Images and Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers
“I’m trying to come to better terms with being a southern white female,
and living with the inherent guilt and also the inherent beauty
that lives in the south that has nothing to do with its really dark history.”
— Natalie Carol
Valley Queen is an LA-based four-piece band exploring deep Californian country and sprawling indie rock. Formed by singer and guitarist Natalie Carol and bassist Neil Wogensen, along with guitarist Shawn Morones, the band released the singles “In My Place” and “High Expectations,” followed by their 2017 EP Destroyer to widespread critical acclaim. The band has been through several incarnations, and now includes drummer Mike DeLuccia. Supergiant (2018) is their debut full-length LP.
Social Distortion is an American punk rock band formed in 1978 in Fullerton, California. The band currently consists of vocalist Mike Ness (the only original member), Jonny Wickersham, Brent Harding, David Hidalgo Jr. and David Kalish. The band rose to fame with their 1990 self-titled third album, which produced the hit singles “Ball and Chain,” “Story of My Life,” and a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” and was certified gold by RIAA. The band went on a temporary hiatus in the mid-1980s due to Ness’s drug addiction and troubles with the law, but later resumed touring and are now working on a new album.
Justin Townes Earle
Justin Townes Earle (born January 4, 1982) is an American singer-songwriter and musician. He is a son of alternative country artist Steve Earle. In 2009 Earle co-billed The Big Surprise Tour with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, and released the album Midnight at the Movies. That year he received an Americana Music Award for Best New and Emerging Artist. In 2011 Earle received the Americana Music Award in the Song of the Year category for “Harlem River Blues.” The following year his album Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now was listed at number 37 on Rolling Stone’s list of the Top 50 Albums of 2012.
Los Angeles-based California soul/psychedelic country band Valley Queen are racking up praise for their new album Supergiant (2018). The album’s title track premiered on NPR’s All Songs Considered, with host Bob Boilen noting, “Singer Natalie Carol possesses a stunning voice that can rattle the walls and stir the soul.” Carol, who also plays rhythm guitar in the band, often draws comparisons to Florence & The Machine’s Florence Welch for her powerhouse intensity. Now the singer is gearing up for a five-week Valley Queen tour supporting SoCal punk legends Social Distortion and country star Justin Townes Earle. She chats with us about ancient Egyptians, big life changes, and using music as a coping mechanism.
Where are you from?
I’m originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, and I’ve been in LA for ten years now.
When did you start making music?
I’ve always sung. I’ve always remembered singing. That’s always happened. I’ve always tucked myself away in closets and bathrooms and sang. I had this all-girl group in high school and it was just three of us on acoustic guitars, but it wasn’t really like a serious thing. I moved out to LA to study and I really started belting it out when I came here.
Who did you listen to growing up?
I didn’t really get in to rock and roll until the tail end of high school and I had one of those moments that I think a lot of us were having at that time and we didn’t know it, where we were all falling in love with the same stuff. The same stuff that our parents listened to. In my case it wasn’t my parents, it was my best friend’s mom’s boyfriend’s records, and Led Zeppelin was definitely a first love situation. But, growing up, I loved pop. I loved the Spice Girls as a little girl. I loved Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin—the women that really belted. I listened to that as a little girl. I had LimeWire and I torrented music as a little kid. I listened to Bob Dylan for the first time over LimeWire. There are so many.
How did you get started?
I moved to LA by myself to study when I was eighteen and I was feeling really lost. I was really struggling with my identity and feeling comfortable here but I didn’t really want to move back home. I was feeling very isolated, and making music with some people that I met in school was really what got me started and I began to rely on that as a coping mechanism of being out here.
Then the coping mechanism evolved into me being in a band and I haven’t stopped since I started doing that.
What felt like your first break?
Bob Boilen [host and creator of NPR’s online music show All Songs Considered] saw Valley Queen at South By Southwest a few years ago and we hadn’t even put out an EP. We had barely released any music and he asked us to do a Tiny Desk concert and it felt very early, almost too early to be on Tiny Desk. But when NPR gives you a platform all of a sudden you have a national audience and that felt like a break.
There have been some breaks. You go through moments where you are like, “This feels like a break” and then it wanes and then you wait for another break and then it wanes. So there have been a few. I think having NPR validate me felt like a break for sure.
“Things that I’m not interested in—if I have to do them—I just do a very poor job. Making music is really the only thing that I feel motivated to continue on doing. So I’m kind of screwed, unfortunately.”
— Natalie Carol
How did you decide that this is what you were going to do?
I didn’t really decide. It was like it decided for me. Again, I was really struggling, and playing music became a way where I didn’t feel like I was struggling so hard anymore. I just loved doing it so much that it wasn’t really even a choice, it was just something that I so naturally was motivated to do. Things that I’m not interested in—if I have to do them—I just do a very poor job. Making music is really the only thing that I feel motivated to continue on doing. So I’m kind of screwed, unfortunately.
What life events have impacted you and your music the most?
I think moving was a huge life event that started the whole thing, and making the decision to leave an identity behind. An identity that I created in Arkansas. Just to try something new out for the sake of trying something out, that was a big life event.
Also touring—this band has been touring pretty consistently over the past two or three years and that has definitely impacted my life. It changes the dynamic of your life. It changes the pacing of your life and I think through that my music has changed. What I write about changes and I think that comes from moving around a lot.
