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Gabrielle de Val - Blast From The Past (Apr 2023)

Gabrielle de Val
Gabrielle de Val
"The cover of Magnum’s ‘Stayin’ Alive’ was a brilliant idea by Bruce Mee, which I immediately embraced because it’s a song that touches the soul"

Gabrielle de Val first appeared on the Rock scene back in 1987 when, along with some musician friends, she formed the band Yin-Yang (later D’Val) to take part in a music contest in Madrid. Much to the band’s surprise they came second, and utilising the extensive press coverage they received, they used their winnings to upgrade their equipment and record a single. A few more demos were recorded... then nothing. That was until 2010, more than 20 years later when the band reformed – as The Val – and recorded their debut album ‘Back’. Two further albums were recorded: ‘Heading For The Surface’ in 2015 and ‘King Ocelot’ in 2019.

It was the debut The Val album, ‘Back’, that caught the interest of Bruce Mee back in England, and an initial meeting in Madrid in 2016 discussed the possibility of releasing a compilation of the first two albums on Escape Music. Over time that idea mutated into a solo album, especially after Gabrielle sang lead vocals on a track for Mee’s ‘Circle of Friends’ album, ‘The Garden’. After discussions with Escape owner Khalil Turk, it was decided to re-do four songs from the debut The Val album, not only with real drums, but as duets with well-known names within the Melodic Rock community which is where Steve Overland, Terry Brock, Robin McAuley and Mark Boals come into play. However, it isn’t just vocalists that appear as special guests; Boston guitarist Gary Pihl enjoyed the track he played on so much he totally re-arranged it (The Val’s ‘Hold On’), then re-arranged two more (which will be heard on future releases).

The aforementioned Steve Overland also co-wrote four of the songs on the album with Tommy Denander, and the two cover versions were chosen specifically by Mee, which delighted Gabrielle, who had been singing ‘Moonlight Shadow’ since she was 20!

Now with that info-dump out of the way, it’s time to speak to the lady herself...

The songs on your solo album consist of two covers, some previous The Val songs done as duets, and many originals. Tell us about the songs on the album... how did you find it doing duets with some of the great names in the scene?

‘Kiss In A Dragon Night’ is my first solo album, which has allowed me to approach songs from very diverse sources and different sensibilities. The cover of Magnum’s ‘Stayin’ Alive’ was a brilliant idea by Bruce Mee, which I immediately embraced because it’s a song that touches the soul and yet is not too well known compared to other songs by the band. Terry Brock’s voice was also key in conveying the feeling of that song.

There are also four original songs composed by Steve Overland (FM) and Tommy Denander: ‘Take On The World’, ‘Let’s Get Something Started’, ‘Fuel To The Fire’ and ‘Natural High’, the last of which happily turned into a duet by surprise when it came to the mixing of the album... and I couldn’t be happier about that.

Four songs are from The Val: ‘Pay For The Lonely Nights’ is the only one of the four where I sing alone, while ‘When Midnight Comes’ with Mark Boals, ‘Kiss In A Dragon Night’ with Robin McAuley and ‘Hold On’ with Mick Devine have turned into amazing duets.

Then there are two Melodic Rock gems: ‘Fight For Love’, an original song by Mick Devine and Fredrik Bergh that Mick and I performed as a duet, and ‘Candle In The Window’, the original demo of which appeared on the re-issue of the debut James Christian solo album, ‘Rude Awakening’.

It’s a very complete album with fantastic collaborations. Each of the vocalists and musicians involved are unique and they all have great personalities; they are nothing like each other, which is awesome, and makes it an incredibly enjoyable album.

I remember when you were told the guitarist from Boston was playing on your album, you replied, “He lives in Boston?” which was so sweet. Being a big fan of Boston, how did you feel about having Gary Pihl on your album? And then he loved your songs so much, he actually created totally new arrangements for a few of them... that must have felt amazing?

How could I have imagined that Gary Pihl was going to play on my album? I thought it was a guitarist who lived in Boston, not a member of Boston! I was completely blown away! When I realised it was the real Gary Pihl, I thought the stars were definitely aligned for the album to be wonderful and I couldn’t be more grateful to him for being a part of it. As you mention, not only does he play the guitar, but he has given ‘Hold On’ a completely new and surprising approach that hooked me from the first listen.

How did the other members of The Val react to you doing a solo album?

When the idea for this project came up they were touring with Sharon Corr and we couldn’t find the time to undertake another album. They were a bit surprised at first because I had never really considered the possibility of doing something solo, but now they are thrilled with the idea and can’t wait to hear it. Bear in mind that four of the songs are by The Val and to hear them with such a different approach, especially in the case of the duets, is exciting.

Did you enjoy the freedom it gave you recording a solo album?

Definitely... Alfonso Samos and Alex Morell, as well as being band mates, are my great friends and also, in the musical field, there’s a complicity that’s very difficult to explain but is reflected in what we do. But making a solo album has given me the opportunity to measure my own strength, to change direction and renew myself. I think these kinds of challenges make you grow as a person, and I sincerely believe that they are essential to move forward. On a more practical level I would say that in solo format decision-making is quicker than having to agree on anything, so you move faster. I think every vocalist should try it at least once in their lifetime!

