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 HTN Feature Story 
Planet of the Abts:
All Things the Valley


Author: John Lynskey

All Things the Valley is the second album from Planet of the Abts and a strong follow up to their eponymous debut four years ago. P.O.A. is made up of drummer Matt Abts, bassist Jorgen Carlsson and guitarist/vocalist T-Bone Andersson, a trio with great depth and dimension. Abts and Carlsson have been the rhythm section of Gov't Mule since 2008, while Jorgen and T-Bone have been friends since meeting in their native Sweden in 1989. The nine songs on All Things the Valley represent the tremendous eclectic musical influences of Planet of the Abts, and make for an enjoyable listening experience. HTN recently caught up with Matt, Jorgen and T-Bone, and they explained in detail the making of this remarkable album.

"The band started with the first album in 2011, and although we toured behind it, we never signed a record deal or anything like that; we did it pretty much on our own. This time around, Suzanne Hilleary, who has been with P.O.A. since the beginning, managed to secure us a record deal with the Orchard. As we all know, record deals aren't exactly what they used to be, but I think we've found a good home with the Orchard, and we really look forward to putting this all together."

So said drummer Matt Abts about All Things the Valley, the second release from Planet of the Abts, the California-based trio made up of Abts, bassist Jorgen Carlsson - who plays with Matt in Gov't Mule - and guitarist/vocalist T-Bone Andersson. As Matt noted, All Things the Valley was a logical progression for P.O.A from their inaugural self-titled album. "We actually started working on the second album in 2013, and it took a bit of time, mostly because Jorgen and I were really busy with the Mule. We recorded All Things at Jorgen's studio, where we recorded the first album, and, like that one, we did it pretty much under the same set of standards. We would all come in and write together - it definitely was a collaborative effort - and the songwriting went really well. It came together very organically, just like the first record, but we did put a little more production on this one. We had a few guest appearances as well: Warren Haynes and Danny Louis from Gov't Mule are on it, and Marc Quinones plays some percussion as well. We also added some strings for a melodic touch on a few tracks – some players from the L.A. Philharmonic came in, and it was exciting to watch them work."

"I think there are more layers of music on this record, and a lot of the credit for that goes to Jorgen," Matt noted. "He played a bigger role in the studio this time; he really tweaked the music and was deeply involved in the production of it. I have to give Jorgen a lot of credit; he and [engineer] Steve Holroyd did a really good job. If you listen to the two records, they are similar in content. I do think the second one has more production on it, and we're happy about that. The sound is a little fuller - T-Bone plays quite a bit of keyboards to go with his guitar and vocal work, and he really is our secret weapon on this one."

"I think this album is way more focused than the first one," stated T-Bone Andersson. "In a lot of ways, this one was easier to make, because even though it has more complicated parts and arrangements to it, we didn't really know each other that well when we made the first album. I had known Jorgen for years, but Matt and I had just gotten to know each other, so that was more like testing the waters. I am very happy with the first album because it has a sort of rawness to it, but I really like what we did on this one."

All Things the Valley has a deep, rich sound quality to it – its warmth reminds one of an album recorded back in the '70s in that regard. As Matt pointed out, "We recorded it analog and then put it through Pro Tools, so that is where that warm sound comes from. Wait until people hear the vinyl – the vinyl sounds just amazing!"

"I did work very hard on the sound of this record. Working in the studio has been a constant focus for me over the last six or seven years, and I'm happy with the work on All Things the Valley," stated Jorgen. "It's mostly analog recordings, and the stuff that went to Pro Tools eventually was in very high resolution - more than 4x the usual CD quality, and the bit rate is much higher, too. It was mixed on a console to another analog two-track machine, and then the mastering was done fully analog before it hit digital. The vinyl was a separate mastering, and that's even warmer - it's ridiculous! There is a great amount of precision on this album."

An obvious and clear comfort level exists in P.O.A., and Matt credited it to the fact that "We allow each other to do exactly what they want to do. There is no forcing anything or telling someone they have to do this or that. We create together in a very organic way – like the decision to put strings on some of the songs. We looked at each other and said, ‘I can hear that. How about you?' It was all experimental and we all pretty much agreed on the same thing. There really is a comfort zone in that aspect with the three of us." Jorgen agreed with Matt, stating: "We all come from similar backgrounds in music; rock and roll and pop are what we grew up on, and that comes out in our playing. When I listen to the album, I can hear influences from Sabbath, Floyd, Queen and whatnot. But when we play, we don't think about that - we just play. People will say, ‘Oh, that sounds like Floyd or Deep Purple,' but who knows? We just create as we go."

fans are aware that Matt and Jorgen have played together in Gov't Mule since 2008, but Jorgen's relationship with T-Bone Andersson goes back over twenty-five years, when both were teenagers. "We actually met during orientation week at the Saab factory - I lasted four days, and I think he lasted four months!" said Jorgen with a laugh. "We connected right away, and we started off playing in Hendrix trios, back in '89 or '90. Then I moved to the States in '91 and he followed a few years later, in '94 or '95. We started with small trios back then, but we could never find the right drummer. It's quite demanding; you have to have that Mitch Mitchell mentality, and we could never find the right drummer until I met Matt. Matt is totally the guy - nobody else could it."

