Prey for Rock ‘n’ Roll
A rock and roll band with lesbian members, Hunter Valentine is a smooth and snarling quartet creating catchy songs reminiscent of The Smiths, Radiohead and Kate Bush’s less experimental efforts. Formed in a bar over beer and whisky in Toronto, Canada, 2004, the band consists of Kiyomi McCloskey on vocals and lead guitar, Laura Petracca on drums, Somer Binhamm on guitars and keyboards and bassist Veronica Sanchez.
Hunter Valentine’s albums include The Impatient Romantic and Lessons From The Late Night” and the upcoming Collide and Conquer, which will be supported by a huge tour throughout much of North America and beyond. Their songs include “The Stalker” and “Revenge.”
In addition to their music, people have come to know and like or love Hunter Valentine through their stint on season 3 of The Real L Word, which started this summer.
In this exclusive interview, LN caught up with best friends McCloskey and Petracca to discuss life, love, music and advice for aspiring female musicians.
LN: What was your childhood like?
Kiyomi McCloskey: I had an amazing childhood. My parents were always very supportive of whatever I did. They really allowed me to explore my creativity at a very young age. I would not be where I am today without them.
Laura Petracca: I grew up in a very traditional Italian family. I was lucky to eat pasta three times a week, go to my Nonna’s on Sunday’s and am proudly a momma’s girl. I was also a troublemaker that seemed to always get myself into situations — mostly in school ‘cause I was too busy trying to make people laugh. My family knew that I was bound to do something big and different. I’ve been telling them since I was 7, when I saw my name in lights.
LN: What were you like as a teenager?
KM: I was actually a pretty disciplined teenager. I spent most of my days training, because I was playing competitive basketball. It was only until much later that I liked to get into trouble.
LP: I tell people that I’ve been drumming since the womb but in my early teens was when I really started to get serious about it. I joined my first band when I was 14; we played covers and entered into competitions. When I was 17, I played my first bar in downtown Toronto. It was a rush! One of my favorite stories was when I was 16, skipped school and bought a drum kit with the money I’d been saving. By 14 I could also play the guitar and at 15 locked myself in my room for two weeks to learn the bass. At 20, I learned the piano.
LN: Who were your favorite bands growing up and why?
LP: I went through stages in music. When I was a young kid, I listened to classic rock and was a huge Queen fan. I also was hooked on the “solid gold” albums. During my early teens I was obsessed with dance music, any kind. I loved Chris Sheppard and wanted to be a DJ. Yes, I went through my Bob Marley stage…I sort of became a hippie for a year. In my early 20’s, I started to get into a variety of rock and hip hop. I became a big fan of A Tribe Called Quest, Radiohead, Muse and so many more.
KM: I loved the Rolling Stones, because they represented the ultimate rebellious rock ‘n’ roller to me.
KM: I loved/love photography, cooking and being in the outdoors. Snowboarding and mountain biking have both been pastimes of mine for years.
LP: I love cooking. It’s my other passion. I did it professionally before committing to music full time. I also have an online cooking show that I am thinking of doing topless now!
LN: How did you come out and how did it go?
LP: One day my mom asked me, “Who’s this Andrew guy that keeps calling you” and I told her that Andrew was Angie. My mom was shocked and didn’t know how to deal with it. It took her a little while to understand but once she got it, she has been super supportive ever since. My entire family supports me and loves me. I am very lucky to have them.
KM: I went to my first pride parade and I was proudly marching with my high school girlfriend. I was unaware of it at the time but a photographer took a picture of us kissing. The very next day, I had a million voicemails on my machine and I finally picked up the phone to one of my friends telling me that there was a giant picture of me and my lady kissing on the cover of the most widely distributed newspaper in Canada. I had no choice but to be out and I think in the end I was grateful for that because it made me face who I was head on and not hide anything about myself.
LN: How did the band get together?
