Introducing Interview: 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 now released her first solo material. Taken from her upcoming debut solo album, ‘Fade Away’ offers an immersive shimmering soundscape; propelled by layers of synth and driving beats alongside Valdés’ luscious vocals, it’s a poignant, twinkling message of hope at a time when things can feel hopeless.

We caught up with Dyan to find out more…

Hi Dyan Valdés, welcome to Get In Her Ears! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hello! Thanks for having me. I’m a music industry lifer – I got together with my first band, indie rockers The Blood Arm when we were at university in 2002. After releasing five albums and two EPs, touring the world and moving to Berlin together, we went on hiatus in 2017. The singer and I formed the synth punk trio Mexican Radio in 2017, and released another two albums under that name. The band hosted a radio show on KCRW Berlin for 2 years, in which I interviewed artists such as Stereo Total, Sleaford Mods, Ian Svenonius, Allison Wolfe of Bratmobile, and many more. I’ve been playing with Hamburger Schule legends Die Sterne since 2012. ‘Fade Away’ is my debut single as a solo artist and Stand will be my first solo album.

How did you initially start creating music?
I never thought I would make my own solo music – I’ve always been a supporting player, co-writing the music and singing backing vocals. But, the pandemic changed things. At the beginning of the first lockdown, I was attacked by a strange man in broad daylight on the streets of Berlin. I recognised that my already precarious safety as a woman was even more threatened by pandemic circumstances. I arrived home, overwhelmed by my experience and by reports of increased domestic violence and the exploitation of female labour at the frontlines of the pandemic. I wrote and recorded the protest song ‘Stand’ that weekend – feeling that I needed to create something that would make me feel powerful again. This was the first time I had created a piece entirely on my own. After cancelled tours and rehearsals, I was alone in my home studio and could not fall back on my bandmates to provide a creative outlet. I stepped up and did it myself.

Throughout my music career, I have often been the only woman in the room. When I was attacked, I felt alienated and alone. I realised that on some level, I’ve felt the same way in the music industry for years – moving through spaces that are not designed to fit my body, protect my safety, or elevate my voice. What would our industry and our art look like if this model were flipped on its head? In order for the process of this album to line up with the sentiment, I employed women at every level of the project: production, artwork, video, photography, PR, styling, and marketing. 

We really love your recent single ‘Fade Away’ – can you tell us what it’s all about?
‘Fade Away’ is about looking around and saying to yourself “this isn’t good enough”, and dreaming that someday you’ll find yourself in a situation that is. I imagined this feeling of being locked in a house – either by someone else or by myself – and wanting the ceilings and walls to just disappear so that I could be free. The song is sad but hopeful – the “different day” hasn’t come yet, but I believe that it will. I dedicate the song to anyone who has ever felt trapped, marginalized or silenced. The song came to me extremely quickly – I wrote all of the lyrics, melodies and music and then recorded the basic tracks at home within about four hours from start to finish. I felt like the words and music just came through me from a place where they had already been written.

You’ve been compared to the likes of PJ Harvey and Bat For Lashes, but who would you say are your main musical influences?
Probably my life-long biggest influence is David Bowie, who was never afraid to take big swings and explore all kinds of different directions. I thought about him a lot when making this record, just in terms of pushing myself to take risks. PJ Harvey is also a big influence, as is Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Peaches, Courtney Love and Tori Amos (obviously – I’m a keyboard player!) I was also very influenced by books that I was reading while writing this record. I’ve been a proud feminist my whole life, but while working on the album I really did a deep-dive into a lot of feminist writing. That helped me sharpen the messages that I wanted to deliver: who benefits from the oppression of and violence against women? How is capitalist society complicit? How am I complicit? I did a lot of self-examination on this record, and I hope that comes across.

What can fans expect from your live shows?
Since I’ve been playing in bands for nearly 20 years, I wanted to do something different with my solo show. Instead of hiding behind my keyboard, I’m challenging myself to be a real pop diva and sing and dance throughout the show. I have two backing dancers with me, and one of my producers Maya Postepski (who releases music under the name Princess Century and plays drums with Peaches), will be playing drums on stage. It will be a high-energy rousing pop spectacle!

As we’re a new music focused site, are there any new/upcoming bands or artists you’d recommend we check out?
Sadly, I usually discover new bands by happening upon them live, which hasn’t been possible in the last year and a half. However, when I was hosting the radio show, I had the pleasure of discovering a lot of new and exciting bands: Sweeping Promises, Big Joanie, Special Interest, Automatic and Surfbort were a few of my favourite discoveries.

