Dave-Michael Valentine Interview with Brad Phillips

New Dimensions

Dave Michael Valentine reclineBP: So, tell us, how did you get to be such an accomplished musician.

DMV: “Accomplished musician.” That’s a good one. Actually, I couldn’t play my way out of a wet paper bag.

BP: But you are a musician, you play guitar, keyboard and sing. Right?

DMV: Yeah, I play all right, but not as good as I should. I never really learned to play, like some folks. When I turned thirteen, my Grandfather slapped a guitar in my lap and said, “Play.” So I did, as best as I could. Mostly, I write.

BP: So you’d consider yourself a songwriter.

DMV: I guess that’s what you’d call it. In reality it’s more like my way of dealing with all that life slaps me in the face with. Then there’s the occasional warm fuzzy thrown in for good measure. It’s more like diary entries put to music, or a means of self-therapy. It helps me to look at my situation or the situation of others and try to see it from a different perspective, or just another means to celebrate, or cry out.

BP: So how did you get started playing music and singing in front of people?

DMV: I dunno really. It just happened. I was sort of a social misfit and I drug this guitar around with me, kind’a like a security blanket. I’d sit on the grass at school during lunch and people would gather around and we’d sing folk songs. Sooner or later, I’d hook up with some other freaks and we’d play together and call ourselves a band.

BP: A cover band?

DMV: That’s the only way I could figure out how to play for money. No one’s gonna shell out money to listen to me play musical renditions of my personal journals, so you play music for dances or drunks to make a buck. So I’ve played on the sidelines in lots of bands. I was just glad to be able to play a couple of my pieces in front of people when I could sneak them in.

BP: How many bands?

DMV: Too many to count, really. I’d play with anyone who asked me to. I guess that’s why I haven’t had that much exposure, personally, because musicians are pretty flaky. You know, you work real hard with a bunch of guys, someone has a baby, personal crisis, or falls in love, then you’re back to square one again. That’s left me some opportunities to replace flakes, but I’m not a good enough musician to be a value to a band very long.

BP: Did the patrons appreciate the songs you’d written?

DMV: Yes and no. For the most part, it was a chance for everyone to get back to their table, polish off their drink and order another one. What made it worth it, was afterwards, some poor soul would come up to me either happy, or sad, saying, something like, “Hey brother I know what you mean” then we’d share our stories and compare each other’s scars.

BP: Who would you consider your musical influences? Are there any musicians who you would like to play with or whose work you admire?

DMV: I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to music. I like all kinds of music, but if I were going to put together a band, and I could get anyone I wanted to play my material, I guess I’d probably put Billy Cobham, Stanley Clarke, Rick Wakeman, Phil Keaggy, Carlos Santana and the Supremes on the stage, then I’d put Larry Norman in my spot, just because I’d like to see him have the chance to play with these guys. As far as who are my favorite bands? My tastes are too varied to narrow it down to the top ten. Plus the list changes every day. I’m the idiot that pulls up next to you singing to the radio at the stoplight. So, pretty much anything I can find that I can recognize is good for me.

BP: Who’s Larry Norman?

DMV: Oh, he’s a real underground artist – long story – who had a brief encounter with fame but turned his back on it to stay true to his music. He wanted to sing about God, too, but the labels wanted to downplay that stuff, so he struck out on his own. That’s why no one’s ever heard of him, except for Christian rock and rollers, which he helped pave the way for.

BP: A lot of your music is religious.

DMV: Yuck. I hate the word religion. It has so many negative connotations. I just call ’em God songs. I’m a Christian and I put God first in my life. That’s a system that works good for me. Because God’s a big part of my life, that’s why He shows up in my musical diary. Don’t worry, ’cause the Christians don’t like those songs.

BP: What do you mean?

DMV: While I might sing about God, I only do so from within myself. My feelings, my personal expressions of my own experiences. I’m not a theologion, and I never seek approval of the saints when I write a song. So, I’ve made the mistake of playing some of my God songs in religious settings only to get reprimanded by the leadership, saying that my music is not theologically sound.

BP: You think it’s because you deliver your message with a contemporary beat?

