Interviews

A Conversation With Pete Adams: On Valkyrie’s New Album, Baroness, and Growing Up

Fear Cover Art

Hard rockers Valkyrie blend plenty of styles in their work. While 2006’s Valkyrie was a Sabbath-praising buffet of fuzzy, hard-driving riffs and pulsing bass lines, their later work has evolved to incorporate Prog Rock tendencies, Metal overtones, and persistent guitar heroics. Their latest album, Fear (released on July 24), is no exception. The 43-minute epic is eight songs of complex songwriting, and each song erupts with talented musicianship.

We caught up with guitarist and vocalist Pete Adams to discuss his thoughts on the latest album:

Monster Riff: So, it’s been a minute since your last record. What was the writing process like for Fear?

Pete: We are obviously really laid back with making a record. There’s also a reason as to why we take so long to make a record because we really don’t believe in forcing anything. So much so, that we’ll take forever to write an album. There’s just no pressure. We don’t have pressure from you know, touring pressure, or pressure that bands are under to get records out in time. We don’t have to keep buzz up and that’s just something that we aren’t affected by, and we never have since the beginning of the band. We take our time very purposefully, and so the writing process goes like this. Zook and I, my brother, we write all the riffs, we write all the songs basically, and we get together first and he brings his stuff to the table and I bring my stuff to the table. Generally speaking, every time my brother and I sit down, we write something worth keeping. It’s like a brother thing, we sync up really quick. We usually get something worth taking to the guys the following weekend. We really only really get to practice as a whole band at least once every two weeks. At least that was pre-pandemic.

Monster Riff: Yeah, now everything is crazy.

Pete: Oh yeah, dude we haven’t played, and a lot of bands haven’t been able to get together to play. We all are very spread out too and so everybody is kind of doing something different anyway so…we don’t practice that out…we make the most out of practices. So, since we all have been spread out, man, we each have to come to the table with something, you know?

Monster Riff: Make the time worth it, right?

Pete: Exactly, and that’s really how it goes in a nutshell. So, you know my brother and I put together as much of the songs that we possibly can, bring it to the table and then we all just kind of….well we all have a say in the song, you know? And every single member of the band writes their own parts. We don’t dictate like “oh drummer do this, and bass player do this”. We’re not like that. It’s like everything is very open for interpretation, unless we are really married to something, like this is good, we want to play this. But that said, we will work on a single song for like two months.

Monster Riff: I think that also kind of shows up in a lot of your song writing. I think that the length of time you work on it…at least from my side of the table, there’s a certain syntagmatic quality to a lot of your songs. There seems to be a sort of wave of motion that you ride out. Would you agree with that there?

Pete: Yeah, totally. One thing we have always done, since the beginning of Valkyrie is like, we’ll have a dark sounding kind of riff and we always end the song out with a major key, like the tempo picks up or the harmonies pick up. We have our own kind of formula, I guess, but it’s like we start in the dark and by the end of it you’re in the light.

Monster Riff: The new record is great, and I’m glad you brought up your brother because what’s fascinating there is the songwriting dynamic the two of you bring to the table. You guys have been writing together for a long time, right?

Pete: Over thirty years.

Monster Riff: Since you were kids, right? I think I read you two started writing together at nine or ten?

Pete: Yeah, that’s when we started playing music. My brother is a couple years older than me, so he was picking up guitar from his friends. I found this old busted up acoustic in the basement, which was my moms when she was in college. Like a Yamaha acoustic that had three strings left on it. It was so rusted. I plucked those three strings until I could make something work and it wasn’t tuned. I didn’t know how to tune it. So, it was weird because we started really young when we both picked up instruments, but my brother would go and learn a couple things from somebody and bring it home and show me and we also shared a room together our entire lives until we both were out of the house. So, he was 18 and I was 16 and we still shared a bedroom, and that’s hard when you are teenagers. This bedroom by the way was about ten feet by ten feet.

Monster Riff: That’s rough. Did you at least have bunk beds?

