Guy Valarino is an artist who believes in getting his fans involved with his music. He built up an army of admirers all over the world on 2013’s Couch Surf Tour by literally turning up on their doorsteps and playing in their front rooms.
Now the London-based performer is celebrating the release of his second 5-track EP, which was funded with the aid of fans, who backed him to the tune of £6,000 through an over-subscribed Pledge Music campaign.
Fresh from a triumphant gig is his hometown, the Gibraltar-born singer-songwriter tells Matt Catchpole, about plans for a New Year tour, debut album and er, being invited play at a funeral party.
You’ve been described as a DIY musician is that a fair description?
Well loosely, just because of the fact that I’ve self-released everything, but I’ve not done it all myself, because it’s been thanks to a community of supporters who’ve backed me for a few years now. They’ve really jumped on board and supported the Pledge Music campaign, which essentially funded the whole EP and made its release a reality. So, DIY musician I suppose in terms of coordinating everything and obviously writing, but from the release point of view, it’s been made really as a collaboration with my fans really. And while I wrote and sang everything myself and played guitar and keys, the bass and drums on the EP were recorded by two friends of mine.
You’ve always had this very close relationship with your fans, is that important to you?
Absolutely, as I said before, without them it would not have been possible to release this EP and I feel that it’s important to continue to keep them as part of the whole project. At the end of the day the most satisfaction I get out of doing what I do, is doing it for the fans and getting their feedback and hearing what they think of the music. I just find it really really enjoyable to have that support. It’s nice to see familiar faces at gigs, it’s a really nice thing.
So tell us about your new Oceans EP, where did the inspiration for the songs come from?
It’s kind of been something I’ve been working on for the last year or so. Really the songs came from various experiences I’ve had over that year. Oceans was chosen as the lead track as it was the one that best represented my music and the direction it’s moving towards. Not only is it a very personal song, that I feel deals with a subject a lot of people can relate to, I feel musically it takes you on a little bit of a journey. There’s another song on there which is a little older, it’s something I’ve kind of had in the works for a while and I was trying to find a way to make it work for a full band sound. It’s a song called Woolfe’s Beach, which I wrote as an acoustic song that I was playing, two or three years ago and I had a demo version that I’d recorded with a little 4-track. But I just always knew that it had the potential to sound bigger, so I really made it a task to work on that and I was happy that the finished product could fit with the overall sound of the EP.
And when can we expect an album from you?
I’m hoping the album will be late 2016 – that’s the next task. I’m not sure if I’m going to go for the Pledge Music campaign route again to try and put it out. I need to see how things go really. But it’s definitely the plan to get writing. There’s a few ideas for songs, but at the moment it’s too early to say if there’s a theme that will come together.
So for those not already familiar with your music – how would you describe your sound?
I’d say honest indie/folk. I’ve always found that a really difficult question. I don’t really try and conform to any particular genre. I just write what comes, I’ve never really tried to classify it. I always put it out to the fans – ‘What do you think my music is?’ and I go with that!
Who were the artists that influenced you when you were growing up?
Well I started off listening to a lot of Oasis and then also Stereophonics and I’d say the biggest influence has been Coldplay and I really had a thing for a band called Incubus for a while as well. I was playing in a covers band at the time and we used to cover a few Incubus tracks and I really liked their stuff.
Describe your writing process – what comes first the words or the music?
I’d say that more often than not it’s the music that comes first, but on various occasions now it’s happening more and more that a melody idea comes and I try to fit the music around that. So I usually record a little melody on my ‘phone – it can come at any time – and then I kind of work from that. Recently I had a ridiculous dream, where I was listening to the radio and there was a song, which was supposedly my own playing and I thought: ‘Man, this was the best song I’ve ever heard!’. I woke up thinking I’ve got to record this melody, but I just couldn’t remember it. – and to this day I’m like: ‘If only I could remember what that song was’.
What was it like growing up in Gibraltar? Has it had any influence on your music?
It was a really great place to grow up and a lot of the inspiration for my music, I’d like to think, has come from living in Gibraltar. We used to listen to British radio and I grew up listening to British Forces Radio and a local station called Gibraltar Radio and that’s what gave me an insight into what was being played in the UK. But there was also inspiration from some of the Spanish channels that I’d listen to and different artists who’d be gigging in nearby towns. So I suppose my sound has been influenced by all of that, not to mention the local scene, there are loads of musicians in such a small space there, a lot of people writing and releasing new material and that was also very inspiring when I was a kid.
You’ve lived in London now for several years now, how does it compare with home?
I wish that I could base myself in Gibraltar and be able to work in London. That would be amazing – if there was some sort of commute that you could do every day, but that’s just not possible. I find London inspiring in its own way, the same as I find Gibraltar inspiring. The thing with Gibraltar is that it’s such a small country that you kind of know everyone and sometimes it’s nice to get away from that, but then when you’re away from that you kind of miss it. But I’ve been in London for six years now, so I must love it and I do.
Where are you most comfortable? Playing live or in the studio
I’d say live on stage, that’s always been something I’ve enjoyed, from playing in kind of a rockier type of band when I was younger, to when I eventually went solo with acoustic shows. I’ve always loved performing. I feel that as an artist my forte is playing live.
I hear you’re planning to tour again in the New Year, what can you tell us about that?
I may be doing a ‘Coffee House Session Tour’ which is a tour of university student unions, but I may also be doing a house tour again, depending on the scheduling. It was really fun last time, so I’m hoping I can do a bit of both.
Is it nerve-wracking playing in someone’s front room, with your audience about 2ft away?
I find it really great, not nerve-wracking at all. I haven’t really played a full packed stadium or anything, so I can’t compare it with that, but playing an intimate kind of environment, I really love. I find that in that kind of scenario, the people who come have usually done a bit of research, or have a little bit of insight into what you do, so it’s a really good way of getting new fans engaged, so they become part of the journey. It’s really enjoyable to have that kind of connection in that kind of environment.
What made you realise you wanted to become a musician?
It was probably about 1998. My brother was a musician, he was a trumpet player and a lot of his friends were playing guitar. He thought the guitar was cooler than the trumpet, so he wanted to learn the guitar. Being the younger brother, I wanted to copy him all the time and whenever he’d leave the house I’d try and sort of remember what he was doing and try and copy the chord patters that he was using. I was like: ‘Wow this is really fun, I can actually string songs together. This is great!’ It kind of all went from there.
What’s been your best gig so far?
Hands down my favourite was the one I’ve just played in September at the Gibraltar Music Festival, because it was showcasing the material off the new EP. It was a main stage, to a home crowd, with an amazing sound system. The crowd were into it and I was playing with my best mates in my backing band. It was fantastic, such a great experience.
And the worst?
I got booked for a gig, which I’d heard was a private party, but when I turned up it was actually a wake! I was like: ‘Who the hell booked me for a wake?’ I was thinking: ‘Jesus is my music really sad and depressing?’ But they told me: ‘No we want a happy occasion with happy music!’. I’d turned up in my jeans and a checked shirt thinking it was a casual party and everyone there was in suits with black ties. It was VERY awkward. Thankfully it was after the actual funeral service, so there wasn’t an open casket!
Given the reception the new EP has been getting, it’s unlikely Guy will find himself in any such grave situations in future.