DMV: No, those days are long gone. Sure, there was a time when you could get harassed because your songs may have sounded a little too much like devil music – you know, rock and roll – but since Amy Grant’s sold out, it’s pretty much a free-for-all, now. So it’s not the delivery so much as the specific content of the words. It’s not like I’m trying to rewrite the Bible, just share my feelings. That’s okay with normal folks, they can respect that, but the brethren and fellow (making quote marks with his fingers), children of God, they like to get all bent out of shape at any opportunity, especially if I’m within a stone’s throw.

BP: How long have you had your music commercially available?

DMV: Oh, this is great. Hey, if you sing like someone’s skinning a cat, and can barely beat out a few chords on a guitar and can think of something to say to the beat, you can be a rock star. At least that’s what they say. All you need is an instrument, a microphone and a cassette recorder, and you’re in business. I haven’t had the opportunity to go to vinyl yet, I’m still in the independently-produced-tape business. It’s a way to make a few bucks and spread a few of my songs around when I get the chance to play. Mostly, I think, people buy ‘em because they feel sorry for me, and want to feel like they’re helping a struggling artist.

BP: Do you see yourself ever pursuing a recording contract?

DMV: Naw, it’s too much work and it’s like winning the lottery. I’m working on some recordings in the studio that I’ll probably put out on my own, but that’ll be a couple years down the road. I could see maybe starting a label for independent artists – like me – who have nowhere else to go. But if somebody walked up to me and said, “Here ya go. We wanna put out your records for ya,” I’d dig it.

BP: We have the opportunity to talk with you today, because you’re playing the Fourth of July Gala with your band, Stratologeo. How did this band come about?

DMV: Well, these are a great bunch of guys. All of them professional musicians, so I’m the worst musician in the bunch. Mark Hafner is an awesome drummer, I’m just happy to be on the same stage with him. He makes me feel like I’m playing with Billy Cobham. Then there’s Dan Mauer who has played in his family’s Gospel band since he could hold a microphone – kind’a like a Christian Cowsills – he thumps out the bass lines. We played together in a Christian band, Carpenter’s Apprentice, for a while. And then there’s my oldest semi-consistent bandmate, Norman-the-wildman-Claassen on lead guitar. Norman Claassen and I have been playing together off-and-on since 1977 and we’ve thrown in some wind instruments and female back-up singers for this incarnation.

BP: Will we be able to hear a few of your original songs?

DMV: Oh, yeah. What’s great about these guys is that they’re great musicians but I’m the only songwriter. So this time – for better or worse – you’ll hear mostly my stuff, with a couple covers thrown in for flavor.

BP: So are we lucky to catch you on this tour?

DMV: Tour? You are so complimentary. Actually, this tour exists of 10 shows from L. A. to Vancouver, B. C. All on the West Coast and that’s all that we know for sure. Lucky? As far as I can tell, if anyone sees me play, it’s nearly a friggin’ miracle. I’m glad you were desperate enough for someone to talk to, that you’d even consider talking to me.

BP: Would you have any tips for would-be musicians in our listening audience?

DMV: I’m the last person qualified to give any advice, but since you asked, all I’ve got to say is to be true to yourself. Play music and sing about what you feel, like no one’s listening. Never know, someone might like it – if not, it’s no big deal. Don’t focus on trying to be the next top 40 wonderdog. Too many people shoot for that and burn themselves out trying to hit the mark.

Dave-Michael Valentine Interview Wendy Smith

Dave Michael Valentine sporting Larry Norman cartoon on shirtFollowing the Aberdeen emanon performance, Wendy Smith was able to catch Dave-Michael Valentine for a chat. The following is the transcript of that interview:

Smith: Dave-Michael Valentine, or DMV, has been around the Pacific Northwest for some time. I think I first saw you play with a band in Centralia in the mid-eighties. When did you actually start playing music?

Valentine: I guess I always had a desire to play guitar. I remember playing with my mom on tennis rackets, while listening to the radio, when I was really young. Then, I got a guitar for my 10th birthday. Although I only knew how to play two chords: C and G7 – with one finger. Then when I went to stay with my grandparents the summer when I turned thirteen, my grandfather taught me to play. It changed my life.

