Valley Queen: The Best of What's Next

Music Features Valley Queen
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Valley Queen: The Best of What's Next

Valley Queen lead vocalist Natalie Carol has been dreaming of snakes. On the cover artwork for the band’s “In My Place/High Expectations” single is a crude rendering of the ancient ouroboros symbol— a snake eating its own tail. The ouroboros has elicited numerous interpretations for centuries. Alchemists understood the ouroboros to be a symbol of oneness and, by extension, immortality. It is often associated with the Philosopher’s Stone and the concept of eternal return, the notion that all things recur indefinitely—that time is not linear but cyclical.

For Carol, the symbol represents both her personal experience and her interest in Jungian archetypes. She bemoans the snake as “this symbol of evil in our culture” and instead views it as an empowering, life-affirming image.

“[Carl] Jung often plays a lot with dream work,” she says. “I have a lot of dreams of snakes, and in a lot of the dreams, I fear the snakes. Whenever I find the snakes in my dream, they’re sleeping and at peace, but I freak out and start to run away. And that’s when they wake up and chase after me and bite me. It’s this fear of life. To really live your life is very scary, to fully meet with it and merge into it. The ourorobos, to me, is kind of like a meeting with the cycle of life.”

Carol has had to embrace the fears of life on multiple occasions in order to become a professional musician with Valley Queen, the rootsy folk-rock outfit from Los Angeles. Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, Carol moved to west LA to attend college, and there discovered a love for classic rock gods Led Zeppelin. She then did what many who discover Zeppelin in college have done—she started a band. But music, for Carol, was not necessarily her first career choice. For a brief period, she considered following in her parents’ footsteps and pursuing medicine, and she even found the operating room to be an exciting environment in which she could work.

She decided against the medical field and instead continued to play her brand of Arkansas blues in LA until her founding band mate left. At that point, she had to relearn how to write music without a partner. “I was left with me and my own brain,” she says. “I thought I was losing something, but it forced me to speak up more about my own experience.”

The result of speaking up was Valley Queen, and though the band is just over a year old, it has recently gone through a bit of a “growth spurt,” as Carol describes it. Part of their sudden popularity is due to Valley Queen’s style of indie rock—one that sounds more like it was forged in Nashville and not Los Angeles. The guitars are cranked over trashy cymbals and twangy harmonies, but the sound is not as “classic rock” as Carols says some listeners have described. The defining difference that sets Valley Queen apart is Carol’s voice, which immediately brings to mind Florence Welch, and her lyrics are arresting, vulnerable, and extremely relevant.

On single “High Expectations,” Carol sings about the loneliness of mediated communication in the age of Tinder. Her words are startlingly direct: “I’m not gonna fake it/ Orgasms in texting conversations/ It’s so easy to lie/ But babe the truth really is/ I get myself off just fine/ Maybe that’s why I’m all alone tonight.” The upshot is an anachronistic blend of country rock and digital-era social critique, and it works remarkably well. The song is about being “alone together” as psychologist Sherry Turkle calls it, the feeling of being in constant communication with others but remaining alone in front of a screen. “I do want to be touched, and I do want to be communicated with,” Carol notes. She admits to feeling a “sense of hollowness” when she’s alone together.

But personal relationships aren’t the only social bonds Carol thinks are being affected by ubiquitous digital technology. She is also keenly aware of the state of the music industry in the Internet Age. During the early years of Valley Queen’s existence, she and the band, like most independent artists in the 2010s, assumed the roles of PR agent, booking agent, manager, and bookkeeper, all while remaining committed songwriters. “Bands have a lot more responsibility now than they used to,” Carol says, noting the difficulty for musicians to work all areas of the industry at once. “I definitely have to make it a point to shut my computer off and just write.”

Valley Queen cloak these social critiques in a form of the blues that does not quite sound like the blues. After years of sneaking in Memphis bars as a teenager, Carol grew tired of the blues and the “regurgitated themes we’ve been hearing” in the genre. “Blues music was my first passion,” says Carol, “but it bores me now musically. It’s been hammered into my ears so long that it’s gotten stale there.”

For Carol, the answer was to make music that still retains the soul and swagger of blues-rock without reinventing the wheel. “But America loves the blues, man,” she reinforces. “There’s a lot of country in the United States. I think the Black Keys were the last blues thing that happened, and they kind of died a fierce death. But it would be sad for [the blues] to disappear, because it’s definitely a part of this country’s artistic infrastructure.”

Valley Queen are soon to be a part of that infrastructure as well. Carol and the rest of the band are capitalizing on the freedom that comes with breaking nationally while remaining unshackled to a label. They have no forthcoming full-length album slated for release anytime soon. They do not have the next two years booked and planned in advance. Instead, Valley Queen have the time to revel in each day’s newness and embrace the uncertainty—to meet with life and merge into it.