[Originally published on Unheard Records, October 2015]
What does it mean to be a progenitor of contemporary art & chill in the year 2015? What about 2016? 2017? 2117?
Ideally, all of my artwork will make sense within each other’s sphere of concept and connectivity. One of my work's main features is collage, or a collage-like quality, anything that tries to make sense of distortions, fragments, illusions, kaleidoscopes, and other warped features of the external environment and my perception of it. This goes for my internal environment as well.
There is no part me of that can work on a personal creative project one thing at a time. My workflow is simultaneously extremely focused and extremely distracted, like an adderall-acid speedball with a flash of ayahuasca’s spiritually driven intensity.
My main goal is to make accessible psychedelic art.
Valentine Enterprises is my production conglomerate, the work I do for and with other people. This includes video and photo services, graphic design, audio mixing, and art directing. My goal with this project is to help people, especially young women, succeed in their creative endeavors in a professional and non-manipulative way. Part business yuppie CEO, part fairy godmother / vision quest shaman of creative babes. Of course, since personal work is one of god’s gifts to earth, I also create my own art on the side.
Death Valentine is my music project. I write, record, and perform experimental / electronic / psychedelic pop songs. I also make my videos and art direct my outfit-change-heavy live performances. My goal for this project is to express a catharsis and release of my darknesses and let positive light flood the empty space. Also, to carry on the legacy of my influences and pay tribute to artists whose work I love.
As a child I really wanted to be a rock star like Kurt Cobain in conjunction with being a princess. Talented and beautiful and powerful and empathetic and majestic. For some reason I’ve always known to an extremely strong and probably delusional degree that I was going to become that. I was going to be a great musician and make great albums and play great shows and live in a fabulous castle. Despite my passions of grandeur I didn’t even touch an instrument until I was given a guitar for my 16th birthday.
In the beginning, I wrote very simple songs based on color associations of chord progressions. My main influences at 16 were Nirvana, Hole, Bright Eyes, Elliott Smith, M Ward, Regina Spektor, and David Bowie. I had over a hundred songs recorded by the time I finished high school and some conceptual plans for albums, but lacked the confidence and wherewithal to release them.
Only a handful of people knew about my musical interest and practice until college, when I formed my “band” Red Stripe (name origin story: my father, also a musician, looks like Jack White’s doppelgänger and I wanted to make White Stripes music with a more arty and feminine twist so I chose my moniker as the “remaining stripe”). I still retained my obsessively indie-emo-altbabe-softguitarintheforestcrying high school playlists, but at this point the musical stylings of Animal Collective were #1 for sonic inspiration. Pink Floyd, Ariel Pink, Charlie Parker, and Bjork were also up there.
Oh, and of course I jumped on the Beyonce bandwagon after she released 4. Each of her albums after Dangerously In Love got progressively better: I Am Sasha Fierce, 4, and the Beyonce visual album. Animal Collective’s ODDSAC and Beyonce were critical in the development of an audio-visual language of my own.
At college I played my first shows as Red Stripe, my first shows as a musician ever. My sophomore year, music, something I had no formal training in at all, became my major. I studied jazz, classical, exprimental, and electronic music (Bard has an excellent electro department) alongside a Film/Video Production curriculum (Bard also has an excellent experiment film/video art department).
The theories, artists, and concepts covered at school (Nam Jun Paik! Paper Rad! Situationists! Ryan Trecartin!!!) were profoundly interesting to me and imperative in providing a framework of ideas and parameters from which I derive my technical creative process. I breezed by effortlessly at school not just because I’m super smart (although let’s be real, I’m like such an intellectual) but because I was so excited to apply my schoolwork to my personal work. Each project assigned, I treated as a Red Stripe song or video piece, and each new song I came up with, I’d alter it enough to be accessible in a classroom setting.
My teachers were great, and I got along well with my colleagues, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like an outsider in the film and music departments. (That statement goes for college, and for the “real world” / “art world” / “music industry” etc.) Red Stripe was supposed to be an adjustment towards accessibility from the weirdness and solitude of my high school work, but it was still very different from that of my peers’ and I didn’t exactly know how to categorize it.
