Posted On 18 Jan 2017
Valerie Orth is a prolific songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist. Her Brooklyn-by-way-of-San Francisco-influenced music is unique and authentic. Integrating live instruments with electronic sounds, her newest project, “Wake You,” carries the upbeat production and warmth of Sylvan Esso, the unexpected rhythms and percussion of Tune-Yards, and the dark vocals and trippy-ness of Portishead.
Valerie is a captivating performer, usually backed by her full band while singing addictively and playing electric guitar and Ableton Live’s Push. Her often-metaphorical lyrics are as spell-binding, and are steeped with palpable images.
Her songs take you on a journey through relationships and obsessions, yet Valerie is an activist at her core. Call-to-actions are even sprinkled throughout her lyrics: “make your move,” “get up, come and make some noise,” and “ask…knock, I’ll open up.” Her stunning Wake You EP is due out on January 27th.
In addition to her own art, Valerie is actively involved with Female Frequency, a collective dedicated to empowering women and girls in the music industry.
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Learn more about Valerie in the following All Access interview:
Now that 2016 is over, what are some words you would use to describe the year? What have been some of the highlights for you and your music?
Manic. While things started to really come together for my music, the world around was falling to pieces. I want to find a way to affect positive change through my music.
Defining. I began to hone in on a sound – and people – I can truly identify with.
Inspiring. I saw so many great performances, mostly in NYC and mostly by local artists. And I got to work with so many great musicians.
Which brings me to my biggest highlight of 2016: All the talented people and friends I got to collaborate with.
Before 2016, I had gotten used to a certain way of either co-writing or working with a band. Then I started writing and recording this EP in late 2015, and experimenting with ways to present my new electronic sound live. It took me on a very different and super-educational journey that I am forever grateful for.
My co-producer, Devon Johnson, is kind of a rhythm and sound-design god, and is a big part of my developing sound. My other co-producer, Optiks, brought a song to life (Make You Move) that I must have written and re-written 50 times. He crafted just the right elements to bring it all together and seal the deal.
Two of my closest friends are my backup singers (Michael Inge and Rachel Walker), and they sing the hell out of my songs live, adding a depth of soul I’m not sure I would have found myself.
I produced and released two covers with my drummer and dear friend Attis Clopton, turning Fiona Apple into industrial rock and Nirvana into legit dance – definitely never thought I’d do that, or was even capable of it.
I co-wrote 3 albums worth of material for a music production house for tv and film, one of which was a collaboration with an incredible NYC hip-hop producer Audible Doctor.
I got to perform in Berlin, the heart of electronic music, and backed bassist/ producer Lauren Sky on her set while she backed me up, just after Ableton Live’s eye-opening Loop Summit. I worked with a tremendous organization called Female Frequency, a collective of inspiring women producers who genuinely support each other. Actually, one of my gigs in Germany was a Female Frequency showcase I organized, which featured women beatmakers from all over the world.
So, yeah, another word to sum up 2016: Productive.
What are you most excited about for 2017?
To release my new EP, Wake You - to launch my new sound! And following up with that by writing more material. I’m planning on a writing retreat somewhere far away from NYC attractions/distractions to make that happen.
Also! I’m releasing my music video for Make Your Move on Valentines Day, you know, to give a little push to anyone who needs it.
I’m also excited to work more on my production skills and release some stuff I produce on my own.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
I grew up on stage. I was 5 years old and in my first play: Chicken Little. I played Ducky Lucky. The next year I got to see a Broadway show and sing in a musical in my local community theater. I was pretty hooked from then on. In high school, I was voted “Most Likely to be on Broadway.” But I discovered songwriting and changed my tune a bit. I’m grateful for my musical theater past but am very content as a performing songwriter and producer now.
Could you see yourself doing anything else today career-wise?
As much as my parents and wallet wish for that, I gotta say No. I run my own social media management business on the side, but when I’m writing a good song, working with great people, or am performing on stage with a killer band, I know there’s not much else in the world that makes me happier.
How do you think your sound has been changed since you made the move from San Francisco to New York? Why did you make this big move?
I moved to change my sound. I wanted to be influenced by this intoxicating city. You know that saying “Leave San Francisco before you get too soft and leave New York before you get too hard”? I was writing alternative rock but wanted my music to have more edge. It’s funny, though, I circled back to where I first started writing, which was over electronic beats. And of course there is every genre of music imaginable in NYC, yet I found my home with (mostly women) beatmakers.
And I wanted to understand the industry side of things more, I wanted to start licensing my music to TV shows, films and trailers. That opportunity didn’t seem as apparent in SF as it is in NYC.
In just a few weeks, you will release your EP, ‘Wake You.’ What does that feel like? How long have you been working on this collection? What was the inspiration for these songs?
I’ve been working for over a year on Wake You, and man, does it feel good to finally release it to the world. Each song has a different story behind it, but they are all about motivation, whether it’s within myself, or asking someone to make his move. And the songs were all at different stages when I brought them to my co-producers. For example, I had written Make Your Move 3 years ago, but I wrote Pixie over a beat Devon gave me while we were in the studio.
Do you plan on touring much in support of your EP?
Yes! I haven’t had a minute to start booking it yet, but the idea is to hit New England, the West Coast and hopefully Europe this summer and Fall.
Who are some of your favorite artists and what bands continue to inspire you and your music? Who would you still love to work with in the future?
Kind of a motherload of a question but I’ll try to give you a sampling at least! Portishead. Sylvan Esso. Santigold. Laura Mvula. Georgia. Empress Of. Sia. Bjork. Zap Mama. Emily King. Grimes. Meshell N’degeocello. Ojos de Brujo. Ani DiFranco. Prince. My friends!
I want to continue working with everyone I’m working with now, and would also love the opportunity to work with some of the big songwriters, producers and artists who are making awesome, authentic music.
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
I want to have a positive impact. I want my music to allow someone out there to have a better day, to get them through a tough time, or just make them smile. And the message threaded throughout Wake You (and in a lot of my songs) is taking action. One of my favorite quotes is Howard Thurman’s “Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” So hopefully my music will mobilize listeners to do what they love and be with who they love.
When you aren’t performing, working in the studio, what do you like to do for fun? How do you unwind from it all?
I go to live shows in the city and Brooklyn to support my friends and discover new (to me) artists. Also, I have an adorable niece and nephew in Maine. When I get to visit and play with them, I forget about everything else.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers regarding yourself or your music?
It’s been quite a journey and it feels great to be releasing a collection of songs that feel just right to me, that I can groove to. Like Wake You is my rocket ship, launching me into a new space, challenging and motivating me to learn more, exploring my new genre and waking me up to a new way of writing and connecting with my audience.