Tuesday, 01 September 2015 13:04

From Twin Peaks to Capitol Records

Written by  Eric Mitts
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In The Valley Below In The Valley Below

In The Valley Below
The Pyramid Scheme, Grand Rapids
Sept. 25, 7 p.m.
$14, $12 advance, all ages
pyramidschemebar.com, (616) 272-3758

Before breaking out of L.A. as one half of the enigmatic indie-pop duo In The Valley Below, Muskegon native Angela Gail Mattson began her long, strange trip to stardom with a single, burning step.

“I used to work at Blockbuster Video in Muskegon and I got a copy of ‘Fire Walk With Me,’ which was the Twin Peaks movie, and that was one of the first experiences that I had with something that wasn’t completely mainstream or commercial and it just completely blew my mind,” she said. “I watched it over and over. That was a moment that changed me creatively.”

Until that run in with the bizarre David Lynch flick, her experience growing up in West Michigan was pretty typical. She performed with various theatre groups and, like most teenagers in small towns, used music as a means of escape.

When that wasn’t enough, she and her ex ventured off to the West Indies, leaving the cold weather and economic hardship of Michigan behind for open water and brighter skies.

“We got a little boat, sold everything we owned and decided to just go sailing for as long as we could,” Mattson said. “We fished, and I actually brought a guitar that a friend gave me so I had time to really learn how to play and start writing songs.”

After discovering she wanted to pursue music for a living, she set a course for Los Angeles.

“When I moved there I had never been to California, so in my mind it was kind of a Disneyland fantasy,” she said. “I thought I’d just go out there and I’d get a record deal and it was going to be great.”

The harsh reality of the music industry quickly set in after reaching the West Coast. While struggling to get her solo music out, she played bass with other bands while getting acquainted with the scene. By 2011 that D.I.Y path lead her to a kindred sonic spirit: Jeffery Jacob Mendel.

With a shared love for the surrealist films and the eerier elements of Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel records — the two forged a songwriting partnership that neither thought would go much further than their home studio.

But thanks to digital music outlets like Spotify, the pair’s unique approach to electro-pop, decorated by Mattson’s Americana harmonies and Mendel’s Memphis-bred blues guitar, found an audience and the band started booking gigs.

The hard work paid off — the duo is now signed to Capitol Records. Their single “Peaches” is charting in several countries and receiving remixes from the likes of Passion Pit and Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke — not bad for something started as a studio project. Beyond its synth-fueled sound, In The Valley Below has become known for its transfixing chemistry and their beguiling, gothic-bohemian fashion.  

“Before the band I had an online vintage shop,” Mattson said. “I’ve just always loved wearing vintage dresses and we decided that we wanted to have a ceremonial type of uniform when we go onstage, just to help people get into the zone and feel comfortable in the space that we’ve created. It helps us get in that mood.”

This month they will start their first-ever headlining tour here in Grand Rapids where they’ve spent a surprising amount of time already learning more about their other creative passion: homebrewing.

“We’re fans of darker beers, like the porters and the stouts, so we’re always searching for the best ones,” Mattson said. “But there’s so many [here] it was a little overwhelming when we first came back to Michigan. Where do you start?”

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