LP: In 2003 I met Kiyomi in a dark and dirty bar in Toronto. We hit it off musically and started a band. Originally we were a four piece with two other men. The guys both quit and we became a three-piece with Adrienne Lloyd in 2004. We had major success, two albums and moved to NY. In the late summer of 2011, Veronica Sanchez replaced Adrienne as our bass player and embarked on the legendary “Lady Killer Tour” where she fell in love with the road. The three of us hit the studio with Somer Bingham and Producer Greig Nori and created our soon to be released album, Collide and Conquer.
LN: What was your first impression of the other band members and how has that changed over the years?
LP: My first impression of Kiyomi was, “Who’s this bad ass drinking two pints of beer and shooting whiskey with biker sunglasses on?” Kiyomi is my best friend, musical soulmate and drinking buddy for life. We are going to do this to the top! My first conversation with Vero was on the phone. We were getting to know each other. While on the phone, I slipped and broke my left toe. That left a very interesting first impression for me. I took it as, “Don’t let this girl slip away, she’s a talented musician and belongs in HV.”
KM: I was extremely intrigued by my band mates and felt an immediate connection with them. Over the years we have had our ups and downs but I still feel that creative connection with them and we are all very close.
LN: What is the band’s songwriting and production process?
LP: It changes from song to song. An idea or song is brought to the table and we work through it together or we drink some whiskey, screw around a little and end up writing a punk song. Sometime songs are fully complete and don’t need to much work.
LN: Do you find rock and roll culture hostile to women, lesbians or both? How has it changed over the years?
LP: I don’t find the music industry hostile to women. We have had some challenges over the years but basically it’s a prove-yourself industry. We know how to rock a kick ass show.
KM: There have definitely been hurdles that we have come across as female musicians but all in all we have had a pretty good experience in our career. It’s become part of our job to encourage young women to pick up a guitar and play it rather than carry their boyfriend’s for them. We love that part of our job.
LN: In your own words, how does Lessons From The Late Night differ from your previous works?
KM: Collide and Conquer is more of a well-rounded record. There is everything from aggressive rocks songs to slower ballads. I feel like we really explored our range on this album.
LP: Each album is a progression. Lessons From The Late Night was our attempt at trying to capture our raw side. Collide and Conquer is our attempt at stepping outside the box and going big.
LN: How does the music scene in Canada differ from here in the United States?
KM: I love both scenes! I think that the main difference between the two is that Canada has a great support system for the arts. The government provides grants to artists that have really helped us over the course of our career. They have funded videos, recording projects and even websites.
LP: Disappointing. When I moved to the US three years ago, I came with my fiancé. We struggled getting her a visa for almost 4 months, in her field, just because our love wasn’t recognized federally. If she was a man, she would have gotten a visa ‘cause we were common law. I don’t know why this is such a big deal. Love is love no matter what your “sex” is. I am fed up with this constant struggle to convince people being queer is normal. We need to stand up and make a difference in this world.
KM: As Canadians we have been really lucky to have equal marriage rights. In the U.S there is a lot of great work being done to move forward with gay rights but we still face a lot of challenges. I believe that if we continue to fight for what is right we can achieve anything that we set out to do as a community.
LN: What was it like being on The Real L Word?
LP: I loved every minute of it! I loved having a mike strapped to me 24/7; it made me feel like a secret agent, tell me your secrets… It’s a completely different experience. Reality isn’t totally reality when you have to enter and exit places more than once. It took a couple days to get used to but as soon as I was, my shirt came off!
KM: It can be pretty surreal at times but I have gotten used to it over the last few months. Sometimes it feels like everyone is a critic but that was expected when we signed up for the job. As a band we are trying to focus on the positive and keep in mind that we did this for a reason: the music.
LN: What is the most touching thing somebody ever said about your music?
KM: I receive touching emails and messages from fans all the time. What usually gets me is when the music has really helped someone get through a hard time. There are a lot of queer youth that contact me to tell me about their experience and struggles with coming out and how HV has been a guiding inspiration to them in that struggle. For me that makes it all worth it.
