On Tuesday, 13 April I met up with Adrienne Lloyd and Kiyomi McCloskey, two-thirds of Hunter Valentine. With their sophomore album Lessons From The Late Night set for release in Canada on Saturday, 17 April we chatted at Shanghai Cowgirl on Toronto’s Queen West and talked about the record as well as other topics including the band’s DIY ethic, their influences and their reasons for relocating to Brooklyn, New York from Toronto. I’d described Hunter Valentine’s latest record as being ‘honest’ and the band were just as genuine in person. They were also quick to defend their realness as a grounded, hard-working band (like most bands) when I teased them about whether they considered themselves as local celebrities for being on the cover of one of Toronto’s free weeklies…
So how are you girls doing today?
Adrienne – Good, good.
Kiyomi – Busy, but good.
So right now you’re kind of in the public eye on the streets of Toronto this week what with your faces on the front of those purple boxes holding copies of Xtra, are you feeling like celebrities?
Kiyomi – We’ve had experience with media before so it’s always good to have support of press like that. So no, not celebrities but just, you know…
Adrienne – You know when we’re driving on the 401 overnight, carrying are own gear and sleeping on the floors of friends and families, that’s not really celebrity but it definitely represents the ethic that we have around music. What we do is try to play as much as possible and I don’t think celebrity status has really come into the equation.
In terms of being an indie rock band at least, do you find yourselves getting noticed?
Kiyomi – Yeah, yeah… Well I mean we’ve sort of relocated to New York City, so it’s like starting from the very beginning again in the US. You sort of maybe forget that somebody might recognise us here.
Adrienne – We were talking earlier today Laura [the drummer] and I about just how nice it is to come back here and feel like we’re still a part of the community because Toronto has a great music community; you know where you can go and find great music or be recognised as a musician, whereas in New York we’re building towards that again. There’s an amazing musical community in Brooklyn that we feel lucky to be a part of but we are starting again.
So what is your reason for moving to New York?
Kiyomi – We’ve been a band now for six years, this June, and we needed a change in our career and we needed a personal change too. I grew up in downtown Toronto… if you grow up anywhere and stay there it seems like a small town to you, so I needed a personal change and I know the rest of the band did too. We wanted to try something different and sort of challenge ourselves in a new territory, and you know, learn about new markets and different ways of doing business. We moved down there and eventually signed a deal with Tommy Boy records which is based in New York so it just made sense to be working with them right there.
Well essentially you’ve moved from a big pond to an even bigger pond; how do you see yourselves fitting in with that whole New York scene?
Kiyomi – We live in Brooklyn, close to Williamsburg, so it’s a similar thriving artistic community to Queen West. Like you say, it’s like moving from a big pond to a bigger pond but like we said before it’s like starting from the beginning, getting to know all the venues, promoters and the bands that you play with. It’s a challenge but I think it’s a really inspiring challenge.
Adrienne – …And I think one of of our goals for Lessons From The Late Night. When we released our first record, Impatient Romantic, we had like a very Canadian experience, where we toured across the country a bunch of times, played a bunch of dates… But when we were thinking about this new record we were industry free, Canadian industry free, no labels, no managers, just our agents here and we thought what do we want for our careers to be better and bigger than just this. Not forgetting about being Canadian but to actually reach more audiences in different places. So we thought maybe a door into the US market would be spending some time down there and getting to know it and it’s been a great experience.
Kiyomi – Touring in Canada, as I’m sure you’ve heard before, can be quite difficult. The land mass is pretty huge, and the land mass compared to the population is just a big difference. Touring in the States is a little bit easier, the distances are less between cities and we wanted to explore that. Are objective as a band is to be touring as much as possible.
Adrienne – We just played in Munich actually and some girls came from Zurich to see the show. First of all it’s very flattering that someone in Switzerland knows of us but second of all how far is that to come to a different country to see a show and they were like [nonchalantly] “Yeah, just under three hours!” That’s like driving to Windsor or something for someone in Toronto.
That’s what it’s like in Europe for a lot of people [outside the major cities on the touring map], you have to travel to the music. For me, I come from a tiny village in Scotland and I sometimes used to drive 500 miles down to Newcastle in England to see any decent bands. Maybe some good bands come through to Glasgow but most of the big touring bands from America or whatever barely set foot into Scotland, so yeah, I can relate. What was the Germany experience like?