How do you feel the re-interpretations of the old The Val songs compare to the originals?

The four songs from The Val are part of our first album, ‘Back’, which we recorded in 2010. It’s the album we would have recorded in 1988 when we were already a band but it couldn’t be made then and it has a lot of meaning for us. We decided to call the album ‘Back’ for that reason; it was a way of re-engaging in the late 80s.

Now thanks to the incredible production of Khalil Turk at Escape Music and the enormous cast of performers and musicians who have been involved in this work, the songs have been renewed and have grown bigger. I think that without losing the original charm, the new versions have added strength and a more powerful sound. It has been a unique and somewhat strange experience for me to make versions of my band’s songs, but on the other hand I have been able to change some things in the melodic line that I had in mind after years of listening to the original album.

Where do things currently stand, with respect to The Val?

We were going to present our third album, ‘King Ocelot’, when the Covid pandemic started, but then all the venues were forced to close and we had to cancel our shows just like all the other bands. In fact, it’s only recently that things have been completely normalised in Spain as far as live concerts are concerned, and for a long time the venues have been busy because of the backlog since the pandemic. So as soon as we have time, the first thing we want to do is to present our latest album and from there we’ll see how we go on.

“...each album has its own essence and personality and as a band we don’t really like trying to adjust to certain canons."

The first two albums were superb Pop/Rock, but the last album was more progressive. Where do you see the sound going for any fourth The Val album?

We don’t like to set limits when it comes to making songs. ‘King Ocelot’ has some progressive touches because we liked the atmosphere they gave to the songs and to the whole album. That does not mean that we are going to include more and more progressive elements in our music. I always say that when you start to create something, you never know how it’s going to be... each album has its own essence and personality and as a band we don’t really like trying to adjust to certain canons. I am totally unable to predict what our fourth album will be like... time will tell!

You have many fans on Facebook and make an effort to interact with everybody. Is that one aspect you enjoy?

I love feeling the closeness of the people who listen to my music; they make me feel their support and are a huge motivation. Since I’ve been making music for a long time, I know many of them almost as if they were part of my family... really! Many have become great friends along the way. That’s why I always try to interact with them and I enjoy doing it, although I don’t do it continuously throughout the day from a mobile phone. I like to sit quietly in front of the computer with a cup of tea and then write to them.

You’re also a long-time fan of Steve Overland and FM. It must have been exciting singing new songs written by Steve and Tommy Denander?

As you can imagine, when I knew that they were going to be an essential part of the album, not only as songwriters but as musicians, it seemed like a godsend. When I listened to those four tracks for the first time I thought, “Oh my God... they’re very powerful, I love them and they’re quite a departure from what I’ve been doing so far.” And that’s how I realised that I was about to leave my comfort zone, which I think is the best thing that can happen to an artist. These songs have taken me out of my usual range and led me to explore territories I hadn’t even stepped into before; it has been like a sort of liberation!

When I started recording them in Fredrik Folkare’s studio I realised that my voice became more powerful, a little wilder, and I loved that!

You love Mike Oldfield, so how did it feel doing ‘Moonlight Shadow’?

With The Val we haven’t done any cover versions on an album so far and I’ve always wanted to record ‘Moonlight Shadow’. I’m possibly Mike Oldfield’s biggest fan, from his first and very folk album as The Sallyangie – a 60s Folk duo featuring Mike and his sister Sally – to his latest recordings, and when Bruce suggested including the song, that was a chance I definitely wasn’t going to miss! It took me some time to decide between making a very different version or respecting its essence and simply giving it a little more strength in the singing. Fredrik recorded the track with a lot of power and that made the decision clear, we were going to make it sound more powerful while respecting the essence of the original. I can’t be happier to have recorded it that way!

Gabrielle de Val 2
L-R: Fredrik Folkare, Bruce Mee, Khalil Turk, Gabrielle de Val, Mikael Rosengren

For Circle of Friends you recorded your vocal in Madrid, but for your solo album you recorded with Fredrik Folkare in Sweden. How did you find the difference?

The difference has been enormous. The studio I recorded at in Madrid is fantastic, as is Will Maya who recorded the vocals on the ‘When He’s Gone’, and I certainly love the result. The experience of recording with Fredrik was completely different because I was in an unusual environment, which was good for me personally as I was very focused. Bearing in mind that I was in Stockholm to record a whole album in a few days; I felt great. Working with Fredrik has been extraordinary because besides being a great musician and mixer we have a great connection, almost as if we’ve been recording together for years. I felt really comfortable in the studio. It was my first and hopefully not my last trip to Sweden, so it had a very positive impact on me in all respects and I think that is reflected in the album. I fell in love with Stockholm from the very first moment, and as I walked from my hotel to the studio every day, I arrived with my batteries recharged by all the beauty along the way.