And how do you feel the music industry is for new bands at the moment – would you say it’s difficult to get noticed?
When I started, my band The Blood Arm was part of the last generation of bands that really had the “get signed, get an advance, get label support for touring and PR” trajectory. It’s very different now – in some ways, you have more direct access to fans, but because everyone else does too, you have to find a way to stand out. I think the difference is now I’m not trying to get “label attention”, but rather to reach out directly to the fans. If new artists can manage to make a direct connection with people who like their music, that can be very powerful.

Finally, what does the rest of 2021 have in store for you?
Now that live music is opening up again, I’m touring a lot with my German band Die Sterne and doing some recording with them as well. Following ‘Fade Away’, I’ve just released a second single, ‘Be My Revolution’. There will be a third single (‘Irregular’) in January and the album Stand will come out in February. We are also choreographing and developing the live show, so it will be a busy time! But, after such a lull in the industry, I’m excited to get back on stage and even more excited to share my solo music with the world.

Massive thanks to Dyan for answering our questions!

Stand, the debut solo album from Dyan Valdés, is set for release on 11th February 2022 via R.I.P Ben Lee Records.

Introducing Interview: Sister Ghost

With accolades such as winning ‘Best Live Act’ at Northern Ireland’s Music Prize in 2019 and airplay from the likes of BBC 6Music and BBC Radio 1, Derry based Shannon Delores O’Neill and Maeve Mulholland – aka Sister Ghost – have just released their brilliantly entitled new EP Stay Spooky. Taken from the EP, latest single ‘Buried Alive’ oozes the duo’s distinctive swirling, gritty power as soaring impassioned vocals and catchy hooks rage with a seething energy. A perfect slice of sparkling rock ‘n’ roll, exuding a much-needed empowering raucous spirit.

We caught up with Shannon to find out more about the new single, what inspires Sister Ghost’s sound, her thoughts on the industry at the moment and more… Have a read and listen to new single ‘Buried Alive‘ now!

Hi Sister Ghost, welcome to Get In Her Ears! Can you tell us a bit about yourselves?
I started Sister Ghost while I was in uni at Belfast. It’s brought so many cool moments to my life, such as supporting LeButcherettes, Pussy Riot and Shellac (meeting Steve Albini and getting his plectrum was amazing!). One of the greatest moments was winning Best Live Act at the 2019 NI Music Awards – getting to stand on the famous Ulster Hall stage where Zeppelin played Stairway for the first time was cool. That award meant a lot too because we were two women, playing loud rock music, with no big team around us – totally a win for grassroots rockers. Sister Ghost started off as a means for me to make the music I always wanted to make, and it’s evolved into a band that is all about a great and energetic live performance where the audience should have as much fun as we do.

Are you able to tell us a bit about how you initially started creating music together? 
I’d been writing and performing as Sister Ghost for a few years but met Maeve at Girls Rock School NI in 2017 (I was directing and she was learning bass) and we got on well, so I asked her to join in 2019 and it’s been going great. During the pandemic I was able to have the time to write an album’s worth of material and I sent those demos to Maeve who then wrote her bass lines – she’s always on hand to help with any technical side of things when I need a hand. The same process led us to writing the new EP Stay Spooky that came out earlier this month.

I love the gritty, seething energy of your sound, but who would you say are your main musical influences?
Thank you – I like that description, it reminds me of the song Seether by Veruca Salt, who are a huge influence on Sister Ghost for sure! The songs on the new EP are the best example I feel of a mash-up of two particular eras of music for me: lots of ’90s stuff like L7, Soundgarden & Radiohead and then ’60s folk/psych infused rock like CSNY, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mamas and Papas, The Doors, The Byrds etc. Kate Bush and her iconic level of artistry and not bowing down to anyone, has always been something I look to as well.

You’ve just shared your immense new single ‘Buried Alive’, which is super exciting! Are you able to tell us a bit about this? Are there any particular themes running throughout the song?
I wanted to write about the experience of feeling smothered under the weight of responsibilities as well as when you feel that pressure to question yourself and where you’re at in life. Equally, I also wanted to acknowledge the realisation that everything that’s happened before has led you to where you are now – with purpose, and the gratitude and comfort you can feel in knowing that.

How have you found recording and promoting music during these strange times?
It’s actually been my most fruitful time for writing, literally just because the pandemic meant that moving back home to the countryside with not much else to do meant I could just be with my guitar, laptop and notebooks. It’s been shitty not being able to play many shows and live-streams are kind of a buzzkill too (even though they were necessary at a time). But the sooner we get back out on a series of gigs the better – I’m trying to manifest a busy 2022 for Sister Ghost!