That was my biggest problem: constant genre-jumping and multidisciplinary ADD. At that point I incorporated every type of art I’d ever been exposed to into Red Stripe: video (projections, mini-films), music (composition, recording, sound design, performance), digital and analog imaging (album art), writing (lyrics, essays, liner notes), fashion (onstage outfit changes), and even sub-interests like philosophy, corporate business, and space exploration. Of course Red Stripe was billed as a music project, and music was my main focus, but to an external source, the non-musical accoutrements were a distraction. I kept getting stuck in trying to conceptualize a fitting Red Stripe future: I wanted to drop the non-music things and only focus on making songs, but I also didn’t.
For me, the synesthetic conglomeration of all arts is necessary for creating even one seemingly insignificant and media-exclusive piece of work. If it doesn’t feel like the world is collapsing upon my perception and the only way to squeeze myself out of it is to violently or tenderly weave the DNA of lights, colors, vibes, and sounds into some result, it doesn’t feel like I’m creating art.
In 2011 I debuted the first Red Stripe album, Glitter Tits. Its 13 tracks went through heavy and unforgiving edits, eventually cut down to a 5 song EP. A dude named Joseph found it on bandcamp and contacted me, saying he had a label called Milo, Sorghum, and Maze Records based in OH and CA that wanted to release my “lowfi bedroom pop” music. I had nothing to lose so I sent him my .wavs and my info. For months I didn’t hear back. Almost a year later, when I’d pretty much abandoned the whole thing, I got an email with a photo of dozens of Red Stripe CDs $$$. I bought a new guitar.
In any case, that official-ish music release couldn’t have come at a better time: I had just broken up with my boyfriend, who reiterated that I shouldn’t be a musician, that I was terrible at art and should give up. My feels were very fragile and discouraged. Then Glitter Tits came out and I started to enjoy writing music again.
In 2013, after going through another complicated breakup, I wrote and recorded This Is My Hell in the span of two weeks and self-released it. The guy from the label wanted to meet me before releasing it, which is a valid request, except that 1. we’d been successfully corresponding and file-transfering online, and 2. the messages I’ve been receiving from him kept veering more from “I want to release your art” to “I have a crush on you and write poetry about you while high”. Dude. No.
Not in favor of the drama that’s involved with working with 90% of male music producers.
I don't mean people I collaborate on a track or play live with, I’m specifically referencing distributors or executive types, males who feel that their type of power allows them to do whatever they want and take advantage of vulnerable people. In my experience, they want to flirt with me or sleep with me or obsess over me or creatively stifle me or change me or manipulate me (in ascending order from harmless to most damaging). I have not had a single negative experience so far working with on music with a female.
I want all the work I make to make sense within each other's sphere, but that's a hella tough issue when my personality subsists on nothing but chaos and redirection.
If 2011-2013 were shit years for my art, 2015 would blow them out of the water. After a soul crushing and equally cathartic experience of making my senior project at Bard in 2014 (I literally locked myself in a practice room which was essentially an underground dungeon for two weeks to record and edit it without distraction), I meant to follow up on its hour long audio-visual collage with a companion piece that kept getting put on hold due to job searches, postgrad depression and anxiety, a traumatizing relationship that makes my previous boyfriends look like the Prince of Wales, and a car accident. I can blame external factors all I please but truly it is my own responsibility to not fuck off.
There's so much I need to do. Make the next Death Valentine album, write the script for the next film project like a postcollegiate Salvia Plath, expand the Valentine Enterprises studio, make enough $$$ for Nastya Valentine to procure her fantasy princess castle (or at least a chill place in Ktown... sup?)
In the space of working on so many real and fantasy projects, (and that doesn't even include the list of other people's projects I've contributed to) there was a point where I sort of collapsed under the weight of my own intensity. At least this provides a platform for resurrection, a shift of perception from internal phantom suffering to charging my focus away from myself, towards helping others succeed.
That's the message of Valentine Enterprises: to provide young female artists with resources, representation, exhibition spaces, and non-manipulative guidance at the genesis of their careers. No bullshit, just fabulous girls.
#1 on the list of Valentine Goals though, is to take the stick out of my ass and start enjoying life, and creating personal art, again. To quote RuPaul, if you don't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love anyone else?