When On An On went on indefinite hiatus last year, the band’s drummer, Michael Gunvalson, had a lot of extra time on his hands.
Gunvalson had written solo music for guitar in the past, and he shifted back to that instrument and adopted a quieter aesthetic for his new project, Val Son, enlisting the aid of Eric Carlson, Ryne Estwing and Emily Mohrbacher. Val Son’s EP, Miracles, which will be released Saturday, traces the life of a man finding his foothold on life. Woozy, dreamy, and echoing, the music eaves the listener feeling slightly drunk and happily confused as it weaves its way along.
City Pages caught up with Gunvlason to find out how he found the motivation to move on from On An On and what draws him to country folk.
City Pages: Have you done a lot of songwriting before Val Son?
Michael Gunvalson: Yeah, I've written songs for as long as I've played music. I love to pick up the guitar or sit at the piano and mess around until an idea or theme pops into my head.
CP: How do you think the work you did in On An On helped with this project?
MG: I'm 28 now. I joined the band at 24. To travel and play music with friends was a dream come true and a real privilege. It helped this project a lot in that every night I was playing music, getting better at the technical side of the craft. I also had a lot of time during the long drives of the tour to work on writing my own songs, and as we passed through town after town there was no shortage of inspiration.
CP: Why do you think your sound in Val Son is so different from your past projects? Do you feel this is the type of music you've been wanting to make all along?
MG: I grew up on traditional country and folk music. I've always really responded to it -- the stories and the melodies. I think I gravitate towards that sound in my own songwriting in that I like to write concisely, and focus on everyday people and everyday stories. I like to write minimal songs with stretched out arrangements with a lot of space. As a musician though, I don't think there is any music I've wanted to make all along. I just want to explore and learn from other musicians I admire and try to become better at what I do. I think that comes with constantly changing your surroundings and being open to any influence.
CP: How long did it take you to write and record these songs? Why do you feel it was such a fast process?
MG: I'm not a stickler when it comes to recording, at least not yet. I think most of the songs came together because of the great people that came in and played. Most times we'd only run down the tune once or twice and that would be it. The folks involved in this project are great musicians who wrote great parts and played well, so things went pretty smoothly.
CP: Are any of these songs particularly special for you?
MG: I really like "Out Of Nowhere." I wrote it for a dear friend who passed away and it means a lot to me. I think it's pretty instrumentally and I love singing it live with Emily.
CP: How do you take elements like "an outsider yearning for belonging amid spiritual dissonance" and put it into a song without making it trite?
MG: Our experiences are certainly our own, but they're also part of a larger social consciousness. If we take a moment to tap into what we have in common as people, I think there's power in that. I'm interested in spirituality, and the spiritual side of what it means to be human. But maybe the record will come off as trite... I don't think that's really for me to decide.
CP: What was your goal with this project?
MG: Our goals changed slightly on November 7 last year. Our world is changing in some startling ways, and it's my hope that as a band we can be active in our surrounding community and organize our efforts for good. I believe in music as a device for positive change and our band cares about working to be a part of that.
CP: What are you excited to share at the album release show?
MG: I'm just excited to share the album and move on to the next project. As always, I'm excited to play music with my friends and hopefully those who make it out will have a good time! Part of our merch sales will be donated to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and I'm excited about that, too.
With: Sleeping Jesus and Brent Colbert (The Awful Truth)
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18
Where: Aldrich Church
Tickets: All ages; tickets can be purchased at door