemmy, Matt Pike, or any of these guys that live on the road, somebody’s gotta do that. Somebody needs to entertain and share their struggles in a way. It’s a vulnerable place to be putting yourself, but that’s one thing I’ve come to appreciate.
Jumping into the visuals, album covers are something you seem to embrace and understand the significance of given that each of your full-lengths has been properly illustrated. I want to ask, where does your appreciation for LP artwork come from?
Adams: It may have been through LPs. We were really fortunate that our folks had an insane record collection. We had all these LPs and never got through them all. We found the stuff we liked and only played that. I ended up selling a bunch and got rid of them. Looking back at it now, I wish I didn’t because I’ve come to appreciate that music. My mom in particular would buy every LP that would come out that she liked one song off of, so that was definitely part of it.
Way before we had this band, I developed an appreciation for underground culture. It’s not just musicians but visual artists too. There’s a lot of important statements that people can make through all that. It’s really a small economy. I’ve always really appreciated people that are freelance artists that don’t have a 9-5 job or a boss. A lot of them are really creative and entrepreneurial. They have lots of iron in the fire. I’ve always appreciated that type of person. Luckily through playing shows and traveling, you meet a lot of people like that. I love when you have shows that are also collaborations with artists, especially when people do t-shirts that showcase a particular artist. Maybe it’s a screen print or a tour poster. Either way, I appreciate all of that.
Now that I’m reflecting on this, some of my earliest homies from high school were amazing visual artists. I’m going to use an example of someone well known, John Baizley of Baroness. His parents let him jam with us in the basement and he had some bands with us in high school. He was just a great artist in high school. We all played music but also kind of dabbled in different types of visual art. In a way, it’s always been two sides of the same coin. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Baizley because he’s always been there in my world. He has always been doing music and art at a high level, so that’s bound to be an influence as well.
Definitely. From your mom’s LP collection to your friendship with Baizley, I’d say you had a wealth of influence. ‘Fear’ is now your second cover with Jeremy Hush. What made you revisit your collaboration?
Adams: Jeremy does this very naturalistic type art that fuses organic styles. We knew initially that it made sense because we’ve always seen our sound as sort of this naturalistic thing. It’s hard to separate that sound. We all just really appreciate the countryside from where we’re from, so it clicked right away. When he did ‘Shadows’, it was so perfect, so why reinvent the wheel? We already have a guy that we can work with and are confident with. He gets where we’re coming from, so it made perfect sense.
Visually, what were you looking for when approaching Jeremy this time around?
Adams: Early on, I was really inspired by this concept of mindfulness and Buddhism. It led me to realize that time isn’t as important as we make it. I was thinking of the whole ‘power of now’ idea, this idea of living in the moment, embracing the present moment and not being caught up in future and past. I had this big theme of the album being about timelessness.
I’ve also been into different archetypes and the teachings of ancient world history and religions. I’ve gotten to study and learn a lot about Romans and Greeks and how they saw their gods. In that, I’ve realized these archetypes have repeated over centuries. I think the whole ‘lord of time’ thing, which became the grim reaper or father time, is all the same thing in different dimensions. I told Jeremy that we should work that archetype in there.
Jeremy would do these little sketches and as a band, we all questioned whether we would do a straight up grim reaper with skulls and all or a father time that resembles a wise old man. We practically did something in between. Jeremy came up with it and it just came out awesome. My brother Pete’s joke is that it’s actually a self-portrait because Jeremy has a bald head. He drew the character, this grim reaper or father time archetype, with a bald head purposely.
Long story short, this father time or grim reaper archetype has a broken hourglass. In our view, the message here is that time doesn’t matter or isn’t important. It’s hard to articulate but I like how it’s open ended. You can look at it in different ways.
‘Fear’ is as visually stimulating as it is musically. What did you set out to achieve upon approaching the illustration with respect to the concepts and themes presented by the band?
Hush: Jake and I started out talking loose ideas and general color palettes. The Valkyrie dudes know my work, so they point out things they are looking for and moods to build on from my past pieces. I had a lot of freedom in where to take things. We discussed that this album musically is darker.
I developed a theme of rising darkness in the world but we wanted to avoid a straight forward Death figure that brings a negative and final feeling. We settled on more of a Father Time character, an extremely aged figure beyond time that is both contemplating and concerned. The ravens, which are returning from the 'Shadows' album, represent chaos, instigators reveling in the mire. The spilled hour glass is our world at a breaking point, which is incredibly fitting for these last few months.
Your work with US Christmas, Black Tusk, and really all of your album score covers are very reminiscent of one another despite the distinctive qualities of each project. How do you interpret the different concepts and ideas that bands/music provide to you in your own artistic manner?
