Last Birthday

Last Birthday

On their 2020 pandemic dispatch, sucks to see you doing better, Toronto four-piece Valley were dissecting all manner of emotional wounds, from post-breakup angst to young-adult ennui. But their follow-up release begins with an instant palate cleanser: On “Oh shit…are we in love?” Valley channel the endorphin rush of unexpected romance, providing a sun-dappled gateway into the more positive and empowering Last Birthday. As frontman Rob Laska tells Apple Music, the two EPs are “very connected—emotionally and sonically and thematically. sucks to see you doing better was very much about heartbreak, mental health, guilt, and just feeling really, really confused. And I think Last Birthday is the flipside of that emotion: It’s like the best friend coming in and pulling you out of that, and taking you on a road trip and eating junk food and just having the time of your life.” Enhancing that comforting feeling is Last Birthday’s litany of nostalgic ’90s pop-cultural references, which include shout-outs to Jim Carrey, Britney Spears, and Michael Jordan. (This is to say nothing of the TikTok-boosted single that got the EP’s writing process in motion, “Like 1999.”) As Laska admits, it’s all part of a concerted effort to access a simpler, pre-smartphone era that the band members were too young to fully experience. But for all its time-travelling strategies, Last Birthday is another addictive dose of future-forward pop music from a group that can seamlessly synthesize bedroom-indie confessionals, smooth clubby grooves, alt-rock crunch, trap beats, and glammy guitar solos into a tidy, Top 40-ready package. Here, Laska blows out each of Last Birthday’s candles, track by track. “Oh shit…are we in love?” “We wrote this over Zoom with our dear friend Jorgen Odegard, who wrote ‘Holy’ with Justin Bieber. This is really Valley’s purest kind of love anthem. It’s about the realization that you could search the whole world looking for love before you realize it’s right in front of you. It’s that classic scenario of falling in love with your best friend, and you finally have that moment where you’re like, ‘Oh shit—I think we’re more than just friends!’ I think that’s such a beautiful moment that’s not talked about enough in music, because it can come off as kitschy or corny. But we felt like we had to talk about it, because those ‘oh shit’ moments are so important. My girlfriend and I met on the same street where we started as a band, and I was best friends with her for so long, until I had that ‘oh shit’ moment.” “Can We Make It? (Jim Carrey)” “We wrote this in [guitarist] Mickey [Brandolino]’s basement, where we started the band and had our formative years. And it was the last thing we did there before he moved out and we closed the doors of our first studio, so it means a lot to me. We were feeling a lot of things: The band was starting to become a career, and here we are in this basement where we were once teenagers, just learning how to be a band. So, that chorus—‘Can we make it?’—came out of us realizing that there’s a chapter in our life closing and a new one beginning. This was a very tough year for us personally: We had to learn a lot about how to work dynamically as a band and how to take breaks and how to balance our personal lives with our careers. We’re all in therapy now, and we all need to do the work so we can show up and be the best band that we can be. As the song says, ‘Every day can’t be like Disney/Everybody can’t be Jim Carrey’—you can’t just be ‘on’ all the time.” “Cure” “We’ve been wanting to write a song like ‘Cure’ for the seven years we’ve been in a band. We’ve always been afraid to get a little more rock and really just dig into our guitars. And I think on ‘Cure,’ we finally let go. We really wanted to turn our guitars up to 100 and really have a rockier kind of anthem. Initially, the song was started by [drummer] Karah [James] and Mickey, and I remember they were talking about The Cure and trying to find a way to reference one of our favourite bands. So, we flipped that concept: Let’s take The Cure and talk about the idea of being someone’s cure and being there for somebody relentlessly and unconditionally. But I love that we still landed a Cure reference: There’s a line in the bridge where we go, ‘Boys! Don’t! Cry!/But that’s a lie!’ That’s gonna be so fun to sing live.” “ain’t my girl” “This one’s just four chords and the truth, as they say. I’ve always wanted to write a song based around the idea of the one that got away—I think that’s just a beautiful, pure story that a lot of people have in their lives and are afraid to talk about sometimes. I love the bittersweetness of that concept. To be honest, this song is seven-and-a-half years old. We were at our cabin in the woods, just writing for this EP, and we had one night where we took some weed gummies and were having the best time ever and started playing old songs from the Dropbox. We had, like, 60 tracks in there and we were like, ‘Let’s just play them—they’re probably all horrible!’ But ‘ain’t my girl’ came on. We sounded so young, but the song was so pure, and we all just looked at each other and were like, ‘Oh, no—why did we overlook this song? We need to release it.’ It was the biggest lesson for us: No song goes to waste; you just never know when a song is going to feel right. We rerecorded it and changed some of the lyrics, and we got Ash Soan—he’s Adele’s drummer and works with Hans Zimmer—and he just added this whole new flavour. It’s kind of our emo-country song.” “Like 1999” “This was the song that started this whole new kind of era for us. It was a song that fell out of the sky. We were sitting in a cabin up north in Canada, doing nothing and just figuring out what we were gonna do for the next year, and this song just wrote itself in, like, an hour. It’s an expression of just obsessing and being like, ‘OK, life kind of sucks right now. How crazy would it be if we went back to a time like 1999—just on the cusp of the digital age, but we could actually be so much more in tune with ourselves.’ Accessibility was so blocked off then—you could actually take in moments and people, and we just weren’t so glued to everything. I would say this song is our magnum opus of just obsessing over going back in time and being very fascinated by a time that we didn’t really get to process because of our age.” “SOCIETY” “We were in LA, writing with a bunch of people. We had this one day where we walked into a studio, and we were going through a lot of pretty dark shit as a band, and we were like, ‘We want to write about this.’ And [the producer there] was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool—I don’t know if I feel like doing that. It’s not relatable. It’s not accessible. Let’s write something that’s a little more easy-breezy. I want to get something to radio.’ And we were just so taken back by that, and we were like, ‘This is not the way we want to do things.’ So, Karah walked away from the room and started writing the bridge of ‘SOCIETY’ in that session, and we spent the next few days sitting in that feeling of, ‘Were we just told who to be and what to do and how to write a song?’ We’re obsessed with juxtaposition: The song feels very uplifting, but we wanted the lyrics to hit you with sulk and sadness. ‘You Get What You Give’ by the New Radicals is a great example of that: That song is a smash to me, but if you really break that song down, he’s frustrated and there’s a lot of little jabs in there.” “Tempo” “‘Tempo’ kind of came from the same idea of ‘Oh shit...are we in love?’: How do we put something that can come off kitschy or corny in three minutes and make it feel truthful and honest? This song is about infatuation, and just being obsessed with a person or a night spent with that person. While we were at the cabin, we were watching The Last Dance constantly—we were obsessed with that documentary, and when we started writing the chorus, we came up with all these lines: ‘Like ’98/You’re Michael in Chicago/Let’s go’—like, you’re honestly the best that you could be right now, and I love you so much. We made the outro at the last minute: We discovered SZA’s song ‘Good Days,’ and the whole vibe of that record made us realize, ‘Oh, man, we need to add something like that into this song.’” “Like 1999 (Late Night Mix)” “We wanted to present a different sonic angle of the ‘Like 1999’ story and dive into a more ’90s sonic texture. So, we thought, ‘Let’s find a way to make it feel like this song came out when we were 16 and driving around our suburb and going to McDonald’s at 2 am.’ We added a bunch of fun, shoegaze-y guitars and Karah played this big, trashy drum kit and we only put one mic up and we made it sound more soundtrack-y and cinematic. That whole period of 15 years old to 21 years old is such a precious time, and the ‘Late Night Mix’ is kind of our presentation of that moment. We wanted a version of ‘Like 1999’ that people can listen to when they’re driving around with their friends, or falling asleep, or just existing in their own coming-of-age movie.”

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