The talented singer-songwriter-producer Valerie Ghent just released an anthem for New York City. Undoubtedly, it’s one of her best songs you will find on the 11-track album ‘Velours’. So, we chatted about her beginnings with music, the motivations behind her new single, the video clip, and upcoming live shows…
1 – Who in your life introduced you to music?
My parents were both musicians and composers, so I grew up with music all around – classical, jazz and electronic music. There were always rehearsals in home and concerts to go to. My father also had a recording studio in our loft in SoHo and showed me how to use the tape machines at a pretty early age.
2 – Can you tell us a bit about your formal music training?
I was always drawn to the piano – there’s a photo of me reaching up for the piano keys at age 1! My parents started me on the cello when I was 5 but I just wanted to play the piano and sing melodies. I had few years of piano lessons, then joined a rock band in high school – making music ever since.
3 – What was the first track you worked on?
The first released track I worked on was David Bowie’s song “TVC-15”, recorded while I was in high school with a band called Dizzy and the Romilars. I sang the lead vocal and played synth, and we pressed up a flexi-disk. “TVC-15” was followed soon after by a 6-song EP we recorded at Media Sound Studios. Before that, in grade school, I recorded lots of songs on my father’s 4-track tape machines.
4 – Why did you decide to give your new single “New York City Streets” an upbeat melody?
Actually, I didn’t decide anything! New York City Streets ‘arrived’ and I went with it. In fact, the melody arrived before the lyrics. I believe songs tell us what melody they want to be, what chords & mood they want to have – we just have to listen to what these nascent songs are telling us and do our best to realize where they want to go.
5 – How long did it take you to film the music video at the streets? Was it a fun experience?
It took six days of shooting to make the New York City Streets video, five days in the spring/summer of 2016 and one day just before New Year’s Eve. It was a super fun experience, everywhere we went people were singing along! We had a shot list that was 2 pages long – it was really important to us to film in all 5 boroughs. And I wanted a mixture of the iconic parts of The Big Apple as well as places that have personal significance to me growing up and living in New York. I’m ever grateful to Fredy Mfuko of Mission 101 Media, Elisa Zazzera and my husband Tom Bisio for trekking around NYC with me and a camera. Can you guess how many locations are in the video?
6 – Who wrote the lyrics and who produced it?
I wrote the lyrics and produced New York City Streets. I actually finished the whole song before the lyrics “arrived”. At rehearsal, a friend asked, ‘why don’t you write a song about New York’? It was great to put what New York City means to me, and what I love about New York City, into lyrics.
As for production, my vision was for a live, vibrant sound. So we recorded live basic tracks (drums, bass, guitar, piano) at Systems Two with long-time music family Tinkr Barfield (bass) and Kevin Johnson (drums), the killer rhythm section I’ve played with for many years in Ashford & Simpson’s band, and guitarist Robin Macatangay, who played on my Day to Day Dream album, and me on piano and vocals. Then I added percussion with Bashiri Johnson, and backing vocals with long-time friends and renowned vocalists Alfa Anderson, Dennis Collins, Keith Fluitt and myself on backing vocals. Then added B3 organ – nothing like real Hammond B3 – and re-recorded the lead vocal myself at Ashford & Simpson’s studio. Finally, we recorded the horns in France and NYC with Marc Borlet-Hôte (trumpet) and Nicolas Baudino (saxes) in France and Steven Bernstein (trumpet), Paul Shapiro (sax) and Dan Levine (trombone) in New York.
The song was mixed by Jérôme Buigues in France, and mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound. it takes a lot of great people to make a record, I feel blessed to have so many talented friends who play and sing from their hearts, and gave their talents to this record – they all brought New York City Streets to life.
That’s a great question and I listened to a bunch of songs about NYC before answering. Of course Frank Sinatra’s “New York New York” is one of the quintessential songs about NYC. I actually reference it with the lyric: “This is a place where you’re gonna find out / If you can make it”.
The difference is Frank Sinatra is singing about someone coming to NYC who wants to make it, whereas my song is from the perspective of a native New Yorker who loves NYC and can’t imagine living anywhere else.
For me, one of the beautiful things about NYC is that someone can come here for a day and be a New Yorker. NYC is one of the few places in the world, maybe the only place in the world, where you can arrive, decide you are a New Yorker, and you ARE a New Yorker. For someone who still wants to come here, or who just got here yesterday, or who has been here for 20 years – you’re all New Yorkers. Our big, beautiful city is open and generous and we welcome all!
Some NYC songs are about coming to New York and making it here (whatever “making it” means to you) from Frank Sinatra’s classic to Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”. Other songs are about particular parts of NY, like “Take The A Train” (Duke Ellington), “Tom’s Diner” (Suzanne Vega), “Rockaway Beach” (Ramones) and so many more. I think the closest maybe is Brenda Russell’s “Walking In New York” – which, although totally different, is a great song and great vibe!
I like to think “New York City Streets” is about the energy of New York, that driving force, why it’s the city that never sleeps, why people love to be here and come here, why people resonate with NYC all over the world. I wanted to share the New York City that I know and love and hope that comes across!
8 – I really enjoyed the laid-back funk vibe. Are you planning to release more songs with the same style in the future?
I’m so glad you’re enjoying our groove! Yes, we have lots more songs with that laid-back funk vibe – check out our album “Velours”, which features smooth soul, R+B, funk & ballads. Our new single “Feelin Alright” releases in March 2018 – another super live groove, upbeat, more killer horns & backing vocals. Can’t wait for you to hear it!
9 – Are you performing live soon?
Yes! I have two upcoming dates here in NYC at Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar, on March 20 and 27, 2018. To celebrate the new single I’ll be the featured artist at Nick Ashford’s “Nuttin but the Blues”. And right after that, I have a tour in France, our first date is in Hyères in the South of France in April. Come groove with us!
Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar, 254 West 72nd Street, NYC, 10024 reservations: 212.579.0222 sugarbarny.com
10 – Finally, What’s your favorite place in New York City? Why?
I love so many places in NYC. I love the West Village, where I grew up because it really is a Village. Although everything is more upscale than when I was growing up, the tree-lined streets and brownstones are pretty much the same. Villagers are friendly, the buildings are lower, there’s light, it’s really like village life in a smaller town, yet still in the heart of NYC. And I love the Hudson River. Biking along the river and singing to the sky has inspired almost all my songs and especially “New York City Streets”: “Head for the river, stare at the sky…I could go anywhere ‘cuz this city’s alive!”