Hush: I have a close relationship with all these bands, so by knowing them personally, it’s considerably easier to get a feel for what they like. I have a history on where their bands come from both in musical evolution and everyday life. The last several years, I’ve cut back on album cover work to just close friends and really concentrated on my own personal work. I need to feel an attachment to what I’m working on. If my heart is not in a project, I don’t want to waste the time.
Seeing as you’re tasked with meeting their artistic needs instead of your own, is your approach distinct to how you’d take on a personal project?
Hush: Everything I work on comes from my own vocabulary, my style. I take what the band gives me and I interpret it into my own world. Music is important to me, so it’s not a foreign part of my creative process.
In analyzing the cover, it's obvious to note that the crows first seen on ‘Shadows’ have made a return, only this time they’ve come for a different victim. What can you comment about the possible connection and symbolism here?
Adams: This is in a way a continuation. Where we were rehearsing a lot of the stuff for ‘Shadows’, there was this old farmhouse and a bunch of crows everywhere. We saw these crows flying around, heckling a red-tailed hawk. We saw this whole thing play out in the sky and already knew that Jeremy was really good at drawing birds. We actually have a t-shirt that he did a while back that is a woman with a mutated horse leg and a big crow overlooking it. We’ve always had crows in there because they are connected to valkyries in Norse mythology. These birds come to the battlefields after the battle and start eating from the dead bodies, which kind of then morphed into this valkyrie spirit.
There’s a lot of stuff that happened with the red-tailed hawks too. Not only did we see it in the sky, but Pete had his own personal connection with the bird. He had almost like a mystical experience with a red-tailed hawk one time and he’ll have to tell you about that. On the way to rehearsal two weeks in a row, we found one on the side of the road that was dead. Those are federally protected birds. You’re not even allowed to have them but we totally flaunted that. We and a lot of our friends appreciate bones, so I wasn’t going to let this bird get squished on the road. We threw it in the trunk and ended up harvesting a lot of the stuff just to have.
We had this thing going with the birds and crows, so we knew we had to bring it back. Warren, our drummer, thought we should have four of them. It’s our fourth record and there’s also four of us in the band. There’s so much symbolism there that you can take in any direction.
There are bands who are sometimes heavily involved through the creation of the art, making recommendations and changes throughout the way. There are other bands who prefer to leave the duties strictly to the artist, instilling their trust in them and maybe making minor tweaks along the way. For ‘Fear’, did you find yourself letting Jeremy take it in his direction or did you feel it was particularly guided?
Adams: We definitely struck a healthy balance. We knew the concepts, we knew the archetypes, and we knew about the crow usage. I’ve been in this commission situation before with people doing t-shirts and other album art for us. The one thing you want to avoid with someone who is an established artist is micromanage. You want to give the artist their credit to have their own vision. Whatever they come up with, you have to appreciate on some level.
Jeremy did want to please us because it’s a commission. He wanted to do what we wanted to do, though I would hate it if he had to sacrifice his own creativity or angle for the purpose of pleasing us. That’s the whole reason we got him, because we love his art and his vision. It was the same thing with our producer and Frank at Relapse Records, who does the videos. I just threw out big themes and outlined what I thought went with the words, but I let him do this thing. I try to draw a balance where the creatives have some guidance but I never dictate every bit.
The importance of it all is that you’ve struck a healthy relationship with an entire creative team. You’re still with Relapse, with Jeremy and with Sanford. It all comes together really well.
Adams: It makes it more meaningful. The art means more to us because a friend of ours made it. Pete, who is a big archery guy, and Jeremy were shooting arrows at one time. I can’t remember the actual details, but Jeremy broke or lost an arrow while they were out, so he found a way to incorporate that arrow on ‘Shadows’. One of the crows has an arrow on his talons, sort of as a weapon. That little detail really connected with his relationship with Pete, so it made it that much more meaningful. The arrows also make a comeback on ‘Fear’. It’s all about honoring and supporting your friends. We want Jeremy to be more successful than he is, so it feels good to use our platform and highlight his work.
With this being your second consecutive Valkyrie cover, it would appear you struck a chord with ‘Shadows’ in 2015. What can you comment about your relationship with the band?
Hush: I feel like I’ve known these guys forever! We've been friends since the early 2000s. I was on the road with Pete in the Baroness days for years and their music has always moved me. It was great that our paths and schedules finally crossed for the 'Shadows' album and I’m super excited to see this album all together and out in the world.
From inception to completion, about how long did the painting take to complete and what tools/techniques were used?
