Sometimes the friendship between musicians is so strong that it becomes a palpable presence in the music itself. From the esoteric lyrical references of Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker to the effortlessly intertwined harmony and humor of Milk Carton Kids’ Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, a strong friendship can illuminate any song with indescribable magic. On November 13, California-based indie-pop duo Valley Boy proved this to be true with their new single, “Cigarette.”
While Valley Boy is a relatively new project — “Cigarette” is only their second single — songwriter James Ghaleb and drummer Ian Meltzer have been best friends since they met in middle school P.E…. a fact that becomes evident in both their music and the way they carry themselves.
“I wrote this song because I played a chord on accident that I’d never played before,” Ghaleb told American Songwriter. In response, Meltzer chimed in: “That accident was a relief to me because James only ever plays the same 17 chords, so I was happy to have something new to work with. The new chord inspired me to make a synth bass part and I tossed the ball back to James for some lyrical guidance.”
From there, Ghaleb explained how his friendship with Meltzer played a vital role in the genesis of the song. “At that time, I had just realized that I enjoy the smell of cigarettes, contrary to the advice of the American Lung Association,” Ghaleb said. “I was considering becoming a more active secondhand smoker in my community… that’s around when I played that accidental chord, so the word ‘cigarette’ sort of just tumbled out once Ian added that bass line on top. The song took shape quite quickly and it was only after the fact I realized we’d accidentally written an ode to my life-long friendship with Ian and the influence he had on me as we grew up together.”
For his part, Meltzer feels the same way. “Although he looked like a handsome drug dealer, James was always the timid, non-adventurous friend in our group,” he said. “I was always trying to get him to engage in silly — and sometimes dangerous — childhood activities and he had a hard time with it, always preferring instead to hang back and play guitar by himself (you’d think he’d know more than 17 chords after all that!)”
Ghaleb jumped back in: “Honestly, I haven’t counted how many chords I know but I feel like I’m not getting a fair shake here. What does it really mean to know something? Socrates anyone?”
Cementing the joyful and youthful energy of their friendship, Valley Boy also released a music video for “Cigarette” directed by Zach Johnston and animated by Ben Smith. Following Ghaleb and Meltzer as they drive around smoking a cigarette, the video quickly morphs into a surreal, video-game-esque trip through the duo’s teenage vices. Visually conveying the elements that make “Cigarette” such a hard-hitting and fun song, the video encapsulates Valley Boy’s finest talents.
“This song gives me the same vibe I get when I watch a Richard Linklater film: a fun, cozy and nostalgic feeling, despite the scary and potentially problematic behavior being depicted on screen,” Meltzer said. “It feels very relatable (if I’m even allowed to say that about my own work) and I hope people who grew up trying to find themselves within the midst of a larger friend group can relate to it in that way.”
Agreeing with his friend, Ghaleb concluded “Ian said that really well. Making this song and listening to it put me in touch with a more carefree and fun bit of myself — I hope that feeling is passed on to its listeners.”
Watch the music video for “Cigarette” by Valley Boy below: