Heart of Darkness: An Interview with Valery Gore
Buried deep in the emotional grain of Valery Gore's music, there is some semblance of order, some sense of undisclosed truths.
Valery Gore’s transformation into an electro-demigoddess was not exactly unforeseen; her previous explorations of jazz-pop always had a certain geometric quality that recalled the abstracted nature of electronic music. Then again, ideas of abstraction could also be applied to jazz. It would then seem like an obvious choice for the singer-songwriter to merge these two at once disparate and analogous musical elements.
On her latest effort, Idols in the Dark Heart, Gore has expanded on the rhythmic structures of her previous release, Avalanche to Wandering Bear (2008), raising the complexities of groove to dizzying heights. You might approach her new album in the way you approach a Kandinsky painting: with curiosity and uncertainty. Like the painter, Gore uses many clashing hues in her music, laid out anachronistically. Buried deep in the emotional grain of her work, however, there is some semblance of order, some sense of undisclosed truths.
Idols in the Dark Heart has all the genial charm the singer is noted for, her velveteen voice layering the grooves in swathes of harmonies. But it is also filled with many sonic dangers and cadential traps; the album’s transmutable beats and constant shifts in time signatures make the music a tricky venture for the listener, who is often thrown off rhythm just when he’s settled into a comfortable groove. Succinctly put, the album is a sweet but thorny fruit.
“I didn’t really make a conscious effort to change directions with the new album but my influences are broad and shifting,” Gore says of her stylistic experiments. “I was listening to a lot more electronic based music at the time of writing the new songs and I was also using my computer to help my arrangements along. The computer helped stretch our capabilities as players, composing the music first and then learning the parts had us playing phrases that were at times counter-intuitive, that we wouldn’t have conventionally thought of. Many of the songs I started with a drum loop or a bass line phrase. I valued the use of repetition more with this album, both lyrically and musically.”
Idols in the Dark Heart isn’t a particularly easy album to get into. Much like the complex and intricate rhythm patterns of her songs, Gore’s lyrics are cryptic and layered with subtext. Over the course of three albums, the singer’s stories have become increasingly conceptual and nonfigurative, the words strung together with an assemblage that is highly Dadaist. But her lyrics seem to circle around confusions and passions that are marked with an unmistakably feminist bent, some sense of restoration taking place in the matriarchal structures of her young life; in essence, Gore’s album is the woman repaired to de Beauvoir’s Woman Destroyed.
At the heart of the album’s reflections on life and love there is the undercurrent of sadness running far and deep, a sense of time leaving and a life left behind. “I’ve always stressed out about wasting time and had a strong fear of failure,” she says. “I think a big part of that is the pressure that probably a lot of women share in this youth-focused industry. I think the fear and acceptance of death are themes on the record too, literally or figuratively -- mainly of those I love. [Also, it’s about] overthinking things and the inability to let go. Maybe I fear if I let go, it meant less, when really there’s just a time and a purpose for everything. The trapped woman on the album cover artwork appears comfortable in her helplessness, but that moment of moving away from that is what’s lyrically observed on the album -- the past and escaping the confines of it, actively seeking happiness and new opportunities.”
Despite the misapprehensions of electronic music being a cold and clinical substitute for organic instrumentation, Idols in the Dark Heart brims with a genuine warmth that allows Gore’s vocals to leisurely bask in. Even when she sings in a language of intense abstraction, there is the impartment of some deeply emotional truth. The album’s most corporeal moments transpire on numbers like “With the Future” and “July”. The former track is a structured rhythm of metronomic panic, shot through with the iridescent glow of keyboard licks and synthesizers. “What do you want with the future at your fingertips?” Gore stutters in time to the clatter and crashes of electronic drums. On the latter, the singer works a tension both psychic and carnal, intimating South American rhythms in the shuffling grooves of live drums and drum loops. Even when the rhythms cascade with the violent rushes of urgency, Gore keeps her cool, her voice finding a temperate balance in the storm of her sensual, machine-beat jazz.
Obstinately following a path of resistance and least obvious choices has provided the songstress with a number of difficulties in procuring wide-reaching success. In a time and market where most music artists are making bids for the radio, Gore has opted to yield to the more private needs of her personal art. The singer has discussed in previous interviews the difficulties of raising funds for tours and promoting her album. Idols in the Dark Heart was self-released and at the time of writing, is not licensed to a label.
“I saved up enough money and, with a little bit of help from Ontario Arts Council, recorded this record on a tight budget,” Gore says. “This meant recording all the piano parts in one day at a really nice studio, and using smaller studios and our home studios to track the rest. Being completely independent in preparing the release was a whole other crazy and interesting process and I learned to be patient with things, as I didn’t want to have the album suffer by rushing through it. Working on my own misses out on the community aspect of a label. And I’m sure it will have some limitations in regards to opportunities that a label could provide. But I decided that unless one of a few ideal scenarios took place for the release, I would do it on my own. That way I knew that if I wanted something to get done, it was completely on me to do so. It is the biggest commitment for me in regards to time, finances, and passion. But I think the rewards and the return will be that much greater… I hope! I just really hope to find a management partnership that shares my vision, sometime soon.”
Real life for the singer may be fraught with the anxieties that come with the day and night. But in the peculiar space of her musical world, Gore seems at ease with her perplexities and veiled desires. Idols in the Dark Heart presents a world in which a woman reaches out hopefully, only to be dismissed by an entire lifetime of lovers and friends. And, yet, she continues reaching out. “I don’t really think what I do changes lives, but hope it makes some difference,” she says. “I thought to myself the other day ‘Maybe when I’m like, fifty or so, I’ll become a nurse or something.’ But really, who knows where it’ll all end up…”
Here, then, is an album of questions, but no real answers -- no way to tell the emotional upside from down. Perhaps those answers are to be found in the darkest corners of Gore’s own heart, where all matters of grief and love are reduced to a pinpoint of clear, illuminating light.