PORTLAND'S FORMER rock gods often walk among us disguised in layman's clothes. Take Sunset Valley frontman Herman Jolly, who drops off his CDs while he's in the middle of a house remodel. He's wearing Carhartts and a fleece beanie. Smudges of dried white paint cover his hands. Did this guy rock away the late '90s and early '00s with Portland's finest sonic innovators, touring widely with the Dandy Warhols at the height of their heyday? Or was it all a dream?
Along with Jolly, Sunset Valley is guitarist Jonathan Drews, bassist Eric Furlong, keyboardist Jeff Saltzman, and drummer Tony Lash. The band put out four albums before tapering into a hiatus around 2004, briefly resurfacing in 2011 to support Dandies spin-off Pete International Airport. But most of the time, they stay on the down low. Four of five members are fathers; lone holdout Saltzman, a top-shelf recording engineer, reportedly works nonstop.
This month, however, Seattle label Barsuk Records celebrates its 15th anniversary with a four-day festival in Seattle and some new releases—including a Sunset Valley box set entitled Tropic of Candycorn. The band has regrouped for a stint of three regional gigs, including a Portland show; beyond that, they have no official plans.
Drummer Lash, also an audio engineer, was an original bandmate of Elliott Smith in Heatmiser, and some of Sunset Valley's old songs conjure Smith's mood. 2001's "Parade on My Rain," for instance, has a downtempo beat and whispery, self-conscious wordplay: "Please don't parade on my rain, I want to be sad." The tracks from 1999's Boyscout Superhero, however, have a completely different vibe, with punchy vocals and unpredictable, hooky bass lines that land somewhere (sonically and chronologically) between Weezer's Pinkerton, Ween, and the fuck-you fuzz and dissonance of the Deftones. Cohesive in quality but earmarked by various eras, Tropic of Candycorn is a true variety pack.
"Getting the rust out is the easy part," Jolly says. "But it'll be pretty weird suddenly being a band again for three days, and then going back to normal."