"I knew as soon as I met him that Jorgen and I were going to work together," added T-Bone. "He left for America fairly soon after we met, and I followed a few years later. We did a lot of gigs in different alignments, but we always wanted to do a power trio. God knows we tried, but there was always one element missing - the right drummer! Everything is so sensitive because there are only three people, and if you have who is not on the same level as the other two, it won't work. You have to have the talent, but you also have to mutual respect for one another. We tried over the years, and when Jorgen started playing with Matt we knew we had the right guy for a trio."

All Things the Valley kicks off with "Down for the Count." With its pounding drums, surging guitar and throbbing bass line, the cut is a bracing jolt of energy. T-Bone provides raw, edgy guitar and vocal work, as well as a nice keyboard break that gives the tune added flavor. "When we were thinking about how we should open the record, that one won approval from us all," Matt stated. "It has all the elements we wanted for an opening track."

"Revolution" is a mid-tempo rocker defined by T-Bone's searing guitar and smoky vocals, Jorgen's fat, echoing bass line and just the right allotment of strings. Matt pointed out that "‘Revolution' has a very European feel to me. It's the two Swedes plus Matt Abts, so the whole record has got somewhat of a European sense to it - very David Gilmour, if you will - and that really translates on ‘Revolution.' We put the strings on that as sort of an afterthought, and I think it worked out really well."

"I grew up with a lot of pop music in the '70s, and I'm still a huge fan," said T-Bone. "Strings were very common for all the big pop bands like ELO, ABBA and the Bee Gees; strings really enhanced the arrangements for them, and it was something we always wanted to do. I would record the strings on a keyboard first, as a guide, so to speak, and then we would have someone write the arrangement from that. I'm not a good reader –Jorgen is pretty good, but I'm not. I told Jorgen and Matt, ‘This is wonderful and I love it, but let's keep it simple. We don't want to overdo it,' so that's why we used strings on just three songs."

"As for the strings, I don't think we overdid it," added Jorgen. "It's a simple arrangement, a simple part, but it really adds exactly what the song needed. It wasn't preconceived at all – we all just liked the idea of strings and it worked."

Gov't Mule guitarist/vocalist Warren Haynes makes a guest appearance on "Friend Looked Rather Sad," and his considerable presence enhances one of the most provocative and interesting tunes on the album. With an intro that contains hints of Magical Mystery Tour or Sgt. Pepper's, Haynes' slide work recalls George Harrison at his ethereal best, a feeling that is augmented by the inclusion of willowy strings. "Friend Looked Rather Sad" marks an abrupt change of pace on All Things the Valley, a change that works brilliantly. "That one was interesting, because we had been playing the tracks for Warren on the Mule bus," Matt related. "If I remember correctly, after haring all the tracks, he said, ‘Man, why don't you give me a shot at playing guitar on that one?' referring to ‘Friend Looked Rather Sad.' I thought that was the least likely choice that Warren would make if he wanted to play on the record, but we told him ‘Yeah, sure.' We sent him the track and he spent a day in Carriage House Studios over in Connecticut, and when we got it back, we were so impressed by what he did. I love the vibe he put on it – it's very cool."

"My favorite song is ‘Friend Looked Rather Sad,'" said Jorgen, "and I just played some excerpts of it for Haynes when we were on the bus. We didn't even ask him to play; he told us, ‘If you need a guest guitar player on the album, that is the song I would to play on.' He hadn't even heard the vocal melody at the time – he just heard the bass, drums, acoustic guitar and some keyboards. I was shocked, but I just said ‘OK,' because I'm not going to say no to Warren. I had to bring it up with T-Bone, but Matt and I were like, ‘Of course; you should sing too!' The shit he played after the bridge, the three-part harmony on the slide - it's just unbelievable. It gives me goose bumps every time I hear it."

