In this interactive age, there’s no need for musicians to gamble on which songs to record and release to radio, in hopes of landing a hit.
Why not just ask listeners which tunes they’d like to hear?
That’s the populist approach taken by Alberta country band High Valley.
When brothers Brad and Curtis Rempel were planning to record their last album, County Line, they asked fans to decide which songs should make their CD.
“I’d written so many, we went to our fan clubs. We sent a couple thousand fans a link to 20 to 30 songs that were on our list of finalists, so they could narrow it down to the Top 10,” recalled Brad Rempel.
Listeners made their selections and the songs with the highest vote counts made the album.
It was no coincidence that the top three favourites — the County Line title track, as well as Make You Mine and She’s With Me — turned into big radio hits.
“It makes sense, the way we did it,” added Brad, who doesn’t subscribe to the “I only make music for myself” philosophy embraced by some artists. “We don’t hold anything too precious about our ‘art.’ We make music for as many people as want to hear it.”
Thousands of fans are expected to fill the Centrium on Friday, July 17, when High Valley performs with The Road Hammers as part of Red Deer’s Westerner Days fair.
And Brad and Curtis look forward to putting on a high-energy concert in a dance-friendly, family-oriented setting.
“It’ll be dynamic,” promised Brad. “I think if you put people who have just attended a fair or rodeo, eating fair food, going on rides, into an arena, (the vibe) is going to be different than when people get all dressed up to go to a concert. …
“I’m not a big fan of people sitting down,” he added. “Our goal is to get people dancing. We’re going to keep everybody rockin’ with some good bluegrass tunes that will get you up on your feet.”
The best concert moments, he recalled, are when the audience is “freaking out,” cheering and singing along after the band plays the first couple bars of a familiar song. “We’re going to make sure it keeps happening.”
High Valley released its debut recording in 2001, but the Rempel brothers have actually been performing professionally since 1997 (and were a trio until brother Bryan left the group to focus on his family last year).
“I started when I was 12 years old,” said Brad, who grew up on a farm near La Crete, close to the border of Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
He has learned much about music, the industry and life in the ensuing 18 years. “We’ve had some great teachers,” said Brad — including Paul Brandt, who took the group under his wing in the early days when High Valley went on tour with him.
“We’ve also played with Emerson Drive, Doc Walker, opened for Shania Twain and Alan Jackson. …” And Ricky Skaggs recorded with the group and took the Alberta brothers to the Grand Ol’ Opry.
“People in country music are so nice,” added Brad. He tries to be similarly encouraging to younger performers, such as The Hunter Brothers, whom he’s producing for. “I try to be a good example.”
Now a married father of two and living in Nashville, Brad continues to write music on most days. When inspiration strikes, he ambles down to “music row,” a street made up of recording studios, to do some formal songwriting.
Sometimes he is introduced to another writer he’s never met before but has been “set up with” through a mutual friend. “It’s like a blind date. You start getting to know each other, you talk about your backgrounds” and you wait for something to spark.
When the partnership is successful, it’s magic, said Brad, who was recently thrilled to have one of his tunes, I Remember You (co-written with Kelly Archer and Ben Caver) recorded by Trisha Yearwood for her latest album, produced by Garth Brooks.
“It was so amazing. … It was a surprise and a real treat.”