Pete: Oh yeah, but it was awful. You had a desk and a dresser and a bunk bed. And then of course we had a turn table and our cassette deck and then eventually a CD player too. And then the rest of the room was nothing but albums, like LPs. My parents had a massive vinyl collection from when they were teenagers and they both were into tons of rock and roll and tons of good music. We were very fortunate to have that. I will tell you right now, still going through it today, I’m like, “Whoa, man, here’s a jam that I just glossed over for years.” But we listened to these records dude. My brother and I would sit and put on “Allman Brothers” records and we’d try to play along with them. So, we more or less taught each other how to play and we taught ourselves how to play by just listening to the music in the room. And so, we started writing music when I was about twelve and my brother would have been fourteen. And we were actually at that point starting to really write music together. We used to record songs, and we’re talking about the ’90s. In ’91, ’92, ’93, ’94, it was like Nirvana, Mudhoney, The Melvins. That’s what we were listening to, that’s what was teaching us how to play. In the end, I owe all of that to that era. And so, that is what we played. That’s why our sounds is really warm, because my brother used a Big Muff pedal, completely based on Mudhoney’s sound. Superfuzz Bigmuff, you remember this record, right? Because of that record when we were kids, my brother’s first pedal was a Big Muff, and that was his sound. He might still use it. And so, that’s where it was like, “yeah, there you go.” So, we started writing music a long time ago and we only had one guitar. So, we just beat each other to pieces to get it, like tug of war in the bedroom.

Monster Riff: I’ve read in other interviews that things can get heated between the two of you during the creative process, is that still true?

Pete: Yes, it’s very true. Two brothers, we’ve been fighting for years too.

Monster Riff: When you think about it from the creative process, I can see this working one of either ways. Either being brothers and having too close brothers, there’s a certain level of comfort there, so you might be willing to take more risks in the things you say and do in those arguments rather than with a friend that is in your band. Do you feel like having him is a net advantage or a net disadvantage when you think about how that creative process works?

Pete: It goes both ways. There’s a major advantage, because we don’t hold back with family. We just say what we say. We don’t really filter with our family. That definitely is Jacob, he doesn’t filter anything with me. And sometimes we get sensitive and we go alright, back off. My brother does it with me and I do it with him. And here’s the thing… Because we are in a band together, we write music together and we play together, we are so focused on this together, we separate the family thing enough too. The disadvantage is that emotions can run really high when we write. Jake could say something, and I’ll go, “yeah, lets take a poll here” then its on. Gloves are off. He’s pissed. He’s been working on something for a couple days that he really likes, he brings it to me, and I shred it. That happens with him too. There’s plenty of stuff that I write that he’s like, “I’m not feeling it”. The sensitivity on that level gets a little rough, but then there’s major advantages to it. Him and I are the same page. Our reference points are exactly the same. We came up with the same music and we still are. The background is so cool, like the core is there. That is what I think is most important, in any band. Everybody has got to have that core background… I was going to go off subject…

Monster Riff: If you want to go off subject, that’s totally cool.

Pete: Well, I’ve been in projects where it’s like you have people who don’t come from the same reference point. It gets difficult, especially when you are the writers. Other people are unsure of your reference points, musically. Then you have to explain more or come at it from a different angle. My brother and I have no problem being on the same page at the same time. That is with writing, playing, playing live, all of it. It’s all right there. It’s in the pocket. And we both generally like each other’s parts. For the most part, we really do. If I hear something he’s doing, I can hear a second guitar with it, and maybe that’s something he hasn’t heard, like the harmony.

Monster Riff: Tell me a little more about growing up together and the influences that surround you. Even today, I feel like you can hear a ton of different influences in your music. Were your parents’ musicians, or did they just have this huge catalog of music for you to go through?