Kiyomi – It was awesome. We played a festival, the festival the year before pulled about 1800 people. It was great to meet more international artists and the crowd was really energetic and responded really well to the music. We were one of a few rock acts, there was a lot of dance music at that festival.
Adrienne – People say that Bavarian audiences are quite reserved, I don’t know I’ve heard that about Toronto too. We had a really great response and we’d love to go back as soon as possible.
Kiyomi – I think we will.
I’m just going off on a tangent here, I’m hearing “All Apologies” by Nirvana playing over the speakers, did you guys hear the story last week that the bloke from the Twilight movie is going to play Kurt Cobain in a film?
Kiyomi – There’s going to be a Kurt Cobain movie?
Adrienne – Is Courtney Love masterminding this?
Yeah… well it’s a rumour… but it’s pretty depressing…
Kiyomi – Why does everything need a movie?
Adrienne – Also, I read an article about the latest incarnation of Guitar Hero were its Kurt Cobain covering a bunch of over bands. These things that seem so opposite to everything he stood for and I’m sure having a Hollywood movie about him would also be the opposite of anything he ever wanted.
Kiyomi – I think he’s turning in his grave right now.
We’ve got the music, what else do we need right? That’s my perspective.
Adrienne, you mentioned earlier about sleeping on floors and all that stuff, and on your website you’ve got that little blurb that every band has and yours is about being DIY. Since the middle of the last decade there’s been a buzz in the industry saying that the new DIY model is “DIY: 360” – there was even a talk about it at Canadian Music Week. Traditionally, the major bands would be signed to major labels and the labels and their managers would tell the band what to do, now the new model in the industry, what with all the changes and everything being online, is that artists are taking more control. How do you feel about your own band Hunter Valentine – are you guys in control of everything?
Adrienne – I think the music industry is changing a lot but we’ve always kept that DIY ethic and that’s what’s kept us around as a band for six years you know.
Kiyomi – We had our first record deal with True North Records, based in Canada, and when you sign that record deal you have a lot more of an extended team to do things that you’re used to doing. Our first experience we sort of just sat back and said “Oh OK, this is your job now.” And we really, really learned from that, like if you’re going to be a band and you’re going to have an extended team of people working with you its better than you actually work with them rather than them just do it. So we had that experience where we learned a lot from working with that record label, so this time around we’re even more DIY than ever. We’re going into the record label [office] three or four time’s a week, setting up interviews as much as our publicist, trying to take complete control of our careers so that if somebody doesn’t do something we can blame it on ourselves rather than anybody else.
Adrienne – I think the worst feeling if you’re looking back and evaluating what went wrong, the worst feeling is to sit around and think that should blame someone else. At least if you’ve made mistakes along the way then they’re your mistakes and you can go forward. We all felt that we’re new and working with an industry team was new for us, and figuring out how that all works and in the end it’s actually that with the labels now you’re actually business partners, you’ve got to be involved with every level of the business side of it not just the creative side. From our experience with True North we’ve become a lot better at managing the process of working with other people.
Kiyomi – It’s a pretty classic that a band gets signed and they get lazy with the little things. We don’t want to get like that, we want to have our hands in everything that we do.
Cool. The new album is coming out this Saturday, the 17th, that’s also International Record Store Day, a coincidence perhaps. I gave your record a pretty decent review – it’s produced by Ian Blurton, what was it like working with him?
Kiyomi – We worked with him many years ago when we first started as a band and did a four-song EP. That was our first real recording experience then we worked with Juliette “Juice” Butty who works with Alexisonfire, Protest The Hero…
Kiyomi – That was a lot more of a sort of polished recording experience. For this record we wanted to get back to the core of what we do live which is sort of dirty, loud rock n’ roll. We called in Ian, he was the man to do the job and he sort of reminded us to go back to what we do best. Whenever we were second guessing ourselves he’d be like “Just get in there and lay down that guitar part.. what are you doing?” Really keeping it basic but making it sound big and dirty.
Adrienne – And really honest.