LP: It always makes me happy when I hear that our music has helped someone through a tough time.
LN: What is the cruelest thing somebody ever said about one of your music?
KM: I can honestly say that I don’t remember. I have trained myself to let things roll off my back. You can’t make everyone like you and what you do.
LP: People are entitled to their opinion. I don’t look at things in a negative manner. I take everything as a lesson.
LN: What can you tell us about your upcoming project(s)?
KM: We are releasing our new record, Collide and Conquer, in the early fall and there will be a North American tour to follow. Once the record is released, we will be on the road for pretty much all of 2013.
LP: We are touring all over the USA and some cities in Canada. We have all our dates posted at www.huntervalentine.com. I will personally be making more cooking videos with a goal to cook with Hannah Hart from “My Drunk Kitchen”.
LN: What advice would you give our readers who want to go into music as a career?
LP: You need to have goals, inspiration and drive. Failure is not an option because so many things happen. The most important thing of all is passion and love for music. You need to live and breathe it. This industry is really tough and demanding and, at times, seems impossible. The passion is what makes it worth it.
KM: It’s a tough industry, but if you have the passion and drive for it then do it! Work hard, focus on the positive and don’t give up.
LN: What are you doing when you are not making music?
LP: When we aren’t on the road or in the studio I try to relax. I like to see my family, go out for dinner with my friends, travel for vacation, lay on the couch and watch movies, be normal. Cook something weird and make my friends eat it.
KM: What do you mean? Just kidding. Laura and I run the entire business side of HV, so when we aren’t in the studio or rehearsal space, we are in a meeting, interview or some other Hunter Valentine-related thing.
LN: What social causes are dearest to you?
KM: Over the last couple of years I have become more and more attached to helping queer youth in the struggle of bullying. I think that the Tyler Clementi suicide really sounded off an alarm for me. I said to myself, “This is a real problem and if I can do anything to help prevent this type of situation in the future I am going to do whatever I can.” I keep my Facebook chat open to young fans just for this reason. I might not be able to do a lot, but if I can make one young gay kid feel like there is hope after high school, I will stay on the computer chatting for hours. That’s one less person feeling isolated. right? There is a song on our new record called “Nowhere to Run” and it is basically our “It Gets Better” contribution.
LN: What is the best record you have heard recently and why is it so good?
KM: I love the new Metric record. I like that they are experimental with their sounds but still write really catchy pop songs.
LP: I am a big Muse fan and their last album, The Resistance, is amazing from top to bottom.
LN: Please name an album or two which had a profound effect on you?
LP: Radiohead’s Kid A is and always will be my favorite album. It has been there for me in many moments. I love it.
KM: Lucinda Williams’ A World Without Tears and The Distillers’ Coral Fang.
LN: What is best pickup line you ever heard and how did you respond?
LP: “Baby, you are so sweet you put sugar out of business”. I melted.
KM: I don’t think I have ever heard one, so I guess it didn’t work.
LN: Excluding relatives, if you could have dinner a few historical figures, who would they be and why?
KM: I would have dinner with Diane Arbus because she documented the world in such a dark, weird way and I would like to figure out how her mind works. Harvey Milk, so that I could ask him how he would handle our current gay rights battle in America and Janis Joplin, so that I could jam with her after dinner.
LN: What is the one habit you are trying to quit?
LP: I don’t have a habit. I love life the way it should be. A little of this and a little of that.
KM: Swearing — too many quarters in the jar at the moment.
LN: If you could order it, what would be your last meal?
LP: The biggest steak (cooked med-rare) with mushrooms, raw tomatoes, mashed potatoes and poutine.
LN: What do you think about these interviews where you talk about yourself and your music? Does it serve the music? Should the music serve itself?
KM: People want to know what/who is behind the music and that does help serve the music.LP: I love it. It challenges my mind and makes me think out loud. Thank you for asking me these questions.