Nearly a decade ago, singer and keyboardist Allison Lorenzen penned the first section of the track “Vale,” right after reading Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road. She finished the song and played a version of it with School Dance, a Philadelphia dark-wave duo she was in with then-partner Sam Tremble. They performed "Vale" from 2012 to 2017, when both their musical collaboration and their romance ended.
After taking a break from music for about a year, Lorenzen, who moved back to Colorado in 2015 after living around the country, began working on her own material as well as writing a second section to “Vale,” which drops on January 21, her first single under her own name.
Madeline Johnston, who performs as Midwife, adds fuzz and reverb-drenched guitar to Lorenzen's dream-pop tune; the song would fit perfectly on a David Lynch soundtrack.
While the first section of “Vale” was inspired by the devastating imagery of The Road, which Lorenzen says feels relevant now as the world is ravaged by a plague and the U.S. is coming off one of its worst wildfire seasons, the second section includes a reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire: “In the pale of the warmth, in the pale of fire.”
Lorenzen says the new section of “Vale” is also about feelings put into words, loss, knowing when to let go, “and also about the willingness to sit with the shadowy parts of ourselves when it might be easier to run away. ... The vale is like the valley — the shadowy dark place.”
In recent years, Lorenzen says she’s been in a healing process, and “Vale” “feels like it's sort of just reflecting that process itself, which involves a bunch of different experiences.”
The singer-songwriter says she had to revisit the song for the second half of it to emerge.
“It just hadn’t come through yet or something,” Lorenzen says. “I think there's something for me, at least in my creating, to be receiving and allowing change. It was part of the process. Because it's also fun to be like, ‘Okay, that's it; that's the song. It’s done forever, but it can also have a bit of a life, too, and change.”
Lorenzen and Johnston have played a few shows together in Denver over the past few years. They met when School Daze played in Denver and Johnston was making minimal ambient music as Sister Grotto. Lorenzen says Johnston had proposed the idea of the two working together, and she wanted to get a feel for trying to produce a song for someone else.
“It was just such a smooth and fun process,” she says of working with Johnston.
The two began recording “Vale” in February, just as Lorenzen was preparing to move to New York to take a job managing a sauna. They laid down a good portion of the song in one afternoon at Johnston’s house, tracking synths, layers of vocals, simple percussion and Johnston’s guitar.
In mid-March, Lorenzen’s lease had ended, her stuff was packed and she was ready to fly to New York when she got word that the sauna gig was canceled as the city shut down over COVID-19. She moved in with some family members in Fort Collins, where she’s been quarantining for months.
“Since then, I've basically embraced it like an artist residency,” she says of living in Fort Collins.
Once she had a recording rig set up there, she added a piano track to “Vale,” playing the same instrument she grew up taking piano lessons on; she also added high and airy vocals to complete the song.
Lorenzen has also been working on other new material that’s in the slow-motion-pop vein, and she plans to release another single next month.
While Lorenzen continues to work on her own music, it was actually her background in dance that led her to write music in her mid-twenties. As a dancer, she lived in Denmark and Germany, where she first played music at a dance festival. For her, dance and music have the same creative energy.
“It feels like it’s the same creative source,” she says. “Something about discovering that I could write and play music was that I loved that it was larger than me, like it's outside of myself. It's not just me moving my body on a stage; it's like something I can create that's perhaps more fully experiential for more people.”
To hear more, go to Allison Lorenzen's Bandcamp page.