We've been waiting for a while to get a new pop princess with triple threat capabilities for some time. That is, one who can can sing (good), dance (good), and easily snag a modeling deal if she wanted to. Meet Rostrum Records recording artist Vali.
As a NYC-bred Black/Russian beauty with a sultry voice to match her keen sense for dope style, Vali is gearing up to be one of our favorite full-on entertainers for 2012 and beyond. Her newly released EP Kiss The Sky. is already crashing servers across the 'Net. On the anniversary of Michael Jackson's death last month, we got a chance to speak with her on inspirations, influences, fashion, YouTube covers, and a little MJ talk.
This girl-on-the-rise has definitely impressed us, so take some time to put yourself on to Vali. Oh, and you can just thanks us later...
VIBE: Alright so let’s just get started: What would you say is your earliest music memory?
Vali: Umm, honestly I sang from like when I came out [Laughs]. I don’t remember that, but I was singing from the very beginning. I started off in church for sure, singing like choir stuff and children’s choir in church. Then, I started singing in school choirs when I started going to school.
Where are you from originally?
Well I’m born and raised in New York. I started Uptown then move my way to Midtown so most of my life Is spent in Midtown Manhattan. My mother is Russian and my father is Black and Indian/Native American, but I look Puerto Rican. I’m from New York, and so when people see me they go, “Ohhh she’s Puerto Rican” [Laughs].
You’re pretty androgynous. I mean, you can kind of play to every kind of—just a lot of people can identify to you.
Yea, yea, I’m a mut, but I’m very proud of it [Laughs]. Very very proud.
Growing up, who were some of your musical influences? Like, who made you say, 'Wow, this is what I really wanna do'?
Well in my house, my mom loved The Beatles. She has like every Beatles record—all their old singles and Vinyl’s! I grew up listening to them and Michael Jackson for sure. Also Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. My mom was a really big fan of them too, so that's what I started listening to. Then when I went to school and was around different culture and music, I loved Aaliyah. I was a big TLC and Biggie fan for a while—even tried to wear the baggy pants and the pigtail buns [Laughs]! Then once Mariah [Carey's] album came out, I don’t know if I bought that album, but I remember hearing it and I was like, "Woah!"
Fantasy. Yeah, I remember being like, "Woah, that’s a voice I had never heard!" I really started getting into singing with her and Beyoncé with Destiny’s Child. I had a lot of influences, and I feel like you can hear them in all my music too.
Definitely. Even down to like—well, we'll get to the pianos later [Laughs]. Can you just describe how was it getting into the industry? Like, was it an easy transition, was it hard work, or...
For me, I actually started off as a dancer, even though I sang a lot. I went to LaGuardia [High School] for vocal. I joined this dance company called KR3TS. It’s based out of Spanish Harlem. I auditioned for one of the rappers Benji—who’s now my manager—was representing. And so, I started off as a dancer. I was doing back-up dancing shows and stuff. One day, I was sitting next to Benji on a plane and played him some music that I was working on. He was like, "Wow, you can sing!" So we started that way. I feel like he brought me into this industry really and mentored me.
So what was it like getting in the studio for the first time to record?
Well, the first studio [session] was definitely not "Wow, this is it." I recorded at a friends studio in school. It was in a nylon stocking over the filter—like it’s pretty ghetto, but that’s how I feel like I started. I got really comfortable because I was in that situation and I got used to it. Once Benji brought me into bigger studios, I got it. I figured it out.
Did you have a sense of the kind of music you wanted to make? Were you looking to be universal or did you want to stay Urban Pop?
I like a lot of stuff, but Urban feels good to me. Pop melodies, like growing up listening to The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson, they have like catchy hooks. Everything is Pop, even though they’re all different genres. So for me, I feel like Urban is where I’m from. I feel the beat, I love it, and I love dancing to it. Pop is just where my ear goes. So the combination of [those two genres] is me.
Alright, so let's get into you as an artist. I went to your YouTube and I saw that you can really play the piano well. Then I saw the choreography in your video [for "Polaroid"] and I said, "Wait a minute, this girl can dance too!" [Laughs]. Are you trying to be more of a stand-on-stage-and-croon artist or do you want to be a full-on entertainer, like a Janet Jackson almost? We really don’t have that many entertainers now. We have a lot of people who can sing—or rather think that they can sing.
I don’t think my personality calls for me to be like Jessica Rabbit, where I just stand on stage. I have to move and kind of be like, all over the place. I'm a dancer, but I’m not Michael Jackson! For me, I like to move, you know what I mean? When I’m doing choreography, I’m just doing it like how I would do it. As far as the dancers, I want them to do their job; I want them to be dancers. I’m just a move around entertainer. I like jumping. Like, I can’t just stand still with a cigarette in my hand [Laughs]. That’s not my style. But I think I'm definitely an entertainer. Fun: [that's what] I want people to have at my shows. Be involved and interactive.
Cool. How do you plan on incorporating your piano into the act that you have? I mean, that is a really good talent to have.
Some of my songs do have piano keyboard in them, and so I probably would do that when it comes into my songs or maybe give [the fans] a taste of a cover that I’ve done. I’m not gonna be like an Alicia Keys or a Stevie Wonder though, where I’m just behind a piano. That’s not me either. I just know how to do it really well.