Smith: What do you mean, ‘It changed my life?’

Valentine: Well, prior to that summer, I had always been considered more of an unsociable outcast. I was pretty much the invisible kid. After I learned how to play guitar a bit, I started to interact with people more.

Smith: So, you started playing when you were thirteen years old. Did you play anywhere?

Valentine: Let’s see… that was a long time ago. I think it started with a talent contest at Hoquiam Junior High. I lost to Bruce Jakola’s band because I was a single act with a guitar, and I chose an instrumental. But the guitar instructor at the school, quickly approached me and told me that I should assist him as a student teacher, which I did. Then, I started playing with Blue Flax, in Aberdeen and ended up transferring to Hopkins Junior High.

Smith: So, you’re a local boy?

Valentine: I was born and raised in Astoria, Oregon, but my grandparents lived here, so I spent mostly the summers in Aberdeen, then after my parents divorced, I spent a lot more time in Grays Harbor, with stints of traveling outside the area to chase opportunities to play music.

Smith: Being from Aberdeen, did you ever cross paths with Kurt Cobain?

Valentine: Barely. I mean, he lived with my brother at our mom’s house for a couple of months in the garage on South Side. I met him once while he was staying there, we jammed to the blues a little bit. He wasn’t very good. My brother and he talked a bunch of stuff that young dreamers talk about and as I recall, there was plenty of ‘herbal influences’ around at that time. To tell you the truth, I never thought he’d amount to anything. Little did I know he was a budding musical genius. I wrote a cute little song, loosely dedicated to his ‘making it’ in ’91. If he heard it, he would probably hate it.

Smith: You’ve been writing your own songs for a long time?

Valentine: Oh yeah. I can’t help it. For me, it’s like my coping mechanism, or self-therapy. I can write a song in the third person, step back, look at it, examine it and it helps me re-frame and get on with my life. Or I can write about what I see as shortcomings in others, as sort of a warning to myself, not to let myself get caught up in the same kinds of scenarios. I’d write, even if no one was there to listen to it. As a matter of fact, most of my songs never get shared in public. They’re just too personal.

Smith: What other bands did you play with?

Valentine: Oh, man… too many to list, really. Most of them were bands that played covers of popular music and oldies, to play at dances. Since I started chasing my musical tail, relocating a lot in my early music career, every location, I was in, found me in a different band – and sometimes more than one-at-a-time. Playing music is really the best job a person can have. Think about it: How else can you get paid to party for five hours? Plus, you have the added advantage of getting wonderful attention from the opposite sex.

Smith: So, did you see the music as a way to meet girls?

Valentine: When I was young, my social skills were so bad that the music was cool because I could use it as a conversation ‘ice-breaker.’ So, now, I could talk to anyone, guys or gals. And even though I liked the attention from the girls, because it made me feel good – my self esteem – I don’t remember ever dating anyone that I met playing music. I suppose I’m more of a romantic than that.

Smith: What do you mean by more romantic?

Valentine: Well, what I mean is that when I ask somebody out, its only because, in my mind, this person is a potential love interest for me. I’m already pretty much invested with my heart, by the time I get around to asking someone out, so I get hurt by women, only because to them one date is no big deal, but to me, if the dating stops with me, or if they decide to date someone else, too? I’m devastated. It’s like my best friend just died. I suck at relationships.

Smith: So, are you seeing anyone, right now?

Valentine: Why, you asking me out?

Smith: No. Just curious.

Valentine: Well, actually, no. I’m kind of in a state of flux, right now, in my life. I’m focussing on my growth, spiritually, as a human being and trying to figure out why I keep setting myself up for failure in relationships, being careful not to over-analyze or simplify issues. You know? I’ve sufferred my worst failures, by following well-thought-out plans and goals that bite me in the butt everytime.

Smith: What kind of failures?

Valentine: Don’t really want to go there. Suffice to say that I spend way too much time developing what I think is the perfect plan, whether its in business, music or relationships. If all I depended on was myself, I would have a higher success rate in life, because I can make a committment and follow rules of my self-concocted outlines, but other people aren’t like that. It seems that any time I hook up with someone, they are looking out for themselves, when I’m focussed on the success of the whole.

