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Confronting Pink Elephants
Della Valle
Oh, by the way, in case you don't know, "Pink Elephants" are the unspoken truths we neglect to talk about that stand in the room, obnoxiously colorful and obvious, until we finally have the balls to see and confront them. - Jay Della Valle
by Matt Mrowicki
 [Chorus and Verse] Della Valle
Della Valle
Della Valle

This is a time of firsts for Jay Della Valle and the band that shares his surname.  The band's first album, Pink Elephants, finally burned to plastic the charismatic, radio-friendly, hook-laden modern rock that fans at tri-state institutions such as Maxwell's, the Knitting Factory and Arlene's Grocery have embraced.  In another medium, Della Valle is promoting the release of his first film documentary, "Glorius Mustache Challenge," where he records the results when dozens of young men agreed to grow and wear mustaches for a month.

The New Jersey-based band's debut, produced by Jon Berman (Ours, Dandy Warhols, Avril Lavigne), features nine tracks that bounce about from one style and influence to another effortlessly, without getting lost in imitation or repetition.

Eighteen players are credited on Pink Elephants - which was released in February 2006 at Hoboken's Maxwell's - led by the band's core of Della Valle on vocals and acoustic guitar and Jon Crane on bass, electric guitars and acoustic.  The instrumentation enhances the rich texture of the music and helps present it in a slightly different way than experienced live.

A note on the band's website says that Pink Elephants was "conceived in determination, and dedication to the proposition that all men (and women of course) need a soundtrack to their everyday lives."  Chorus and Verse spoke with Della Valle - the person - about Della Valle - the band - the new album, the soundtrack it creates and where the story goes from here.

Jon Crane and Jay Della Valle perform at Arlene's Grocery in New York City
Jon Crane and Jay Della Valle perform at Arlene's Grocery in New York City

A couple of weeks ago, you had the CD release party for Pink Elephants at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. How was the show, and how did it feel to finally have the CD in people’s hands?

Couldn't be happier about the CD release party. Maxwell's was packed. We spent a lot of time promoting and getting the word out there - so it was good to see the results of the hard work.  Pink Elephants took us over a year to make and we were just so determined to finish it and make it available to people. So far the response has been terrific and it feels good to have people actually buying, listening, and singing to the songs at our shows.

This isn’t the usual story of a bunch of kids growing up together and starting a band in dad’s garage. Can you introduce us to the members of the band, and how you came together to form Della Valle?

Before starting to write my own material I had been playing in various bands on and off for years, so I had a lot of friends in bands and I knew a lot of guys who I would later come to work with. I started writing in 2001 and then I made my first demo in 2002. I didn't have a band. I had a "Jon Crane." Jon played drums in a ska band I was in a for a while back in college called The Offbeats.

When I started doing my own thing, Jon came on board and was playing several instruments and producing. Chris "Gibby" Gibson at Upstart Studios recorded the first demo and it came out great. People really dug it and it compelled us to get some other guys and start a band. I was just a "singer-songwriter" looking to be able to perform the songs the way they sounded on the demo. Needless to say Jon and I went through several different rotations with bands, and it wasn't till several years later that we actually found some solid dudes to play and do things the way we need to do them.

Right now the band consists of myself, Jon Crane on lead, Chris James on drums and Chris Vitali on bass. Nothing happened when we wanted it to and it took a while to find what we were all looking for. At this point things are looking good so we'll see.

Talk about the early days of the band and the EPs that you were releasing for a while. Is any of that material still included as part of your live shows, and was any of it rerecorded for Pink Elephants? Was the band’s sound established quickly when you started playing together, or has it evolved into something different from the early days?

