When it comes to illuminating simple truths and tapping into universal emotions, there's nothing like a great song and country music has long been known for its rich legacy of powerful story songs. When a great collection of songs merges with a band of gifted communicators, the impact is considerable. It's that one-two punch of powerful songs and potent performances that makes High Valley one of the most impressive new acts on today's competitive country scene.
"The overall goal of the record is to make people think," says lead vocalist Brad Rempel, who along with his brothers Bryan and Curtis comprises High Valley. "You don't have to listen to too many songs on the record to see that there are songs about challenges. We want people to think about their lives and to think about their loved ones and to ask: 'What am I doing with my life?'"
As a result, High Valley's self-titled new album is a collection that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. It's an album that will make listeners want to roll down the windows and let the soaring sibling harmonies wash over them while the lyrics will likely prompt some soul searching about relationships and priorities. "We wanted a mixture of feel good tunes and we wanted faith-based songs as well," says Brad of meeting with Nashville's top writers and publishers to cull the best material for the record. "We wanted to stay clear of any negative songs about families being torn apart. We wanted to record songs that would be great for the whole family."
Music and family have always been at the core of the Rempel brothers' lives. "We always describe ourselves as Dierks Bentley as a trio. It's that new country kind of vibe," says Brad of the High Valley sound. "It's not as pop as some contemporary country. Our music is a little more organic, a little more acoustic. We grew up singing harmony as a family and in church. There was always harmony and acoustic instruments, so our live show features a mandolin, an acoustic guitar, a bass guitar and three part harmony."
The Canadian trio has opened shows for Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, LeAnn Rimes and Reba McEntire, earning a solid reputation as a must-see live act. High Valley's last album, "Broken Borders," was named Album of the Year at the 2007 GMA Canada Covenant Awards in the country category while their hit "Back to You" was honored as Country Song of the Year.
In recording their latest project, the trio turned to Canadian country superstar Paul Brandt and Nashville-based Shawn Neff to produce the set. "From working with Rascal Flatts, Shawn has a lot of experience with vocals and really stretched us a long way. He took us to a new level that we weren't reaching on our own," says Brad. "And working with Paul was phenomenal because he's a role model and a huge superstar in Canada. He's somebody we've been listening to forever, and for us to be able to learn from him was an incredible opportunity. Everything he's done in Canada has turned to gold and he just treated us with so much respect. He really worked together with us to get the right sound."
Paying homage to Brandt's considerable influence, the trio covered "When You Call My Name." "We grew up listening to that song," says Brad. "Paul did an acoustic version on tour and when he did a live album, 'When You Call My Name,' was on that album. I remember the first Paul Brandt concert I ever went to, he sang that song and I just always loved it. Paul had always wanted to do a full studio/full band version of that song and he told us that he'd like us to be the guys who did it. We were just thrilled at the opportunity. It's a beautiful love song and we love the way that we were able to treat it as a vocal group song. We felt we were able to make it different, yet still pay tribute to the great job Paul did writing and recording that song originally. It was really special for us."
One of the most poignant songs on the CD is "Only Way," a tender ballad about a father expressing his love for his son the only way he knows how. "That is definitely my favorite," says Brad. "Everybody wants to feel love from the people that they love and we all measure love in different ways. I think it will hit home to so many people because everybody's got their own different way of showing love. The father in the song really doesn't do all the little things that the son wishes he did, but he realizes that his dad took care of his family and did everything in his power to show them his love."
"The Last Thing You Do" is a gentle reminder to weigh words and actions, contemplating their lasting impact and potential legacy. "Obviously that song was designed to make people think and it made us think when we heard it," says Brad. "'The Last Thing You Do' really hits home about living each day as if it were your last and loving everybody as if it were your last opportunity to ever show them that you do love them. If that song doesn't make you reevaluate your priorities, then I don't know what would."
The album also features upbeat fare such as "Combine," a song penned by Brad that reflects the Rempel brothers' farm family roots. "I wrote a lot of songs on the combine," says Brad. "The inspiration for probably 25% of my songs came from sitting on a tractor or a combine. You spend a lot of time by yourself and we only had one combine with a radio that worked and the other one had no radio. So you had a lot of time to make your own music instead of listening to somebody else's."
The Canadian-born siblings grew up in Alberta on a farm in the rural community of La Crete. "When you leave Nashville, if you get to the Canadian border, you are only half way home," says Brad with a laugh. "La Crete is parallel with Juno, Alaska, just as far north as Juno. Right now you can either cross the river on an ice bridge--so you are actually driving across the river--or you can take two and a half hours worth of gravel road to get there. It's a pretty remote little town."
The Rempel family relocated to Canada in a rather unusual fashion when the siblings' paternal grandfather loaded his family onto a truck and drove them from Mexico to Canada. "Our parents were both born in Mexico in a Mennonite colony where they rode horse and buggy and had no electricity," says Brad. "Then our grandfather bought an old gray truck and as a result, he got kicked out of the colony because that was against the rules to have a vehicle. So he packed up the family and immigrated to Canada with the family in the back of this truck. There were two families, four adults in the front and 20 children on the box and that's how they made their move all the way to Canada."
Life on their farm was dominated by faith, family, hard work and lots of country music. "We always heard Diamond Rio and Ricky Skaggs growing up," says Bryan. "I love Blackhawk and I always liked listening to the Everly Brothers on the record player. George Jones was played a lot too."
It didn't take long for the brothers' own musical aspirations to develop and they knew very early on what they wanted to name the band. "When I was a kid, I had a little tape recorder I used to do mock radio shows," recalls Brad. "I was the deejay. I was the band. I was the advertising company and everything. The band was always called High Valley. So when we started our band, we just kind of naturally called it High Valley because that's what I called every band in my little radio show."
Brad was only 12 when the group began performing and Bryan was nine-years-old. Curtis, the youngest sibling, joined the group later on. The brothers performed at church camps then graduated to opening dates for major country acts. "In 2001, we recorded for the first time in Nashville," says Brad, "and the following year we spent 110 days on the road, even though we were still in school and had part-time jobs."
With their new album starting to generate buzz on both sides of the border, the brothers are looking forward to expanding their audience. "We said what we wanted to say," Brad states about the new record. "If it's singing a love song or a song about standing up for your country or praying for the sun to shine on your crops when you are farming, we just want to make music that's going to help families love each other better. Hopefully people will think of our music and say 'Wow! Whatever these guys have got in their personal lives and faith, I'd love to take a closer look.'"