Pete: My dad had one cassette tape in his ’88 standard pick up. In that tape deck was a tape that was one straight up stuck. It was Cream’s Disraeli Gears. My dad’s favorite band is Cream. When you got into my dad’s truck, it was just Cream. He had one speaker in it that worked. You know how those old recordings were. You couldn’t hear any guitar, only bass and drums. That one little speaker, every day he would cruise home from work cranking Cream. My dad had zero musical talent. None. He couldn’t carry a tune. Can’t even draw a picture. He’s super left-handed, to a fault. My mom, on the other hand, was a beautiful singer. And I guess when she was teenager, she was such a beautiful singer that churches were coming after her, wanting her to sing in their choirs and churches. She was on point. Mom also has this huge appreciation for music and when we were kids, like babies, my mom played everything. There was no music that my mom did not play for us. No genre of music that was forgotten about. So, if you were in our house in there early, mid ’80s, there was always music. There were four kids running around, my mom always had music on. My mom was always about music and pop culture. She sang to us all the time, and when we were kids, my mom had this baby grand that was her grandmother’s and she taught me how to play the piano a little bit. I could play a little bit, but not a whole lot. That’s what started me with it. I got an ear for music really early because of my mom and all that influence. Now when I say listen to everything, I’m talking about Roger Miller’s greatest hits to Chuck Barry, then Jackson Five and Madonna. Whatever my mom was into at that time is what we listened to. Once we all started to figure out what we liked, obviously Jake and I could start to gravitate towards more heavy rock and roll. I’ll never forget the 80’s, Gun N’ Roses, and then I discovered Slash. It’s just a little bit of everything. From southern rock to hip hop, it was everything. Growing up was just music city.

Monster Riff: Every now and then I will still go through my dad’s CD collection and I’ll pull something out. I didn’t grow up with quite the same appreciation you did, so now when I go back and listen to his old CD’s I’m kind of kicking myself because I’m like, “this is really cool and I didn’t give this the time of day when I was ten years old.”

Pete: You know what’s crazy? My mom was one of those moms that was so serious about everything. Like you didn’t touch the stereo in the car, you couldn’t touch it, you couldn’t change the radio station. There was none of that happening as a kid. He listened to whatever she was playing. Of course, my mom was a also a huge Steely Dan Fan Naturally, I hated Steely Dan for the longest time because of that. I couldn’t handle it, and by the time I was twenty one twenty two, I heard a Steely Dan song and I was like, “man I know every word to this song. Every piece of music here” Then I started listening to Steely Dan and I realized I had a massive appreciation for it. Later in life, now realizing, that was the greatest studio band that every lived. That was the best studio band that existed, so thanks mom. Thanks for forcing us to listen to Steely Dan when we didn’t want to, and now listening back to that stuff, some of their grooves are just killer.

Monster Riff: Its funny how much you miss as a child. You just don’t appreciate it until you reach a little bit of enough maturity to really understand it.

Pete: Yeah, growing up with music was like everyone in my family, all the kids and my mom, it was music all the time. I can remember the very first time it dawned on me that I wanted to be in a band in front of a crowd. It was whenever Guns N’ Roses was on tour with Metallica. SO that would have been during the Black Out. I remember sitting on the couch, the TV came on and it was Guns N’ Roses and Metallica playing Paradise City at some massive festival crowd and I was like, “that’s sick, and I want to do that, I have to do that one day.” I really did. Watching Slash play the guitar when I was a kid, I was like, “I’m going to play Les Pauls and I’m going to get on stage, turn it up and blow my ears out” It was Slash, like that was the dream.

Monster Riff: Obviously, you and your brother were writing together for years, what age do you look back at and say this is actually when we formed a band?