Let's talk about the YouTube covers. You’ve done a lot of those on your music channel. So do you just cover some of your favorite songs?
Yeah, some of them. I have a really good one by One Direction that I love. I slowed it down, changed it up to make it more of a ballad. That’s probably one of my favorite covers yet.
Nice! Do you have any other favorite covers or like a song that you would want to cover in the future?
Ummm…that [One Direction] one I really like. I love a "Man Down" cover I did. I didn’t play the keys but I had a guitar player come and do his thing. It’s really different, but it's got a lot of views. People really liked it a lot. I love that song. It’s like one of my joints.
So is it just a guitar?
Yeah, it’s just a guitar and me singing full out. You have to check it out.
I do have to check it out! Is it on YouTube?
Mhm, "Man Down."
Who are some people you want to work with on your debut album, or just in the near and/or later future?
I heard rumors that No Doubt is coming back out, and I thought I was Gwen Stefani at one point in my life. I channeled her for sure. That would be like, ah-freakin-mazing to work with her and No Doubt! I'm also a big Jay-Z fan, but everybody is [Laughs]. That would be really awesome. Yeah, those two would be really cool.
Describe your style. I mean, I'm looking at you right now and you’re just killing it from head to toe! You got the lightening earrings going on [Laughs]. What influences your style right now?
I kind of wear everything I like, which can sometimes work and sometimes not work [Laughs]. I like bright colors, I like patterns, I like mixing patterns with bright colors, and kind of taking a risk with fashion. [I'll rock] one earring, as big as it can get, or like a big ring. I feel like I’m a mixed between an Old Italian grandma and someone who has style. I just like gaudy. I love jewelry and wearing gaudy [things], you know? Definitely keeping it fun and funky though.
Describe your perfect outfit from head to toe. Like, if you could break down the perfect outfit, what would it be?
That is such a hard question! I feel like it depends on my mood, because sometimes I want to wear something like crazy shoes—bright colored shoes—crazy jewelry, and maybe a little more tamed down. [Other days] I like pattern pants, neon tops, some funky shoes and jewelry everywhere. Does that make sense? [Laughs] I love high fashion though. I love like, the crazy stuff.
Who are some of your favorite designers?
I like Joy Rich a lot. You know Joy Rich?
Not too familiar.
I feel like you would rock some Joy Rich. You give me a Joy Rich vibe. They’re really cool. There's one on Melrose in L.A. and they have a Japan store and a London store I think. Not sure if they have a New York, but they’re really funky and different and retro. They have retro stuff and dollar sign stuff. I like Betsey Johnson. L.A.M.B. is cool—that’s Gwen Stefani’s line.
Have you gotten the chance to meet Gwen Stefani in any sort of way?
I saw her one time working out. I met Pharrell at this audition; he was auditioning a girl group. And when I went to meet him, she was working out at the gym. I pee’d my pants [Laughs]! I was so excited. That was really cool.
As you know, today is the anniversary of Michael Jackson's passing. Can you talk about his influence, how he inspired you, and maybe just your favorite song by Michael Jackson? and how you yourself as an artist plan on keeping his memory alive.
Wow, such a huge question. Growing up, I feel like he was the ultimate entertainer. All genres: Rock-N-Roll, Urban, Pop, Disco—like everything you know. He was the ultimate, and he incorporated dance, theatre, acting, mixed with singing. His whole persona was just epic, from his style, to his songs, to his movements. Even like the glove! Everything you know [about him] is epic. For me, seeing him, I never imagined that I would get to that level. He’s just so original and so amazing, but [he's] somebody to look up to for sure. Growing up, I think "Thriller" was my favorite song. My mom would put that on repeat. I love "Beat It." That was so theatrical. I mean, gangstas dancing? Its kind of amazing. I don’t know if anyone can pull that off. I seriously cannot imagine 50 Cent and his crew all of a sudden dancing—like you can’t! He did things that nobody thought could work. Even a song like "Black And White." A lot of people don’t give messages like that in their music anymore. Its all just repetitive or catchy and what's the next best thing or hottest song. With his songs, you can play them at a club now and people go crazy.
I'm pretty sure today there’s like a non-stop MJ party, with everybody jamming in the street.
Yeah, he’s just an icon and a legend. It's so sad. He was probably one of the only artists that I dreamt about meeting since I was little, and I feel like I was so close, you know? I know some of his dancers, and I was just getting so close. For me, I would want to [keep his memory alive by] making music that was timeless, even If I could just get close to [his influence in music].
What is something you want people to get from your music as a whole? What do you want people to get from it, take from it, and just apply to themselves?
Creativity, probably. For me, each song is a theme. I’m very theme-based. When I go into the studio, I usually think of my concepts first. I have a list of concepts that I’ve always wanted to write. And so each song is like a theme. It has a story to it. Living in New York, I’m very theatrical. I have a theatre background too, so I like creativity and conceptual lyrics and catchiness, you know? Like "Ben & Jerry" [a song off Kiss The Sky], mixing ice cream with men. Its fun. I like fun and creativeness, so I’d like people to listen to it and take their minds somewhere else and actually listen to the lyrics and not just the repetitiveness of how everything is now. [I want them to] actually dig in and be like, "Oh, this is kind of like an experience. It's kind of cool."
Kiss The Sky is available now. Download it by [CLICKING HERE]