Metal Majesty: Mixing Pomp With Metal.
The one man band Valensia talks about his latest release - the hard rock friendly Metal Majesty and offers up some direct and honest answers, some surprises and a great deal of honesty in this interesting interview.
Valensia, there seems to be a certain mystique that surrounds you as an artist. Is that a strategy that was put in place earlier in your career, or does it stem from the strong cult like following you have in Japan and Asia?
I'm not your average milkman, but 'a certain mystique'.. I don't know.
When I was released in Japan, the early days, the record company made up that story I was some kind of computer-generated pop artist
that I didn't exist in real life.
Now I'm older I know certain people are born with that mystique. I'm one of them, but I don't do anything to promote myself as being mystique, I actually do not promote myself at all since ages. Hence the mystique!
Your debut album sold a million copies plus - how does a young artist adjust to such a high impact start to ones career?
There was nothing to adjust; I came fully prepared, very arrogant, very self-assured, very
young. There was no way my album would fail to be a success. The world needed me and I needed the world. Far more difficult was it to adjust to the lack of this success. That's a thing I'm not very good at.
I never understood questions like this anyway: When I was 20, I still didn't have a recording deal and I got depressed
because I'd been acting and talking like a settled popstar since I was 15. That's 5 years of preparation
I expected nothing but success
MEGA success even.
You have to think like this; otherwise you never will be able to cope with it when it happens. And when it happened, I had this feeling like: "No we're getting somewhere finally."
I've had my share of fainting fans, limousines, fortune and extreme popularity. I've been a teenage idol. Thousands of girls' bedrooms with my poster on the wall
try adjusting to normal life again. That's the difficult part.
Is there a formula you follow to create perfect songs? What ingredients make a great song for you?
Yes, there is. All evolves around one or two 'moments' in a song, which I - if I was the listener - could repeat listening to over and over again. Then there's the chord-changing; that has to be in a certain way
the melodies have to hit certain notes I want them to hit, certain sounds, certain ways of singing
it's definitely a formula, which I can use on whatever style of music. From hard rock to reggae.
I think you are an artist that allows your influences to shine through in your music. Can you tell us about how your favourite artists of your youth appealed to you and what best you loved about their style?
Contrary to what most people think is I started making music because I liked 'A View To A Kill' by Duran Duran. I liked the idea of 5 good looking guys playing all over the world and having female fans, and all what goes with it. That's what I wanted to do. Gradually it changed to Prince and Michael Jackson because I never could find 4 other guys. I initially didn't even plan to be the singer; I was the guitarist. But this was all when I was about 14 or 15 years old. I needed songs, because I needed an album, because I wanted to play. By the time I was 17 I had written my debut album, and these songs were all songs based on the formula of: "What would I like to listen to myself?", within a framework of examples of great songs of my heroes, from Duran Duran, Kate Bush, Police to Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, David Lee Roth and all kinds of bands/hits from the seventies and eighties. Freddie Mercury became "approachable" for me when I was about 19, when I started singing. That's when I wrote my #1 hit GAIA and other stuff, which was very inspired by the early works of Freddie Mercury for Queen. Beatles-inspiration also came around that age.
To someone who is not familiar with your solo albums - how would you describe the music to them and what would you recommend they listen to first to get the best picture of you as an artist?
That depends from person to person. I like to say my music is universal: all young people seem to love it, until they pass that age you listen without all the rules of fashion, what's cool, what's hot from the outside.
I've got albums with a pretty heavy edge
I'm sure I can make a group of melodic rockers very happy with those. I've got pop music for people who love the compact songs with a special quality about it. I've got the atmosphere songs for people who love Kate Bush styled music
people who love harmonies, people who love guitars.
It's difficult to describe my own music anyway. I don't even know if I'm describing the compositions or the recordings of the compositions.
I'm not always happy about the recordings, but I think about 70% of my compositions are timeless and about 30% should be in the heads and hearts of everybody. I think GAIA still is the best song to summarize the whole Valensia thing.