You’ve recently played an exclusive, limited-capacity in-store show in Starr Records, Belfast – how was that experience for you? 
It was really great – the room was perfect, filled with candles and plants and it was the first time I got to play my new 12 string guitar as well (I’m a guitar nerd for sure). It was just so much fun to get to perform in a full band set-up for the first time since Friday 13th March 2020, which was also in that same record shop! It was so nice to see friends we hadn’t seen in a long time as well.

And how is the live music scene in Northern Ireland at the moment – has it ‘recovered’ after the limitations of the last couple of years?
Not really in all honesty – our government only just allowed a return for standing gigs on October 31st so we’re way behind.

How do you feel the industry is for new artists at the moment? Do you feel much has changed over the last few years in its treatment of female and non binary artists? 
Someone recently told me they felt it was an easier time for the brand new, just out-of-school artists right now because they had all that time during the pandemic to try out stuff without having the pressure to be out gigging straight away etc. I think it’s probably a bit of this and that really, I think the internet is helping a lot of people gain a following these days, more so than just being out gigging in the real world – cutting your teeth like I did as a teen in bands etc. In terms of your second question, I just think people who hold power need to keep making sure their venues and spaces are free from toxicity. I also think that work needs to continue on calling out the patriarchal systems and ways of thinking we experience on the daily, so that people of all gender identities feel validated and safe in every walk of life.

And, as we’re a new music focused site, are there any other upcoming artists or bands you’re loving right now that you’d recommend we check out?
Yes! Heart Shaped – Kendall is originally from Houston but has been based in Belfast for a few years now – we met through Girls Rock School NI. Mom Friend – Emily is based in Georgia, USA and we met at Girls Rock Santa Barbara.

Finally, what does the rest of 2021 have in store for Sister Ghost?
Preparations for the debut Sister Ghost album… Woohoo!

Massive thanks to Shannon for answering our questions!

Stay Spooky, the new EP from Sister Ghost, is out now. Buy on bandcamp now.

Introducing Interview: Lunar Vacation

With acclaim from the likes of The Fader and Clash, and having previously charmed our ears with the luscious sounds of singles ‘Mold’ and ‘Gears‘, Atlanta-based Lunar Vacation have just released their debut album, Inside Every Fig Is A Dead Wasp. With each track oozing a shimmering allure and stirring emotion, the album showcases the band’s ability to create heartfelt, irresistibly effervescent indie-pop with a catchy, lilting musicality reminiscent of the likes Best Coast and Alvvays. A collection glistening with a cinematic grace as droplets of stirring melancholy ripple on a seemingly serene surface.

We caught up with Grace from the band to find out more about the album, their thoughts on the music industry at the moment and more. Have a read, and make sure you treat your ears to the beautiful new album as soon as possible!

Hi Lunar Vacation, welcome to Get In Her Ears! Can you tell us a bit about yourselves?
Hey! I’m Grace, and I play guitar and sing in Lunar Vacation. Currently I’m finishing up my last semester at college, making some art, and playing with my cat, Science. 

Are you able to tell us a bit about how you initially started creating music together? 
Maggie and I became friends in high school during a guitar class songwriting project. Connor and Matteo also went to our high school and we just naturally found each other. 

I love your shimmering, blissful sounds with shades of faves Rilo Kiley and Alvvays, but who would you say are your main musical influences?
It changes all the time – all four of us listen to different genres of music from different times, so there is always a good, unique collection of music swimming ‘round in our heads. Right now, Big Thief has been one of my biggest influences musically and lyrically. I admire how Adrienne approaches writing lyrics and how she uses music to work through her thoughts and feelings. There is a really beautiful, delicate aspect of her reflections expressed in her music. 

You’ve just released your debut album – Inside Every Fig There’s A Dead Wasp – which is super exciting! Are you able to tell us a bit about this? Are there any particular themes running throughout the album?
We are all extremely proud and looking forward to finally letting her run free into the world. It’s ultimately up to the listener to form their own idea and interpret it how they want. Once it’s out there, it’s not ours anymore. So in other words, you’ll have to listen to find out!!

Do you have a favourite track on the album? And if so, why does that one mean the most to you?
I think my favourite out of all of them is ‘Gears’. I’m extremely proud of how it came together and how honest the lyrics are – this was one song where I felt that the words flowed perfectly and found their place in the song. Writing that song helped me process a lot of loose ends I had from a relationship that was drawn out for way longer than it should have and to fully move on. 

