music: interview: Atarah Valentine

Atarah Valentine is a Brooklyn-based musician on his way to London. He calls his creations 'Dark chamber pop' and we have a track for you as this month's podcast. He dresses the part as well and has had a photo in Interview magazine.
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Q: Right now I think you've got an album ready to go and just need your label, Atlantic, to put it out. Is that right?

A: It's true, I do have a finished record, but I just recently parted with Atlantic. It was becoming more and more obvious, to everyone involved, that it wasn't the right place for me. I was just in London for a few weeks trying to lay the ground work for a new deal. Things seemed to be a bit more hopeful across the water.

Q: In another interview you said you thought the UK was the best place to launch it. Do you still think that? Do you think the UK is more open to different kinds of things?

A: Absolutely! I think, musically, the States has become very homogenized and unadventurous. Even in the "Indie" scene. I was blown away by what was considered "mainstream" in the UK. I was shocked when I turned on the TV and found that there were 7 different video channels that were actually playing music! It also seemed like there was a friendlier mix of music, ie- a countdown that consisted of Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry, but still had artists like La Roux and The Noisettes.

Q:Brooklyn bands have a certain sort of reputation as far as music style, attitude, and fashion go ... which is probably a bit simplistic! Still, you're not much like that generalisation - do you feel a bit out of place from time to time?

A: I do feel out of place. Part of me feels like what I do is VERY New York, but more in the sense of how New York used to be. I feel like the music scene is dying a bit here, especially when you look at the music people are making in contrast to what is being signed and put on the radio. There are SO many rock bands here that are trying to recreate what their idols are doing vs. expressing who they are with their music. I don't have time for that.

I don't think music, fashion, or art should be "simplistic". It's boring. Showmanship is so important to me. I think people are ready for a change. Music used to be exciting, artists were over-the-top eccentrics, and their image communicated that they were special before you even heard their music. I think that's the major difference between what I am doing and what a "Brooklyn" band is considered to be. If you want to see a guy playing guitar in jeans and a T-shirt, don't come to my show.

Q:You've described your current style as 'Dark chamber pop'. I guess a lot of people wouldn't know what 'chamber' was (or might think about horror movies!!). This implies that you're directing your description at a certain kind of person - is that so?

A: Not at all! I think music is universal. The production of my music is a bit "arty", but essentially I am writing pop songs. There is something for everyone on my record, there are aggressive dance tracks and sweeping ballads.

Overall, the record definitely has a dark undertone to it, and the instrumentation is a mix of classical instruments and found sound electronics. It is an intimate, emotional, honest, representation of who I am. I wrote the tracks over a period when I was questioning everyone and everything. I had alot of ups and downs in the process of writing this album. I think anyone who is on a journey to find themselves and make sense of their life will relate to my record.

... continues below ...

Q:You were in LA before doing a fashion course. Did you do any music there? Were you tempted to hang around?

A: That was a very interesting time in my life. I moved to LA on a full scholarship to design school. It felt great because it was the first time anyone acknowledged that I was talented and had something to offer, but at the same time, I was very isolated. I had no real friends, and I was living in Los Angeles without a car for 2 years. It was an important time though because my studies totally changed my approach to music. As you can imagine there are quite some characters who go to fashion school. I have so much respect for people who are in the fashion industry. As shallow as it may seem at times, it is definitely the one place, that I've found, were individuality is rewarded.

I lived in West Hollywood, in a studio apartment with another person. Little did I know that Warren Zevon ("Werewolves In London") lived in my building. I was experimenting with me cello alot when I lived in LA, and running through an amp was not making my neighbors like me any more! Then one day I got a knock on my door and lo and behold, there was Warren Zevon. He was really interested in what i was doing and really became a mentor to me. He would come by my apartment and listen to what I was working on and give suggestions, which I always rejected because I was "an artist", and really helped me get out of my shell. I had a rock band called "Hollowood" at this point, and he thought we had a good chance of signing to the label he was on called Artemis.

After major differences with the woman I was playing with I started playing some solo shows. The first attempt was very, very, embarrassing in retrospect! I did a solo set of four songs, switching from guitar, keyboards, and cello, dressed as a grunge-y dutch boy in ripped up overalls, platinum dutch boy haircut, and wooden shoes. It was well received, but you can imagine the tragedy that was my costume!

Q:The clothes you wear are most interesting. Do you do your own styling? Do you have any fashion-related ambitions?

A: Anything that has to do with visuals is done by me. I make a lot of my costumes and really take pride in it. I also have a little accessories label called Tar+Feather ( and I had a clothing line before I signed with Atlantic. Once my music career takes off, I would love to get back into design on a larger scale. Luckily, being the kind of artist that i am, I get to use 100% of everything I have learned up to this point. I just shot and edited a video on my own, which should be around shortly, I get to write my own music, design my costumes, do all of the graphic work, and make my conceptual nonsense come to life.

Q:Your last band was a cello band (love the cello!). What sort of things did you play? Is there any continuity from there to what you're doing now?

A: My last band was called "New Radio". We were a cello rock band. The line-up was two cellos, an upright bass, and a drummer. I wrote all of the music, sang and played the cello. Lack of commitment was the major problem in that group. I'm like a magnet for lazy people. That's a problem that I've always run into. I have a fire and people tend to want to ride on my coat-tails. I work really hard. I spend hours everyday at my piano, writing. I'm constantly looking for a way to move my life forward, and I wasn't being appreciated for what I was doing. I was so committed to that group, but I got tired of doing all of the work, and sharing the credit with ungrateful people, so i went solo.

There is definitely continuity from New Radio to my solo project though. I wrote all of the music then and now, and the other cellist, Leo Soeda, from New Radio worked on all of the string arrangements on my album. Leo has a great ear, and always takes my basic arrangements and turns them into a masterpiece. He also plays with me in the live show.

Q:Do you have anyone in your locality or generally that you like right now ... musically?

A: I think my friend Nicole Atkins is very talented. She has such a great, emotionally-deep voice. Lately, I've been listening to the La Roux record, Bat for Lashes "Two Suns", Madonna "Hard Candy", Pj Harvey "WHite Chalk", and Randy Newman "Harps and Angels".

Q:What are your plans for the rest of this year?

A:I hope to get back to the UK to do some shows, get a new Label, get my team together, go on tour, and take over the world!

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