Dreams, Driving, and Getting High Inspired Suzanne Vallie on Debut LP ‘Love Lives Where Rules Die’

Photo Credit: Magdalena Wosinska

Big Sur, California-based singer, songwriter, and poet Suzanne Vallie routinely enters an empty black space in her dreams, where she floats around and finds inspiration. During one particular trip to this abyss, she heard a voice commanding her, “I’m going to give you a song. It’s a very important song. Are you listening to me?”

“It was insisting that I pay attention,” she remembers. “And then the voice just started singing, ‘High with you, high with you, ah, get high with you.'” She woke with a start and immediately recorded the melody and lyrics on her phone. Soon after that, she and her band followed through on this voice’s instructions. They worked out a bridge and chorus for the song, and Vallie improvised the other verses as they played it. The result of their work is a Beatles-esque ode to substance-assisted good times with friends, “High With You.” “The song’s mostly about friendship and feeling elevated, and also when you trust someone so much you can eat mushrooms with them,” she says.

They performed “High With You,” among other songs, at Hickey Fest, a music festival in Northern California, where producer Rob Shelton was attending. Shelton had planned on catching Vallie’s set but ended up missing it. Then, later on, people were passing a guitar around a campfire, and Vallie started performing the song there. As everyone sang along to the chorus, more and more people joined the circle, including Shelton.

“High With You” indeed proved to be an important song, because Shelton reached out to Vallie after that, and they ended up working together on her debut album, Love Lives Where Rules Die. Soon after, Vallie also met Jenny Mason, who funded the album and gave her a deal through her label Native Cat Recordings. Native Cat dissolved before the record had the chance to come out, so she ended up releasing the 11-song LP via her friend Kacey Johansing’s label Night Bloom Records.

The record deal was a light in the dark for Vallie, who had just gone through a difficult breakup and was hopping between friends’ places, working odd jobs. “I just had all kinds of crazy feelings, feelings I had never had before, certain feelings I didn’t know could be in the same room together,” she remembers.

This mish-mosh of emotions managed to converge at Dreamland Recording, a hundred-year-old church that doubles as a studio in upstate New York, where the album was recorded. Mason wanted to capture the essence of Vallie’s live performances, so the album was recorded using old-fashioned live-tracking, which was a fun process for Vallie. “It’s so exciting when we get the take — we get to the end of the song and everyone’s quiet for a second and they’re like, ‘I think that’s the take,'” she remembers.

Vallie suffers from mild narcolepsy, which oddly seems to flare up when she gets excited, and she actually experienced a narcoleptic episode during the recording of the album. Somehow, she continued singing and playing the Wurlitzer piano when she drifted off to sleep in the studio. “I kind of blacked out, but I woke up still performing, and we finished the song, and we kept the tape,” she says, declining to reveal which song it was. “I think only I can kind of hear this little part where I can tell when I was asleep.”

Somehow, the fact that Vallie recorded the album partially while asleep seems perfectly fitting when you listen to it. Folk melodies, airy vocals, and influences ranging from shoegaze to country to ’60s soul create a mellow sound that seems to belong in the backdrop of a movie dream sequence. This dreamlike sound is also in keeping with the way the album was first conceived, not to mention the name of the studio.

The vivid natural imagery in the music has the same effect, painting otherworldly scenes. In the first track, the angelic “Ocean Cliff Drive,” Vallie sings about driving down Highway 1 between the mountains and the ocean on the California coast: “Honey, I can’t see the road ahead of me/But I’m coming.” The video was filmed further south, in Huntington Beach, but captures the same feeling, with Vallie driving and playing with dogs in the sand.

She also released a video for another single off the album, “Love Letter,” a whimsical country ditty featuring biting lyrics like “You’re tall on a horse/Short on the floor.” For the video, a neighbor of hers brought her horses down, and Vallie rode and played with them. “We had to social distance, but I could get close to the horses, so that was all right,” she remembers.

The album also includes songs like “Morro Bay,” a fast-paced, danceable account of “mid-westerners in Cali,” and the title track “Love Lives Where Rules Die,” where Vallie sings against baritone guitar about receiving support from friends after her breakup.

Vallie grew up in South Dakota and Minnesota, then moved to California and wrote lyrics for the band The Range of Light Wildnerness before launching her solo project. She’s currently working on a video for “High With You,” along with another record full of new songs, and we’ll undoubtedly hear more creative work from her as she pays further visits to the dark space in her dreams.

Follow Suzanne Vallie on Bandcamp for ongoing updates.

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