Pete: 12 or 13. Probably more like 13. My brother started a band called JAB. The Jake Adams Band. He played the guitar and sang. John Baizley, who sings and plays guitar for Baroness played drums and I played bass. We wrote all originals, so we played nothing but originals that were kind of this weird mix of… I remember I was listening to a lot of of Ska second wave of Ska and Reggae. You know how you go through different music stages and different stuff. So, I picked up the bass from the guitar and I found it really easy to just pick up the bass and play. I still do, I still write a lot of bass lines and I just like that rhythm. I was playing these walking bass lines that were more upbeat over my brothers’ songs that he was writing that were very northwest influenced stuff in the early ’90s. It was very much like a Seattle sound and that kind of stuff and that kind of music. I was also inspired by Ska at the time and so I was playing these bass lines that really grooved in and out of stuff, but it was Rock and Roll, but it wasn’t Ska. Then John played drums so that was our first real band. So, twelve or thirteen and then my brother would’ve been 14-15 or something like that.

Monster Riff: I didn’t want to spend any time on Baroness because I wanted to respect Valkyrie, but since you brought it up, and I won’t go too far into it… are you familiar with Reddit? Some people go on Reddit, other people don’t.

Pete: Yeah, I’m familiar.

Monster Riff: On the Metal subreddit, you’re not allowed to talk about Baroness. There are certain bands that people aren’t allowed to talk about. It’s nothing against the band, it’s because people would spam the feed with content about this band because they are so beloved.

Pete: Interesting.

Monster Riff: Sabbath for example. You can’t talk about Sabbath there because everybody is going to talk about Sabbath, right?

Pete: That’s right.

Monster Riff: It’s an interesting feather in your cap to be able to say, I was part of a project that was so popular that you can’t talk about it anymore.

Pete: That’s so weird. That’s strange.

Monster Riff: Is this the first time you are hearing of that?

Pete: Yeah, I’ve never heard of that before. I remember doing a Reddit thing. John and I used to do Reddit things when we used to answer questions for people. That’s the only time I remember being on Reddit, was live answering questions for folks. We always used to have to cut it short, because it would go on forever. They were so long, and I could not type very really fast. So, I would just have to get up and walk away. But, that’s cool.

Monster Riff: Just to give you an idea, I just pulled up the list of banned bands to give you a taste. Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Blind Guardian, and Baroness.

Pete: That’s cool. We all have such a long history because we all grew up in the same tiny rural place together. Looking back on it all, it really means a lot to all of us because there were only 8 of us that played music together and there were only a couple of places that we could play. Luckily Johns parents had a big basement and they would let us play in the basement and also fortunately for us John has a big enough basement to put drums in and have a guitar and bass. We got a crappy PA and we played. We played, that’s all we did. We also switched instruments because we were all so excited to play music. We all switched on guitars, drums and bass and we did that for years growing up. John and I, we clicked. When me, Jake and John had this little band JAB, the first thing we did was win second place in the high school talent show. Then we played House Parties, basically for the rest of the year. Then JAB broke up, Jake was done and wanted to do something else. John and I realized that we loved playing music together. John and I, within writing music together for years to come, John is the only person on earth besides my brother that I am so comfortable with sitting down and writing music with him. John would agree with that. He and I could sit down and play guitar. From when I was 18 to the age of 20… Before Baroness, there was Johnny Welfare and the Paychecks. This was definitely punk rock meets dueling guitar stuff. We were discovering the twin guitar stuff. Johnny Welfare and the Paychecks was originally John, Allen Blickle, the original drummer, and Summer Welch on the bass, and me on guitar. That was the original lineup. We were just discovering that. Then I left, I joined the military. The guys kept playing, they didn’t add anyone else. Then John had moved out to where I was stationed in the Army, and he and I continued to write. We wrote for two years without a band, without a drummer, without a bassist. Also, true story, neither of us owned guitars at the time.

Monster Riff: Really?

