"I'm just giving you my honest feelings," says Herman Jolly. "I'm not bitter [about] how Sunset Valley never really worked out at all."
To be sure, expectations are a bitch. But whether or not the tight, catchy, ripping, turn-of-the-millennium Portland indie band was successful depends on who you ask.
A former booker at Thrasher Presents, and now mastermind of MusicfestNW, Trevor Solomon sees it differently. "There was this buzz about them, and they played NXNW," Solomon remembers. "After that show at [seminal club] EJ's the buzz grew exponentially huge. Every song was getting better and better. On their first record, every song was a hit." It could be said that their sound helped define what "indie" came to mean.
At this point, the story takes a turn for the familiar. Sunset Valley signed with a major label and spent a year haggling over the contract. In that time the subsidiary folded and the band was unceremoniously dropped. They soldiered on, however, through a number of independent releases and tours, including one inhospitable trip immediately following 9/11. Despite being close enough to smell it, the group's intense local success never really translated outside of Portland. The wave had crested.
The guys in the band, whose resumes now read like a who's who of players and producers (including work with Robert Pollard, Heatmiser, members of the Decemberists, and others), were growing up. Houses were bought and children born. The breaks between shows became greater. Two-odd years ago at MusicfestNW, Sunset Valley held what would've been their final show, but it instead elicited a realization everyone could agree on: It wasn't the right way to go out.
Some of the band members were sick. There were fans, friends, and family who couldn't attend, and perhaps worst of all, they were competing with the legendary Zombies playing next door. So when a new opportunity to properly close the door on Sunset Valley appeared, Jolly seized it. But make no mistake—this is it. Says Jolly, "We're not making a new record, and we're not becoming active again."
Whatever the case, Jolly's not going to disappear. After just missing his breakthrough, having a kid, and now on the verge of turning 40, he still hasn't soured on the scene. He's fronting a new band, Little Pieces, out of Seattle. And though dreams of fame and fortune have mostly left the building, he is all the richer for it.
"Everything that I thought meant something at one point, I keep discovering that they don't really mean anything," he says of the music industry. "But if I can write a great song and make a four-track recording of it, and nobody ever hears it but me, I'm totally psyched—then I've succeeded." This last time, however, everyone will know the songs.