Tell me a bit about how you all connected and got started as a band.
Well in this iteration: Neil, who plays bass, I met him in school and he is one of those early people I was playing music with. Mike, our current drummer, was also there but he wasn’t playing with us and here we are nine years later and he’s now joined the band. But Neil was a part of that group that I started sharing and writing with, and we’ve continued on. Shawn has been a part of the East Side musical community and he made his own music and was releasing his own stuff. We caught wind of that and it’s really wonderful and we loved it. So, he’s been a part of the project for about three years.
What’s the story behind the name Valley Queen?
There is a Valley of the Queens in Egypt. There’s the Valley of the Kings and there is a Valley of the Queens. And the Valley of the Queens is where the ancient Egyptians buried their dead matriarchs and they’re still buried there to this day. I like the image of that and I like the energy of that, of pulling from the spirit of women who have lived for thousands of years.
Tell me a bit about your debut album, Supergiant, that recently came out.
Well I still like it. I still listen to it, and I’m like, “This is still good.” I’m very proud of it and I think that we all are. It’s definitely a snapshot of what I was going through musically and what the band was going through, the struggles of touring a lot and the joys of touring, a lot and the creativity and inspiration that comes from that as far as the lyrical content goes.
We were playing around with different tunings and feeling an expansiveness with new ways of approaching songwriting and new ways of approaching the guitar. I still very much feel like a novice guitar player. But I was kind of approaching the guitar with a not-really-giving-a-fuck attitude. I think that’s in there. Shawn, our other guitar player in this band, definitely taught me a lot. There is a lot of exploration happening musically and I’m just singing my ass off.
“I was feeling very isolated, and making music with some people that I met in school was really what got me started, and I began to rely on that as a coping mechanism of being out here in LA.”
— Natalie Carol
What are some things that are important to you that you like to address through your music?
When I make music there is a transformative thing that happens. I approach songwriting a lot in the midst of struggle and feeling very uncomfortable. I write from that place. Sometimes I don’t, sometimes it’s coming from an expansive place and a liberated place. But a lot of times I feel motivated to write when I feel very stuck. But it’s transformative because you take maybe those darker, more twisted moments and then you turn it into something beautiful and then you share it with people who also love it and it has the power to transform the past in some ways.
So I think that is what I’m trying to do and in that way, it’s a relationship with myself. I also think that the social climate and the political climate especially now is seeping into what I’m writing about because things are just wild right now. Things are wild in our country and it’s getting harder to block that stuff out and pretend like it’s not happening and I don’t think that we should be doing that.
Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
Lucinda Williams would be cool. Robert Plant. I love Robert Plant, he’s like the grandfather of rock and roll, the GILF if you will. Who else? Oh, there are so many great artists. Jim James just came out with a really wonderful album that I really love. I love all of his My Morning Jacket stuff. William Tyler is a wonderful instrumentalist that lives in Highland Park. He does a lot of instrumental guitar work and I would love to contribute to that. Yes, Lucinda and Robert Plant, those are the top two for sure.
What are your favorite book film and music right now?
I’ve been very much into historical fiction lately. Right now I’m reading a book by an author called Eudora Welty. She is actually a white southern woman writer and I think especially being from Arkansas, I’ve tried to re-approach southern culture because there is a lot of chaos around that subject. I think I’m trying to come to better terms with being a southern white female and living with the inherent guilt and also with the inherent beauty that also lives in the south that has nothing to do with its really dark history. So, Eudora Welty is a really interesting writer, I think, for a southern woman to read. It encapsulates the dark history paired with the beauty of the south.
I was really into Victor Hugo before this, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Which is also a really interesting book to read in the midst of our politics right now.
Film: I can’t really say I’m as much of a film buff, especially living in LA. I just saw BlacKkKlansman. That was gnarly and funny. I really appreciated that. Again, it’s about America’s current political climate. I think I’m interested in picking it apart because America is so fascinating right now and it’s so troubled. I like people that create a narrative about that stuff.
Music: I really love the Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks’ new record that they just put out. It’s called Sparkle Hard. I know my band has put out an album this year too, but it’s my favorite album of the year. That has gotten me into Pavement and that band created a lot of the sound of the music down here and I feel very influenced by Stephen Malkmus right now. … I think he was living in Portland but Pavement is kind of the Southern California band and that’s definitely influenced me as a writer coming out of Southern California.
So what’s next?
Touring. A lot of touring. We’re about to go on tour with Social Distortion, which has been a band for forty years and there is a lot of history and stories going on there. It’s a three-band bill, we’re going on tour with Justin Townes Earle as well, who is more of a country songwriter. So we have a punk band and a country band that we’re going on tour with at the same time. Which I think is a good place for us to sit. I’m interested in what that’s going to be like and that’s going to be for about five weeks. I think it’s going to be pretty wild.
Then we play the El Rey Theatre with our friend Lauren Ward and then we’ll probably keep it low key after that until late winter-spring of next year. I want to play some solo stuff and try that out. I love the band dynamic and having that dialogue with a group of people. But I also think it helps to do things by yourself and kind of straddle that line between the group and yourself. I want to try some different things and we’ll see what happens.