Hush: All together, I probably spent about a month on this piece. I was juggling other projects around as well, so it’s hard to say. I use my usual materials: ink and watercolor, a little acrylic here and there, ball point for a good gritty grainy line textures, and head phones on with the record on repeat.
Did the music shape the artistic direction in any way or was it purely conceptual?
Hush: The music is so necessary for me to lean on to really get a grasp of the mood. A band's music is the driver for it’s message. Valkyrie’s music always has a heavy atmosphere and a hopeful message. This album hit a darker feel than the past albums. The more I listened to ‘Fear’, the heavier I rendered the shadows.
One of the signature traits present within your art is really the color palette that you utilize in each work, seamlessly layering shades and intricate wildlife detail, as evident on ‘Fear’. It would seem that your own natural surroundings have a big influence on this aspect of your work. Would you say this is the case?
Hush: Most definitely. I’m from the mountains. The East Tennessee mountains are what I call home no matter where I live. At the end of the day, I dream of being there. I’ve always been a wildlife artist even if I’m illustrating a bunch of punks. There are critters lurking all around.
The Valkyrie dudes are from the wilds of Virginia. We have similar upbringings and outlooks on the world. We’d all rather be out in the woods smelling like camp fires.
Do you recall a time when an album cover made you pick up a record or even change the way you engaged with it?
Hush: Too many to choose from. Album art is so important. It grabs the viewers attention. Mercyful Fate - Don’t Break the Oath. It’s still a favorite. It takes me back to like 6th grade or so. I saw someone in an arcade with that back patch and it just stuck. I hunted that tape down at the mall! Then I hid it from my parents like my life depended on it. Which it probably did back then. haha.
Adams: Sometimes, the art is almost cooler than the music. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just that maybe you expect one thing from the art and you get another. There are definitely albums that I’ve bought on album art alone and didn’t resonate with the tunes as much.
However, the first thing that comes to mind is Uriah Heep’s ‘Demons and Wizards’ (1972). I like Uriah Heep a lot. They’re a very cool, progressive, heavy-rock band. Of many of their albums, this cover has this mystical, fantasy vibe to it. That’s always attracted me. I think that’s why I always liked Zeppelin growing up. I liked stuff like Rainbow a lot. A lot of the 70’s bands had that kind of stuff going on really well. That’s the kind of album cover I’m going to be picking up, these fantasy looking covers, so that Uriah Heep cover always stood out to me.
Another album cover I found weird as a kid was that Sabbath ‘Paranoid’ LP. It’s just so bizarre. There’s that guy with a sword that’s sort of faded out and a shadowed trail. It’s a psychedelic album cover that is just really weird. You have to think, ‘What’s this album going to sound like?’
The records that always confused me the most as far as not sounding like what was on the art were the Cathedral ones. They have these crazy, colorful, psychedelic things and when you turn on the album, you get this sludgy sound. I remember being caught off guard with that. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to sound like.
Dark art can sometimes be met with predetermined expectations, as if to meet a certain criteria that limits expression to dark colors, skulls, and gore. You’re among a group of artists who challenge said standards with vibrant color use, beauty, and facial expression. How important is it for you, and artists in general, to abandon the fear of having to fit within a category?
Hush: You have to be yourself. Be true to your work. Always push your limits. Seek to improve your skills. If you are faking it people will know. Don’t put out work you are not proud of. Labels are just categories. Boundaries should be challenged.
With quarantine keeping us at home for the last few months, it has given many people the opportunity to really appreciate the musicianship and honesty that gets put into these compositions. ‘Fear’ is just a couple of weeks away now. What do you intend for audiences to take from the listening experience?
Adams: There’s something about the internet that allows people to be more involved with the image rich and visual rich world we live in now. It allows people to see artists as more human and just regular people doing their thing, rather than some monolithic icon that is unapproachable. This paradigm expresses the importance that we’re all human here having this experience here. We’re all locked down and having to deal with this shit in our own way.
It’s funny because certain words kept coming up in these lyrics and one was ‘fear’ and the state of being afraid. Another one was a sacrifice, different ideas of a sacrifice. These certain themes kept emerging, so I thought I should probably have something relating to that on the title. The record was then called ‘Fear’ before any of this stuff happened. My drummer pointed out that ‘fear’ is also four (vier) in German. That was killer because this is our fourth album and we incorporated some of that symbolism on the cover as well.
When all of the coronavirus stuff happened, it could not be more pertinent. We live in legitimately scary times. There’s no other way to put it. You keep hearing corporations say ‘in these uncertain times’ and that’s really just an understatement. There’s so much uncertainty and fear in the world right now, so this record turned out to be a snapshot of what’s going on.
Fear arrives on July 24 via Relapse Records. Pre-order your copy of this wonder HERE.