Life rarely provides obvious answers. But if you appreciate the beauty and wonder of exploring its complex mysteries, then Seattle's Valley Maker deserves your undivided attention. Recorded over two summers on opposite ends of the country, and composed during a nomadic period spanning two continents, When I Was A Child (out 9.25.15 on Brick Lane Records) features twelve originals that contemplate life, love, and death, faith and doubt, time and space. "Songwriting is a way to approach unanswerable questions, these experiences that don't have easy conclusions," says Austin Crane, the 27 year-old multi-instrumentalist and songwriter behind Valley Maker. Distinctive finger-picking, unconventional tunings, and plaintive vocals anchor Crane's music. Throughout this record, longtime collaborator Amy Godwin intertwines her voice intuitively with his; the end result sounds less like two individuals harmonizing than one who sings with astonishing depth and dimension. Pairing senses of immediacy and space, some songs mesmerize the ear with little else than voice and guitar, while others are fleshed out with bass, drums, and piano. Ambient noise imbues When I Was A Child with cohesion via a sense of being in the same room with the musicians.
Crane grew up in Florence, South Carolina, where I-95 intersects I-20. The oldest of six children, he spent his childhood in a tight-knit evangelical community. Music opened up the world to Austin when he received a guitar at the age of thirteen. As he grew older, his tastes settled and matured towards key influences like Bill Callahan (Smog), Will Oldham (Bonnie "Prince" Billy), Chan Marshall (Cat Power), and Jason Molina (Songs: Ohia). Valley Maker began in 2010 as Crane's senior thesis project at the University of South Carolina. Big existential ideas marked this first collection of Valley Maker songs, which explored the humanity and mystery of Biblical origins stories from the Book of Genesis. Eventually Crane posted this material online. While it pleased him that others connected with these songs, and he played some shows around them, he didn't imagine Valley Maker would carry him into the future after graduation. Instead, he embarked on a series of international aid internships, Eastern European adventures, and graduate studies that led him to Colorado, Bulgaria, Kentucky, Ukraine, back to South Carolina, and ultimately Washington. As his travels continued, so did the music. "Songwriting became a way to stay in touch with other aspects of my experiences and my interior life. It would be disingenuous to say I never intended to record or play these new songs live, but I really didn't have a concrete plan when I wrote most of them." After completing his master's degree at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, the vibrant music scene of the Pacific Northwest influenced his decision to come to the University of Washington for his Ph.D. studies in Human Geography – a field which happily affords him more opportunities to ask big questions. Balancing the two disciplines suits him fine. And the open-ended nature of this songwriting project permits him to showcase it live in different configurations: solo, in a duo with Godwin, or as a full band. Because as When I Was A Child affirms, when the questions you ask – and the art they inspire – remain fluid, moments of great truth and beauty ensue.