I want to take off as far as I can possibly go. Not even just for myself and my own success and happiness, but because I feel like I was given this gift to share with other people. If you don’t know who Audrey Valentine is, you’re about to find out. The 22 year-old from around the way is making some noise in the Chicago music scene with her debut EP Love Hangover. After just graduating from University of Illinois Urbana this past May, she has managed to get her music career to take off as well as juggling a full time job at an advertising agency. They say beauty and brains is a dying breed, but it’s girls like her that gives us hope. If you’re missing that good ol’ 90’s R&B sound, then Audrey Valentine is your girl. You can thank us later.
How long have you been singing?
Ooo I’ve been singing as early as I can remember, which would probably be preschool. My earliest memory would be at five years old, at least I think I was five, whatever summer when Lauryn Hill released The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I have all older siblings, I’m the baby, and I had one sibling that lived in Hyde Park across the street from a Pizza Hut. They had this jukebox there and I remember them playing Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” and here I was at five years old singing the entire song out loud and everyone was staring at me like, who is this little girl? [laughs]
So was that the moment that you decided you were going to pursue music?
I think that may have been it. From that moment on I was always like, man I really wanna sing, and my family started to take me seriously like, wow she’s really into this and we need to invest in this gift she has. So yeah, ever since then I have always been involved in music in some kind of way with lessons, band, playing instruments and so on. Then of course I took it to a more serious level while I was in college. After switching my major from music to political science I was like, okay, I know I don’t want to pursue music in terms of getting a degree but I still wanna sing regardless. So if I wasn’t going to major in music I needed to make sure that music remained a part of my life. That’s when I put out my first single right before my senior year because I legit wanted to do this for real.
What was that first single? Gone ‘head and shout it out, don’t be shy.
[laughs] It was called Sunset. It actually turned out really good! It got some radio play in the lower Illinois region and at the stations in Champaign, Illinois. It won a radio competition and was also featured on WGCI’s blog called Home Turf, so it made a little wave. But yeah, that was my baby!
I see that your parents are very supportive in your music career. How does that come into play with your degree and with you trying to pursue music? A Political Science degree is no joke.
Well like I said, I only knew I had to switch because music, in terms of getting a degree, was not working for me anymore and I was always interested in learning about government and the way the world works in which we live in. Although my parents had always been supportive of my music they really weren’t supportive of me studying it in college. That’s why they were like, okay, lets get her all the help she needs for music. Even though I got my degree in PoliSci, I knew right before I graduated that I didn’t want to do anything with my degree. I didn’t wan’t to do anything in PoliSci. I would have had to go to law school and I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to invest all that energy in my plan B if I really wanted to sing. So I needed to focus on my plan A.
What goes into building a music career?
It’s really just about prioritizing and seeing what the next steps are necessary to go to the next level and actually seeing them through. One major step is finances. You know, having the resources financially to really go far because you have to spend money in order to make money. So when I graduated college and came home I wasn’t really working. I had these temp jobs and it was really hard because the studio ain’t cheap! That’s why it took me a while to go full throttle and put more music out because of a lack of financial resources. You also need a very good team to support you and back you, whether that’s family, friends, or even just a few dedicated folks that’s gonna help push you and promote you. And then of course the most important thing is to always put out the best quality music that you can. I will never put out anything that I don’t feel comfortable letting other people hear. If I don’t like it why would I expect anyone else to? I always try to put my very, very best out at any time possible.
Tell us about your new EP Love Hangover?
Love Hangover is my baby! It’s my very first EP. I knew I wanted to put one out two years ago when I put my single out but of course I was still in school. I knew it wasn’t gonna work then because I wanted to take my time with everything. Fast forward to the beginning of this year, well really the end of last year, I was dating this guy and we jumped in the relationship really fast and fell for each other really fast. During that relationship we had a lot of turbulent moments to the point that it got very messy and it was not beneficial for me to stay in it, especially for how long I was in it. After we finally broke up and I pulled the plug in May, me being a female and having all these emotions and not knowing what to do, my vocal producer reached out and said, girl you need to focus on the music. And that’s when I immediately snapped out of it. I was like, I need to find a producer, I need to do X, Y, Z, I gotta make this EP happen, because I had all of these emotions, frustrations, and anger built up inside of me and I had to get it out. I decided to formulate that EP specifically around that relationship. I wanted it to not only uplift me, but to hopefully uplift and encourage other people because I’m not the first one to have gone through a bad relationship. I hate to say it was all because of a guy but sometimes the best inspiration comes from dark moments.
The production is crazy on your EP. Who were the producers you worked with?
