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Some might think placing second in a competition makes you just the first loser. Valhalla, the progressive metal band disagree. To the members of the progressive metal band who took second place in a 28-band, 15- week whatzup/Wooden Nickel Battle of the Bands, second place was just the next step in their growth as a band. Formed just over a year ago, Valhalla – Patrick DiGangi on drums, Jeremy Harmeyer on bass, Paul Kendall on keyboards, vocalist Logan Detwiler and guitarist Justin Zych – had already been raising eyebrows with their self-released EP, Deathless, when the band decided to enter Battle of the Bands 9.
“We recorded a few songs, people checked it out and we got a good response,” said Zych in a recent interview. “And we want to record a full-length LP at some point (to capitalize on the momentum of the EP), so we were going to use the money we hoped to win in [the] battle to pay off our bills and get started on the new record.”
The members of Valhalla are familiar to fans of the local scene, with Zych and Detwiler mostly known for playing with former power metal band Zephaniah. Kendall is from Color By Numbers and Joey & The IROC Experience, and Harmeyer played with Invisible Guests and Days of the Falcon. DiGangi is the veteran musician of the band, however. He’s been in and around the local scene for over 18 years with punk band Skeeter, rockers The Ivory and, most recently, with The Sunny Taylor Band.
“We all come from very different backgrounds,” said DiGangi in a separate interview. “We didn’t really know where we wanted to go with this band when Paul and I got it started, but we knew we just wanted to play good music. We did know we wanted it to be some type of rock band, and eventually [with the addition of Zych and Detwiler] it turned into progressive metal, which has really pushed me [as a drummer] farther than anything I’ve done before, really expanding my playing way outside of what I thought were my abilities.”
“I wasn’t doing a lot at the time Valhalla got started, except looking for a keyboard player for Argonaut,” Zych recalled. (Zych is a member of Argonaut and Cougar Hunter, along with Valhalla.) “Paul called and we got together. After a while, we realized we worked well together and we could shred hardcore. Eventually we got Logan in the picture, got a bass player (later replaced by Harmeyer) and worked some things out. We recorded a few songs, people checked it out and we got a good response.”
One of the keys to Valhalla’s quick success is the bands knack for relentlessly marketing themselves. There was a time when bands had to make their own flyers, whether by hand or computer, find some place to make copies cheaply (usually at somebody’s job without the boss’s knowledge), buy a lot of tape and post news about their upcoming shows wherever they could, bulletin boards, venue windows, telephone poles and car windshields being some of the more popular destinations. In today’s world, it’s much easier to get the word out about your shows through social networking, though the response to those internet postings aren’t always positive, according to Zych.
“I use Facebook a lot for promotion. Being in 8,000 bands at the same time, there’s only so much you can do to promote yourself, so Facebook is a great way to tell people about what shows are coming up. Some people don’t like all the invitations to events I send out, and I understand that, but that’s not going to stop me. I understand it, but I don’t care. You wouldn’t know we were playing if I didn’t do it. If nobody knows about the shows, then nobody will come to them and we won’t get any more bookings.”
Getting more promotion and creating networking connections were main factors in why the band chose to compete in Battle of the Bands this year as well. Zych had played in the contest for the past four years so he knew the advantages of getting to know other musicians and playing in front of people whom they might not otherwise have had a chance to reach.
“First of all, when you’re in Battle you get a lot of promotion in whatzup, for just $40. That’s worth entering in and of itself. But you also get a chance to have a new fanbase check you out. That’s really the best reason to do Battle every year. The promotion you get and the chance to network with other bands [are beneficial].
“I’ve done this long enough to know it’s good for everyone. Some people don’t get that. If they don’t win, they get mad and leave.”
Zych explained that even bands that don’t win anything benefit from the promotion that goes into the competition. “I wish I could promote every show like (a Battle of the Bands show),” he said.
Another reason Valhalla entered Battle of the Bands was, of course, for the prizes. “We would have liked the van, of course, but we wanted to record a full-length LP after the battle, said Zych. “That’s what the money we were hoping to win was going to be used for. First, we have to pay off our debts from the EP, then what’s left was going to go toward getting into a good studio and getting a good amount of time to record.” For finishing second, Valhalla received $1,000 cash, along with $300 in advertising credits, studio time at Digitracks Recording Studio and CD production and packing from Advanced Media Integration.
The songs on Deathless were collaborative, explained DiGangi. “Most of the songs started with a riff Paul wrote, then Justin would find a melody to build off of that, we’d add a drum and bass line and then Logan would write the lyrics. A lot of the songs are about things that have been going on in Logan’s life, relationships songs, with the exception of [the title track] ‘Deathless’ which is a medieval fight song. Surprisingly, we are a progressive metal band who ended up writing songs about relationships.” You don’t hear that every day.
Currently still in the planning stage for that full-length debut, the band is progressively (pun intended) writing songs to complete the task. “We have one new song which we only played once in the contest because it’s nine minutes long and we are in the middle of writing another song,” said DiGangi. “I don’t know if any of the songs on the EP will make it to the new record, but we may reuse some or re-record a couple of them, I don’t know. There is no real time frame for getting it done right now. This is just a really exciting time for us, having just finished second in Battle of the Bands. We think that’s great, given that we are a new band and given the style of music we play. We got to meet a lot of new people and saw our fan count on Facebook increase dramatically. I don’t know if our music is for all ages, but all ages seem to like our music.”