Rogue Valley enter new season of creation, homecoming show Sunday

In 2010, Chris Koza and his newly formed band, Rogue Valley, set out to do something a little insane. They wrote and recorded four full-length albums in one year. The "season project," as it came to be known, was fueled by personification: each album intends to give shape and sound to a particular season, images of place, and the slippery emotions wrought by weather. Most impressive about the project isn't what it revealed about Rogue Valley's ambition, but that the 46 songs they produced form a compelling body of work: lyrically cavernous, sonically dynamic, the "season project" has stood the test of time.
This Sunday, the Minneapolis-based folk-rock band will be headlining at the 7th Street Entry, concluding their West Coast tour (documented here) with a homecoming performance featuring songs off spring of 2010's Crater Lake, summer's The Bookseller's House, fall's Geese in the Flyway, and winter's False Floors. They'll be sharing the stage with openers The Farewell Circuit and Is/Is.

More than PR hijinks or an exercise in productivity, Rogue Valley's four albums were fueled by the work ethic of frontman, Chris Koza -- who began his career as a solo singer-songwriter -- guitarist Peter Sieve, drummer Luke Anderson, bass/vocalist Linnea Mohn, and keyboardist Joey Kantor. "I like to think that I have a voice, something to add, something unique to say, and I want to be able to say that as well as I can. I want to figure out how I can improve -- that's one of the main things that drives me," Koza reflects.

When City Pages speaks via phone to Chris Koza on the road, perhaps unsurprisingly, we got on the topic of weather and place. "Tonight we have a really good situation," Koza says. "Pete, the guitar player, his cousin hooked us up with this ocean view hotel room in San Diego. Right now, I'm sitting on this balcony and the ocean is just right there." The road has been kind to them in other ways: "Our playing has been so tight, and we've been able to change our songs in ways we can't in the studio."

Having distance from the "season project," we ask Koza if he has any regrets, and if any of the tracks felt stillborn. "Looking back, the only thing that we would have done if we had more time would be to let it simmer a little more. But in essence, I think we put across what we wanted to accomplish."

Collectively, the four albums convey Koza's impulse for narrative cohesiveness: "For the season project, it was really important for there to be a story, like a book or a novella or a short story, I mean, that's what I wanted to do through all those songs. But it takes a lot of patience to write prose in long form -- it takes so much patience -- and I'm still figuring out how to be a patient person."

Koza's songwriting continues to reflect his attraction to physical place, a draw that informs Rogue Valley's pastoral Americana sound. His most recent writing also explores his deepening interest in the imaginative powers of longing and loss. "Something sparks my interest when a sense of longing comes in. If you're with somebody and you love them, they love you, that sense of longing is so powerful. But what do you do when distance comes into play--or something unrequited comes into play -- and that longing still exists? What can happen when something changes? It just sort of floats my boat. So when I get a sense of this -- a sense of longing -- I think, oh, that's something people care about: a passion that they deny or indulge. I like that, and I find that it's an endless wellspring of ideas."

Rogue Valley enjoyed their time on the road -- crashing ritzy hotels, listening to DeVotchKa, Calexico, and Trampled by Turtles as they drive from city to city, playing cards, and flirting with new ideas. "Concepts come into play, but most of the writing I do on the road is ideas or little things. I have a few songs that are in various gestation periods right now," Koza reflects. Some songs he intends for Rogue Valley and others he's writing for himself. "The solo stuff is more personal, it really seems like my voice, like the poetry I would choose to use for a song instead of trying necessarily to tell a story. Maybe it's a briefer kind of snapshot -- more wordplay -- and the production I really see as being more of a solo-sound, toning down the recipe arrangements."

For Rogue Valley's next album, interpreting arrangements and writing songs will be a group effort. "All the people in the band are very creative and great collaborators. We're getting really excited to take a very intentionally collaborative approach to our next project. We're all going to be totally invested because of what we're bringing into the studio."

Will they adhere to a strict timeline? "No. No timeline. I got into some real tight spots last time. No deadlines here. We're just having fun being on the road and we're just wondering how we can reach more people, and what we have to say."

ROGUE VALLEY will play with The Farewell Circuit and Is/Is on SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 2012 at the 7th ST. ENTRY; 612.332.1775. 7:00 pm. 18+. $10.00 adv., $12.00 door.

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