Valley Queen and Jenny O. Write for Everyone

The friends catch up about their new records, and much more.

Natalie Carol fronts the LA-based band Valley Queen; Jenny O. is a singer-songwriter also based in LA. Jenny’s new record, Spectra, just came out last month, and Valley Queen’s Chord of Sympathy will be out 4/21, so to celebrate, the two friends met up to talk about the shared themes of the new records, and much more. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Natalie Carol: You were saying that you feel like everybody you know has that experience — or you feel like you’ve done that to a lot of people that you know. 

Jenny O.:Oh, I know that most of my interpersonal interactions are perplexing to both me and the other person. [Laughs.] So the very long and thrilling exploration of that led to writing Spectra.

Natalie: Yeah, I was going to say, I feel like that’s why a lot of people are drawn to songwriting. And that’s why I struggle with writing artist statements. I’m like, But that’s why I wrote the thing, because I have trouble finding the language around a lot of this. And that’s what leads me to the musical mode, because there’s further explanation.

Jenny: I like taking little bits, little notes, little words — the things that you learn on the way through these processes — and that turns into, I think, some of the explanation. 

Natalie: Yeah. What do you have written down here? You printed all the lyrics out?

Jenny: I printed out your lyrics, and I highlighted some themes.

Natalie: You did? Yeah, I think that there’s some overlap in our records.

Jenny: First of all, “Falling” — love it. Smash hit. 

Natalie: Thanks. 

Jenny: Such a beautiful song. 

Natalie: Yeah, we put that one out last year just by itself, even though it’s going on the record.

Jenny: It has a great video. 

Natalie: Yeah, Thomas Lynch did it. I’ve been a fan of Thomas Lynch’s for a long time, and I just cold emailed him in the pandemic and he was down to collaborate.

Jenny: That’s great.

Natalie: And he worked on The Midnight Gospel. Have you heard of—? 

Jenny: Yes!

Natalie: Yeah, I’m a big Duncan Trussell fan. 

Jenny: Me too.

Natalie: I feel like a lot of the record was actually inspired by Duncan Trussell and his conversations that he’s had with other people. I just think he has a really compassionate approach. And he’s obviously a deeply spiritual human, but he comes at it with comedy, and it’s just all funny and so accessible to me. So it was really cool to have some connection to that world by working with Thomas. 

Jenny: Cool. I’ll check out his other stuff. 

Natalie: I listened to your [record] and I formulated questions on the way over here, but I really just wrote down lines that stood out to me.

Jenny: That’s what I did, too, I highlighted the lines.

Natalie: OK, I’ll go first. I feel like a music journalist — like “So, Jenny, your career…” [Laughs.]

Jenny: This is actually good practice. Because every interview, as I mostly understand it, is an interviewer interviewing somebody and it’s a one way thing. And that’s incongruent with the way you’re supposed to interact with people normally, so I’m fighting against feeling like I need to ask the interviewer more questions. So this dynamic will be good practice.

Natalie: That’s how I feel about therapy, honestly. Have you ever been in therapy? 

Jenny: Yeah. 

Natalie: It’s awkward, because I feel like the person’s like, “How are you?” And they’re ready to receive whatever. And I want to be like, “Well, how are you?

Jenny: [Laughs.] “God, you’re listening to everyone’s problems all day.”

Natalie: “Are you OK?” [Laughs.] 

Jenny: But it doesn’t seem like you should do that. It seems like a boundary crossing.

Natalie: Oh, yeah. I’ve had therapists say “no-no” to me, until my last therapist actually fell asleep in the middle of our session — I was, like, in the thick of it and she fell asleep. And then I was like, “We gotta talk about what’s going on with you, because I need some explanation for what that was about.” And she was like, “Well, my husband just had heart surgery…” And I’m like, “OK, good to know!” It’s bit of an unnatural dynamic. I like this better. 

One thought is — because I feel like I really got to know you through Automechanic, and I feel like there was some heaviness in Automechanic. Not to say that there’s not any heaviness in Spectra, but I just felt like there’s been a building of more affirmative subject matter. 

Jenny: Yes. 

Natalie: There’s like a confidence building, and there’s more room that you’ve given yourself as an evolution. Would you do you agree with that? 

Jenny: Yeah. 

Natalie: How do you think that happened? I mean, that’s kind of an impossible question to ask. 

Jenny: Well, what’s funny is thinking about “Opposite Island” being the darkest. It’s so interesting because that was kind of an old song even when I recorded it — it was written when I was in Brooklyn in  2004, maybe ‘05. And I wasn’t even dark, I think — I was still so young and light. But then I went later through more darkness, and [in] the fight with the darkness, I was trying to share the illumination that came from that.

But I think I reached a place where I just entered a state of loving what is, and just loving everyone, and trying to be as compassionate, empathetic as possible. And I did that for a while, but excluded myself from it. And now it’s everybody, including myself. 

Natalie: Yeah. And I felt like you are being really generous with yourself, even in — [sings,] “I’ve been given permission to be marvelous.” I feel encouraged. You encourage other people to do that to themselves when you say it for [yourself].

Jenny: Yeah, I hope so. I think that is just the truth, and that’s what I’ve observed in the world in terms of when people make themselves vulnerable. They show they speak their truth, [and] it liberates other people, or at least touches other people in a way that is shared. And so I guess that’s the ambition behind sharing it.