Smith: So, how do you see the perfect woman?

Valentine: Oh, I don’t know… I’ve thought I’d found the perfect one for me on many occassions, but must’ve been thinking with something else besides my brain – or maybe thought things through too much with my brain – I don’t know which. But, I’d say that she would have some basic traits, like, she would care more about others than herself. If not others, at least me, because that’s the way I am. I’m willing to sacrifice anything and everything for the success of my family. I’d like to know that she could have the same mind-set. Of course, I’d have to be atracted to her. I’m not saying that she’s a 5′ 10″ fashion model, just that I have to find her particularly appealing. She has a good sense of humor and put up with my childish antics and have an appreciation for my music. Dont get me wrong: She doesn’t have to like my music, just understand where I’m coming from. And she’s got to be able to make a committment.

Smith: So, you’re wife hunting?

Valentine: No, much more than that. I’m searching for my illusive soul mate. That perfect person that is perfectly suited for me. Mind you, I may never find her, but I hope to – and if I do, then damn straight, I’ll marry her, if she’ll have me. I’d be a fool not to. I’ve tried marriage, before, but this time I’d like to find a woman who can make good on her marriage promise, to love, honor – or at least, stay faithful to – me as long as she lives. I would do the same. That’s really happily ever after.

Smith: You’ve been married before. How many times?

Valentine: Well, considering that I only wanted to marry once for my whole life, I’ve pretty much disappointed myself enough to not want to say the exact number because it’s more than once. Anything divorce, or number of divorces, is just exemplifying the sad state of affairs in our present-day society – for me, anyway. Because I don’t choose to engage in casual sex. I’m a lover, not a gigalo. That’s just my personality. It’s who I am. Not that sometimes I wish I could be more promiscuous… They say that, ‘variety is the spice of life,’ but that’s just not me.

Smith: I can respect that. So, how will this perfect woman find you, if not at a concert or performance?

Valentine: Well, she could meet me at a performance, but I’m not always easy to connect with following a show, because I’m shmoozing during the breaks, and it depends what I’m doing after a gig. I’m not listed in the phone book and now, I’m thinking that the Internet is a good place to meet her.

Smith: You mean, like in chat-rooms and online personals?

Valentine: Tell you the truth, I don’t really know how to go about it, but I’m facinated by the possibility. I mean, if my soulmate’s out there, anywhere on this planet, and has access to a computer and the Internet, we can communicate. I think it’s an incredible opportunity for romance to flourish. I really do believe it is possible to find one’s soulmate using the Internet as a tool – because, if it’s true, that there is one perfect person out there, perfectly suited for you – you could break down all the barriers of being separated by geographical space. I think it’s a really cool concept. Whether it has the possibility that I envision, who knows, but I really am jazzed about the possibilities.

Smith: Let’s say, for instance, that I have a friend that might be, ‘the one.’ How could I tell her to contact you?

Valentine: I suppose she could contact me through my promotional post office box. That’s P. O. Box 1753, Aberdeen, Washington 98520, or if she’s on the Internet, she can send me an email.

Smith: What’s your email address?

Valentine: dmv@ghonline.com – and if she’s the one, we’ll take you out to dinner, or something. But if she’s not the one, at least I’ll feel as though she’s still out there, and hopefully, I’ve made a new friend. I love friends.

Smith: What do you mean by, ‘I love friends,’?

Valentine: What I mean, is that I’ve been very lucky to have made a few real close friends over the course of my life. Now, there are all kinds of friends, on many different levels, but I have a few really close ones, that I’d take a bullet for, and they’d do likewise. I can talk to them about anything, at any stage in my life, and they can have that same level of intamacy with me. I guess I have such a good, long-lasting relationship with them, because I never married ’em! Here’s some good advice: Don’t believe that Harry Met Sally B.S. – never marry your best friend. (I guess I meant that sarcastically, but you can quote me on it anyway.)

Smith: Well, thank you for taking the time to share a bit about yourself, I’m sure our listeners will appreciate the opportunity to get ot know you a little better.

Valentine: And thank you, for trying to make me think that they’re might be more than one or two people who might actually care… Nice try.