Analogue Music | Valley Queen

Valley Queen

By Matt Conner

As it turns out, a global pandemic will mess with your plans.

As Valley Queen prepared to make the leap from their debut to their sophomore record release, the L.A.-based band found itself facing significant changes and challenges. Like most of us, the pandemic itself forced limitations and halted plans for the Valley Queen, but that time period also featured the departure of the band's guitarist. Just like that, Valley Queen went from four to three members—Natalie Carol, Mike Deluccia, and Neil Wogensen—and little momentum.

In the wake of the pandemic, Carol and company decided to mix things up. They'd swap instruments. They'd noodle around. They'd embrace time as a companion instead of a demanding presence. The results are now here on the band's dynamic new LP, Chord of Sympathy, and album marked by the connective tissue cultivated carefully by the band.

We recently sat down with Carol to hear more about the band's transition period and their community-driven hopes on this new set of songs.

Analogue: You go from four band members to three during the pandemic, so I’d love to go back there to see how that season really plays into where you’re at now.

Natalie Carol: Gearing up into the pandemic, I was supposed to go on a six-week tour with Lauren Ruth Ward solo and I’d gone on a solo tour with Ruston Kelly at the beginning of 2020 before lockdown.

That was our [Valley Queen] lineup for such a long time and so much of the songwriting process was with our assigned instruments, so when Shawn [Morones] exited, I was like, ‘How much longer am I going to be able to keep things up? I don’t have a full-length record, but people are asking me to go on tour. We could go as a three-piece, but when am I going to write a record or is this even a thing anymore?’ And then it unexpected all came to a screeching halt anyway.

'I think this record came from a place of loving people and wanting people to feel comforted, to feel like there was someone who recognized what might be happening for people on a personal level."

Not to say that the pandemic wasn’t an unweird time, because it was totally weird, but it was also a huge blessing. It gave me a minute to figure it out. I wrote the back half of the record in lockdown. I felt completely lost at the time, but looking back, I realized that I wrote so much in that time.

It was good to stop touring, honestly. I learned how to cook. I started gardening. I found my own place and moved into my own apartment for the first time. I also started writing in a completely different way, so all of these questions were answered by everything stopping. I had to reinvent in the pause and now, three years later, we’re putting this out.

Analogue: When you say you wrote a different way, does that just reference the pandemic changes or was there something more there?

Natalie: I think because the world was in such an obviously traumatic place and some people were so clearly struggling, and this all happened in an unconscious way, but something in me flipped. I felt compelled to write from a more loving place. I think this record came from a place of loving people and wanting people to feel comforted, to feel like there was someone who recognized what might be happening for people on a personal level.

Instead of writing about trying to get through something or trying to get through my own personal hardship, there was a shift. I was writing for the sake of other people to hear it. I just wanted to send a message out for people to feel connected to me and others.

Analogue: When did you notice there’s something different going on in the writing? Was it after the fact or in the moment?

Natalie: [Pause] Good question. Maybe a few moments after I write it. I’ll write something and piddle around in my apartment doing dishes and marinate and it will come to me after. But it’s a constant thing, right? Do you make music?

Analogue: No, I don’t.

Natalie: Well, I don’t know. Even now, I feel like I still discover the place I was writing from. It’s not this static thing, but maybe I got the clearest view of that when I saw all of the songs together collectively and I realized I was trying to cheer some people up here. I could see it best when we were arranging everything.

Analogue: I love what you’re saying about the songs and wanting to connect with folks, because it makes me think of their potential in a live setting. Have you thought much about that?

Natalie: I hope so. Just to speak first to the people I’m playing the music with before I speak to the audience… We’re playing with a new band now and we have the release shows coming up, and I want to make sure the newcomers in my band feel like they’re playing the music with me. I’ve always loved being in a band and I love the energy that comes with playing music with people. Playing with anybody is a different experience and you’re communing in a different way.

So first and foremost, I want those people I’m playing with to feel welcome and that they have space to be themselves. Even though they’re playing music that I wrote, I hope it doesn’t matter and that we still mold together.

Then from that place, I think the audience feels it from there. I think it’s all about intention. I’m creating a space, even. I’ll be using an old antique quilt that belongs to my friend who made the album art as the backdrop to the stage. Then I’m embroidering these patches with everybody’s name in the band and placing them around the stage. I’m also embroidering other things with intention.

So to answer your question, I’m trying to create a space with this record in general with the songs but even in the physical space of the live show, I want people to feel loved on by creating a comfortable and cozy spot for people to be in some kind of communication with me and others on the stage playing music.

Analogue: You said earlier that you were used to writing with your assigned instruments, so how surprising was it when you switched things around? Or was it surprising?

Natalie: Totally. At first there was a lot of puttering around. I remember early on in the pre-production phase, I thought, ‘How is this going to go?’ We’d upend the song structure sometimes and I’d leave those sessions thinking, ‘What is going on? Do we have anything here?’

We had a record’s worth of songs but they were not arranged and we’d just spend time searching. Mike would be on synthesizer and I’d be playing guitar and would start singing. Then I’d write a synth part and some days Mike would want to set up his drum kit. Other days we’d use a drum machine.

So there was a lot of circulating around of different instruments and a lot of searching—there was a real search phase. But then we’d find something and it would inform what we would do next. It would inform the direction we’d go with the other songs. So it was cool getting on track from that. You know, you find a little treasure and it tells you where to go and you get into that flow. It just takes you a while to find it.

VISIT: Valley Queen

Photo: Chris Phelps