And how have you found recording and promoting an album during these strange times? 
It was definitely strange making a record at the height of COVID – there were times that it felt like the studio was an intense vacuum of time and space and there would never be an end to the pandemic. Ultimately, I think it added a unique aspect to the record itself… The music, writing, productions, feelings, etc. Everything happens for a reason and I guess the right time for our record was a global pandemic. I’m not sure if that speaks to anything. 

The album’s produced by Daniel Gleason of Grouplove – how was the experience of working with him, and how would you say his contribution added to the collection’s overall sound?
The record wouldn’t have been what it is without Dan and our engineer, TJ Elias. They are such an amazing duo and helped us create what was in our head onto the record. They pushed us sonically and creatively to lean into our strengths, explore our weaknesses, and embrace our own styles. 

How do you feel the industry is for new artists at the moment? Do you feel much has changed over the last few years in its treatment of female and non binary artists? 
That’s a layered question. I have a lot of qualms with the industry as a whole and how it’s shifted to artists having their “moment” instead of focusing on the longevity of their music. Sometimes it seems like it just favours the algorithm, vanity, and self promotion to the point of image and social media coming first and then the actual music following second. Music streaming platforms have made artists reliant on being “playlisted” to have a career. I guess it’s the modern day radio, but it doesn’t sit quite right with me. However, I think the accessibility from social media has made an extensive, positive amount of room for new LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC identifying artists, which has been really promising and inspiring to experience. But, I would like to see more representation in the gay and non-binary community instead of the few token white, straight passing people that are labelled “gay icons”. There are more people out there that represent the community and they need to be uplifted and celebrated.

And, as we’re a new music focused site, are there any other upcoming artists or bands you’re loving right now that you’d recommend we check out?
Definitely pay attention to Future Crib, Binki and The Slaps! These aren’t new, but I’ve been listening to a lot of Lynn Castle, Yuck, and Big Thief.

Finally, in addition to the release of your album, what does the rest of 2021 have in store for Lunar Vacation?
Playing a few more shows and hopefully graduating college in December!! All good vibes ahead. 

Massive thanks to Grace for answering our questions! Inside Every Fig Is A Dead Wasp, the brand new album from Lunar Vacation, is out now via Keeled Scales. Catch them live on their UK Tour next Spring – tickets here.

Photo Credit: Violet Teegardin 

Introducing Interview: th’sheridans

Following a decade on the scene, indie pop duo th’sheridans have recently released an epic, career-spanning compilation – Pieces Of General combining both old favourites and some newer treats. Showcasing their knack for creating scuzzy hooks, jangly beats and a swirling energy, the album offers reflections on poignant issues whilst oozing an uplifting effervescent euphoria. Whilst harking back to old favourites with a shimmering sense of nostalgia, the duo have managed to evoke a stirring resonance for right now; a sparkling call to arms, oozing a quirky, colourful spirit.

We were lucky enough to chat to the band to find out more… Have a read!

Hi th’sheridans! Are you able to tell us a bit about how you initially started creating music together?
We met at Bongos?! World Music Society in 2010 where we played “international folk” covers that ended up sounding more like a big indie band. The first thing the two of us really played together was an arrangement of the Italian partisan song ‘Bella Ciao’ (which may some day emerge as a b-side). And after trying out a batch of original sheridans songs, everybody agreed to do band.

I love your scuzzy, sparkling sounds but who would you say are your main musical influences?
Thank you so much! We put a lotta thought into the sounds and textures we use, so it’s lovely whenever that resonates with someone. Our songwriting really comes out of the Ramones playbook in that the songs can usually be broken down to a set of chords and a pop/R&B melody. As well as the broader ‘70s New York scene, ‘90s Riot Grrrl is a huge influence – especially Ladies, Women and Girls, Bratmobile’s second record. It’s key in terms of figuring out how to express and own our values in the songs, while keeping the hooks as tasty as possible! Klezmer music, Papa T. (Julia’s dad), and The Velvet Underground’s drone all play a big part in our arrangements, especially with the viola. Lastly (although this could easily spin out into a whole encyclopaedia…), artists like Hundred Waters, Beth Orton and Metric have really helped us hone how we incorporate electronic elements like drum machines and synthesisers.

You’ve just released your new career-spanning compilation album – ‘Pieces Of General’ which is super exciting! Are you able to tell us a bit about this? What made you decide to put together this collection of songs new and old?
This album really came out of conversations we had with Reckless Yes after signing with them in 2020. We were thinking about how we could best introduce ourselves to their audience while also capping off the DIY phase of our work. So Pieces Of General is basically greatest hits for a band that’s had… no hits, with some new tracks mixed in. The key thing for us was to sequence it as a coherent album, which only really became possible through Livio Beroggi’s incredible remastering work. Getting the chance to present these songs in this way has been truly wonderful, and having the label stand by and co-sign our work has meant so much to us personally.

