Above: Dave Sarazen, left, and Evan St. Martin, the duo behind Laden Valley. Photo courtesy of Laden Valley
One half of the duo is Dave Sarazen, who grew up in East Greenwich
By Chris Parker
Laden Valley is a Newport act that draws on Americana’s roots verities, strong vocal harmonies, warm, acoustic and string-based instrumentation surveying an earthy, timeless sound. Cultured in the crucible of the pandemic around the duo of Evan St. Martin and Dave Sarazen, the band expanded just as the world opened back up, encompassing as many as seven people.
“We can present as a duo or a trio or four-piece or five-piece. We played a show in Newport two years ago as a seven-piece band,” says Sarazen, who grew up in East Greenwich. “It’s been really nice because we’re versatile and can change up our set depending on the venue or if we’re opening for somebody.”
The band began initially as a project for St. Martin, who released a debut EP in 2019 as a solo project after several years singing and playing guitar in the Providence blues band, Shotgun. Drawn to Newport by the Folk Festival, he changed direction and inspirations. Sarazen joined sometime after that.
“He had invited me to a listening party to hear the tracks, and I fell in love with the music,” he says. “We had been friends for a little while at this point, and we started playing music together more and more. It kind of just naturally worked out that he wanted to bring me on as part of the band.”
The pandemic threw a wrench in St. Martin’s plans, and Sarazen sort of came in through the window fortune opened.
“Laden Valley was born out of the pandemic,” says Sarazen. “Evan, his wife and 4-year-old son had sold their house with a dream of building a new house on a piece of land in Portsmouth. They planned to take a van to travel around the country for a few months and three weeks after they left, the world shut down. A lot of that time that I spent with him in Arizona led to the first songs on the first album.”
The band premiered their debut full-length Landline in November 2021 with a show at the Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport, and they have continued to evolve. Their initial efforts were just the two of them, but they’ve added a third member, Jordan Wright, who plays with them most of the time.
“Jordan Wright is one of our good friends,” says Sarazen. “He’s been kind of around Laden Valley from the start and he’s a multi-instrumentalist. So actually this coming show he’ll be playing bass but in the past has played violin, mandolin and keyboards.”
Two months ago they went down to Fort Worth to record tracks with artist/producer Robert Ellis and a variety of guest musicians, but that fell through when the region was struck by a giant ice storm.
“Nobody could get there because of the weather, so we ended up having a really small, stripped down crew, and recorded three songs that we weren’t even intentionally planning on recording,” Sarazen says. “We originally went down there thinking about doing three singles. Then the songs that we cut, one of them was a slower deep cut that probably won’t be in the final album, one of them is definitely going to be a single and so we came back and we realized these songs would really fit well with some of our other songs as a full, cohesive album.”
So Laden Valley has returned to Providence producer Nick Coolidge, who recorded Landline, to cut a half-dozen or so tracks for the second album, which they hope to put out late this year or early next. The album threatens to broaden their breadth as they explore more of the wide Americana expanse and dip their toes in jammier arrangements.
“Evan is also a major Deadhead and so that crept into some of our songs on the last album, and you’ll hear more on this next one,” Sarazen says. “As the second album comes together, you’ll be able to hear the difference in that during the pandemic, we weren’t around a lot of people, so that limited us. It allowed us to focus on making music with less instruments, less elements and less people. But as the second album comes together, it’s really starting to take shape into this bigger, wider sound.”
St. Martin and Sarazen, who are both also photographers, have a lot of creative friends and associates with side interests in music. It’s begun to give the band the feel of a musical cooperative far beyond the initial duo.
“That’s kind of been the goal of Laden Valley,” Sarazen affirms. “Evan and myself are the two fronting members, but we love the idea of being able to bring in our friends and collaborators and switch people out and just have it be this awesome hodgepodge of friends and musicians and people coming together.”
It seems in some way fitting that one of the band’s driving aspects are the rich harmonies between St. Martin, Sarazen and Wright. “Three-part harmony is one of the most beautiful sounds that you can hear,” he enthuses. “It’s like it’s its own instrument.”
As creatives, Laden Valley are well aware of the precariousness of this life, and keep their eye on the prize – not the money, but the chance to create something beautiful and life-affirming.
“At the end of the day, it’s art; it’s an expression of our feelings and our experiences,” he says. “So in a way success isn’t important. Obviously, financial success is great in order to keep this thing going, but we do it because we love it not because we’re trying to get rich off of it.”
Laden Valley with The Sea The Sea, Friday, May 5 at Greenwich Odeum, 7 p.m. door, 8 p.m. show. $20 advance, $25 at the door. 59 Main St., East Greenwich. 401.885.4000. greenwichodeum.com
Chris Parker is a freelance journalist (The Guardian, Undark, Daily Beast, Billboard) and author of the book, King James Brings The Land a Crown, about the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 championship. He lives in Providence.