During the "early days," I was writing profusely.  I had so much inspiration and misery running through my veins from a recent breakup and the death of my grandfather it felt like everyday I had something new to write about. All I wanted to do was record and document what I was going through and express it in music. It was my way of making the process bearable and ultimately productive. There are still several songs from those early EPs that we play live nowadays. Songs like "Kings and Queens," "Everything I See in You," and "Can't Take You Anywhere." None of those made it onto Pink Elephants, but we did re-record and master several of the songs from our most recent EP to include on the Pink Elephants album. We only have nine songs on there even though we recorded more than that. I was pretty serious about making sure the songs on that album related to the theme of "pink elephants" that I decided to express.

Oh, by the way, in case you don't know, "Pink Elephants" are the unspoken truths we neglect to talk about that stand in the room, obnoxiously colorful and obvious, until we finally have the balls to see and confront them.

Anyway, the band's sound was not established quickly. Since we were constantly changing guys the sounds would inevitably change. It was crazy frustrating and I was enjoying playing solo for a while so I wouldn't have to deal with the frustration of keeping a band together. It felt like as soon as we were on to something someone would flake out or something and we'd have to start over. As time went by and we started to make things happen people started getting more serious and the sound started to finally sound like we were on to something as a whole. We're runnin' with it now.

It is surprising to see 18 players credited, including “Jay’s Dad,” in the liner notes for Pink Elephants. Was the recording process controlled chaos with people coming in and out, or were you just pulling in whoever was available? Are the people who played on the album friends of yours or studio player who you wanted to bring in for very specific tracks?

Yeah, there were definitely a lot of people who lent their abilities on this album. My dad got in their for some harmonies one day and filled out this huge harmony. He's an awesome singer and I hoped to involve him at least a little bit. We're actually working on something right now. My dad's voice kicks so I'm excited to mix with his.

The recording process was only controlled chaos because it took so long. I didn't have the luxury of a full band to work things out with before we recorded so it ended up taking a while to get the right ideas down and move forward. We would call in studio players to play things if we had ideas.  We used a percussionist, cello, B3, female vocalist.  If I heard something in my mind I found someone to come in and do the part. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.

Jon Berman over at Boulevard Studios was the engineer and co-producer. He's a friggen genius. And he knows so many great people so we had the best of the best at our disposal. Next time, I plan on simplifying the damn process, though. I'll have the band together, the same five guys, get the money together, book the time, and go record from start to finish, just immerse ourselves in it. My next plan of attack!

Jay Della Valle
Della Valle performed at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2006

The band had a chance to perform at the Spur in Park City, Utah, as part of the Sundance Film Festival in January. How was the whole Sundance experience and was there much of a live music scene going on there?

The Sundance experience is very cool. It's all about movies and music out there and it's all industry peeps and famous people so you never know who you're playing for. I've been playing out there for several years and each year it gets better. I sell a lot of CDs and give out a lot of free promotional stuff and people dig the material so I'm loving it. All the bars are packed and people [who] appreciate the live music and whatever kind of original entertainment you can hit them with. You definitely have to have it together, though.  It's a wild time.

There’s a line on your website that people “need a soundtrack to their everyday lives.” Do you feel that you’ve created such a soundtrack with Pink Elephants? Since the band has something of an artsy reputation, do you think it’s easier for you to create something that people can really connect with, or is that something you have to work at?

People do need a soundtrack for the everyday. Some bands are only good to listen to at different times; when you're partying, or depressed, or angry, or lonely.  Pink Elephants is cool because you can listen to the whole thing and no two songs sound the same. There are songs that ache, there are songs that pump, there are songs that swing, and songs that just rock. It's a total singer-songwriter meets great rock band sound, the kind you get with a band like Wilco. They are pretty introspective tunes, mostly dealing with the changes people go through within themselves after major life experiences, in love and just getting older and seeing the picture.

As far as creating something for people to connect with, I think you definitely have to work at it. Just like anything. But it's not like this equation you have to figure out or anything. You just have to express yourself really specifically because that's when it gets personal. A lot of people can write a love song. What makes yours different from the rest is how you express the love and from what perspective. For instance, you can love someone so much that you hate their friggen guts. If you express that in an interesting manner and have a fly melody - and it's honest - then it's bound to connect with someone who has or does feel the same way.