And how have you found recording and promoting an album during these strange times?
Day to day, it’s honestly felt quite abstract, which is tough. But it’s also been a blessing to have this project to work on, especially with such wonderful collaborators. Having the remastered tracks coming in from Livio, or seeing Nestan Mghebrishvili’s artwork and design take shape – those were moments of total joy. Promotion’s been an unusual vibe (when is it not?), and at times it’s felt like folks have had more energy to get down and engage with something – and at times less. And that’s okay, we’re all trying to survive right now. But we’re grateful for where our work’s been given space or shared, and we’re particularly appreciative of Reckless Yes’s efforts to get our stuff further out there.

How have you been connecting with your audience and other musicians during the pandemic?
It’s been v. v. difficult. We’ve definitely missed the energy of a scene, of seeing friends do their thing and being inspired by that. The divisiveness of the UK government’s “it’s all up to you now, so fight amongst yourselves!” policies has been especially painful. We haven’t been rehearsing or taking bookings in the pandemic, because that hasn’t been right for us, and that’s still where we’re at. Bitch Hunt put it so well in a recent interview, where they pointed out that “it’s just less visible when people are not-doing-stuff.” Meanwhile, virtual connection has definitely felt more meaningful, whether that’s social media or ZOOM calls.

And has there been anything/anyone specific that has been inspiring you, or helping to motivate you, over the last couple of years?
Absolutely! In terms of craft or artistic practice, artists working in other media have been an increasingly big deal for us in how we approach our work as a band. Over the last few years, that’s included Frida Kahlo, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Diane Arbus. Exploring how someone develops, refines, unpacks, diverges from, expands on the themes in their work is just endlessly interesting – and where you find connection in that, it’s such a precious, beautiful experience. Same goes for how an artist lives their values – lately that’s been writers like Cecil Castellucci, artists like Bianca Xunise, and the folks over at wildly rad UK record label Amateur Pop Incorporated. And on that level of inner work, cultural workers like adrienne maree brown, Layla F. Saad, and Prentis Hemphill offer invaluable insights and pointed, necessary challenges. All their podcasts come highly recommended by yr local sheridans.

As a band keen to call out sexism and racism, how do you feel the industry is for new artists at the moment? Do you feel much has changed over the last few years?
There’s always values at work in any piece of art, the same way there’s always values at work in any conversation. And because of the overt and more transparent experience of fascism in recent years, we’ve felt the need to be increasingly direct and open about our values, as in songs like ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Dismembered‘. It’s also important to pair that kind of projection with practice and embodiment. And, while we name and explore the things we can speak to, we’re also trying to do the work around the things we don’t directly experience. As far as what we’ve seen lately, it’s a mixed bag(uette). Something we’ve noticed is a kind of values drift, particularly when it comes to specific intersections of marginalised identity (eg. white bands only paying attention to gender as a lens). And it’s hard to know how much it’s just the predictable co-option of whatever’s on-trend, or something else. Dr. Angela Y. Davis reminds us that even if it is just co-option, it means we’re getting somewhere. And at the same time, one of the biggest shifts has been witnessing the start of mainstream conversations that were previously totally off the table, specifically with regards to structural racism. And, as so many of those who have spoken truth to power have always underscored, one of the things that keeps us going is the idea that folks younger than us won’t have to go through the same things we have over the last decade or so.

And, as we’re a new music focused site, are there any other upcoming artists or bands that you’d recommend we check out?
A list! Shilpa Ray (‘70s New York vibes for the modern day, best scream outside of metal), Naz & Ella (grunge + indie + folk), Breakup Haircut (spooky pop-punk), Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something (cutting edge post-punk), Whitelands (shoegaze lives!), sweetbellechobaby (radical atmospheric pop), Bitch Hunt (emotionally real indie punk).

(Great choices – all GIHE faves!)

Finally, in addition to the release of your album, what does the rest of 2021 have in store for th’sheridans?
Anxiety and hibernation! We do have our next release already in the can though (a li’l late ‘80s throwback), and we’re currently figuring out which thematic batch of songs to get into next.

Massive thanks to th’sheridans for answering our questions!

Pieces Of General, the new compilation album from th’sheridans, is out now via Reckless Yes. Buy it on bandcamp now.