‘Honest’ – that’s one word I used when reviewing it, and I would agree with that. I used the word gutsy as well because you’re kicking it… I said it was commercial in the sense that it was good enough to get on the radio, or ‘safe enough’ is a better word, because it has got a real vibe, and especially in terms of the lyrics there seems to be a lot of honesty.
Kiyomi – Lyrics? Yeah. Songwriting for me is the way that I express myself. It’s the way that I make myself the most vulnerable I can be. For me to process something that I’m going through, I can get over something or understand it more from writing a song that from having a conversation with the person that I need to talk to. That’s how I wear my heart on my sleeve is from writing.
So you’ve had real-life experiences with stalkers?
Kiyomi – YEAH!
Kiyomi – Yeah…!
Do you want to elaborate on that?
Kiyomi – It was a few years ago, we were at Edge 102 doing a show… FUCK man, this has come up in a lot of interviews, I’m worried that this guy is going to come back! So we were playing and you know how fans come up to you and say “I liked the show” and blah-blah-blah, well anyway a week later I got a phone call on my cellphone and it was this same guy. He was like “You know, I was just at your house.” He described my home. “Your mum wasn’t home but you should really be careful because all your personal information is easily accessible on the internet and that’s how I found you. You should be careful.”
Kiyomi – Yeah. It totally freaked me out. Because he had really been to my house and it felt like a violation of personal space. In order to take back my personal space and power I felt like I needed to write a song and I wrote it from the perspective of a stalker, him.
So how did you get rid of this stalker?
Kiyomi – He was bothering me on email for a while…
Adrienne – She changed her name, phone number…
Kiyomi – Haha, yeah… I’m in the Witness Protection Program.
Adrienne – Back to something that you said before, when we were making this record we never thought “let’s make a record that’ll be great on the radio”, I think that’s a really industry point-of-view. We just kind of made the record that we wanted to make as individuals, as a band. So it’s like a compliment to say that you could hear it on the radio, but after our last experience there isn’t a lot of presence for female vocalists on rock radio. How many times do you hear a female sung song, like out of ten songs maybe one out of ten?
It’s only Metric right in Canada?
Both – Yeah… Metric.
Adrienne – So we just made the record that we wanted to make and kinda said ‘fuck it’ to everybody else, lets just do what we want because at the end of the day at least we can be proud of that.
Kiyomi – We didn’t even have any industry support when we recorded the record, meaning that we didn’t even have a record label at all. That’s why when we went back to our DIY ethics we said “Okay, well we’ll be putting it out ourselves” and we were fine with that.
Personally, when I talk about radio, I don’t even listen to radio in Canada, well barely. CBC’s good but the Edge and stuff, not really…
Kiyomi – It’s kind of difficult being a female rock musician and listening to the radio because it just pisses you off! You’re just scrolling through the stations and its like…
Adrienne – Yeah, you’d never like to admit that it’s a white man’s world because what is this like fucking 1930 or something? But…
Kiyomi – Radio hasn’t progressed..
Adrienne – It hasn’t quite evened out the playing field but it has a lot to do with the nature of the business because rock music is a lot of, you know, guys not girls but we’re hoping to change that a little bit.
Do you find it really hard – well it seems like you do – getting you know, respect and fairness?
Kiyomi – Like on the road and stuff? I think we’re pretty straight up and no-bullshit band so people don’t like to fuck with us very often.
Adrienne – I think we earn it very quickly. We’ve been on many tours well we’re the only girls, period, out of say four bands that are on the road and their crews. We work as hard as anybody else, we carry our own equipment and respect is something that you have to earn and I think we do a pretty good job of that when people get to know us a little bit.
Kiyomi – Yeah, and they have to earn ours too.
Let’s talk a bit about influences and stuff. What kind of bands did you listen to when you were growing up?
Kiyomi – Well when I was growing up I listened to a lot of singer-songwriters because I was figuring out how to write songs. Some on the country side too like Lucinda Williams, and Neil Young, Janis Joplin. That was when I was growing up, and now, like I love more aggressive bands, I love some of the more aggressive Canadian bands that are out there like Cancer Bats. Gallows are great too.
Gallows are wicked.
Kiyomi – Weakerthans are one of my biggest influences I think for lyrics and song structure.
