Valerian Sun

Valerian Sun, a new metal-tinged band based in Lancaster city, is comprised of guitarist Trey Alexander, vocalist James Wolpert and drummer Jon-Mikel Valudes. Photo by Steve Stoltzfus and Adam Serrano.

When musicians enter a studio to record, some arrive with ideas, some with a blank slate and some don’t know what the finished product might sound like at all.

This past summer, James Wolpert, Trey Alexander and Jon-Mikel Valudes found themselves in this latter scenario. They each come from a slightly different musical world — Wolpert, the masterclass singer who was once a runner-up on “The Voice” in 2013; Alexander, a one-time Guitar Player Magazine Guitar Hero award recipient; and Valudes, former drummer of Lancaster rock band From Ashes to New.

Despite barely knowing each other prior to this year, the unlikely trio is now a proper metal band, Valerian Sun, with two singles out now on streaming services and much more on the way.

The fact that the band was technically born out of a country song is perhaps a testament to the multifaceted musicians that make up the trio.

“We called it ‘calculated chaos’ at the beginning,” Valudes says on a recent Zoom call, with Wolpert and Alexander agreeing.

Making the most of it

In June of 2021, Valudes found himself working with a local upstart country artist. Taking initiative, Valudes booked four days to record two songs at Atrium Audio, run by the Grammy-nominated production duo of Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland.

As the date neared, the country singer ended up bailing on the session, leaving Valudes down his deposit with no real plan for the studio. Valudes had already enlisted Alexander, whom he had known since the former was eight and the latter was 18, due to Valudes’ dad, Michael, serving as Alexander’s business coach as he started in music.

“Really, I had no clue what to expect; I just knew that he was family to me and I owed his dad a life debt, and I would really have done it regardless,” Alexander says. “I think it was really smart that Jon-Mikal finagled it so that we did it anyway and gave it a shot.”

Next, Valudes messaged Wolpert on Facebook. The two first met a few years ago, when Wolpert was looking for a drummer for his previous band, Ultramarines. Though that did not end up working out, the two stayed in touch.

“He said, ‘The idea here is that we’re making the best use of these two studio days I have booked and can’t get the deposit back for, so we’re going to make something from absolutely nothing and see what happens,’ ” Wolpert says. “I said, ‘Yeah, that sounds pretty cool.’ So, we went in and did just that.”

The newly formed trio met for a discussion just a few weeks before the first studio date, which is when Alexander and Wolpert met for the first time.

In talking with McFarland and Slovak, who are primarily known for their work in producing metal bands such as August Burns Red, Texas in July and others, the band decided to give metal a whirl, after first flirting with the idea of making Top 40 pop.

“The cool thing is that it forces us to create together and come up with new things we’ve never done,” Alexander says. “I’ve never played in this genre before, so it’s a new thing for my brain.”

A dynamic feel

With a genre in place, the three musicians quickly got to work writing what would eventually be first single “All at Once.” The four-minute song manages to highlight each member’s strengths, despite their own admitted lack of familiarity with the format. Far from something simply cobbled together by relative strangers, the track sounds like the committed work of a an in-tune hivemind.

Along with the musical style, the band’s working style also got a refresh.

“My affinity is for the disorderly and improvisational and disorganized, which is an interesting contrast,” Wolpert says. “I love garage bands and recording in living rooms, so putting that in an atom smasher with Grant’s hyper-detailed, on the grid perfection makes for a dynamic feel, I think. I can’t say enough about how talented Grant is, he is unbelievable at whipping around Pro Tools with his track ball.”

Valudes adds, “He’s like a shredder on the computer, just amazing to watch.”

As with any new band, future plans are coming fast and furiously. The band hopes to come out of the gate with a strong live show, complete with its light show and potentially an accompanying bassist. A music video is in the works for later this month, though a specific song has not been settled upon yet. And if their own respective past music gigs are not daunting enough to live up to, the band was recently nominated for several Central Pennsylvania Music Awards — best new band, best rock band, song of the year and best male vocalist — while it has all of two songs to its name.

“It does seem like it’s going over really well, which is awesome,” Alexander says. “I know I’m biased because I teach them (as a guitar instructor), but in all genres, even my youngest kids all the way up to the guys who are 70 years old, they all seem to be surprised by it and how well it’s done and produced.”

Whether Valerian Sun rises or sets in the future is all up to the same cosmic randomness that brought them together in the first place.

“I think the theme of the project is how organically everything has fallen into place, knock on wood,” Valudes says. “We came out with two songs in four days, and I think all of us were a little nervous, but thankfully it worked out as well as it probably could have.”

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