Local indie-rock band Valet were a venerable Twin Cities music scene fixture right from their start in 1998, and for nearly a decade after. Like so many bands that stand the test of time, they formed via friendships. Robin Kyle, who moved to the U.S. in 1994, was performing solo shows at the Foxfire. A mutual friend suggested Judd Hildreth play drums with Kyle and introduced them. Hildreth and Kyle forged a friendship and Hildreth convinced Kyle to start a band. In 1998, they formed Valet, and recorded four songs soon after with producer/engineer Mike Wisti.
Valet's five members have all played with notable bands before and since: Frontman Robin Kyle (vocals, guitar) plays with Black Audience, and his wife's and children's band, Jayanthi Kyle and the Crybabies. Judd Hildreth (drums) has played with Mollycuddle, Duplomacy, Easy Baby and currently with Martin Devaney's band, Crossing Guards. Steve Yernberg (guitar), who joined Valet in 2003, played in the Ashtray Hearts for several years, who are not very active these days but have a recording in the works. Paul Fugelstad (keyboards/accordion) played with Magic Castles, and Kris Lightner (bass) played with Cascade Retreat.
Who had the idea to reunite Valet?
Hildreth: Robin had the idea he wanted to do it again. And I don't think any of us didn't want to. But, I assumed because he has a job, two kids, and another band, that there wasn't time for it. I was always ready to play . . .
Kyle: After a while you really want to start playing music again, its something I missed. I figured if I got the band started it would be incentive to actually write songs and perform them. It's nice to be able to sing, and finish writing songs. We've got two new songs we're going to play at our show. The goal is to record an EP.
Hildreth: I remember after the first practice Robin seemed super happy. He said it felt good to play loud again. And we're not really even a loud band, but compared to what he was doing...
Kyle: It felt really, really cathartic for me. It's really nice, when its something you've done for a long time in your life. I've never gone so long without singing or playing in my life.
Hildreth: It felt really, really good, but sounded really, really bad. [everyone laughs]
Robin: It sounded better than I thought it would!
Lightner: Nobody really knew the songs anymore, so we spent the first few practices having Steve tell us what to play and sing! [laughs]
What has changed over the past few years?
Kyle: It's easy to fall into the role of what we did before. It's comfortable and nice, but I wanted us to push ourselves a little more.
How do you feel the music scene has changed?
Fugelstad: Everyone's younger.
Yernberg: I haven't stayed up past 9 o'clock since the last Valet show. I have no idea what's going on at all. [everyone laughs]
Hildreth: I've definitely noticed there's a lot more going on, like on the West Bank, more of like an old-timey influence, there's a lot of it now.
Kyle: I think in general this town has continued to have more and more happening in the music scene. The hip-hop thing is blowing up like crazy, there's still punk rock, dance rock...
Lightner: There's a sweet punk rock scene.
Hildreth: I remember when Aaron Mader, who was in the Plastic Constellations, first told me about this new rap collective called Doomtree. I just thought, "Doomtree?!" I was like, "good luck buddy." And now it's a big deal!
Kyle: All those Doomtree guys started playing music at the Foxfire. Even from those days, this town has continued to foster local music to the point where Minneapolis has a lot of things to be proud of nationwide and worldwide, so many quality bands with people that we used to play with. And now their bands are huge.
Hildreth: I still think this city is very incestuous. A lot of the people who were in bands when we started out who are still playing are still the same crowd - throw in a few new faces - but it's still friends supporting friends.
Kyle: The ones who get big are the ones who get all the kids to come to their shows. The Current's also been a phenomenal thing for the music scene. We were on the Current Volume 1 record. They just started and we were just ending.
Hildreth: We did their one-year anniversary show in the mainroom with the Beatifics, POS, I think Digitata...
Your songwriting is gritty and poetic, are they real stories?
Kyle: They're meant to be hopeful, but life has lots of downbeat things and so they have to have those things along with everything else.
Yernberg: They seem really character-driven to me. I don't know if they're real, or an amalgamation of characters...
