Den Haag-based Dutch electronic producer ALINA VALENTINA releases her long-awaited debut album “Works And Days” today.
Drawing inspiration from industrial music, synth pop and darkwave, through a deep passion for 8-bit video game sounds and retro sci-fi and horror soundtracks, gives us 8-tracks rife with moody electronica and lyrical poetry, carefully crafted with an array of analog synthesizers, drum machines and her gripping, emotionally detached voice. Minimal, hypnotic and percussive, at times introspective and visionary, swaying seamlessly from romanticism to desperation, from disturbing and tense cinematic noir atmospheres to energetic uplifting cathartic moods of melodic charm. Definitely, a blooming talent to watch in the current synth music panorama.
Thanks so much for the interview. Let’s trace back to your personal roots, your earliest inspirations and influences that drove you to become a musician and start composing music.
My parents are very passionate music listeners so I grew up with music around me all the time. They are into New-Wave, Post-punk, Industrial, experimental etc. When I was 4 years old I used to watch a classical music TV show which I really liked. It inspired me to ask my parents to play violin and they approved. After a while, I quitted (the teacher advised me to play in a children’s orchestra but apparently in that time I preferred to play solo for some reason….) As a teenager, I also started playing a bit of drums, guitar and piano. Then I had a boyfriend when I was 18 who just started producing music with his best friend who owned a studio with lots of synths, being there watching them piqued my interest in producing my own music. I started trying a bit myself, applied for the Music Composition & Production study in 2009 and got accepted.
I noticed that your early experiments on Soundcloud date back to seven years ago, has been a long evolving process…What began your attraction for analog synthesizers?
Lots of music I grew up with are synth-heavy. Daily I heard bands like Human League, Grauzone, DAF and Anne Clarke for example and I have always been in love with the sounds of synths. The best friend of my ex back then had a great collection of analog synths in his studio. During my studies, I had the opportunity to use all those synths for which I’m very grateful. In that time I also slowly started my own collection. The Microkorg and Juno-60 were my first synths. I graduated with my bachelor studies in music composition & production in 2013. But after graduation, I had to work 40 hours a week in shitty jobs to pay my bills and couldn’t find the time and energy to keep making music. That’s why my process took so long. I had the opportunity to quit my job last year and had lots of positive changes in my personal life which helped me develop my skills and finally finding my musical direction.
What impact does your country/city have on the past and present of your artistic development? Certainly, the Netherlands has never been a shy land for electronic music, spanning from trance, electro, techno etc., How much influence comes from your local scene as opposed to abroad
It’s not easy as an independent artist trying to do something out of the mainstream. I feel like I sort of started my own scene, making music by myself, making music with Sonic Sunset, PIOUXSIE, KPAV and producing for Ernesto Carlos. Also, I started a loose collective called ‘The North Sea Wolfpack’ together with The Hague–Rotterdam based creators, musicians and producers in 2019. Because all the projects have a big variety of genres it would not fit in any other scene than my own.
Tell us about the process of composing and recording your songs.
It’s funny because I actually change my process all the time. Before I would just play around with synths, make a beat and record a sketch of a song, in the end, I would put lyrics I already had or write new lyrics. Now I try to write lyrics first and try to find the melody and write the whole song around it. I think this changed because I recently got a piano in my living room. So I sit there with my lyrics playing around and trying to find the right chords and melody before I hit my synths. But who knows what my process will be in a few weeks.
Seems your music draws heavily from retro soundtracks, Lynchian and Carpenter-esque atmospheres, and video game music…could you talk about the influence of other forms of art in your compositions (literature, visual arts, cinema…)?
I am a big big cinema fan and watch movies/series almost daily so for sure that gives me lots of inspiration. When I see a good movie (with a great soundtrack) I can get super excited. A few of my favourite movies with great soundtracks (apart from Lynch & Carpenter) are Phenomena, Clockwork Orange and The Abomination (1986).
Unfortunately, I really suck at video games (I’m trying to finish Cupheads since 2017, Last of Us and Zelda since 2015 and still didn’t manage). I am in love with the soundtracks of Captain Commando, Streets of Rage, Castlevania and Donkey Kong Country for example. And for some reason, my music always gets the video game music vibes unintentionally.
I wrote “Babel Fish” during a period when I was reading “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”. So my influences can be used in a quite obvious/direct way like this as well.
With any form of art, my favourite emotion to experience is to get confused, it makes me excited not to understand anything from anything.
Lyrics reflect on intimate details of self-discovery such as doubt, deception, love, obsession, and fear. Are the lyrics biographical?
