Shimmering signature ice-colored hair, swagger turned up to eleven, and a magnetic voice booming, Vali could’ve stepped right out of a late fifties musical written by Tarantino. For her 2017 Vali EP [Rostrum Records], the New York-born and Los Angeles-based pop maverick finds just as much influence in the works of Audrey Hepburn and Alfred Hitchcock as she does in 21st century R&B and hip-hop. However, the songstress describes what she does best…
“My music is a vintage fashion magazine,” she elaborates. “It’s more how it feels than just a sound. Ever since I was a little kid, I always felt like I was not of this time. I loved the fashion and vibe of the fifties and sixties. Everything looked faded and out-of-focus,but it was still beautiful, pure, real, and raw in different way. I’m not so HD.”
What does come across loud and clear is Vali’s inimitable charisma and charm. Born to an African American and Native American father and Russian mother, she split her childhood between performing in a nursing home for her grandmother, taking ballet (actually sneaking off to flamenco class) in Harlem, and heading down to the Village to watch classic movies in an old theater. In between attending LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts and the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut, she performed in global touring productions of West Side Story and Hairspray in addition to singing backup for Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Joe Walsh of The Eagles. She turned her attention to making solo music in 2011.
“I was doing the musical theater thing, but I felt like I hit a ceiling,” she admits. “I was like, ‘Fuck it! I’m going to write my own stuff and do my own thing.’ That pushed me to focus on myself.”
Signing to Rostrum Records and relocating to Los Angeles in 2013, she lent her vocals to the track “Dimes” [feat. Wiz Khalifa]. The song would quickly crack 1 million cumulative plays and garner looks from Earmilk, Vibe, HotNewHipHop, and many more. Along the way, she caught the eye of Creative Director Laurieanne Gibson. Gibson, who proved instrumental to the careers of Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, recognized Vali’s talent and became a permanent member of her team. Locked in the studio, she spent the 2015 and 2016 quietly honing her style and recording countless songs in the studio. Vali’s sound reflects a carefully assembled mosaic of sticky pop, bombastic theatricality, and vintage fashion throughout the Vali EP.
On the first single “Ain’t No Friend of Mine,” her vocal strut takes center stage over an unpredictable handclap bounce punctuated by a xylophone break. Produced by T-Baby [Major Lazer’s “Light It Up”], she carries the towering refrain with gusto and grit. “I went in the booth and started playing around with different character voices,” recalls Vali. “I had that Elvis song, ‘You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog’ in my head. From there, I started developing the rest of the record. It’s an ode to people who are haters. They pretend to be your friend, but they’re really not. It goes a little deeper though. There’s an element of self-empowerment. You don’t need those types of people in your life.”
Then there’s “The Motive.” Written by Pheenix [Chris Brown, Shakira], the airy soundscape gives way to her robust and dynamic delivery. “At the time, I was going through a pretty rough breakup,” she admits. “That was something we were talking about. It’s so hard to let it go and walk away from someone you love. Maybe I can inspire some girl to let go, because it’s not easy.”