As far as songwriting went for the album, Matt said, "We all participated in the process, but I wrote a lot of the lyrics. I just keep a notebook of ideas, and I would bring them to the guys and we would pick and choose from there. ‘Friend Look Rather Sad' was one that came from T-Bone and Jorgen – just the title alone is very European-ish. It was a Swedish thing, no doubt." "Warren is a master of so many things, and we were so happy to have him play on ‘Friend Looked Rather Sad,' added T-Bone. "With the strings, my keys and the three-part slide harmony from Haynes that one came together very nicely."

The moody and brooding "I Call You Whiskers" is up next; with a very heavy bottom end provided by Matt and Jorgen, this one would be at home on an early Gov't Mule album. "Jorgen and I approach the whole P.O.A. thing with an attitude of following whatever happens in the moment," Matt stated. "I think you really hear that on ‘I Call You Whiskers.' T-Bone came up with the title to that one, and it certainly has some humor in it. That tune came together really fast, but we do everything like that. We have nothing preconceived – we just bounce ideas off of one another and make it an on the spot writing adventure."

"That one is a pretty simple song, actually - just us doing the trio thing," Jorgen said. "It fits perfectly between ‘Friend Looked Rather Sad' and ‘Planet Pt.3,' both of which are more complex songs."

"Planet Pt. 3" features Matt on lead vocals, and is a captivating number that includes timely percussion work from Marc Quinones and a complex, horn arrangement courtesy of Gov't Mule's Danny Louis. Danny's layered, swinging horn work brings back memories of early 1970s Chicago, and makes "Planet Pt. 3" a fascinating tune. "I think ‘Planet Pt. 3' is kind of like a thematic movie score, or something like that," Matt stated. "We do like to dabble in thematic pieces like that, because it is fun to do things like that. Danny did a tremendous job creating that big brass sound; we sent him the track, and he did that at his home studio. He came up with the arrangement, and it adds a whole other dimension to the song. I also had a percussion part on there that we put on after the fact, and I thought it was pretty good but I started thinking we should get a real percussion player to play on this! I got in touch with Marc Quinones, who was doing a gig out here with Gregg Allman. He was staying in North Hollywood, and we arranged for him to come over in the morning before he left for the show. Marc came in, played over the track and in one take came up with this fantastic percussion part. Marc is a great player, and it took him no time at all. What Marc and Danny did added so much to the thematic aspect of ‘Planet Pt. 3' - we're all pleased with it."

"It's funny you mentioned Chicago, because on the Mule bus when Danny agreed to take that one on, I just sort of whispered to him, ‘Don't be afraid of that Chicago shit!'" Jorgen chuckled. "I was very, very pleased when I heard what Danny came up with; it was just unbelievable actually."

"Danny did a fantastic job, really great," T-Bone said. "We did the basic track live, then sent Danny the track and we laid his horns on top of it. I was playing guitar and keys at the same time, and Matt did his vocal thing, so we have a lot going on with that song!"

A nasty, cooking intro initiates "I'm Telling You," displaying the stripped-down essence of P.O.A. Things take an interesting twist on the bridge, where T-Bone shares a soaring harmony with Mini Carlsson, floating above some gentle keyboard work. "I'm Telling You" is a dazzling display of musicianship and a true highlight of All Things the Valley. "That song could have easily opened the album. We went back and forth between ‘Down for the Count' and ‘I'm Telling You' for the opener," Matt said. "It's got a great vibe to it, and when you add T-Bone's keyboards and Mini's vocals, it becomes a very cool song."

"We wanted T-Bone to be like Elvis - a confused Elvis - and then add a sexy voice behind him on the bridge, and we all loved how it turned out," Jorgen stated. "The end of it is completely nuts, with the guitar and bass solo – it's a powerful song."

T-Bone pointed out that his musical taste and influences span a very wide and eclectic range, and they all come together on "I'm Telling You." "I like to say that my influences are a combination of Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and ABBA," T-Bone noted. "That is a very strange thing to say for a guitarist in a power trio, but in my little world it makes total sense. I'm not sure Matt or Jorgen would agree, but that's my two cents. I love rock and pop equally, and there is a place for both, but make no mistake about it - we are a power trio. We can pull off a Hendrix track any day.

"With ‘I'm Telling You,' we needed a few songs and we were looking for an up-tempo rocker, so I just sort of wrote it with a straight-forward, Ritchie Blackmore-style riff," T-Bone continued. "I don't think I copied from anything per se, but it's definitely Deep Purple influenced. Then you get to the bridge and it turns very poppy, with the acoustic guitar and the vocal harmonies with Mini - that's where the ABBA influence shows up – I make a point to wave the banner high, so to speak! (laughing) This one shows there is a healthy combination between Hendrix and ABBA, despite the fact not everyone can see that. I made my point, even though some people might think I'm having an identity crisis! Queen, ABBA, the Bee Gees - they all had great harmonies and melodies, and good music is good music, regardless of a label."