Yeah for sure, they are all auto-biographical. I find it hard to write anything that is not. I’m bad in really expressing my feelings, but at the same time, I cannot hide my thoughts at all.
Lyrically the transition from the first track “That Thing Behind The Wall”, which seems almost like an ominous omen from a future-self to the starry-eyed bliss in the fourth track “True Romance” to the bitter hopelessness found in the last track “A Horrible Place to Die” to evoke feelings of nihilistic dread. Was the writing cathartic? Have things changed as a result of the process?
Writing always helps me in general. Because I’m not very good at expressing my feelings in daily life, writing about them (exaggeratedly) helps me cope. This actually comes from a young age, when my parents wanted to understand me better but I couldn’t talk easily, my mom invented a little notebook we would use to write to each other and write about my struggles, frustrations and feelings. I think because I write the lyrics and consolidate them into songs I became a more accepting and peaceful person.
I really love the poetic writing style of the songs. Can you take me through the writing process?
I write a lot of sketches daily. I write loose sentences or just words. When I want to write new lyrics I sit down and check them all trying to find connections and figure out what I want to say at that moment. As you might have noticed I’m a big fan of rhymes, Rhymezone can be my best friend for inspiration sometimes.
You dubbed the tracks a misanthropic synthpop/darkwave album…could you explain it better? I guess there’s a heap of passion and somehow love in every aspect of it…
My album was written and produced during a period with lots of changes. During this time I also stopped putting effort and energy into relationships with people I didn’t find worthy anymore because of conflict in beliefs and ideals. I can feel these emotions back in my songs, and when my friend dubbed it misanthropic synthpop/darkwave I thought it was fitting really well with the mood. But you are right, in the end, there is mainly passion and love.
Another outstanding quality of your music is how your emotional and moody voice is perfectly at ease merging organically with the energetic and pulsing synthetic instrumentation, is it a natural flair or do you work hard on it?
Thank you! To be honest a big part of the vocals for this album were recorded while sitting down. At this moment I’m recording my second album and I’m trying to put more effort into making my vocals sound better. So now I’m practising singing more and am always standing up while recording. What is most important to me is that my vocals don’t sound forced.
While both the beginning and final edges are introspective and hypnotic, darker and atmospheric, the rhythmic, danceable, somehow catchiest part of the album is in middle, with “Sick Of You” a potential hit single… Is there a subtle thread that links all the parts?
When I wrote the songs I didn’t intend them to connect. But it always does anyway. But as said before it was all written and produced during an eventful period of my life. And maybe listeners will hear this back in the album too.
What about your live experiences so far? Any highlights?
Because I love to make music with lots of synth layers I find it hard to find a way to perform live just by myself. I did it before when I was still singing Dutch, but I always felt distracted. Once during a small gig, I made my boyfriend and another friend cry with my performance. It was very cute to see that my performance actually made an impact on my friends. I’m working on a live set now with backing tracks and maybe one synth, but my dream is to have a synth band behind me one day.
Are there any contemporary, up-and-coming artists who you’re particularly into or feel an affinity with? What are you listening to lately?
I’m in love with the music of my talented friends Caline with C, Dim Garden, Baglover, Acidic Male, Stekkerdoos and Jentlemen for example. Lately, I listen a lot to artists from the ‘Italians Do It Better’ label. But I also have some other bands on repeat at the moment like Saâda Bonaire, Os Mulheres Negras and DÖF.
Were there any pivotal records or live concerts that changed indelibly your perception of music?
The whole music collection from my parents. In the first 16 years of my life, we used to drive with my parents and my brother from the Netherlands to a small town in Greece every summer. My dad used to make great compilation cassettes and later cd’s for in the car. We sang along with Laibach, DAF or Fad Gadget during our trips.
I don’t know how my perception of music would be without albums like ‘Reproduction’ (Human League), ‘Grauzone’ (Grauzone), ‘Unknown Pleasures’ (Joy Division), ‘From The Lion’s Mouth’ (The Sound) or ‘Pornography’ (The Cure).
My first live concert was PJ Harvey in 2001, I (11 years old) was the only person in Paradiso (Amsterdam) who danced and sang along to all her songs. Some other live concerts I will never forget are Laibach, Jesus and Mary Chain, Boris, Weezer and The Adicts.
In Italy, we wish ‘In Bocca Al Lupo’ for the album release, your final words…
Thank you so much for this wonderful interview and thoughtful questions. So long and thanks for all the fish!
Alina Valentina ‘s debut album “Works And Days” is out digitally on Bandcamp, while the 12″ Vinyl LP Edition will follow soon, around September time, distributed by the Dutch dance record shop/label Bordello A Parigi.
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