Thank you! I mainly worked with one. There are five tracks in total but there’s one track from another producer, his name is Nova, and he produced my very first single. He produced the beat two years ago before he moved to L.A. and I was like, G, you need to send me that, because it went so perfectly with the lyrics I had already written. Other than that OZ was my lead producer and he’s amazing! He’s only 19 years old and he’s so talented.
Did you purposely title your EP after the Diana Ross song “Love Hangover”?
Yes! That’s where I also got the inspiration from! I love Diana Ross and my mom is a huge fan of hers. It had been a while since I had listened to that song so I went back and listened to it and I had kind of made my own rendition. In her version Diana loves the idea of being in this love hangover because it’s so sweet to her. With me, I turned mine into a, damn how did I get into this state of mind, I don’t wanna be here, I need a cure! So that definitely inspired the title.
Who do you dream of working with?
I’ve really wanted to work with Vic [Mensa] and Chance [The Rapper] for a very long time. I’ve been a fan of theirs since Vic came out with Innanet Tape and Chance came out with Acid Rap. I also love Jidenna. Even though he’s pretty new I just love his style, his vibrancy, and the different elements he’s bringing to hip-hop. In terms of singers, I love Sevyn Streeter and Jazmine Sullivan. [They] are definitely people I would love to work with one day.
Do you think it’s harder as a woman to make a name for herself in the music industry?
Sort of. Sometimes I feel like as a female artist people expect us to have to put out in order to get our music going. With me having knowledge of who I am, I’m just not gonna do that. There are certain things I won’t allow. I’ve heard all these stories of female artists who have come out of predominantly male groups like Ashanti and Murder Inc. or Olivia and G-Unit, and other stories that blow my mind. I feel like it’ll get you there but it won’t keep you there. Your talent is what keeps you there. I can sense when people are about that and I’ve definitely had potential to work with certain big name people in the city, but I know when they’re about the music and when they’re not. That’s mainly why I have not moved forward with some current artists that are males and it’s kinda messed up.
How do you find peace of mind with all the madness in balancing your music career and your full time job?
Definitely prayer. I’m very very close to God and through this whole situation with my relationship and my music I have grown much closer to him. I also love writing. It helps stimulate me and takes me out of everything that I’m stressing about. Just sitting in a room by myself writing or anywhere for that matter! I write at the park and even in my car.
How do get in the zone to write?
It can be one of two ways. I can either try to write ahead of time for a track I already have or just write when it comes to me. But when I write ahead it never works the way I want. I either have a brain freeze or it just comes out weak to the point where I won’t want to write anymore. I have the best form of writing when it comes naturally, when I’m literally in my feelings about something and I have to get it out. That’s when it’s the most authentic.
Where would you like to see the future of your career?
Oh I want to take off as far as I can possibly go. Not even just for myself and my own success and happiness, but because I feel like I was given this gift to share with other people. I feel like it’s my duty as a singer and as a lover of music to help people and uplift their spirits through my music as much as possible. I’m still on the smaller scale but I’ve had people reach out to me like, oh my gosh this is my last relationship or this is what I’m feeling, and this is only on a smaller scale! So if I can give that same type of encouragement and motivation to more people on a larger scale, I can only imagine how many souls I can touch.
How do you feel about today’s R&B?
It’s okay. I mean you have those who are still true to the R&B sound like Jazmine Sullivan. I listen to her music and I can feel her soul. There are some people who I feel like come out only to just fit in to what’s current and I think that’s the problem. What’s current is not always going to be what’s “in.” You have to choose your own lane and that’s what will keep your music timeless. We don’t have a lot of timeless or authentic music today.
Do you ever feel pressured to conform into that typical superstar image?
I do feel pressured. If you don’t have that particular look, like that Beyonce look or whatnot then it’s hard. I always wanna be myself and that’s how I’ve been taught in life. Be yourself and don’t feel the need to have to put out that super sexy image because it’s not necessary. I definitely keep that in mind when I’m styling myself. I don’t have a stylist. I’m styling myself so I’m going out of what’s in my closet. I keep those images of Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. They might not have that super sexy image, but they are Queens of R&B and have stood the test of time. Those are two artist I look up to in terms of their careers in what they have been able to do and staying true to themselves.
What do you wan’t people to take from Love Hangover?
That there is light from under the tunnel. You can turn something so painful into something so beautiful.
What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
That you are strong. I feel like I was going through a lot life wise, music wise, relationship wise, and I felt like it was always too much to handle. Being the youngest I’m so used to my family looking out and helping me that I felt overburdened when I was on my own. But now seeing what I am capable of, I would tell myself that I am strong and can accomplish anything.
What’s your favorite thing about Chicago?
The food! I’m a fat person at heart.
Love Hangover is available on iTunes and Google play. Be sure to follow Audrey’s journey on Instagram and Twitter @MsAudreyVee.