While relaxing in Greece last October after finishing a run of European dates with Fu Manchu, Valient Thorr frontman Valient Himself rushed back to the United States after his diabetic father entered the final stages of renal kidney failure. Over the last two decades, Himself's Earth father (the band, of course, is from Venus) had already gone through gall bladder removal, quadruple bypass open heart surgery and pancreatitis. This was different. Valient Himself could help.
After first being told he would be unable to do anything about it, the Venusian went through a three-month battery of tests ("really a fucking hassle") to learn that he could donate a kidney to his father. He headed to California to record Thorr's fourth album, Immortalizer, and prepared for the surgery. After a two-week postponement, Himself went under the knife in late May.
It's demonstrative of how Himself, just 29 in Earth years, seeks to leave his mark on this planet through his actions: "I want to make something that's gonna outlive my own life, you know. That's sort of what Immortalizer is all about," Himself explains.
Independent Weekly spoke with Valient Himself three days before he underwent surgery to donate his kidney. We caught up with him again just after his return to tour Europe less than four weeks later.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: Tell me a little bit about hearing that your kidney donation to your Earth father may be something that you would have the opportunity to do.
VALIENT HIMSELF: Everyone keeps saying it's a big deal, but the way I look at life is that a lot of times you come upon obstacles. I've always called myself a problem solver. "What do we have to do to get this done? What do we have to do to make it happen?" That's just how I deal with life, it doesn't matter if it's a book report or somebody got arrested or you have to give a kidney away. It's just, "How can we make it better?" I'm there trying to figure it out.
If you can do these things and hope that it maybe sets an example ... I feel like this is a great opportunity that fell in my lap to show people how far we'll go just to get this world together. Things are heavy all over and I think there are lots of choices that can be made and sometimes people don't do them, but it wasn't a hard choice at all for me to make. I knew right away that I'd do it. I mean, I probably would have thought a little bit more about it if it was somebody I didn't know, but it being my dad, there was no question.
Jack Endino is a legend of sorts—Nirvana, Soundgarden, High on Fire, Mudhoney. How did you guys come to know each other?
Well, I obviously knew of Jack. He's been one of these guys who did a lot of stuff from the '90s in the grunge era, a lot of early stuff on Sub Pop and the like. But when I met him, I didn't know he was the Jack Endino. I knew him as the guy who joined as second guitarist of my buddy Jamie Lynn's band [Kandi Coded] from our record label [Volcom Entertainment]. They did the Volcom tour last year. They probably opened about 15 shows for us.
I just got to talking with the guy and, I mean, I'm a bad, bad music nerd, just from working in college radio forever and specializing in a lot of early, '68-to-'72 heavy psych and stuff like that. I've really nerded out, and I have this list of records that I've been looking for for years, and this cat had all of them. Not only did he know what I was talking about, but he actually had the records. It's pretty rare for somebody to have these records that I'm talking about. Some of them they only pressed 420 copies. If you can find some asshole that wants to part with them, you're gonna have to pay an arm and a leg on eBay to get them, right? This cat bought them firsthand. I'm sitting there talking to him, and it dawns on me who he is.
Beyond what everybody knows that he's done, the guy's done tons more records than a lot of people have in their collections. He kinda knew what our new jams were, and he asked if we had anybody in mind. We had a couple people in mind but I didn't think we'd be able to afford him, but he ended up wanting less than the last person did to do our record. It worked out to be the most awesome deal we could have ever figured out. Working with him was a total pleasure. I can't wait to hear what people think about it ... I know that we're pleased with it. We think it's probably the best thing that we've ever done.
What were some of those records that Jack kind of blew your mind with that he had?
The first one that we were talking about—this one's not that rare—but [it was] Kings of Oblivion by The Pink Fairies. We had just done a tour with Motörhead in Germany, so we were talking about The Pink Fairies and how the drummer [Eds. Note: actually, guitarist Larry Wallis] ended up being in Motörhead's first incarnation. They used to cover "City Kids." And I was like, "When we go over there, I'm gonna try to get them to cover 'City Kids.'" Jack was like, "There's no way you'll ever get them to cover 'City Kids' because [Wallis] and Lemmy don't have a good relationship anymore." So that was like a challenge ... But I sorta felt like, "Well, if [Lemmy] does have a bad relationship with [Wallis], I don't want to fuck it up cause [Lemmy] likes us and he comes out and jams with us every night. You see Lemmy standing up above you and tapping his foot and banging his head to your jams, you don't want to mess that up. Phil Campbell's coming out and doing the lights for us and we're partying with Mikkey Dee every day ... just the fact that we came out and they were on our side, I didn't want to fuck anything up. If it was controversial, I wasn't going there. But now that we know them a little better, I might ask them if they'll play it [and] pretend like I don't know what the hell is going on.
What were your expectations and thoughts about working with Jack Endino before recording Immortalizer compared to during recording and now that the album is done?
He's super funny, but he's super serious when we start talking about making this thing. He really takes his art as serious, as anyone who is making art should take it. It's funny because he'll get super serious about these big ideas that we're talking about that are sort of funny, but he takes every bit of it as serious as how you would want to be. So it's good to work with somebody who doesn't see your ideas as too big or too crazy.
A lot of times, the shit we talk about being from another planet, there's a lot of people who wouldn't look into what we're talking about as being an outsider looking in, trying to solve the Earth's problems. Sometimes you need an outsider's point of view, right? That's what the whole thing's all about ... a lot of people never seem to get that. I think he got it from day one.
You just got back on the road a couple of days ago. Are you having to hold back a little on stage at this point?
I'm probably not 100 percent, but at least I'm feeling 100 percent. I just have to be really careful.
Obviously, the surgery was the most important thing for you, getting everything right with you and your dad feeling good. Was there any concern with you or the rest of the band or Volcom about you getting back in time to tour behind the album?
We were still going to put the album out [in June] even if I wasn't able to tour on it right away. The doctors said four to six weeks, and I trusted everything they said. I gave myself six weeks before we would be getting ready to tour again, but then we had to postpone it, so it only gave me four weeks. So I was a little anxious, but I wasn't going to do anything that was going to put myself in danger. My primary concern was that if I felt like it, I would do it.
I went out to California and practiced for four days and I felt OK, so we decided to leave on the 11th. We got over here and jammed in Stockholm on the 13th. It seems the ball started rolling again.
It's funny because we have a lot of huge supporters in Europe. Every single night, dudes are flying from different countries to see us. We've only played in Sweden and around London, but I've seen guys from all over, like Carlsbad, and lots of people came to the shows from Ireland. I've seen dudes from Scotland. It's pretty crazy, and it feels good to have that support.
And you're headlining most of the non-festival dates. Have you done any headlining over there before?
No, this is our first headlining tour over here. I was kinda anxious about that, too—my first show coming back to play the really big club in Sweden, the Debaser. I was wondering how it was going to be, and we got there and it was fucking sold out, over 800 people. I think we're doing pretty fucking good! I mean, that's better than we even do in the States. It's pretty nuts.
Immortalizer is out now on Volcom Entertainment. Read our record review. Valient Thorr finally returns to North Carolina for a show Tuesday, July 29, with Early Man, Monotonix and H.O.W. at Volume 11 Tavern.