There have been two past collaborations with Valentine - how would you describe working on those releases?
Tough. We were offered a mega-deal because of our names put together, and everybody expected a certain album. It was writing on demand. And that's not inspiring. You have 40 days, 4 hours and 6 minutes to come up with an album of which everybody already can tell how it's gonna sound.
Big, pompous, bombastic, classical, virtuoso etc etc. The A&R dept changes, the new guy didn't show any interest. Always the A&R guy is being replaced and he's got other targets. Sell his own signed acts. It's always like that and it's so tiresome.
But Robby and I didn't live up to the expectations. There was never a worse time to make a big, grande, pompous album like 1998.
All that kind of music was so out of fashion
since years... it was so un-cool to do it, and we'd done it a million times already.
We did it anyway, part of the album. They had the stuff they wanted, but there was no promotion
the same old story
I don't even want to discuss things like "when there's no promotion, there are no sales" anymore, ever again. It's the first lesson in marketing-class. And that's not even my department. A very childish business, all in all.
Any plans for a third collaboration?
Who knows. There is an album, a 3rd album coming out, which does have some tracks on it from this album, combined with Valentine's tracks and our own V-stuff
but Valentine has three albums on the shelf of the record company.. Two of his own and the V album. They're just not releasing them. Fuck that business.
I spoke with Robby the other day: I said: "Well, there IS an act they got called V, but it's not us. They just signed a fucking, fucking boy-band." And he said: "Funny thing is: They also got Robby Valentine. It's not me, but some other artist." Valentine and V. They have it, but it ain't us. When a Russian hotel company stole my name and my logo I thought: There you have it: V is a boyband, Robby Valentine is a reggae artist and Valensia is a hotel.
Just recently I discovered Gwen Stefanie had this hit with "Whatcha Waiting For?"
Well, listen to Valentine's "What In The World I'm Waiting For?" The verse starts off the same, the title is almost the same. This happened to me in the Netherlands as well. We are Queen clones, but we do provide the basis for huge hits. The Russian hotel is also a big hit. What do we have to do? Sue them of course! Do we want to do that? Fuck no. Just steal whatever you want to steal, take my money, take all my stuff, and then say again we're Queen clones. Try live with that.
I'm currently promoting Metal Majesty - another big project for you. How did the idea for the project come to light?
Nothing special really: The record company wanted a heavy album. That's all. They said they could promote a heavy album better than a Valensia album.
Well, okay, here's a heavy album. Here's the next. It's not a 'big' project
it's just a project. I had all these heavy songs anyway, and they wouldn't suit a Valensia album, so I liked the idea of having a side-project to throw in all my heavy songs. Well
heavy as heavy as Metal Majesty goes.
Is there anyone else in the band, or do you provide all instrumentation and vocals?
I planned to have a Metal Majesty band
but well... nobody was as good as myself. That sounds pretty arrogant, doesn't it? It's true though. I would gladly step aside for John Sykes and Steve Vai doing the guitars, John Taylor (Duran Duran; there's something about his playing I like) on bass, Freddie Mercury or John Lennon on vocals and the London Philharmonic for strings and all, but I don't have their phone numbers. The only solid force was my own brother, kinda like the Van Halen brothers, except I'm doing everything else. I definitely don't like doing it, but there wasn't even time to search for musicians. And I will only work with the top, otherwise I do it myself. When I find out my next-door neighbour is a more suitable vocalist then I, I'll bring him in tomorrow.
The debut This Is Not A Drill turned some heads due to the tougher sound and approach - did you enjoy the opportunity to do something a little different?
Yes. It keeps you sharp. In 2003 I had no idea what I wanted to do for Valensia. Write yet another album? It was too soon. I feel I have been writing too fast anyway. Because of time-pressure. A good album takes 5 years. Not one. Unless you've got a new focus point. Metal Majesty was a good one. That always works for me.
The new album 2005 is I think, even better - tougher production, better songs, even more pompous! What did you have in mind for the record when you commenced writing for it?
