Photo Credit: Liz Maney
Pop with a darker hue, experimental basslines, and lyrical depth is what can be found on the upcoming release from Valerie Orth. We talked with the songwriter about December’s ‘Rabbit Hole,’ where her feminist mindset was sparked, and everything else she has going on on top of creating addicting audibles.
Kendra: You’ve been releasing music for a decade now. How do you feel not only your sound but your work ethic has evolved from “Relinquish” to ‘Rabbit Hole?’
Valerie Orth: Every project I’ve released seems to be completely different from the last. But, at its core, it’s my voice – from aching to confident – and what I care about – from social justice to introspective.
In terms of my sound, though, it has gotten tighter and more professional. Since I have more experience now, I work with more experienced players and engineers, and I produce my own music, too. My sound now is a lot closer to the music I am most inspired by as well. I have a much better understanding of the process of recording and releasing, which allows me to be more strategic with my work and time than when I was just starting. It’s still a struggle, don’t get me wrong! It’s just a different struggle than 10 years ago.
Kendra: When you were constructing the base of ‘Rabbit Hole,’ what was going on in your mind that you felt you needed to get out musically, and did anything get left behind for a future release?
Valerie Orth: I’d been experimenting more with writing from my beats and basslines, and I wanted to write something driving and upbeat, possibly even dancey. I was listening to a lot of Sylvan Esso then when they were getting a little poppier and dancier. “Rabbit Hole” originated from dancers at a strip club, so I wanted gritty, driving, longing, lo-fi flashy-ness in the music. Does that make sense?
“Rabbit Hole” is one of those rare writing experiences where I didn’t re-write the lyrics, and the core of the original production also remained in the final production. So, for once, I don’t think anything got left behind!
Kendra: Speaking of rabbit holes, the internet can lead us down the darkest and sometimes stupidest ones. What’s your guilty pleasure rabbit hole you find yourself heading down more often than not?
Valerie Orth: I think all of us found new rabbit holes while being on lockdown and socially isolated. My friend introduced me to Two Dots, a very simple yet relaxing app/game. I embarrassingly can spend hours on that thing. Not in a competitive way (I can’t tell you what level I’m at or how many points I’ve won), but rather more in a meditative way. It stops the spinning thoughts. Oh, and Netflix might be my favorite rabbit hole. Addictive TV series have provided a necessary escape from reality for me. I’ve been avoiding social media when possible — that’s just too dark of a rabbit hole for me.
Kendra: Being a feminist is a label and a way of life you wear proudly. Did you grow up with that mentality or was it something you discovered and got more passionate about with time?
Valerie Orth: My parents were actually fairly conservative when I was growing up. I started getting a bit more righteous in high school and then went on to study Women’s Studies in college, with an African Studies minor. My focus was on how oppressions overlap, and how actively practicing anti-oppression (anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-heterosexism, etc) is the foundation of true feminism. I try my best to live my beliefs and hopefully rub off on others through my music and actions.
I think some artists are afraid to speak out politically, that they will alienate their fanbase or potential fans. Not me. I’m not going to recoil from my beliefs, especially not now while there is a national and global fight for fundamental human rights. I’m going to stand up and sing loudly as my idols have before me. And use whatever I got to create desperately-needed change.
I recently released “I Believe We Will Win” right before the US election this year, for that precise reason. The personal is political, and it is who I am. It’s how I came into being a songwriter in the first place, a way to be heard, and I think my fans appreciate me more for being authentic to who I am. Maybe there will be less of them, but I’m ok with that. It’s more important for me to stay true to who I am.
Kendra: On top of the music, you’re also involved with Beats By Girlz and ‘The League of Badass Women’ podcast. Can you tell us a little more about each of those and where we can find them online?
Valerie Orth: Beats By Girlz is a fantastic global community with a non-traditional curriculum designed to empower girls and gender expansive youth to engage with music technology, effectively working towards closing the dismal gender gap in the music industry. I co-lead the Beats By Girlz NYC chapter, teach private lessons, and founded Song Camp to teach youth music production and songwriting virtually while we’re all on lockdown.
I’m also part of a 10,000+ member community called The League of Badass Women, focused on gathering together for vulnerable and intimate “Power Talks,” and creating change within in order to make a change in the workplace. Last year, I launched and produced the first 2 seasons of The League of Badass Women Podcast. I interviewed badass women, non-binary and transgendered people around the world about power, privilege, and personal transformations to change the workplace and beyond.
Kendra: With all that has transpired this year, how do you feel 2020 has shaped your creativity and drive moving forward?
Valerie Orth: I never thought watching thousands of hours of TV would unearth so much, ha! But really, slowing down to a pace slower than I’ve ever existed cleared my head and opened my eyes. Along with hundreds of thousands of people dying and more suffering, I couldn’t help but ask, what is the point of anything? OK, that sounds dark. But I mean, I asked, what are my intentions? Why do I do what I do? And when I’m working on music now, I ask myself that, and it relieves some stress. Because I’m not here for the rat race, (what’s the point of that race anyway?). I’m here to express myself, to give others hope, to make great music. And it might be at a slower pace, and it will never be perfect, but it will be intentional, and it will be authentically me.
Kendra: Usually, this is where I ask people what they have planned in the coming months but with the world in a strange place right now, plans aren’t as concrete as they typically are. You can go ahead and let us know what you have tentatively planned but can you also share a song that never fails to get you through when the world around you feels like a mess?
Valerie Orth: The biggest news is that my album, ‘Rabbit Hole,’ is dropping December 4th! Folks can pre-order now, or get it on Dec 4th, which also happens to be Bandcamp Friday (when fees are waived for artists on Bandcamp)! So I’ll be promoting that through the end of the year, and getting ready for next year’s releases – the lyric videos for all the songs on “Rabbit Hole,” and maybe even some alt versions of the songs.
I asked my fans at the beginning of the pandemic for cover song requests, songs that would get them through this insane time. Out of those requests, I started producing mashups. It was the first time I mixed and mastered my own work as well. Pretty stoked about them. I’ll be officially releasing those mashups next year as well.
As for me, there are several songs that I lean on hard to get me through tough times. Two of them right now are “Lockdown” (Anderson .Paak) and “Daydreaming” (Radiohead).