Three weeks ago, my phone call to Chris Koza, lead singer of Rogue Valley, went to his voicemail. Four minutes later, my call was returned by an energetic voice. Koza was on the other end. He had been in the recording studio, a place all too familiar for him as of late.
In a span of one year, Koza and his band recorded one of the most ambitious music projects in recent memory, releasing a 46-song, four-album masterpiece. As Koza came to realize, the band made significant strides during their hiatus from touring, gelling into Minneapolis’ premier indie folk rock set. Although the band has toured cross country, sharing the stage or opening for the likes of Andrew Bird, Weezer, Mason Jennings and Justin Vernon, the Twin Cities is its home.
That might not be clear from the band’s name, Rogue Valley, which as their Facebook page proclaims is “a region of Southern Oregon, where scoundrels once hid amongst caves in the lush countryside.” As the name suggests, the band infuses a heavy dose of nature into its work. Rogue Valley’s literary influences, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac, may explain why they refer to each song as a chapter, packed with enough substance to
On the eve of Macalester’s spring break, Koza (guitar/vocals), Paul Engels (guitar), Linnea Mohn (bass/vocals) and Luke Anderson (drums) hit the stage at Minneapolis’ Aster Café, nestled on the north bank of the Mississippi. With its woodsy decor—the building was decked in long rectangular wooden tables and dim, warmly lit lamps—the venue provided the perfect escape into Rogue Valley’s set, which introduced the lush countryside colors of the seasons. Still, the Minneapolis skyline, which glistened out the windows behind the band, provided the perfect backdrop to remind locals and the band of their roots. Koza set the scene for the night, encouraging listeners that the songs offered an opportunity to “sit on the hearth with a labrador and ponder the existence of the universe.”
The show took on the feel of a family reunion, as friends, devoted fans and new listeners reveled in the spirit of the evening. Intimate in setting, the performance didn’t feel too much bigger than the living room concert hosted by Koza’s friend and fellow singer-songwriter Ari Herstand last spring. The audience packed in around the room’s long wooden tables lined with hors d’oeuvres and bottles of Chocolate Cherry Porter (Rogue Valley’s specially crafted beer from Minneapolis’ NorthGate Brewing) as the band produced a serene ambience.
Koza and Company guided the crowd on a journey through the band’s four albums, each of which represent one season of the year. As Minnesota is (hopefully) leaving winter behind, Rogue Valley dripped nostalgia over those other three seasons some of us may have forgotten. Still, highlighting the show’s opening acoustic set were two songs, “Shoulder to Shoulder Around the Fire” and “The Wolves and the Ravens,” from False Floors, the band’s winter-themed collection. “The Wolves and the Ravens” has become the band’s most widely listened to song after its inclusion in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” In fact, Koza even got a call from an Australian couple that planned on walking down the aisle to the song. “That’s what makes the world turn,” Koza quipped.
In the show’s second act, the rhythm became more upbeat as the band traded in acoustic guitars for electrics. While the first act featured some of the band’s more prominent songs, the second half showed off the band’s breadth of work before ending with a unique twist, a folksy version of the Beer Barrel Polka. Only in the Midwest.
Since the show, I’ve found myself tuning into Rogue Valley’s False Floors as well as Ari Herstand’s new Brave Enough album. It wasn’t until I was looking through the lyrics on Herstand’s website that I realized Koza had a part in both albums, helping his longtime friend with the songwriting and lyrics. Herstand and Koza became acquainted through their mutual engineer and producer Paul Marino, and despite Herstand’s move to Los Angeles three and a half years ago, they maintain a friendship that Koza says was “born from a shared love of approaching music with creative integrity and a willingness to reveal their vulnerabilities through songwriting.”
The risks Koza and his band took in producing their large-scale record have paved the way for a diverse splendor of musical ingenuity, something other bands may care to mimic. I think it’s safe to say, Rogue Valley has a new fan.