Adrienne – I have a classical music background, so I started playing upright bass. But when I started listening to rock music I had an Uncle that was pretty influential, he loved classic rock, The Who, Led Zeppelin… My taste has always been evolving a little bit, I started likin Brit rock a lot, I loved Blur and Damian Albarn’s projects. I think now we all take a lot of different kinds of influences to create the Hunter Valentine sound and it’s hard to pinpoint just one and I think that’s a good thing.
We’re you ever tempted to join a rockabilly band when you played that upright bass?
Adrienne – You know I have never played in a rockabilly band but that’s kind of the final frontier. I’ve played in sort of country bands and cabaret bands and jazz bands and I think rockabilly would be a really good fast experience for me to play – it would be a really good bridge between all the kinds of music that I love.
Kiyomi – It’s interesting with the upright bass because all those other bands that she was playing in with upright bass the pace is slower, like rockabilly is fucking intensely played, like punk rock but on an upright bass.
Adrienne – I think in terms of fast you can have fast anywhere but that is a really interesting style of bass playing.
Talking about girl bands, you say there’s nothing on the radio and all that, but are there any all-girl groups right now that you’re digging or interested in?
Kiyomi – All girl? Hmm, well I think it’s better to go old-school for that kind of stuff for all-girl, The Runaways, whatever. Female-fronted, Metric like we said before, I love the new Yeah Yeah Yeah’s record.
Adrienne – The Cardigans… I know it’s cheesy to say that.
Cardigans… I used to like the Cardigans.
Kiyomi – Oh, Camera Obscura are awsome too. Aren’t they Scottish?
Uhh… I don’t think so… not sure. [Of course they are – apologies to Glasgow for going blank.. in my defense HV could’ve asked me if Franz Ferdinand were Scottish at that moment and I would’ve probably shrugged.]
Kiyomi – I wish The Distillers would get back together.
Oh my god, that’s the best female-fronted band ever! I still listen to all three of their albums probably every week. Brody Dalle is the rocker girl sex icon.
Kiyomi – Do you like Spinnerette?
Uh, not so much. It’s alright but it’s not the same thing though right.
Kiyomi – Yeah, if you wanna talk about raw, honest rock n’ roll she’s just… screaming and singing, and the vocals sound so close like she’s screaming right in your face.
There’s another all-girl group actually playing Toronto tomorrow, Girl in a Coma..
Kiyomi – Oh yeah, we played with them. We played with them in Brookyln.
Oh yeah? What are they like?
Kiyomi – They’re good… It’s sort of like Morrissey-influenced.
Adrienne – And those girls tour like crazy. They’re really hardworking which is something we look up to a lot.
You’re playing a gig for War Child, that’s coming up, what is your involvement with War Child?
Adrienne – Well, War Child is a humanitarian organization that raises money for kids in places where there’s its either war stricken or disaster has occurred. We were asked to play at one of their Dakota Nights fundraisers which is a series of Monday nights that they’ve been putting on with other great Canadian musicians and we feel very honoured to be among those people who’ve been contributing to the cause. For more information visit WarChild.ca…
That sounded very rehearsed!
Adrienne – We know, we just did a whole interview.
Kiyomi – Our manager is the chief-executive officer of War Child.
Adrienne – As a musician, if you’re not making a ton of money then it’s a great way to be involved and it’s something that we believe in.
Cool… well we better wrap this up because we’re already at 24 minutes and I have to transcribe all this… So the token question, this interview is for Music Vice, do you girls want to reveal any other vices that you may have other than music?
Adrienne – Coffee.
Kiyomi – Shuck oysters.
Kiyomi – Yeah, that was my crappy job, I used to shuck oysters all day long in a restaurant.
Adrienne – I think fortunately most our vices are in music, we’re pretty addicted to it. All the things that sort of support us emotionally fall under the umbrella of music.
© Brian Banks, Music Vice
Giveaway – Hunter Valentine have given us a couple of copies of Lessons From Late Night to giveaway. For your chance to grab a copy email your name and home town to firstname.lastname@example.org – winners will be chosen at random and contacted for their full address. A Hunter Valentine t-shirt may also be thrown in, plus you’ll get a few snazzy Music Vice stickers.