Parissa Tosif of Vallis Alps: Behind the Scenes

Parissa Tosif of Vallis Alps: Behind the Scenes

North Coast in Chicago is known for their wide-ranging and high-quality selection of music for the annual Labor Day event. This year they’ll play host to a rising star in the music scene, Australia’s own Vallis Alps. Their incredibly catchy and melodic music runs the gamut from full-blown dream pop to doe-eyed soul, with drifty guitars, elegant, delicate synths, and tightly constructed melodies that leave you on cloud nine. One half of the duo, Parissa Tosif, took some time to answer a few questions of mine about the foundations of the band, where they are now, and what they hope to contribute to the music world.

Vallis Alps owe their beginnings to an interesting source, and one that shows their connection as a partnership runs deep, and informs quite a bit of the message they’re trying to put out, as Tosif explains: “We are both members of the Baha’i Faith, and took a year off after high school to volunteer at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel. We met at a friend’s house one night and I was singing a song with another friend. David picked up a guitar and that was it! We clicked so well and were able to write together from the get-go. A couple of years later, after I went to Canberra for university and David to Seattle, I went to visit and we spent a month writing the Vallis Alps EP. That was how the project started.”

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With such a rich history under their belts before even starting Vallis Alps, it’s easy to see how their connection and mutual passion has evolved over the years, particularly with respect to the way their craft their art. Tosif says, “Our process has shifted and evolved a lot over the past few years. Each time we set out to write, we try and take the learnings we’ve had from the last experience and implement them. For example, we’ve slowly discovered that each of us has particular strengths in different writing areas and we try and foster that in the other person. Ultimately, it usually works best if we either just jam on the guitar and piano until an idea sticks, or David sends me a beat, I write a basic melody and then we build it up from there.” Anything is fair game for Vallips Alps, and they have the track record to prove it.

With such an accessible sound that appeals to a wide range of folks, Vallis Alps are in quite the demand this year, as Tosif elaborates, “This year’s touring schedule has been so much fun and pretty hectic. Earlier in the year, we came to the US a couple of times for headline tours (including Chicago, which by the way one of our favorite shows!), did an Australian tour and festivals in Australia and Jakarta. We’re now back for this US tour, and just finished a UK run of shows. Next month we play a touring festival in Australia, as well as a headline European tour and finishing up with an Australian festival. Wow. Sounds crazy when I write it out! We are super grateful.” The music scene is grateful as well, and Chicago is stoked to host some excellent Aussie music again at North Coast.”

I spent a lot of time interviewing musicians who base much of their performance on improvisation. In that scene, a good deal of the material is debuted live. With something more constructed, like Vallis Alps, I was curious whether or not they took the same approach or worked on songs in the studio and debuted something that had been perfected already. Tosif had an interesting take on it, and illuminated an aspect of debuting live material that I had never considered: “Definitely the first one [debuting songs live rather than recording in studio first]. It’s much harder for us to demo something live because of how vulnerable it makes us feel, but at the end of the day, being able to assess how fans feel about a song is the best way to then morph it into what we feel it should be. As scary as it is, we love showing fans our unfinished music.” We all know how powerful the right music can be, and it’s a straight up fact that music empowers the spirit. It was really cool to hear about that personal aspect of a musician’s performance.

Another aspect of being a working musician that has always intrigued me is putting the whole process together, and putting on something that you truly believe in, and that enraptures the crowd. Tosif answered my inquiry about the whole ordeal with professionalism and a solid perspective on what their music and live shows represent: “Great questions. I think in terms of touring, we have realized that creating a live show is a really special opportunity to share a part of yourself with fans. Earlier in the year, we shifted our mindsets about the show from just playing our songs to actually creating an uplifting experience, where people feel like they’re in a different plane and leave feeling joyful and inspired. That means that our whole touring process is centered around being joyful ourselves so we can deliver that. Even though touring can be tiring and stressful, particularly as an independent band without extensive resources for roadies or techs, having a purpose helps us a lot to feel excited to be on tour and forget the little tiring things.”

As with many modern musicians, Vallis Alps are independent; it’s an increasingly popular choice with bands of the internet age, and Tosif really hit the nail on the head with what it means to them to be independent: “David and I have chosen to remain independent for a number of reasons, including the learning that we are able to have during this process. We also love the control over how and when we release music. With that freedom has come the learning that we will allow the music to determine what kind of form it should be released in. We’ve also realized that maintaining our presence has to be centered around the music itself and everything else is almost a by-product, or secondary. So our goal is to always create music that makes people happy. I guess the final thing is just to have fun and not take things too seriously! We laugh a lot and have learnt slowly to just appreciate this experience for what it is and give it the hard work it deserves.”

As I mentioned earlier, the roots of Vallis Alps go far beyond their musical partnership; that being said, music is an eternal force for the duo, as Tosif says, “Music has always been a huge part of both of our lives. For me personally, it’s been my outlet, inspiration and guide my whole life! I’ve always been drawn to using music as a tool to express concepts I am thinking about. As Vallis Alps, our initial goal with the first EP was to make music our family and friends would enjoy, and that still remains today as our primary goal but now includes our fans.”

Tosif went on, saying, “We have lots of inspirations including our families, friends, experiences and other musicians. A big one for us is our Faith, which is based on the concept of the unity of mankind towards the common good. Music in the Baha’i Faith is a tool to uplift the spirit and share meaningful themes, so that’s at the center of our minds always too.” The music of Vallips Alps can certainly have that effect; its peaceful, oceanic effect hits the body in a very positive and soothing way.

I spoke earlier about musicians in the internet age. One the hardest things that I would’ve thought about breaking into the business is getting your name out there. Tosif had a surprising response for me on this subject, saying, “I think focusing on getting recognized is probably the first mistake a lot of people make. If that’s your focus, then it’ll be really hard to keep going when the challenges of being a musician start appearing. Having a really strong purpose to why you make music, and making sure the music is the absolute best you can make it, are two essential elements, in my mind, of starting out as a musician. Then, I think having a team that really cares about your music, and wants to hustle alongside like crazy to make it grow, is a huge blessing.”

Tosif did acknowledge the upsides of the massive connectivity provided by sharing music online, as she says, “Practically, the internet is such an amazing place for young bands to get their name out. Blogs, like-minded websites and media outlets love supporting new musicians. Community radio is also a great place to get your music heard. So with my very limited knowledge, I would recommend uploading your music to all digital distribution channels like Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Spotify, iTunes, etc. and then reaching out to these outlets with an email with your music and seeing what they say.”

We covered a lot of ground in this interview; Parissa Tosif could not have been more gracious about the experience, and I feel she provided some excellent insight into several different aspects of what it means to be a working musician in an ever-changing musical landscape. Get out to North Coast tomorrow and check them out from 3:15-4:15. Get your body some healing grooves before the night gets weird. See you at the show!

Check out their song “Oceans” here: https://soundcloud.com/vallisalps/oceans

Get tickets to see Vallips Alps at North Coast Music Festival here: http://www.northcoastfestival.com/

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