Fireworks Magazine Online 75 - Interview with Robbie Valentine


For over a quarter of a century Dutch multi instrumentalist and AOR/Pomp Rock god Robby Valentine has produced top quality music but to many, particularly here in the UK, he still remains a somewhat overlooked figure. I caught up with the man himself recently to mull over his debut solo UK gig earlier this year and the recently released double album of his two most recent releases, 'Bizarro World' and 'The Queen Album' in Japan, his musical influences and his plans for the future.

It's been a while since the Liverpool show and I want to know, now that you've had time to reflect on it, how do you think it went?

Yeah, actually when we arrived we were kind of a little bit disappointed about the turn out. We thought it would be bigger but the people who were there made up for it so well, the response of the people who were singing along and cheering us, it was amazing and actually we were kind of spoiled by that. Two weeks later we had a club show in Holland. We did just Queen tributes and they were sold out and we were still on a high from the Liverpool crowd where people made us feel like real rock stars, we forgot we were in Holland and people are a little bit more reserved.

You say you were disappointed. Would you have liked to come over to England earlier perhaps, maybe a few years earlier?

Of course. I mean I would love to go there, I was just disappointed about the turn out which we thought was going to be more crowded. It doesn't matter anyway in the end; the atmosphere there was just electric and if that happens it doesn't matter if there are 50 people or 500, it doesn't matter to me.

You've recently signed a deal with King records in Japan and is this a one album only deal or does it mean you are going to be recording for King records in the future?

Well they have an option for a new album. I think we just see how it goes. If they are satisfied with the sales or we are satisfied with them, I don't know.

How has it sold in Japan anyway?

Well I don't know about figures, we keep asking them but we hear that the download site, Amazon and those kinds of things many times were out of stock and so the signs look good, but then we asked the label what figures are we talking about but they never really answer us. It's going well anyway, more than they expected, I think.

Obviously in the past you were with a major label and then you went and did it on your own and now you're back with a label again. When you're doing it on your own what sort of barriers did you come up against? Was it more difficult doing it on your own than it would have been with a label?

Well it's hard to compare because when I was with Polygram, Polydor and Universal later on, it was a different time to right now At least with our new material we keep all the rights and we don't have to worry about the promotion. If you don't reach that many people that's a shame but my experience with a label in the end with Japan was in the beginning it went very well, then we signed a deal for a couple of albums and people got fired, and it's a major so you're not their priority and they pay an advance but they don't really do much for promotion, so I think my last three albums in Japan got put out relatively unnoticed. Yeah, that was kind of a shame. I don't know how the situation being with a label nowadays is...probably not really too great.

In the past you did the Queen album with crowd funding. Have you actually thought about doing that again in the future?

Well I think that will happen again. Of course I will try to sign to a label first but the advances and the things they're doing for it and they want to own so many things, like merchandise, a lot of your publishing and in the end I don't see that it's useful to be part of a label. Going on your own, you're not reaching too many people so it's a bit of a strange situation.

A lot of your songs, to me anyway, seem as if they're very personal to you. Do you find that when you're writing these songs it is in some ways cathartic and helps you get rid of a lot of the emotions you've got inside you?

Usually they are autobiographical. For example, I wrote 'Dear Dad' for my father but I think the feeling comes across if you're feeling it yourself that way, then I think people can translate it to their own situation.

On the back of that, you have become a father. Has that actually changed the way you look at things and maybe write songs?

Well to be honest since I became a father I didn't really write too many songs. It's hard to, I mean actually its taking 95% of my time, being a father...and it's great, it's wonderful!

Which leads to my next question. When you're not doing music what do you do in your down time, so it's obviously being a father most of the time!

Yeah, playing with my kid and that's wonderful but actually when I used to write songs when I really felt down and depressed that got me inspired, but now I'm a father and Maria and I, although we're not married yet, we're together for nine years and our little girl is four years old, so I can't write about painful stuff anymore. I'll have to find different sources to write about and that's hard.

A lot of your music is very bombastic, pomp type material. I was wondering have you actually ever considered doing some sort of rock opera?

Yeah, I did back in '93. I wrote a 45 minute rock opera for an insurance company's 100 year anniversary but they weren't really satisfied with the way I mixed it up, and then I said I can't do anything anymore with it so I never used it again and they didn't use it but I always had the plan to re-write it and re-record it, but it turns out then when I started out I was a really big fan of epic pieces of music but the last 10-15 years, maybe 20, I'm getting kind of bored of that kind of music...chord changes and different kind of bombastic pieces.

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I know what you mean because a lot of the songs on 'Bizarro World' are actually, I'm not going to say simple, but they are actually very direct. You get straight into the chorus pretty quickly, So are those the sort of things you are going to be looking to write then maybe in the future?

Yeah, that's the way I like it. I get kind of bored of all this strange sideways melodies.

So what artists, although obviously we know all about your love for everything Queen, what and who are you listening to at the moment?

