Five Favourites: Dyan Valdés

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.

Five Favourites: MarthaGunn

Having released their debut EP Caught Up And Confused last year, Brighton’s MarthaGunn have received acclaim from the likes of The Independent and Radio X’s John Kennedy. Following recent single ‘Nowhere To Run’, they have now shared their latest offering ‘Honest‘. Confronting themes of fear and trauma, it oozes a soaring soulful splendour and celestial emotion-strewn power, showcasing MarthaGunn as definite ones to watch.

We think one of the best ways to get to know an artist is by asking what music inspired them to write in the first place. We caught up with front woman Abi to ask about her “Five Favourites” – five albums or songs that have shaped her as a musician, and in turn influenced MarthaGunn as a band. Check out her choices below and scroll down to watch the homemade lyric video for ‘Honest’ at the end of this feature. 

Mystery Jets – Serotonin
I was about 16 or 17 when this came out. Mystery Jets were the first band I truly understood. It was a real coming of age album for me, and I think whatever album you listen to around those years of your life tends to stick with you forever. It’s not necessarily something that would hit me in the same way now if hearing for the first time, but at that age it just captured so much of what I was feeling and it had just the right amount of angst. For me, this was the album that made me want to start a band. I loved the idea of singing and writing songs with mates and being in a gang together. It was also the reason why I used to make Max sing everything in harmony with me, as Blaine and Will used to sing a lot together.

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
In our first year as a band, we were playing in a pub and I remember this guy coming up to me afterwards and saying we reminded him of Fleetwood Mac. At the time I had no idea who they were. I asked Max and he was like “you know who they are, you know – ‘Dreams’, ‘Go Your Own Way’?”, but I genuinely had no idea. I went home and looked them up and from that day I had them on repeat for about two years solid. I didn’t listen to anything else and I watched every documentary under the sun. I love the fact this album has the song writing perspective of three people, there’s a lot to work with there. It was the main inspiration behind our song ‘Heaven’. Funnily enough, the song that inspired ‘Heaven’ was ‘Oh Daddy’. When I first wrote ‘Heaven’, it was at the speed of ‘Oh Daddy’, which if you know that song, is much slower than now.

Haim – Days Are Gone / Something To Tell You
I was going through a bit of a rough patch in my song writing, not knowing what the hell I was trying to make. Someone showed me a video of Haim ‘Night So Long at the Greek’, and I just thought it was amazing. From there I dived into every song and documentary I could. There’s a pattern here isn’t there? If I love something I become quite obsessive and I want to squeeze it dry of every drop of inspiration. These two albums for me made me realise I had been over complicating song writing and actually it was meant to be a fun process. Haim’s lyrics are simple and to the point (which is actually the hardest, most skilled thing to do). I really focussed on rhythms in drums and vocals after this and trying to make both as hooky as possible. I owe them a huge thank you for helping me to fall back in love with song writing.

Prince – ‘I Would Die For You’
This was one of those songs that I listened to on repeat for a whole year. Even now it still makes me feel the same. I think music is able to help us feel emotions we aren’t able to express. This song kills me every time I listen to it. To all those I’ve loved who have no idea, or don’t want to know, I guess this song is my way of communicating it without actually having to. The combination of the two Haim records and this song really lead me to experimenting more with rhythms in drums and vocals. This helped me find my voice for writing drum parts. You don’t need to play an instrument to write for the instrument. Haim and Prince also made me become obsessed with the Linn Drum, but I am yet to own one. It’s on the wish list.

Daft Punk – ‘One More Time’ / ‘RAM’
This isn’t so much of a direct influence but we are all obsessed with Daft Punk. Humph and Frank are probably the biggest fans in the band. Frank is always the DJ in our van on tour so they come everywhere with us. When I think of our band it is soundtracked by Daft Punk, up and down the autobahn. ‘One More Time’ as a song does something to me (and I’m sure many others), it instantly puts me in a good mood and gets me ready for a show. I’m slightly obsessed with a new bit of info I just discovered on this song about how it was sampled. I won’t bore you here but if interested, google it. I guess there is a dance element that us three in particular are interested in exploring and I’m sure at some point in the future there will be a dance track from us subconsciously influenced by the hours and years listening to Daft Punk.

Massive thanks to Abi for sharing her Five Favourites with us! Watch the poignant homemade lyric video for MarthaGunn’s new single ‘Honest’ below:

Guest Playlist: Temples Of Youth

Covid 19 and the necessary restrictions surrounding it have brought about a number of cancellations of music events, including what would have been Get In Her Ears’ very first festival. It would have taken place on Saturday, 18th July, and was set to be a pretty special day, filled with some of our favourite female and non binary artists. Fingers crossed we can finally make it happen next year.

One of the bands set to play was total faves Temples Of Youth. Captivating us with their hypnotic, musically rich neo-pop and majestic, emotion-strewn splendour, the Winchester duo have charmed us live at The Finsbury more than once and we were very much looking forward to hosting them again.