All Things the Valley closes with a string of three powerful, innovative songs that capture Planet of the Abts at its creative peak. "I Remember That" is a speed rocker built around T-Bone's taut, driving riff, and then slowly segues into "Seahorse," a soaring instrumental piece that would have fit nicely on Dark Side of the Moon and is the album's magnum opus. "There is a little bit of a Deep Purple vibe to ‘I Remember That,'" Matt stated. "It has an English '70s rock feel to it, thanks to the riff T-Bone came up with up. I like the '70s tag for the sound of our music – I'm into that. We all grew up in that era, and there was so much great music created then, so I don't mind that comparison one bit." As for "Seahorse," Matt said "That's a nice, complex and organic interlude piece that we contributed to. T-Bone came up with the title, and Jorgen came up with the idea of having that segue from ‘I Remember That,' and then to segue from ‘Seahorse' into ‘Yesterday Seemed Fine 1.' It all worked, and we couldn't be happier about how those tracks flowed together." "Jorgen brought in the idea for ‘Seahorse,'" T-Bone stated. "I added some Hammond organ and my guitar work over the top, and then we added some background sounds as well - I was speaking about seahorses in Swedish or something!" (laughing)

Matt's slow, percussive rhythm work merges "Seahorse" with the gliding "Yesterday Seemed Fine 1," which features fiery licks from T-Bone and Jorgen's thick bass line combing with a string section to create a tempo change that shifts the trio into an extended, drifting outro. It is provocative playing, and the perfect way to wrap up the journey through All Things the Valley. "I have to tell you, ‘Yesterday Seemed Fine' might be my favorite song on the album," Matt stated. "Just because it's so different and it's so interesting to me. It starts off way down with the hand drum, the whole band comes in and then it gets really experimental in the bridge. It sounds very trippy, with almost a Genesis or Yes type-of-thing going on. I love the strings on it – this was our first choice for a song to have strings on it. ‘Yesterday' has a melody that just sticks in your head, and it actually inspired the title of the album. Lyrically, I was writing about living in the valley, about living in California, where I've been for twenty years and where my son grew up, about where Jorgen's studio is - there are a lot of references to the valley in that song. It is such an interesting tune, and I'm glad we closed the record with that."

" I love the entire album, but as of right now, ‘Yesterday' is my favorite track," said T-Bone. "That one actually started in Poland. We were doing sound check before a festival show, and I started playing this little riff, and we all jumped on it. Then it developed from there; I didn't have any lyrics, so Matt wrote all of them for that one. They are my favorite lyrics on the whole album – they are beautiful, just beautiful. For me, the valley is more like a fictional place, somewhere in your mind. Interestingly enough, I wanted to open the album with ‘Yesterday.' I was like, ‘Let's set the standards high and open with that one,' but they outvoted me! We worked very hard on this album, and we're very proud of it. We really put our best efforts into it. Playing with a rhythm section like Matt and Jorgen put me in a very happy place as a guitarist and singer. I miss the boys when they are out on the road – I can't wait for them to get home so we can get out on the road and promote it."

"‘Yesterday Seemed Fine' serves as a great encore, if you will," noted Jorgen. "It really was the a great way to end the album; we could have ended it with ‘Seahorse,' but ‘Yesterday' gives the record true closure, and we all were happy with that.

"This is a very sophisticated record, and it needs two or three listens for people to grasp the depth of it," continued Jorgen. "It's only nine songs, but there is a lot of ground covered in those nine songs. I think it's good that the album starts off with the rock songs first – they get people's attention, and then once they're interested, I think people will catch on to the rest of the stuff we're doing, and that'll be great. I'm really happy with the album – it‘s got beautiful melodies and a great punch as well. In the end, it's the vision you have - it's knowing what you want, and then producing it. Just because you have a nice car doesn't mean you can drive it really good."

As for the future, Matt pointed out that "It's different with this album in the sense that we've got some backing from the record company, which we didn't have on the first one. The Orchard is going to get All Things the Valley out worldwide on June 2nd, and maybe in the future they'll pick up the first record, so that one can enjoy the whole experience that the second record is going to have now. We're going to play Mountain Jam, we're going to have a record release party at the Cutting Room in New York City, and then we're going to do a small East Coast run. We hope to take it overseas also. We're looking at going to Poland, and there is talk about possibly going to China. The Mule agenda this summer is a little light, so it's the perfect time for us to get behind this album – it's something we really believe in."


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