But I have also noticed a big difference in the purely vocal aspect. In Madrid the air is very dry but in Stockholm in August the air is warm and very humid... a blessing for the vocal cords!

Mikael Rosengren actually came to the studio in Stockholm when you were recording, how did you feel about that? Mikael loves your voice and actually wrote new songs for you in key of G, how did that go?

It was a very funny situation. Fredrik and I were recording in the studio, Khalil and Bruce, the album’s artistic producer and executive producer respectively, had come to spend a few days there with us to see how things were going and also to have some good times together. The four of us were in the studio when Mikael, author of the mind-blowing track I was lucky enough to sing on ‘The Garden’, showed up! We ended up commenting on the incredible amount of songs Mikael is able to write in record time. Khalil challenged Mikael to write a song in two hours so that I could record it as soon as I had the chance. They asked me in what key and I answered that it would be in the key of G, which is the one I feel most comfortable with. After two hours I was eating some churros with chocolate in a beautiful square in Stockholm and I got a message from Mikael with his song in G, a great song made to measure and ready to be sung as soon as I could! I like the songs Mikael writes very much and they fit my style completely. I fell in love with ‘When He’s Gone’ when I heard the first ten seconds of it and I find his other songs on the Circle of Friends album fascinating as well. I love his style in every respect!

You have actually succeeded in getting a Japanese release for ‘Kiss In A Dragon Night’, which is something you never achieved with The Val. That must be particularly exciting for you?

It is... it’s been a wonderful surprise! With The Val we have sold quite a number of records in Japan, but we have never had a specifically Japanese release. Japan fascinates me and I’m very happy that the album is coming out there as well. I love the idea of the Japanese release of my solo album!

The Japanese label loved ‘Moonlight Shadow’, for which you had already starting creating a lyric video. But with ‘Candle in the Window’ I understand it was decided to make a proper performance video, with both studio and location filming?

As ‘Moonlight Shadow’ is a cover version and there is already an original video that tells the story, we thought it made more sense to shoot the video for another song and do a beautiful lyric-video for it. The song we chose for the performance video was ‘Candle in the Window’. It’s a very passionate and emotional song, with lyrics and a melody that demand a lot of expressiveness... that’s why it was perfect. The video has been shot partly indoors and partly outdoors... specifically around the area of the Royal Palace in Madrid. It’s a very special place for a song that deserves it. We had a lot of fun shooting it.

“It’s a very passionate and emotional song, with lyrics and a melody that demand a lot of expressiveness..."

There will be a limited edition album, entitled ‘Tears Of The Dragon’, which will feature different versions of the songs from ‘Kiss In A Dragon Night’.

‘Tears Of The Dragon’ was born from the album ‘Kiss In A Dragon Night’. It came about in a completely spontaneous way... as simple and natural as we had recorded so many songs that we had enough material for two albums! Each of the songs is a “tear” from the previous album, a little drop, a diamond! On some songs we had sublime collaborations with huge talents like Gary Pihl (Boston), Tim Barrette, Steve Overland (FM), Steve Morris (Heartland/Gillan), Mick Devine (Seven) but we couldn’t make an album with so many songs!

We had a few jewels, like another version of the song ‘Kiss In A Dragon Night’ made completely different by Gary Pihl, who also offers a wonderful surprise in ‘Candle In The Window’ sung as a duet with Tim Barrette. Also, a more acoustic and absolutely sublime version of ‘Hold On’ sung by Mick Devine, or The Val’s ‘Pay For The Lonely Nights’ sung by Steve Overland! It’s a very special album, very different from any other, with an unusual perspective and extremely original. And just to give something that little bit special, we’re adding a cover of Rainbow’s ‘Can’t Let You Go’, which is another song I’ve been singing for years.

You have already started work on the follow-up album. What can you tell us about this?

That’s how it is! I’m writing songs for the next album. Songwriting is a part of creating an album that I really enjoy, it gives me the opportunity to express everything I need to externalise and share in some way. My guitar placed anywhere in the house reveals that I have gone into creative mode. You can see it in the kitchen, on a bed, on the sofa or in the garden... I need to always have it on hand in case something comes to mind!

I also have some wonderful lyrics written by Bruce Mee for which I am writing music. I have never worked in this way before and it’s quite a challenge but it’s very inspiring to write the music for his great lyrics! I would like the new album to have songs not only written by me but also by other writers. I think the fact that there are several writers makes an album complete and balanced.

And live... have you considered taking your solo album out on the road? I’ve seen designs for possible merchandise, like T-shirts; it really looks like this could be the start of something?

I’m considering possibilities to organise live concerts in different places, I really want to take this album on stage. It sure is the beginning of something, yes! And of course, if this idea comes to fruition, there are already enough whims almost ready for it! From guitar picks with the special Gaetano di Falco cover, to very special T-shirts, and also an incredible picture disc...

“And just to give something that little bit special, we’re adding a cover of Rainbow’s ‘Can’t Let You Go’, which is another song I’ve been singing for years."

Interview by Wolf Gant




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