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.

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