You’ve clearly established yourself as part of the New Jersey musical tradition. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about New Jersey music outside of the state and do you think that the label will hurt or help you establish your music on a national level?

Thanks, that's nice to know. Maybe people have some misconceptions because Jersey seems to be all about either Springsteen, Bon Jovi, or The Benjamins and all these cheesy cover bands.  The bottom line is that there are only a few really respected places in Jersey to come see original music. But these places have housed some of the biggest names out there right now. I don't really care what people think as far as me being from Jersey. That's where I'm from and I love the Garden State! And any of you Long Islanders or NYC people who like to refer to us as the armpit, you can smell mine anytime.

As far as a label goes, I think a major would probably not be the best thing for us at this point in the game. It's not about a record deal it's about "the right deal," and that's different for everybody, depending on their product and their situation. I started my own label, "Rock-A-Stache Records," to approach my music career from a DIY angle. You have to be fully-functional and healthy as a business and as a product before you can offer any type of credibility to a major label or else you'll just end up getting dropped. Indies are the way to go these days. At least until you have some crazy hype and are being talked about in the biz.

What are your plans for promoting Pink Elephants? Is there a single that you’re promoting to radio? Do you anticipate shopping your music for television or film placement? Are there other opportunities that have presented themselves or that you’re looking to create with the CD?

I'm currently promoting Pink Elephants in several ways.  I've been shopping for TV and film placement, which is a lot of work and persistence. We're still building the promotion schedule. This summer I'm directing a music video for the song I'm hoping to promote to radio, "Hand of a Friend." Other than that it's about networking with other bands that generate huge numbers and hitting large crowds with sample CDs and getting it out there into people's hands. Being in a band or being a performer these days is all about the work you do off the stage. The performance part of it is the reward you get for hustling. That's the fun part. And the road is different for every sound. You have to really think about the best way to promote what you have and it requires you to take risks and try crazy shit. Guess it all depends on how bad you want it, because it never ends.

Jay Dalla Valle
Jay Della Valle

What would you like our readers to know about the band that might not be included in your bio or covered in our interview so far? Give one reason why people should attend a Della Valle show.

Personally, I go out to see a lot of shows and, unfortunately, I can't say that I see a lot of bands that impress me. When you do see someone that floors you you really go out of your way to see who they are and what their story is. I've been entertaining audiences since I was 14. I'm really all about the connection with the audience and what they are experiencing. I want them to feel connected to me and I want them to go home feeling satisfied and inspired. I could go on for hours about this kind of thing. But if there's one reason to come see a DV show, it's because of the hot girls. They flock to the DV sound!

Let’s finish off with where you see Della Valle heading in the year ahead. Are you looking to increase your touring schedule, or do more outside of the tri-state area?

Della Valle in a year? Well, currently I have this movie coming out called "The Glorius Mustache Challenge." This movie has been creating a lot of hype and when I first started making it my plan was to create something that could help generate a lot of exposure and turn heads towards my music. So I'm hoping the success of the album and also the film's credibility - it's about the 'stache, how much more rock and roll can you get? - puts me and the band in a place where we can start playing and touring with bigger acts.

I do plan on recording another album in the fall and I'm hoping to be on tour as soon as I can make it happen! I'm doing my homework right now on that and I'm trying to explore my options. Every day I learn a little more and every day things make some progress. Who knows where the year will bring me, but I feel like this is definitely the year for Della Valle.

[ Website: www.dellavallemusic.com ]

Matt Mrowicki
Matt Mrowicki [[email protected]], is an Internet entrepreneur and owner of Chorus and Verse. In 2002, he founded Impression Technologies LLC (www.imprtech.com) a digital design company offering website development, graphic design, online marketing, social media and technology consulting. He has been interviewed on topics ranging from how bands can best use their websites for promoting their music to current trends in social media. He has successfully launched over 100 websites and branding projects for clients and continues to develop new online opportunities and promote effective uses of technology and online media.
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