Before you even knew who Jenny Lewis, Modest Mouse, and Phantogram were, SLC’s longest running all-ages venue Kilby Court was there for them, serving as Salt Lake’s humble outpost for up-and-coming bands touring the West Coast. Big sounds with (presently) small names continue to flow through that space, including Los Angeles-based Americana/indie rock band Valley Queen. With their first full-length album, Supergiant (Roll Call Records), on the table, Valley Queen returns to SLC at Kilby Court on Sunday, August 12. The band is comprised of Natalie Carol (vocals), Shawn Morones (guitar), Neil Wogensen (bass), and Mike DeLuccia (drums). Their sound has been compared to My Morning Jacket, Radiohead, Big Thief, and Florence Welch to name a few.
And before Rolling Stone praised Valley Queen’s, “bracingly afflicted, mountain-vaulting dream-country yodel in scrappy, sprawling guitar poetry,” bandleader Natalie Carol, and native of Little Rock, Arkansas, was ceremoniously listening to Going To California by Led Zeppelin with her high school friends, as she headed off to college in Los Angeles. Between the pent-up dorm room practices and random Open Mic nights at Loyola Marymount University, Carol met her musical kindred spirits, a cohort that blossomed into Valley Queen. They’re now embarking on a 32 stop tour across the U.S.
Aside from writing their songs, Natalie Carol spends some of her time at home in LA working as a teaching artist for WriteGirl, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works with under-served youth in LA County through creative writing workshops. She’s been working with the incarcerated youth for about two years through their Bold Ink Writers program, in conjunction with the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network.
With barely any sleep after driving through the night, Natalie Carol hopped on the phone with me shortly after arriving at Pickathon in Happy Valley, Oregon the week prior. We talked about the new album, staying centered on tour, the recent social media grease fire when the EDM DJ, Zedd admitted their music was not “the type of music that makes me happy” on Vice News Tonight, and the cultural dichotomy that is Salt Lake City.
SS: Supergiant – What’s it about? How is it different from your other projects?
NC: I don’t know how it’s different. It’s the first time where we were able to record a body of songs in an allotted amount of time. You’ll be hearing us with the opportunity to stretch out more. That might be the difference.
SS: What’s the main thought behind the album?
We’re not saying just one thing. I had this conversation at the album release show, and we’re not trying to be instructional. We’re not trying not have a takeaway message. Not trying to teach anybody anything. It was really a change for me to sit through my own stuff. And when you sit through it, you find beauty in it. It’s a really healing thing to put music out. We’re letting people digest it in their own way. We’re airing out some stale shit.
SS: How do you stay centered while you’re on tour?
NC: That is always changing. I’m always having this dialogue with myself. I realized after the album release show that I had a lot of things I wanted to say, and it took processing before the act. I don’t talk a lot on stage. I let the songs lead the way with it. It utilizes another form of our communication system, to speak about something. Coming to that in an honest, earnest way is really hard.
Recently I’ve been making up prayers, and repeating to myself under my breath. Last night we had to drive thought the night. My mantra was, “Guide the van. Guide the eye. Drive us safely through the night.” That’s a comforting thing to me. That’s one thing I do to try to stay sane. You’re constantly checking in. You try to get enough sleep, but sometimes you can’t. Your schedule does get really uprooted, and you just move with it. I always have to be willing to not resist it too much.
SS: I saw the recent press you received, when Zedd commented on your music, saying “this is not the type of music that makes me happy” on a Vice News Tonight bit, and it exploded on Instagram. How did that go down?
NC: We were all surprised by that. I loved it. I loved that—“This music doesn’t make me happy.” He was being completely honest. That’s perfect. That says a lot about why he makes music. He did us a favor in a funny way.
SS: Did you know it was going to be shown to Zedd on Vice News Tonight?
NC: No, no… they have this part on Vice News where they show him new music. Our publicist didn’t know it was happening. I have no idea how that happened.
SS: Sounds like a graceful reaction to that sort of comment. Especially while a large part of your fan base started hating on Zedd.
NC: People have to say what they have to feel. If he didn’t like it, he didn’t like it. I love so much that he said what he said. Somebody actually wrote on my Instagram, “Why are you picking on Zedd so much?” I think it was really funny there was a whole Zedd dialogue as a result of it. It’s funny how social media runs with things like that.
SS: Social media… ugh. How do you deal with that as an artist?
NC: I was listening to a Ted Radio Hour podcast on the drive up here. It was saying how the average American gets 4,000-10,000 advertisements throughout the day. Everybody is vying for your attention.
As an artist, I’m also doing that. I’m vying for people’s attention. That’s a funny feeling. That’s not why I do it, but at the same time, that’s our marketing team’s job.
SS: How are you balancing making a living and focusing on your craft?
NC: I’m constantly working. But within the work lies moments of relaxation, moments to breathe. There is still time for that, but it’s true, it asks a lot of you. You’re also talking to me when I haven’t slept, while I’m in it. There are times on tour that I can go to bed early, have a hot bath, find a yoga place, or go on a run. It is an extra effort thing. It helps for me to have days by myself and break away from the group for a second.
Another thing the podcast was talking about was how we decrease boredom so much these days. But it’s good to be bored. You just process things differently and enter a new dialogue with yourself. We need to be able to do that. Boredom resets you. So… you get that on the road, in the car, staring at the road. You have time to process things.
SS: What are your thoughts on performing again for SLC at Kilby Kourt? What perspective does SLC bring to you and the band each time you come through town, what do you notice as a traveler through so many different cities and towns that makes an impression on you?
NC: I first went to Salt Lake to go skiing on family trips. My first impression was a snowy place. I didn’t know about the different types of people who live there. I thought it was a winter wonderland all the time. Since touring through, I have a whole new perspective on the town. It’s an interesting dichotomy.
SS: I mean, we know we’re a weird dichotomy, but can you explain the dichotomy you noticed?
NC: One, you’re surrounded 360 by mountains. There’s a certain feeling of the town. Mormonism definitely comes into the landscape. You see it there.
SS: When did you see it, Mormonism?
NC: I once drove some neighborhood streets [with a local]. She pointed out a couple of houses right next to each other, and you could see how there’s no dividers or fences between the backyards. That was one man’s family. There it is!
And the Mormon temple… we went there last time. It’s a vibe for sure! They were nice to us, though.
SS: Anything else your brain has been munching on you want to share? Freestyle. Go!
NC: I guess one thing I’ve been contemplating is the idea that in order to tell our stories, we have to be at the tail end of it. How we’re constantly pressured to be wrapping our thumbs around each process. It’s hard to be real, sometimes, when we don’t have it wrapped up yet. Sometimes I feel a pressure to wrap things up, and swallow.
You can’t just wrap it up for them. And you shouldn’t. Sometimes I have this idea that the audience has it figured it out. And they don’t, sometimes they’re in the middle of it. Someone could be drinking a little too much, or having an argument with their significant other. We can’t just assume that everybody’s like, “We’re all chill and want to be together.” We want to be real about the places we’re at, and celebrating them, shifting them.
That’s something I said at that album release: Being in a band is fucked up! It’s hard sometimes. And I didn’t really get into it, but there’s the money, the splits with band members. It’s tough on relationships. It felt good being real about that and just letting it live.
Valley Queen will be letting it live this Sunday with support from Cherry Thomas and Halogyns.
Doors: 7pm | Music: 7:30pm