In the absence of our festival, and any gigs, at the moment, Jo from the band has put together a playlist of songs that have shaped her songwriting, and written a few words about the inspirations behind Temples Of Youth. Have a read, and listen, below!

Inspiration…

As I sit to write this a few days after my 30th birthday, I can’t quite get my head around the fact that Temples of Youth is already five years old. I don’t know where that time has gone – it’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had.

So often in life, we are reaching for the next achievement, trying to make each one bigger and better than the last. I find this is so prevalent in the music industry, with something you worked so hard on becoming “irrelevant” so quickly. It’s a tough place to be – overcrowded, competitive and at times, disheartening. It is important to take a step back, and to reflect on what you have already achieved, and take note of its value.

Paul and I came together with a shared interest in starting something new, and whilst our influences have grown and changed, our ethic has stayed the same. We write for us, we play for us, and we hope that people will find something to connect with.  Paul is very driven by sound and the feel of a track, where as I find myself drawn to the lyrics and the vocal melody – so we make a good team.

Our inspirations are hard to pinpoint – from ’80s dream-pop, to grungier sounds and modern US indie bands, plus art and film soundtracks. To give you an idea, we’ve curated a playlist of some of the tracks that have shaped the way we write, and we hope you enjoy listening to it.

We’re currently working on recording our third EP remotely, and I think it’s the best thing we’ve done so far. We always hope these things won’t be released to ‘disappear’; forgetting that they can’t.

Listen to Temples Of Youth’s playlist below, and also make sure you check out their spellbinding latest single ‘Silver Cross‘ now. 

Five Favourites: Why Bonnie

The latest full-band project from Texan artist Blair Howerton, Why Bonnie released their debut Water back in 2018 and have now returned, announcing their upcoming EP Voice Box, set for release next month.

Title track and lead single, ‘Voice Box’, oozes sunny uplifting vibes as shimmering hooks and Howerton’s rich, luscious vocals flow with a soaring emotion; a truly dreamy offering fuzzing with a dazzling, effervescent charm.

We think one of the best ways to get to know an artist is by asking what music inspires them or influences their writing. We caught up with Blair, who has shared her “Five Favourites” – five albums that particularly resonate with them. Check out her choices below, and make sure you watch Why Bonnie’s new video for ‘Voice Box’ at the bottom of this post.

Liz Phair – Exile In Guyville
I first heard this album in college and haven’t found anything to top it since. I‘d grown up with her big pop hits, but this album was a totally different vibe. She blended that classic ’90s angst with heartfelt sweetness so beautifully and all of the melodies are really subtle yet effective. The whole sound felt very familiar but in an exciting way. I’ve listened to the track ‘Explain It To Me’ maybe a thousand times and I never get sick of it. The album is also really long and has a really good variety of sounds, so I recommend it for anyone that’s currently self isolating!

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
This album will always remind me of my childhood. Out of all of the classic rock albums that I grew up with, this one was the most formative. Stevie Nicks was my idol growing up and we have the same birthday, so I’ve always felt weirdly connected to her. ‘Dreams’ is one of those tracks that will always bring me back to being seven years old on a beach in Galveston, Texas, twirling around with a towel doing my best Stevie impression. Also, that bass line is catchy as hell. 

Dear Nora – Three States: Rarities 1997 – 2007
This was my first introduction to Twee and the genre really resonated with me. This album in particular was sweet and sentimental but still had a fun, kinda sloppy, and whimsical edge to it. It’s poetic but not pretentious, and always puts me in a good mood.

The Breeders – Last Splash
Kim Deal is just a true fucking icon. Last Splash has such a good blend of disjointed scuzzy rock and pop sensibilities, which is something we strive for in our music. It’s the epitome of noise-pop and I believe it paved the way for a whole genre. Obviously we love Pixies as well, but The Breeders really honed in this sound in such a brilliant way.

Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Picking the best Pavement album is like talking about politics or religion with your family at Thanksgiving. Crooked Rain was my first introduction to Pavement, so that’s kind of the main reason for choosing it. What makes this record so special (and inspiring) is really the way they combine (both from a songwriting and performance standpoint) catchy, earworm-y melodies with absolute chaos. Pavement is such a special band because they’re able to mix seemingly contradictory elements into songs that you find yourself humming on a walk, in the grocery store, or waiting for the train. Tongue-in-cheek lyrics that with a beautiful guitar melody, dissonant guitar noise with heartfelt lyrics, or trying to play jazz as a slacker rock band. They remind me that it’s ok to not take yourself too seriously, and in doing that you can end up making music that’s incredibly catchy, inspiring, and meaningful. They kind of invite the listener to apply whatever kind of meaning they want to the songs, and inspire me to write whatever I’m feeling like playing or singing, knowing that it’s ok if a wrong note or nonsense lyric (or several) find their way onto the record. 

Massive thanks to Blair for sharing her Five Favourites with us! Why Bonnie’s new EP Voice Box is out 10th April via Fat Possum Records. Watch the video for the title track:

Photo Credit: Pooneh Ghana