Nothing really. As I was recording it I felt I was going towards the stuff that I adore in hard rock. Such as really fast guitar licks like "Kittens Got Claws" by Whitesnake. There's a lot of Whitesnake oriented stuff. I really like the sound of that band. I love the rich guitar sound of John Sykes. I just imitate it, dear! I imitate everything I like when I don't have time for an album. 'Ready To Roar' is a Steve Vai imitation on the guitar. It may sound silly, but to me such an album is just... practicing, doing warm-ups... keeping my fingers and throat in shape. These are gymnastics. I don't have any profound message with these albums. When I listen to the albums I can really enjoy them, saying secretly: "Yo, I can play." But that's as far as it goes.
I love the energy of the performance, how long did the album take to record?
about 3 weeks or a month maybe. There wasn't any time
there weren't any songs even! I pretty much recorded the album while writing it.
When Dave (the drummer) had to play his parts he asked: "So what do you want me to do here?" and I didn't have an answer. "Just play something fast
just pretend you are playing a fast rock song. I fill the song in later." You've got to have some experience to do that. I've been recording most of my life, so it's not really a problem for me. And David could play whatever he wanted to play. It's challenging. Hence the energy.
I must ask about some of the songs. It's said that the album pays tribute to your metal roots - such as Whitesnake and Blue Murder. But in places, I not only hear influences, but exact riffs and mannerisms from past classic songs. You have just touched on this, but I'll ask specifically - was this intentional, or how best can you describe that to us?
I think it's a reaction to the current music. I've been advised to use drum loops, different guitar sounds and all other things which I consider to be the heritage of the nineties; an absolute black page in the history of pop and rock music as it's an uninspired decade.
There are so many good things that - to me personally - supersede most of what's going on today, and these are the examples I'm using in my music.
Hence the John Sykes references. To me it's: Now this is how a rock guitarist ought to play. But then again, there's also a different story. I didn't have much choice but to oblige the record companies I was working for.
They wanted something heavy. Okay, I make something heavy. When do you want to have it? In two months? Impossible. I need 3 years.
If I'd gotten the 3 years, I would have had the time to create more.
The first story is a good one, but I prefer having more time and be less un-original.
Your love of all things Queen shines through on a few tracks too - I like the heavier sound mixed with the influence of the operatic Mr. Mercury. How hard is it to get a mix like that just right?
Well, it's easy for me to do such a thing. I master all these styles. God, what an arrogant mother fucker I am, aren't I? But otherwise my answers are getting nowhere.
You'll get these US type of Michael Jackson answers like: "I just create from the heart..". I used to say that, but I think these are hypocritical nonsense. If you're an artist, you know damn well how good you are. If not, you're not going to record yourself. It's very easy.
So it's so easy for me to do this kind of mix. I sound like this automatically. It's just a matter of hitting a string, opening your mouth and pressing the record-button. And well
Freddie Mercury taught me. I just listened to his voice since I was 4 years old. What you're hearing is a pupil of Mercury, Vai, Sykes, Beatles, Whitesnake, Coverdale and so on. Blend it all together and it's something new. Not that original, but still, it's my favorite choice of how a heavy album should sound
more or less... it lacks 2 million dollars studio time, but it's fairly good, considering the circumstances..
Do you have any favourite tracks from the current album?
We Rocked I like. That song has a story to tell
I like Ready To Roar because of it's energy, I like Hell Hounds On My Trail for the sliding of the guitar when the intro starts..
I'd love to see a few comments on each track if that's ok?
A track I wrote in 1988! Could have been on my debut album.. back in those days it still was called "We Rock", but I changed the lyrics and it's title.
Ready To Roar
This is one of the tracks I composed while recording. Written in the times Robby Valentine and I were at war. Nothing more creative than putting your anger into a song. These lyrics are quite funny, because it's basically the statement Robby wrote about what an evil person I was... He was right; I used his text for a song. It doesn't get more evil than this. But basically there was an underlying message, a private one. Saying it wasn't me who caused the trouble. There was a female involved. Valentine also wrote a song, a very nasty one, about me. That's true artistic creativity.