Natalie: Yeah. I was listening to SZA’s acceptance speech at the Billboard Music Awards — and I really love the new SZA record — but she said something that I really agree with, and how I feel about this new record too that I’m putting out. She kind of took the words right out of my heart and was like, “More than being an artist and more than making music, I want to serve other people.” And I think that’s why I really love her as an artist, because I can feel that, and I sense that there’s a greater mission other than making something really impressive. Which is maybe an obvious thing to say, but certain works just…

Jenny: I’m kind of only impressed by being deeply moved. Or, I don’t know — maybe that’s one of those things I’ll say and then later just be dancing to some bullshit like, “This is the shit!” But I mean that I just want to be always being moved, you know? 

Natalie: Yeah, that is what’s impressive. I really love her record because I feel like she is so honest about how hard she is on herself. I don’t know if you’ve listened to that record a lot, but she just really lays it out. I’m really impressed by how raw the record is. 

Jenny: Yeah. So, a [line] that I highlighted was in “Knife in the Trunk”: “You’re never good enough with holding your heart if you’re feeling like you’re never good enough with holding your heart.” I highlighted that because that, to me, deals with the connectivity of what we don’t show the world — because either we’re withholding, protecting, and then versus the connectivity of reaching out and opening up. Is that not what you were talking about? 

Natalie: Yeah. It’s funny that you bring up “Knife in the Trunk” early on, because I really feel like when I wrote that song, it gave me a framework to write the rest of the record. Like once I discovered that song in myself, I was like, Oh, that’s what I’m trying to talk about. I’m not wasting any more time hiding all my love, never showing what was mine; that’s a knife in the trunk. I feel like I have an element of secrecy about me, and there’s a secrecy in my family line that I’m trying to break open in this incarnation, and I feel like I’ve loved a lot in secret. And that song really helped me like, Oh, my god, I fucking said that. By proclaiming it, [that song] gave me something, you know? 

Jenny: I’ve experienced that, putting something that you’ve carried for so long in a song and you can literally release it.

Natalie: Yeah. And you’re like, Now everybody’s going to know. Good. [Laughs.]

Jenny: The other thing I was going to say was, “You beat your brain trying to figure it out.” “Beat your brain” is so gory. It’s so graphic. I love it.

Natalie: Oh, I’m glad that you brought that up, too, because I think I meant two different things. Actually, Shawn [Morones] wrote that line, but we wrote the song together. I think of two different ways of thinking about “you beat your brain.”

Jenny: Oh, like “trick your brain.”

Natalie: Kind of. Well, to be yourself is beyond thought and intellect, so you kind of beat your brain in a sense that it’s beyond your brain to figure it out. It’s not an intellectual capacity — even though it’s so easy to intellectualize yourself, which is ultimately a construct that you have to move past to get a deeper relationship to what the self is, which is not you. But then there is the other side of it which is really gory: You’re beating your brain trying to figure it out. I like the the play of those two different approaches. 

Jenny: Yeah. Thank you for the double entendre.

Natalie: One line I really like of yours is, “If you could only see what tender people see in you.” I mean, I have a whole list — I’ll just read all of it, because I feel like it kind of turns into an explanation of the record, all of these lines. “Pleasure and kindness”; “If you cannot change, you’re loved eternally”; “Nothing is forever”; “Getting better as I age”; “Be a little kinder”; “I’ve been given permission to be marvelous”; “I believe in love and curiosity”; “There’s nothing wrong with you”; “Surround yourself with people who reverberate the best in you.” That’s great. 

Jenny: That’s major. I think so many of us, throughout different times in our lives, might be surrounded by people who are not reverberating the best in us, but reverberating the worst in us or not loving back in a way that is really conducive to thriving. I feel like I’ve gotten a chance to do that recently, and that’s been a treasure. 

It’s funny because I keep talking about my own experience, but I wrote some of these songs also about other individuals, because it feels like such a shared experience toward the same quest of accepting ourselves and loving ourselves. When you zoom out, it’s like it’s so simple. Like, how can we all struggle with this same thing? But here we are. 

Natalie: Was “surround yourself with people who reverberate the best in you” written for somebody else, or was that written for you?

Jenny: I think I wrote it for everyone. I’m sure there’s people who’d be like, “That’s not for me. That’s not my song.” But it was the idea was saying it to everybody. 

Natalie: Yeah, it’s funny that you say that, because I feel like the record that I’m putting out now is the first record that I’ve written for everyone. Like, I wrote my last record to get through something. 

Jenny: Yeah, I’ve done that. 

Natalie: Yeah. Which serves its own purpose for other people. But this was the first time, in my mind’s eye, I was singing to masses of people as I wrote it. It’s a very different place, and I didn’t think I could write like that. 

Jenny: You did a good job. I’ve been really into the idea of an audience as mycelium, the interconnected mushroom systems that are connecting the forests. I like imagining everyone as mycelium just connecting underneath and healing each other. What messages are you transmitting? That’s the question that I see, like, what ought I transmit? The things you read aloud, those are the things I felt like transmitting.

Natalie: I know what you’re talking about. I can feel it in my mind’s eye. I wrote a lot of these [songs] in lockdown, and I know we were all isolated from each other, but I felt that network that you’re talking about much more acutely in that time. And I feel like it was because of that time that I was able to find that place to write from. The world was just obviously hurting so much at that time, I think my soul was just like, It’s time to give the world something other than your pain right now

Jenny: Yes. 

Natalie: It wanted to offer something else. It wasn’t an intellectual decision that I made, just something switched over.

Valley Queen is a Los Angeles-based band fronted by Natalie Carol. Their latest record, Chord of Sympathy, is out April 21, 2023.