Valentine Byrne: “The voices at the very end of this track are me and my sister laughing in the house that burned down.”
“It was pretty ironic, losing our home during a stay-at-home order,” says Valentine Byrne, who was recording an EP last April when disaster piled on top of pandemic. “I’ll never forget receiving that phone call from the fire chief informing me there was a fire at my house. He couldn’t tell me how severe it was, so the drive home was pretty surreal. I didn’t know if we had lost everything, or if it was just a small fire. It ended up kind of being somewhere in the middle. The house wasn’t completely lost, my landlords had homeowner’s insurance and recently finished rebuilding it, but it was completely unlivable with the heat and smoke damage. Soot was everywhere, and our stuff still smells like a campfire. That night, we moved in with my mom in La Jolla, and I found my own spot in the area shortly after.”
The cause of the fire remains undetermined. “All they know is it most likely started in the walls of my [17-year-old] little sister’s room. Luckily, both of us weren’t home when the fire started around 2 am.” Byrne didn’t have renter’s insurance to cover the loss of music recording gear including microphones, cables, four guitars, and a keytar (“That thing was awesome!”), as well as clothes, old photos, and much of her sister’s belongings.
Luckily, “My favorite guitar, a custom Tisdale my dad got for me that has a lot of sentimental value, and my external hard drives with most of my music backed up were miraculously unharmed.”
Byrne studied classical piano for over 20 years, earning a B.A. in music theory and composition from New York University. She’s ghostwritten songs for several artists and collaborated with Pool Cosby on the Blind Gold album track “Lookin’ Up,” which reached #12 on Spotify’s Top 50 Viral in the United States. She composed, arranged, produced, and mixed her debut solo EP Baby On a Wall, due March 23 with a single for “Sleep Like You Mean It” now available. The track “Don’t You Say You Love Me” features San Diego rapper Real J. Wallace.
“I was about half-way through recording the EP when the fire happened. I ended up layering field recordings I had taken of a campfire from a trip to Joshua Tree under the intro track ‘Instead,’ kind of as a little inside joke to myself. The voices at the very end of this track are me and my sister laughing in the house that burned down. I wanted her to help me sing the background ‘hmms’ of that song so her presence would be on the EP, and I thought it would be cool to include that recording, because of where I captured it.”
Byrne performed all the instruments heard on the EP (guitar, piano, drums, bass, synths), and contributed homemade field recordings and voicemails that she gathered over the years, to give texture under the tracks. “I also layered recordings of a field of cows with cowbells and some wind chimes in San Diego under ‘Sleep Like You Mean It,’ and even some recordings of local birds in the background of ‘I Can’t Help Myself.’ I’ve always really enjoyed collecting field recordings, and I feel like it sets more of a scene and provides context to the music.”
Baby On a Wall was mastered by Elliot James Mulhern (Ramones, Maroon 5, Ne-Yo) of Blossöm Records and Grammy-nominated engineer Nacor Zuluaga Morelo (Enrique Iglesias, 50 Cent, Talib Kweli). As for the EP title, “It actually goes back to this thing my dad used to do when my little sister and I were young. My dad is a full-time artist, so he would lift us up against the wall and say ‘Baby On a Wall, my best artwork yet,’ like it was the title of one of his paintings. It’s kind of always been this thing we refer to in our family and, when it was time to name my EP, those memories came to me. References to my family are sprinkled throughout the entire EP, and the end of the last track has an old voicemail my little sister sent me when she was 10 that has always been special to me.”
Byrne cites influences such as Billie Eilish, Bjork, Portishead, Karen O, and Angel Olsen. However, “As a ghostwriter, it’s easy to get distracted writing what you think others want to hear, or what might get the most streams. But for this project I really tried to steer away from that mentality and focus on what it is that I like to listen to. Some of my favorite artists include Sevdaliza, FKA Twigs, and Bjork, who all have incredibly unique and distinguishable styles. I made some decisions that might make the EP a bit less accessible, but I have made my peace with that. The album starts off with an instrumental track, which I was told should have featured a vocal melody.
“But for me, a neo-classical introduction was the only way to go, since my first experiences with music were learning classical piano.”