Love Will Make You Bleed
A new song, my first blues! I never thought I could sing bluesy, but it's not that bad at all. This song is heavily inspired on "Jellyroll" from Blue Murder. I have no idea why I wanted a song like that. I know I missed a track to get the 10 tracks. David doesn't even play drums. I edited his drums for "Hell Hounds On My Trail" into this song. It's the only editing on the album. I had to have one more song.
Hold On To The Night
This is another song I wrote in 1988 or 1989.. The chorus that is. A song in the vein of Whitesnake's "Crying In The Rain".
Under normal circumstances I never would have recorded songs like that
it's too Whitesnake. But then again, if I listen to both songs, it is something else. It's always something else. I read some silly reporter saying: "Valensia's so incredible talented but he's just imitating Queen."
Like an automatic sample reporters say this when they hear the name "Valensia".
This time I could see it was nonsense, as I wasn't imitating Queen.
And henceforth I know that MY style, the Valensia style, has been fucking original from the very start. You try finding a copy of my song "Tere", "Mayte" or a whole bunch of other songs I've written. There aren't any.
People are slowly discovering it now. These songs you can rant at if you like. But hands off my Valensia songs. Nevertheless fun to do, "Hold On The Night".
A very personal track about private stuff. I wanted to hire a violin section for this song until I saw their prizes. Then I decided to play the violins all by myself. Not easy, this violin.
Hell Hounds On My Trail
Another song that has been lying around for ages. I wrote this when I was still in school. With a friend actually
I believe the verse isn't entirely mine.
The 'Still Of The Night' feel I love; I love the break in that song, creating atmosphere
and Whitesnake got that from Led Zeppelin
and at the end it's all differently. It would be nice if silly reporters would finally see that this is the way composing is done. I love the guitar sound of this song. The slide from the guitar when the song starts is very nice, very powerful. Where have those sounds gone.
A lot of old material, when I come to think of it. No wonder I didn't have to write for this album. Again, this is a song which was written even before my debut album. The most complete song so far. I had everything written for it, even the lyrics. I didn't even change the guitar solo, which is still the way I played it when I was 16.
Alone, Unknown and On My Own
A new song; the last of the many. This song marked an era for me. The lyrics say so. When I wrote this song, I felt all was over and I had the desire to leave the music industry. And so I have left it.
the chorus isn't new either... it's also from the old days, when I was 16 or so. The verse may be from 2002 or so
this is the way I always write.. I just glue things together.
I love the second verse
the chords, melody and lyrics perfectly reflect the state of being I was in
"Lonely depression I just could not bare; I'm going to buy some friends and walk on air; I'm finished anyway so I just don't care."
It's truly sad; an artist at the peak of his creativity and life, quits music business because there's nothing left to do. He rather retires than trying to maintain his career. I like that.
A bullshit song. It's nice anyway because I wrote it haha - but it's nothing
no lyrics, no special stuff. This was written to practice recording with the initial Metal Majesty band.
What are you working on currently Valensia?
Nothing. I'm painting my house.
And what might fans expect in the year or so ahead for you?
Nothing. I might write a new Valensia album, but if I do so, I'm going to write it, like I wrote the first one. Meaning no deadlines of record companies, no rushes, no compromises, no nothing. Who knows this might take 4 more years. I don't care.
I think it's a waste of time producing at such a fast pace. I've recorded 4 albums in less than two years. I ought to be in the Guiness Book Of Records for having recorded the most notes in one year. I'm going to write seriously now. I don't even know if what I write will ever be released.
I guess it will, but I'm not planning stuff like that anymore. First the music.
Anything else you would like to add?
Painting houses is easier than I thought. A lot easier than becoming famous.
Many thanks for your time Valensia, and your forthright and honest comments which I think others will appreciate and enjoy reading.