Kyle: They're a mixture. One song will have characters that are from friends I met in Cuba and the next verse will have a character from someone I read about in a novel. Somehow I relate them and join their lives together. It doesn't have to make any sense. You should still enjoy the story as it is. But if you want to dig in deep enough, you can find a back-story to the story, which I like. One of my favorite songwriters, Luke Haines -- every time I get one of his records I used to look up the names in the library, now I Google them. You get a much broader story when you put it in that context, than when it's just a character in a song. But the song should also work as having a character in a song and nothing more than that.
Judd, would you talk about your drumming inspiration?
Hildreth: I'm never like somebody who sticks out as a star drummer who people speak of and say, "You've got to check out this drummer."
Fugelstad: He's too modest. Steve heard him do some funky stuff and wanted to join the band.
Hildreth: I like being in this band because it allows me to do the stuff I like, indie rock. I like the drumming on bands like with Matador Records and Sub Pop. I like to do what the song calls for, but make it interesting enough, without taking away from or distracting from the songs. I don't like overplaying. I've got good taste.
Kyle: In one thing in life.
Yernberg: The only tasteful thing Judd does.
Judd: I really appreciate well thought-out minimalism. I like bands like Low. I think it's a lot harder to make something simple, complicated without being complex, than just blowing people's ears out.
Kris, tell me more about your approach?
Lightner: Actually I'm a guitar player but I've never been the best guitar player so I get sucked into playing bass.
Yernberg: I'm interested in song arrangement and how parts fit together, guitar interplay versus just one guitar part.
Kyle: That's one of the best things about Valet. How nice Steve's guitar will compliment whatever basic thing I'm doing and make it sound ten times better. He's got a good ear.
Hildreth: How about Two Fingers Louie there?
Fugelstad: I'm texting my wife! I like to make it memorable. Just fill in, add texture. I like to make it like icing on the cake, so to speak.
Your reunion show is at the Turf Club. Isn't that was where you played the most?
All: "It's my favorite venue!"
Kyle: Despite all the turnover of the people there, there's still good people there and it's a great place. It's laid back and sounds good. They pay the bands well, way better than most of the venues.
Do you plan to play more shows after December 16?
Kyle: We'd like to play at least every three months. We're working on learning new songs. The show crept up faster than we thought because life goes by faster when you get older.
Lightner: It's hard for everyone to practice. We practice in our basements, and we get there at like 8:55 so only have 5 minutes to practice every night.
Paul: Too many kids, too many jobs. More money, more problems!
Lightner: Judd's schedule is the hardest now. [laughs]
Hildreth: I think after this show, Robin will write more songs and we'll start playing once a month again, like we used to.
Many of you have kids, different job schedules. Robin, I know you own and manage 24/7 car service, and Judd, you've been a 24/7 driver for years. What about the rest of you?
Yernberg: I teach math at Central High School.
Lightner: I manage a cabinet shop.
Kyle: He's phenomenal. He's an artisan.
Hildreth: I'm a driver for 24/7 car service. Also, I work in the adult entertainment industry. [everyone laughs]
Fugelstad: I'm a post-doctorate researcher, in the school of Public Health.
Robin: I have two.
Fugelstad: Mine is 15 months old and one is on the way in February.
Kyle (deadpans): Judd has 17 kids we don't know about.
Lightner: I have three girls.
Yernberg: I have eight pets!
Kyle: Does this mean you win, Steve?
Yernberg: I don't know. I have two dogs, five, no three chickens, two cats, a rabbit, a potbelly pig and a cockatoo.
Any more thoughts on how it feels playing together again?
Kyle: I think I saw Steve like three times in the past five years. That's what happens when you have a wife and kids and don't go out anymore and the only shows you go to are when you are playing. It's nice to get together with the guys.
Yernberg: It's like mandatory social time.
Kyle: Yeah, it's a good thing to do at our age. It feels good to have time to do that, and something you love doing. It's more about staying alive than making any big effects.
Hildreth: I don't think we could really be a full-time band - not like we were ever a full-time band - but not like we used to be. I could see this band potentially not seeing each other for a few months, hoping Robin's written a handful of songs and then getting together and learning. I'd like to think we have enough material to record.
Kyle: I would love to record! We're playing music just because we like to play music. Recording's not exactly fun sometimes but it's nice to have a finished product.
VALET play with Magic Castles and Story of the Sea on FRIDAY, DECEMBER 16, at the TURF CLUB. 21+. $7. 9 p.m.