Take a stroll down Broadway in Nashville and you’ll hear hundreds of aspiring bands in the honky-tonks plying their craft as tourists, bachelorette parties, and the like. Listen closer though and you realize most of the regular bands are playing covers, crowd-pleasers meant to keep the party going, music with the country flair that visitors have come to expect.
And while Nashville is definitely a town that has nurtured some of the great country artists, and continues to advance many up-and-coming country artists’ careers, it takes its “Music City” nickname seriously in all genres. Step off Broadway, go a little further afield, and look for artists that are out there with original songs and original sounds. Look for someone like Valentine James.
Born and raised in Nashville, James was influenced by music early on, but initially pursued her musical careers elsewhere before realizing that her hometown was somewhere where she could follow her dream most authentically and meaningfully.
And although she considers herself a soul singer and has found the city welcoming to her development as an artist, you can still hear in her music the country heritage of her hometown as well.
Now based in East Nashville, I got a chance to talk a bit with James, explore her path, find how she supports the community, and see what her future holds.
I know you were born and raised in Nashville, but you left to pursue other projects before returning. What led you down that path and what motivated you to return?
I moved to Boston in 2011 to pursue a degree in music (vocal performance). After graduating in 2015, I considered other music hubs like L.A. and New York, but I ultimately chose home when I learned that a good amount of peers and classmates I worked with at school were moving to Nashville as well.
Your debut EP Quick Goodbyes brings a lot of different genres and influences together. What helped shape your sound?
First off, shoutout to my parents for being the coolest. My mom took me to see Elton John and Billy Joel for my first concert; my dad listens to everything from The Doors to baroque classical music.
They made music and the arts a constant in my life from a young age and they have a lot to do with how I approach music now. Having such a varied exposure to all types of music inspires me to combine elements that move me from different genres and try to make a cohesive sound that’s my own.
Where do you hope to take that sound in the future?
I want to keep evolving. My rule for myself is that I only participate in music that makes me feel. I consider myself a soul singer because of this, and I hope to continue to adapt my sound to both what brings me happiness and express feelings and moments in life that others can hopefully relate to.
Who have been some of the artists who have inspired you?
Beyoncé and Dolly Parton are my two idols. They’re both incredible artists and have managed to stay authentic throughout their entire careers, and more importantly they take time to give back to their communities. They’ve also paved the way for more badass females to follow them.
A lot of artists come to Nashville seeking to advance themselves in the music industry. How have you found the scene there? What sets you apart?
I go see live shows (one to four a week)! I open myself to a lot of different scenes in Nashville, and that’s allowed me to meet so many different types of writers and musicians. People like to categorize certain genres or bands and I ain’t got time for that. Being open minded is a big part of who I am as a human and a musician.
Do you have any dream collaborators?
So many. Top two are J. Cole and Kacey Musgraves. They both are so great at storytelling and their tracks and production are always dope.
How do you spend a typical day?
I’m not a full time musician (yet!), so I do reception and social media for a local business in East Nashville and sell merch for a couple of venues when I’m not gigging/writing/ etc.
A good day for me involves rest, chilling on my patio, or hitting a yoga class and seeing a show, or watching a really boring documentary (gimme Ken Burns or give me death).
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians looking to follow the same path as you?
Social media is a necessary evil. Use it to connect with your audience and extend you base, but for the love of God get the fuck off of it.
I don’t like to spend time looking back on regrets, but I was so consumed with other people’s journeys via Instagram for a moment that my creativity definitely suffered. Aka: Your time is precious; spend it on making yourself the best at what you do.
What are some of your favorite venues, in Nashville and in other cities?
The 5 Spot in East Nashville is the best. Jason Eskridge hosts it and the lineup is always dope. My dream venue will forever be the Ryman [Auditorium, current home of the Grand Ole Opry], and every show I’ve seen there has been nothing short of magical! Other cities TBD 😉
What do you envision for your career going forward? What can fans expect in the future?
I just want to keep making music that inspires me. Collaborations are in the works (!!!) and new releases are coming soon. Touring has been a dream for a while, and I can’t wait to make that happen.