VALORIE MILLER Takes Over an NC Superfund Site With New “Home of the Brave” Video
On her first new album in five years, North Carolina’s Valory Miller written on one of the prettiest grounds near Asheville, NC, but not in the way you might expect. The story of his new album, Only the killer would know, released May 6 via Blackbird Record Label/Indie AM Gold, emerged after Miller discovered his acre of land in Swannanoa was adjacent to, if not in the middle of, a government-supervised hazardous waste area. Miller suffered health issues that caused her to leave the property. It wasn’t until later, talking to her former neighbors and doing her own research, that she discovered it was a “superfund” site, so named because of the huge cost needed to clean up. the mess left behind by irresponsible corporations (in this case, a company called Chemtronics that made weapons and explosives).
Today, Miller shares the video for “Home of the Brave” via Popmatters. Shot on location in North Carolina, the visuals and lyrics juxtapose the beauty of the earth with the toxic secrets hidden below. “Here in the mountains so green, it’s deceiving / It almost feels like a Garden of Eden”, she sings. “Someone sold you thoughts you think about / And left a mark in the water you drink.” The video shows Valorie sitting at her kitchen table with a large document on the Chemtronics site, as well as articles, maps and charts she acquired through her research. It’s an appropriate visual, given the title of the album.
“It’s a big, scary, horrible subject, and a lot of these songs were born out of that,” Miller told Popmatters. “There’s not much you can do about these places. They will be toxic to our lives and to lives to come. Writing a song is always the way I’ve approached things in my life. , but I’ve never had an inspiration like this.
Across the album’s nine songs, Miller’s alternate arrangements, haunting, ethereal vocals (think Mazzy Star), and gripping eco-narratives are a genre unto themselves and tell a story that, in some ways, is too familiar, but quite original. Unraveling the true story of his beloved acre of land – and the toxicity that lay beneath it – is what led to the album’s title.
“You hear that term on crime shows, when someone has inside information,” she says. “With Only The Killer Will Know, ‘killer’ refers to the people who throw this stuff in the ground. And in researching all of that, I’m the detective,” she says. “To help find the killer or the person responsible, the investigator must know certain details that no one else could know. In this case, the information is readily available, but no one is looking but me. I know all those weird things about this place. Meanwhile, in this whole community, hardly anyone even knows this place is there.
Recorded in Asheville with rising producer Kayla Zuskin, the album begins with “Apocalachia,” with heartbreaking lyrics that confront the situation head-on. “Field of Flowers” then offers a poignant message about growth and responsibility, particularly in regards to how we treat the land, with Miller gently advising to “leave the flowers in the ground.”
“I think the record definitely embodies a relationship between people and nature, whether toxic or healthy,” she says. “I was forced to become an environmentalist because of Chemtronics, but I’ve always loved nature and camped and lived a lot in very rural places. But I never had an activist history, and I don’t consider myself an activist now, unless it’s through my art and talking about it.
Some of that eerie, dreamlike vibe seeps into the later songs of Only the killer would know, due to the innovative musicians from Asheville that Zuskin brought to the sessions. In the studio with a first-time producer, Miller describes the whole experience as “surprisingly relaxing.”
Miller has lived in Asheville for decades now. Born in Durham, North Carolina, she learned to play the guitar around third grade, using a guide while she was immobilized in a leg cast after knee surgery. After college in Colorado, she traveled the state for a few years, living in her truck or in shacks with no electricity or running water. In time, she returned to North Carolina and took a job at a camp near Asheville for juvenile delinquents. When she later married, she moved to a 60-acre farm in neighboring Madison County.
A friend visiting the farm once heard Miller play guitar and sing, then constantly encouraged her to get an emerging artist scholarship from the state. To his surprise, Miller received the grant. “And when I got it, I was actually kind of horrified, like, ‘Oh no, now what do I do?'” she recalled. “So everything developed on a whim. But that scholarship was enough to get me into music, and then I continued.
Leaving the farm and marriage behind, Miller moved to downtown Asheville and began playing songwriters’ nights in the ’90s. She made her first album, on tape, at age 29. Although she already knew how to sing harmony, Miller learned to play bass and toured the country with her then-boyfriend, Malcolm Holcomb. However, they broke up just before Miller moved to his Swannanoa estate.
“Before this album, I always went into the studio and I tried to understand with just a little money. This can hinder you in some ways, especially if you’re nervous and you’re not sure people you work with, “she said.” It’s a huge relief to this album. I always wanted to make a record that I really like from beginning to end, and I’m so glad that it happened . I am a late bloomer, I think.
LIST OF TRACKS
2. Field of flowers
3. House of the Brave
4. Not for nuthin
5. Only the Killer
7. Pearl Choker
8. Welcome to Lonesome
9. Your own well