Having been involved in the music industry for twenty years, Berlin-based Cuban-American artist Dyan Valdés has played in esteemed bands such as The Blood Arm and Die Sterne, and has just released her poignant debut album, Stand. Written at home during lockdown and made with an exclusively all female team, the album offers immersive reflections on both political and personal issues. Fusing together a post-punk ethos with delicately shimmering soundscapes, the album flows with gritty layers of synth and driving beats alongside Valdés’ luscious vocals – a truly stirring collection.
We think one of the best ways to get to know an artist is by asking what music inspires them. So, to celebrate the release of her new album, we caught up with Dyan Valdés to ask about her “Five Favourites” – five songs that she loves and have inspired her sound. Check out their choices below and scroll down to watch the video for latest single ‘Irregular’.
Bratmobile – ‘I’m in the Band’
I came of age in the ‘90s, when Riot Grrrl was at its height. As an adolescent and young teenager, I suddenly started seeing girls on stage, being loud and taking up space – it was hugely formative for me. After the pendulum swung back in the other direction and hyper-masculine music started to take over the mainstream again, it was too late…I already knew what we were capable of! So it was a huge honour when I got to interview Bratmobile singer and Riot Grrrl co-founder Allison Wolfe in 2020 on my old radio show, The Mexican Radio Radio Show on KCRW Berlin. During our chat, she talked about writing lyrics that connect the personal and political, about having the courage to present herself and her opinions exactly how she wanted to, and about how meaningful it was to work with an exclusively female team on the festival she co-founded, Ladyfest. Our conversation lit a fire under me, both in terms of what kind of music I wanted to make and how I wanted to make it. Inspired by her, I chose to work with a team of women at every level of my project – production, management, promotion, artwork, video, and so on.
Bratmobile have a great back catalogue, but I chose this song because it speaks out against a music industry that implicitly and explicitly tells women that we don’t belong here, which is something Allison and I talked about in our interview. I love how playful the song is, you want to dance and sing along to it – it’s not easy to make a protest song that is so much fun, I hope I was able to do it on my record once or twice too!
Kate Bush – ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’
‘Running Up That Hill’ is one of my all-time favourite songs, it’s undeniable. Almost every moment of every track of that recording is a hook – the production is incredible. Her performance is so unique and 100% her, you get the feeling that she wasn’t holding anything back. I listen to this song a lot anyway in normal times, but I thought about it a lot from a songwriting perspective when I was working on my record. I was worried that if I allowed too much emotion to come through the songs, the end result would somehow be cheesy. Kate Bush was able to walk that line perfectly – this song is emotional, honest and deeply moving without ever coming across as trite. I also found the music very inspiring. I played everything on my album myself, and since I’m trained as a pianist, it was natural for me to gravitate towards a keyboard- and synth-heavy sound with beats that I either programmed or played myself on a keyboard. Naturally, that made me move towards an ‘80s sound, not only because I loved the style but because I could play it with the instruments I had! This song was an important sonic reference for the album, and I love her beautiful and powerful vocal performance.
Peaches – ‘Fuck the Pain Away’
Peaches is an incredible artist and performer. She also lives in Berlin, and I’ve been fortunate to see her perform in both small and very large-scale settings. She is always bold, unapologetic and in-your-face in a way that is somehow not intimidating at all, but rather inviting and cathartic. Her presence is always commanding, whether she is in a lo-fi stripped-down setting (like in the context of the simplicity of this song) or surrounded by dozens of dancers and musicians on a massive stage. I love her message that everyone – regardless of gender, sexuality, size, age or whatever – has a right to be loud and proud about who they are and who they want to be. I also find her career trajectory really inspiring – she is constantly pushing new boundaries in her work and refusing to be shuffled off to irrelevance. She’s running a marathon, not a sprint, and as a woman working as a professional musician for 20 years now, I really appreciate seeing other women with longevity.
I brought Peaches’ music in as a reference to my producer Julia Borelli. Little did I know, Julia was also working with the musician/producer Maya Postepski (Princess Century), who plays drums live for Peaches. We brought Maya on board to co-produce the album, so I’d like to think that there is some Peaches magic on the recording. Maya will also be playing drums with me when I play live, so Peaches and I will be sharing a drummer. What an honour!
Tracy Chapman – ‘Fast Car’
This is another one of my all-time favourite songs, which I can listen to on repeat every day and never get sick of. The music and melodies are simple and beautiful, and are so effective at making the lyrics feel like a thumb pressing on a bruise on your heart. Tracy tells a sad story in such detail – I think oftentimes songwriters try to abstract their experiences in order to appeal to a broader audience. But what Tracy does brilliantly is make a very singular story feel universal, which I think is only made possible by telling a story that is true and specific, with extreme honesty and vulnerability. I struggled a lot with writing about painful past experiences on my record, I didn’t know whether they would resonate with other people or whether I would even have the strength to open up about them at all. ‘Fast Car’ was like a light guiding me down that path, showing me a way to tell stories that might hurt but that could ultimately end with a hopeful message, like Tracy’s song does.
We recorded my album at a studio on the Spree River in Berlin, and took breaks sitting by the water and watching the sun set. There was a busker on the other side of the river who played ‘Fast Car’ every day, sometimes more than once. My producers, Julia and Maya, and I developed a really emotionally close bond during the recording process – something I’ve not experienced before when working on a record. Whenever the busker played this song, we just sat together and listened closely, smiling at each other and feeling all the feels. I like to think we carried that energy from ‘Fast Car’ back into the studio with us.
Fleetwood Mac – ‘Landslide’
I listened to a lot of Stevie Nicks when writing this record, in particular her solo songs ‘Stand Back’ and ‘Edge of Seventeen’, which had a musical vibe that I really wanted to incorporate into my sound. I love her strength as a singer and how powerful those songs make me feel. But ‘Landslide’ ended up having the most direct effect on the recording.
We were struggling with getting the right vocals for my song ‘Fade Away’- I kept delivering a more powerful vocal performance, and my producers Julia and Maya wanted something more vulnerable from me. We took a break for a long lunch and talked about the meaning of the song: it is about looking around you and having the courage to say “this isn’t good enough,” about realising that you are trapped yet having hope that things will change. We came back and then dimmed the lights in the studio and did a guided meditation together, watched a video of ‘Landslide’ (at their suggestion, they didn’t know I had a personal connection to the song: this was my parents’ wedding song that I had previously recorded a cover of with my dad). Julia asked me if I thought that Stevie sounded vulnerable, and I said yes, of course. Then she asked if I thought she sounded weak, to which I replied, absolutely not! “See?” she said, “there’s strength in softness.” With the lights still low, she had me close my eyes and do the lead vocal again, in one single take. When I got to the end of the song, Maya’s face was covered in tears. That was the take that we used on the album. ‘Fade Away’, the ‘Landslide’ version!
Massive thanks to Dyan Valdés for sharing her Five Favourites with us!
Stand, the new debut solo album from Dyan Valdés is out now, via R.I.P Ben Lee Records.