Pete: We had one guitar, and here is how we would write. We went to a local music store called Portman’s, down in Savannah. We’d go down there, lock ourselves in a little booth, grab Les Pauls off the shelf, and go in there and literally record stuff we wrote on one guitar and with dueling guitars. I’m not making this up. Eventually, we would get a couple guitars and a couple of really shitty little amps and sit in John’s apartment that he had at the time, and record on a four track even more stuff. Before Baroness began, and their first EP, John and I had written 14 hours of two guitars. 14 hours of music. Straight up, solid. 14 hours of riffs and riffs and riffs and riffs and riffs. That was the very beginning of it then. I would unfortunately have to leave for a year to go overseas and while I was gone, John took as much of that as he could, got the rest of the old guys together, he took a lot of that stuff, formed Baroness and what their first EP would be out of all these different riffs and ideas, and when I got back and it was like “Alright, let’s go on tour. We are ready to go. We got it all figured out.” But I was in no shape, could not tour. The history with my brother and me… Valkyrie and Baroness are very related. So, before Baroness ever recorded, I had gotten home and my brother gave me the first Valkyrie demo and he had actually sent it to me while I was overseas and I was like, “Man, this is killer.” I missed my family so much when I was away, as you can imagine, and all I wanted to really do was not to be in Savannah playing and touring. I just wanted to go home and play music with my brother. That’s the truth. That’s all I wanted to do. I was released from the military in December of ’03. That when I got out. Officially. Within two days I played my first show with Valkyrie, which was a Valkyrie-Baroness show and a Johnny Welfare and the Paychecks. After Valkyrie played, we played the Johnny Welfare set. It was a killer show. It was a ton of fun. But we came from a small place. We didn’t have record stores. We spent all of our time listening to records and playing in basements.

Monster Riff: Savannah, Georgia is not huge, but it’s a town. Did you grow up outside of Savannah?

Pete: No, I live ten minutes right now where we are talking, where we grew up. Which is outside of Lexington, Virginia. Out in Rockford County. Out in the sticks and mountains here. We ended up in Savannah for a couple weird reasons. One, I got stationed there when I joined the military. Two, John’s girlfriend at the time, also a good friend of mine and my families, who’s now his wife, his girlfriend at the time wanted to go to school down there. Art school. So, John was like win-win. We can go down there and keep writing music, and that’s just what we did. I don’t know if I really talked about this before, but I will now just because it fun to remember. John and I use to make bonds together, like pacts. Like we will always write music together. No matter what, no matter where we are, we will find a way to write and play music. We were just like that. We were tight. We knew that we loved playing music with each other. He would compliment stuff that I wrote, I could compliment stuff he wrote and that’s how it was with us long before Baroness. We knew that about each other. For John it was easy, he wanted to get out of here. He didn’t want to live in this small town. He wanted to just get out of here and go play music. If I was down there and his girlfriend was down there in school, it just made sense. That’s how Baroness formed in Savannah. But Valkyrie and all of it is all here.

Monster Riff: I appreciate you taking a trip down memory lane with me.

Pete: Yeah, it’s totally fun. I was actually talking to Brian Blakely the other day and he played guitar on the Red Album and he was Allen’s brother. We had a nice conversation about the whole deal, like growing up and playing music. My brother and I and the Blakely brothers, Blaizely and, of course, Summer who was my neighbor. Him and I grew up next door to each other. He picked up the bass around the age of 16 and he brought it up to my house and I taught him how to play his first couple notes. Then the first song he learned to play was “English Dogs.” Anyway, totally cool. We were all super tight. We needed bassists once we realized what we all really wanted to play. We were recollecting and doing what we are doing here and talking about that Baroness is really a cooperative at this point and Valkyrie ties it all together. It all kind of comes together because we all come from the same place.

Monster Riff: Getting back to modern times, talking about Fear. What stands out to you about this new record? What has you hyped?