I don't really listen to anything at the moment. My old heroes are Jeff Lynne and John Waite from The Babys. I mean it's always about the songs for me,

On 'Bizarro World' I can hear little bits of Muse in there.

Yeah that's right. I was inspired by Muse and I also like Adam Lambert, his first solo album. 30 Seconds to Mars also, I was a big fan of their second album.

Something I've always been fascinated by is your recording process because obviously you do it all in your own now, don't you? So how do you actually start off say writing/doing a song in the studio?

When I start a recording it's already been developed in my head. When I get an idea in my head I record it on my little memo recorder and then I work it out and when I've got everything figured out in my head then I start to record with the drums and build it up with piano, guitars, bass. The last album, everything I did by myself but it needs to be more. I mean I have a great band now, one of the best rhythm sections I could ever dream of, and I would be crazy not to use them. I already have four or five songs in my head and this summer I plan to record with them but I don't want to do it all by myself anymore, it's getting boring.

You seem to be a master of all the instruments you play. Are there any instruments that you actually struggle with?

I'm not really that good on bass. My main instrument is the piano but I record the bass, but if I have to play bass live, the things I record, it's getting difficult and I really have to practise hard. The same with the guitar, like when I recreate the Queen stuff it doesn't come easy, it's 'punch in, punch out' so I'm always struggling with guitar and bass on the albums.

What are your career highlights and lowlights.

I remember the first band show in Japan in '96, that was one of the highlights. It was the first time I really felt like a rock star and everybody sang my songs, everybody sang along and was cheering and it was amazing. I must say also the highlights are the Queen conventions I play. Of course in '93 we did support Brian May and that was absolutely one of my the dreams come true, also having a hit with my first single in '91 and it was on the radio every day for a couple of months – that was amazing.

On the downside, has there been any sort of very low times in your career?

Yeah, lots of them. Okay, I could come up with some really low's just when you have a record out and nobody cares, presenting it to all the record companies and nobody cares, on the radio nobody cares...that's really like the basic theme in my career the past 20 years that everything I put out, they don't care. It's about, 'Oh, he's still got that long hair and his makeup, oh we don't even want to listen to it.' Those kinds of things I'm hearing all the time, so that's quite depressing.

Okay, so do you feel that maybe you were born out of time, if that makes sense.

I think so. Have you seen the American television series Vinyl? I wish I lived in that era. The music was still like it's supposed to be. Nowadays it's nothing, just commercial. There's no place for a weirdo like me!!

Of your own songs, what's your favourite song – or is that too difficult a question?

I hate them all after I've finished them! Maybe it's because first I'm hearing them in my head and then I have to record it for hundreds and hundreds of hours and then it's finished. The songs that I don't hate are 'Bizarro World' but every now and then I hear a favourite of mine, I don't know, it's hard to remember.

It's probably hard to be objective about your own work. It's just I was wondering what song you were probably most proud of in your career?

Back in the day I was really proud of 'No Turning Back' but I wrote it 25 years ago. I remember when I demoed it and then we recorded it with a band in the studio and I remember when the engineer mixed it and it was so overwhelming. I was really proud of that. After a while you get bored of your own stuff.

You talked about meeting Brian May, so he's obviously one of your heroes. Was it everything that you thought it would be?

Actually, I could never dream that anybody of Queen would know about me and when Brian heard a demo of mine which he was presented with by the girl from the Dutch fan club, then I met him in Holland in '92 and he knew me. He was so kind and friendly and it was amazing that one of the guys who was on the wall in my bedroom and was my big hero appreciated my music, and one year later he invited me for a show and he wrote me many letters. I'm still so fortunate that this happened and he's such a friendly, nice person. That's also one of the highlights...that one of my heroes recognised me and talked to me.

Obviously you're a huge fan of Queen. Did you actually ever get to see them with Freddie?

Yes, in '78 when I was nine years old and I saw them again in '79 and '81, '84 and '86. I was fortunate my parents were always really supportive with me and I obviously was a big fan since 'Bohemian Rhapsody' at 6/7 years old and my Dad went to stand in line to get the tickets and that was fantastic.

What's your favourite Queen album?

I think all the albums from the '70s are great but I always get back to 'Jazz', I really loved that. I loved the Mercury songs, every one of them. All of the albums have got favourite tracks and all of them have songs you skip too.

Finally, last question which I think you've already answered. I was going to ask you about your future plans and you said you've already got about 4-5 songs ready in the pipeline.

Yes. I'm disappointed because I wanted to release a new album by the end of the year but I'm going to have to hurry up writing songs and it doesn't come easy. After the summer I won't book any shows so that I can concentrate [on writing] but in September we are playing at a Dutch Queen convention and we've got a couple of gigs in Holland with Valentine and in October we play Rockingham Festival.

Oh, you're coming back are you?

Yeah, it's crazy; the day before that we have got a Queen show until very late, so it's going to be without any sleep, but I'm looking forward to it all. It's been two years since 'Bizarro World' so it's time for new stuff from me.

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