Babylon 4 eva
I'd never done an interview on Gmail chat before, but it turned out to be a surprisingly candid and in-depth way to talk with Honey Owens, a.k.a. Valet, a Portland born and bred musician, artist, former booker of hip noise club Dunes, and owner of vintage and handmade clothes/bicycle rebuilding store Rad Summer. Honey has released two albums and has been a figure of the Portland music scene for over 10 years now, playing with groups such as Jackie-O Motherfucker, Nudge, World, Dark Yoga, and with Atlas Sound as bassist on their last tour.
We chatted for a couple of hours on Gmail, and there were plenty of ‘LOL's and ‘totez's to edit out, but in between all that, we talked David Lynch, drugs, Eckhart Tolle, and the weird electrical charges that run through her body and caused her to blowup computers -- and her new record. It's the desert at night, steeped in North American mystique and skewed pop culture in a very realized and cohesive 45 minutes, a singular voice breathing out a whole ton of different shit that somehow weirdly fits together. It rides the vibe of the spacious, a gently expansive record built out of drones and guitars and unknown noises. Elsewhere, there are freakouts and massive drum buildups; they come as a surprise on the album's second half, but it doesn't take long to notice how they fit into a very Valet sort of landscape.
I've been listening to Naked Acid a lot the past couple of days. I'm not sure if it was just because I also just saw No Country For Old Men, but it sounds a whole lot like an American desert to me, or, what I figured the American desert might sound like (I've never been there).
It could sound like a desert if it was at night and the moon was shining I suppose. I can feel that I guess I had this idea that it would sound like a David Lynch soundtrack, or, like I wished that I could make David Lynch a soundtrack. “Drum Movie” was dedicated to him in my mind.
That makes a lot of sense. I've been listening to the record mostly at night, actually. Did you see Inland Empire?
Yes! I loved it.
Me too. I was thinking it's probably my favorite Lynch film. It scared me a lot, though.
Yeah, me too! Me too... I liked it a lot. I like Lost Highway, too.
Okay. I don't really like Lost Highway, but I think maybe it was all the Rammstien on the soundtrack that put me off.
Haha. See, what I liked about Lost Highway and Inland Empire was that there was this feeling of it almost being like a Rorschach test; all the mystery and fear was based on your own minds projections of it, you know?
Definitely. I found Inland Empire especially to be like being trapped in someone else's nightmare. Well, I don't find that Naked Acid is scary as such, but it does have that Lynchey dreamlike kind of vibe running through there. Especially a track like “Drum Movie,” where there are lots of different bits running across the whole longer track, they keep going in directions kind of on their own accord.
That's so cool that you've got ideas about it like that; I feel like I think of music like that, I liked to inspect it, not in a discerning sort of way, more like intuitively feel it and try to guess.
Yeah, like I don't really like being critical or discerning, but it just sort of happens that I can't not think about things like that; it's probably good in terms of getting more out of things. But yeah, I was wondering about the process with the new record, because there are lots of little bits that blend together quite seamlessly and organically (sorry for that word). How did the recording process work?
I started to try and make a record of songs, a pop album, sort of. Or that was my intent. But then I started to feel like it was too contrived to try and make the music be anything other than what it wanted to be, so I just made music and put it together to form a record. There are a couple reviews which mention the idea that this album doesn't feel like an album but more like strung together things. I have to say that I wondered about that myself or was worried that perhaps all the different things going on was too abrupt or not flowing enough like Blood is Clean.
Okay. I kind of do feel like it has a cohesive feel, apart from something like “Fire” or the last track. It feels very gentle.
That is how I feel about it too. I guess those couple of reviews were just another point of view. I don't change how I do things based on others opinions, but I certainly take everything as valuable information, or like I'm making music for other people to listen to besides myself. It's cool when you give someone a present and they love it, you know? It sucks to get someone something and they give you that look.
Especially when you've made it yourself! How long did it take you to make this one?
It was October through May. I made “Fire” first. Actually, that's not true, I made “Streets” first, the last song, back in 2002, when Valet was a two-piece with my friend Jason Frank. He was the video aspect, and I was the tunes. We both had laptops; he was super into connecting my tracks with his video clips so that we could control each other's deal. But midi and me are not exactly tight bros; I have this weird electrical current in my body that breaks computers and screws up connections. Sometimes I would have to give my computer to a friend for a while to de-charge it. When they would use it, they would say "Nothing's wrong!" and then they'd give it back to me and the hard drive would break.
Wow, so really, you actually break computers?
Yes! I lived without a computer for a year-and-a-half. I went to an Ayurvedic practitioner and she healed me. But I still shock people and get shocked constantly. Something was off in my doshas big time. I get wound up and zap things; stereos, cars. I have to work on being chill, it sounds crazy, but it's so true!
Yikes. Are you pretty calm generally, though?
These days I am, but I have to constantly take steps to remain calm. I drink this tea called Easy Now. It calms me down.
That's an amazing name for a tea.
I know, right!!! When I found it, I cracked up so hard!
I was reading that you stopped taking drugs? I'm not sure if that was a separate thing, but did that have anything to do with all this?
Yeah, that was part of the Ayurvedic deal too. I worked at a rock ‘n' roll bar for a long time. There was a lot of fun partying times there; big memories for sure. But I somehow drifted off into doing drugs everyday. It was a way to deal with things that were coming up. I didn't think I was a drug addict, because I had my shit together and I had a job. No one knew except my work friends; my bandmates and regular friends just thought I was skinny and moody. Then, my mother came to visit; she flipped out and was really scared and hid my purse from me, which was really shocking. Then she took me to see Eckhart Tolle, the guy who wrote that book, The Power of Now.
Wow, okay. I remember selling lots of that book at this bookstore I worked at, but is he actually the real deal? Or just wacked out New Age stuff?
Oh, it's totally new age. I was kinda nervous and had this idea that I was going into some weird hippy room where there were old ladies wearing purple. But the strange thing was, first of all, it was sold out, and my mom and I went early so she could see about sneaking me in. When we got there, these two Italian women came right up to us and asked if we needed a free ticket! Then when we went in and sat down I just sort of collapsed in the seat, like some sort of thing was floating out of me. Eckhart came out so serene and beautiful. It was hallucinatory. The guy in front of me had a black leather jacket on the back of his seat, and I literally started to see the million different colors that existed in the color black. It was like being on mushrooms! But totally organic. I was detoxing at that point. Then, for some reason I just had this huge heart inside of me open up and swallow the world, and the world swallowed me. I can't explain what Eckhart did other than extreme energy work, like vibe chiropractic, but it was definitely a long journey. But I can tell you it was worth it; I would do it all over again. I never even met Eckhart besides just watching him speak
There was one song in particular on Naked Acid that was written about all this, right? Which one was it?
Yeah, “Fire.” That was a song dedicated to my friend Karl and Brian and my past.
You know, it's crazy, as you were writing all that, “Fire” was playing out my computer speakers the whole time; pretty surreal!
Whoa! Yeah, well, when I made that song, I literally burst into tears after it was done. I made it and recorded it one afternoon, then played it for my two friends who were both going through heavy shit, and they started crying. It's sort of Patsy Cline-ish to me.
Yeah totally, a damaged ballad, but it sounds sort of cleansing, too. Actually, speaking of cleansing, I read one review of the new record that looked at the last track, and it's quite dramatic contrast (with programmed drums) to the rest of the record as kind of cleansing from what had come before it on the record. Is it like this for you?
That's interesting, because I put that song on the end as a sort of release, or, like the beginning of the next record kind of vibe. I want to make something that is more danceable or more rhythm-heavy next time. It's something of a statement in that regard and also to just add something of my past, something that was not fully formed but came of Valet. I'm really into letting Valet be the place where anything can happen. All the songs are about experiences or landscapes in Portland. There is sort of a personal and regional feel to it for me. The artist Maria Dixon, who made the cover was born and raised there, and the subject matter is all Pacific Northwest vibes. But only people that live here might feel that I guess; it's not obvious.
Yeah, I didn't really know about the subject matter, but the general aesthetic I thought certainly matched up with the music.
That's good, I wasn't sure if it was cohesive enough. I guess you just gotta make stuff and not look back.
Do you find you can overwork songs?
Yeah for sure, but I usually leave those out of the mix. I get so sick of working on them that I hate them and delete 'em off my hard drive! In fact, I made a CDR release and burnt a bunch of copies to take on tour, but while on the way to the first show, I listened to it in headphones and hated it so much that I took the whole run and dumped them in a dumpster in Idaho because I was sick of them and found them boring, homogenized.
Do you improvise a lot in your live shows to keep it interesting?
Yeah, totally. I don't like playing the same set, the same songs over and over; it really gets boring. Which is why I feel like maybe I shouldn't be a touring person. That, and also I have major stage fright
That can't help things. You've been playing bass with Atlas Sound lately though yeah?
Only on that one tour last month. For some reason, when I play in someone else's band, I don't get nervous. That took me a long time, but I think being in Jackie-O Motherfucker really helped clear that out. Playing my own music is hard live. I have this weird feeling that I want to run off stage. I love playing bass in a rock band! It's almost like sports or something; you only have to play bass, no pedals, no vocals, no video projector to set up. No pressure! It was fun for sure, the Atlas Sound tour, but towards the end, I felt bored of my set, and started to have existential feelings about playing live. I can never put across the feeling live of what I can recording, for one reason; I would kinda need like four of myself for starters, and it would be all improvised. Wow, that sounded so narcissistic! “Four of me," haha. It's just hard to find people to play with once you've made a record. So on that level, I really tried to play whatever Bradford [Cox] felt was appropriate.
Are you working with Jackie-O Motherfucker at the moment?
No, but Tom [Greenwood] and I are super tight -- we will most likely do some recordings together again some day; it's like an old couple. We've played off and on for like, let's see, over ten years. He taught me how to be in a band (or something). A band isn't quite what JOMF is; it's more of a collective. Anyway, I really dig Tom's vibe. He's a good artist.
What about the new Valet record; you mentioned it was going to be more beat-orientated?
Well, I just started moving into my own work studio and I'm working with E-rock and Rhys Balmer on videos/music. I'm ready to make the next Valet thing, but I'm also trying to let it come out naturally. I might have to make a double record; the beat one and the quiet one... I have a crew of friends who are going to be on the next thing; Ashby Collinson, Brian Foote, Brian Thackery, Jordan Dykestra, and hopefully Mark Burden will want to play on something. He's an amazing pianist and drummer, he played on “Kehaar,” “Babylon 4 eva,” and “Fuck It” on Naked Acid. Also, Jordan is a killer violist, which is so Velvet Underground. But yeah, I want to make something again really soon.