Pete: Its more dynamic than anything we have ever written in the past. I’ll be honest with you. This is my favorite record that we’ve done. I like all the other ones we’ve done too, but this is my favorite one so far. When we were writing these songs, we knew we wanted to break away from certain elements. We are always trying to find out where you want to go with something. I hate to say it like this so simply, but on one hand we play what we play. This is what comes out. This is the way we write, and this is what happens. On one hand it’s kind of simple as that. On the other side is a little more thought out. The conscience side of all of it is like I really don’t want to hang on some heavy riff here and have it be one way or another. I just to have less than that and have a heavy riff that is something more dynamic. One thing for sure is that I wanted the bass and the drums to move a lot more on this record and I think we accomplished that. Allen Fary on bass. Allen is a crazy accomplished musician. He is a brilliant musician. Ever since he joined Valkyrie, I’ve absolutely loved playing music with that guy. I will always love playing music with that guy. He just destroys any string instrument he picks up. I said to Allen a couple years ago, from all these bass lines, just move them. If you don’t think it moves enough, move it around. With that, he did that. You can hear that on the record. You can hear him moving. He’s just constantly working. Of course, there’s some reference points to that, like Wishbone Ash, Sometime World. I love that song. That bass line… I love the way that moves through these riffs. I like the dynamics and some of the melodies and tempos. One thing we try to do is roll back on a full onslaught of heavy distortion at all times. Like, there’s parts that lay back, some of the soft parts get mellow, so it flows a little bit more than the rest of the albums, I think.

Monster Riff: You guys probably had all of this written and finished before the coronavirus. Is that correct?

Pete: Totally, yes. All of it. Last year. We finished this album last summer. Then we decided that we would wait ’til September. We kind of just were biding our time that summer with everything and playing. We refined a couple of little moments, but it was pretty much all written and done by early last year, mid-summer, early summer, something like that so we just had to wait for everyone to be available to record.

Monster Riff: Do you have a standout track that you are really attached to?

Pete: Yeah, I love “Afraid to Live.” It’s my jam. I think that song just ended up flowing really well. I thought it had a good feel to it. That song was born out of three or four different riffs that we had and couldn’t put them anywhere and I think we eventually found a way to jam them together. I’ll tell you something else that I haven’t even mentioned yet, but I had an accident about a year and a half ago where I cut the tip of my left middle finger off. A table saw accident. The table saw just took the bone of the tip of the finger out. So, I couldn’t play the guitar for like six months. It hurt. I couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t realize how important that middle finger is. So, I had to really change the way that I played and that was the first thing that I wrote when I picked my guitar back up. I really liked that kind of stomping… Super simple, but something about it was just gnarly, something your to could stomp your feet and bang your head to. I wanted to build a song around that, and Jake had the second half of that song basically ready to go. He was trying to build a whole song out of the second half after that little harmony bit. “Afraid to Live” is the standout track. I think that song turned out really cool.

Monster Riff: You seem to thrive among writing with other people. How have you continued that through COVID-19 and quarantine and maybe not having as much access to other people as you have had in the past?

Pete: Right. I’ll be honest. Two things. One, I do live in the woods with my what I would just call my wife in Virginia. It’s common law at this point. We are not married, but we are going to have a little girl this year.

Monster Riff: Congratulations!

Pete: Thanks man! I live up here with her in the woods and we are super private about half a mile off the road up on the side of this mountain. We have our little dog and we are going to have this little girl. Because she has been pregnant all year, I literally haven’t gone anywhere other than work, home and the grocery store to try to not bring anything up. As crazy as it sounds, nowadays I own and operate a custom cabinet shop where I build mostly custom kitchens for folks. Then I do a lot of other projects.

Monster Riff: Do you want to plug it?

Pete: Adams Cabinetry man, yeah. I’m actually working on a website and slowly building it up on photos and other big kitchens that I’ve done this past year. I’m still waiting on counter tops on one and I have a kitchen that I’m going to be done with next week. It turned out really nicely. I want to get these fancier jobs totally finished and then get some great photos and get the website up. But, I don’t have a website yet, but I am located in Lexington, Virginia. Super easy to find. Anyway, I work nonstop in that shop, so I haven’t been writing a lot of music this year or playing a lot of music. I still play at home and of course if I start humming a melody I will run upstairs, turn the amp on, sit down and try to get the idea out. It’s really been difficult because I want to get together and play. The guys want to get together and play and we all just want to make sure that if we are going to get in a basement to jam, everybody is good to go.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: