You probably don’t know who Valery Gore is. Rack your brain for a face, a song, a possible scandal and you’ll most likely draw a blank. And that’s because you’ve never heard her on the car radio on your way to work, seen her strikingly elegant features from the sheen of a magazine cover, or caught her in the fluorescent glow of MTV during your nightly channel-surfing. The Torontonian songstress has found herself in the unenviable position of being a critic’s darling without the world-wide-reaching fan base that many artists dream of but only few attain.
Upon hearing her music, however, you may be astonished by the lack of attention she has so far received. When you really start to think about it, there’s no reason at all that Gore should be tucked away in the coves of pop music obscurity. The strangely-titled Avalanche to Wandering Bear, her sophomore effort, features a set of red-velvet lush tunes, sumptuously dressed in a fabric of passionate melody and catchy riffs. The album lies just on the banks of the pop music mainstream, meaning it has chart potential but is oblique enough in its approach to avoid all the common pitfalls of pop music clichés.
Comprising the venturesome artiness of early Brigitte Fontaine (minus the hyperactive kookiness) and the sunny exuberance of the late-great swing-mistress Valaida Snow, Gore draws a musical blueprint which pulls as much from jazz as it does from rock with subtle hints of French chanson seeping in at the edges. While it may not entirely sound like it, much of Gore’s influences were culled from the ’70s rock her parents listened to. She states, “My musical fascination is really all over the place and constantly shifting. I definitely have 100 pounds of nostalgia in my heart, and ’70s American pop was heavily rotated on my household speakers from a young age. To me, the genre was bad ass; living on the road and touring constantly, it seems romantic. It hits me because I know it’s what my parents were enjoying when life was wide open and adventurous for them.”
And indeed, one listen to Avalanche to Wandering Bear and the influences of ’70s American pop ring clear — think not the sprawling stoner-spew of say, Lynard Skynard, but rather the sensuously percussive and melodiously rich strains of Evie Sands.
For all her love of retro pop/rock, Gore is, in fact, formally trained in jazz, having studied at Humber College in Ontario. Her panache and skill with this particular influence is most appreciated on tracks like the sweetly rolling opening number “Shoes of Glass” and the poignantly urgent “Red-Eye Family”, which features an ingenious arrangement of mixed meters.
“As for jazz influences in my music, I went to jazz school. What can I say other than I was forced to fake bebop and had the tones of jazz embedded in me for three years? I didn’t listen to jazz for probably two years upon graduation, but have gone back to loving certain jazz artists… I think my last record is a product of that and trying to piece together my musical personality, whatever that may be,” says Gore.
The beauty of much of Gore’s work is in the clockwork precision with which the pieces are constructed. Her songs lie like coiled snakes, compact and tight in rhythm but ready to strike with tuneful vehemence. Consider such numbers as the jaunty curio that is “Black Creek”, in which the strains of a piano sparkle like stones under the rushing waters of the song’s rhythms. Upheaval meets relief on the chorus, and Gore’s hands give themselves over to jubilance, pounding the keys and clapping with abandon. The song positively bathes in romantic splendour. Elsewhere, Gore pushes ideas of rhythm and structure in far more subtle and affecting ways. “Knife Dream”, a Nordic whale-song submerged under the waters of some truly disturbing dream-logic, features a brass section which spins the narrative obsessively with sea-sick rhythms.
Offsetting the music are Gore’s cryptic and surreal lyrical vignettes, which at times could give Kate Bush’s shaggy-dog-stories a run for their money. The aforementioned “Knife Dream” details the murderous desire expressed toward an unwitting friend. “[It’s] about a dream I had,” says Gore. “I had to kill someone very dear to me because we had all this information related to her relationship that we knew she wouldn’t be able to accept. Dreams can really scare the shit out of me! I woke up and had to write it down because I felt so terrible, as though writing about it would forgive the awful and subconscious thoughts in my sleeping mind. Dreams have proven to be an extremely dramatic version of my daily emotions: having felt frustrated that this person was being taken for granted and wasting their time.”
Other songs serve as bemusing observations on ruined relationships. “Red-Eye Family” is like a scene extracted from Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage and filtered through the eye of Buñuel. It offers a wry, subversive take on the usual verse-chorus-verse format that has become so banal in much of pop music today.
Lack of exposure, however, hasn’t yet beat Gore down. She still performs regularly, having gained a small and notable fan base. In the last couple of years, she has steadily become one of the bright musical marvels of Toronto, while remaining a best-kept secret to everyone outside of it.
“I’m currently working a 9 to 6 job. I would love to have more time to do music and make contacts, but I know that I need money right now to eventually pay for another record. I am just not at that point in my career where all my time and attention can be spent on music. I think that’s because I’ve always had a ‘game plan’ and there are plenty of days where I feel I am standing still. This business seems like such a struggle, and I want to be happy in whatever I wind up doing to make a living. I try to share my enthusiasm with other creative outlets in my life, so that if things don’t work out with music, I won’t be devastated — okay, I will be, but at least I’ll move on.”