“I’m not a perfect pop star.”
Once or twice a century, a sound comes along that belies all comparison. There’s been a Nina Simone, an Otis Redding, and an Amy Winehouse. But Desi Valentine is the first of his nature. He’s a recording artist, singer, and songwriter with a modern mind and a timeless sound.
Desi Valentine wears a balanced medley of enticing contradictions: he’s traditional, and he’s innovative. He’s peaceful, and he’s disruptive. His voice is of velvet and smoke, with a timbre beyond definition.
To truly know Desi is to listen.
Born and raised in Catford, London, he initially followed his heart to musical theatre success in West End and Broadway shows. This victory could have signaled a happy ending for many. But when a stranger asked Desi if he’d thought to try music, he fell forward into new dreams. “I started soaking myself in the world of music,” he says.
Desi moved to Los Angeles in 2012. “As soon as I arrived, I knew I was supposed to be here. It really opened itself up to me…very quickly, I knew this was the next step of my story.”
But immersion in the music industry was one thing…finding his niche was another. “The type of music that I first made was a rock-pop kind of sound,” he says. “I had a big mohawk at the time, very different style. People said all along, ‘you should do a rockabilly throwback kind of thing.’ [But] I didn’t identify with that [at the time]…I honestly didn’t want to be another black guy doing soul stuff.”
It took years of starts and stops for Valentine’s unique style to find him. Today, he credits those alternate routes as guideposts toward finding his space. “You’ve got to listen to your gut and your instincts for what you want to do, because the music won’t be good otherwise,” he says. “I had to go through rock, hard rock, hearing metal for the first time, in order to bring me…back to where I started.”
Adele’s “21” heralded this epiphany. “[The album] really touched me. I thought…this is the next revolution of me as an artist.’ It all of a sudden just clicked into place.”
This shift in perspective brought the journey full circle. Desi looked back on his childhood, hearing retro classics with his parents. “The house was full of Otis Redding, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Marley, Sam Cooke, and classical composers like Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Bach…Little did I know that it was shaping the artist that I am today. I couldn’t see it, and couldn’t feel it until it was the right time for me to do so. Now it’s at home with my music.”
Since his debut, Valentine has worked with the likes of Leona Lewis and Elton John. “Being on the 02 stage [with Elton] was one of the most inspiring and incredible experiences I’ve ever had,” he says. “Getting to work with him is…an incredible thing.” As with the West End in London, this milestone inspired even bigger goals. “I want to stand on [the 02 stage] in my own right, at some point in my career,” he says. “I love a goal, I love a challenge. And the 02 is a significant one indeed.”
In 2016, Valentine went on tour with Andra Day, whom he credits as a major influence in the next chapter of his story. Desi recalls a particular moment in which Day skipped a break during a show, just to ask Valentine if there was anything more she could do for him. “Her songs are so huge and take so much,” he says. “You get five minutes to just…relax for a moment, [but] you take your support act aside to see how you can include them more in your show? I can only aspire to be that kind, to be that sort of person when it’s time to pick a support act and take them on.”
In the wake of the Charlottesville riots, Valentine wrote a song in response called Love is Love. “I’ve never written a song that’s really inspired by current events that way…[but] it’s been a very illuminating time.” The song is less about politics and more about humanity, Valentine says. Solving today’s social crises can be as simple as practicing love.
“I would love a world where peace is celebrated that way that war is prepared for,” he says.
Valentine is no stranger to adversity.
When Fate Don’t Know You landed on Spotify’s Viral 50 internationally, Desi had just been laid off from a bartending job. “It was so strange to be wildly celebrated on one hand, and then really struggling on the other,” he says. When the song went up on the charts, Desi was rehearsing to open for Blondie, making plans for Bumbershoot festival, and then going to 7-11 for dinner because “a hot dog was $2.99.”
To make rent, Desi was driving for Uber. Meanwhile, Fate Don’t Know You landed the coveted season finale of Suits.
“I was like ‘wow, my song is top 50 around the world… but I would love to know how I’m going to eat tonight,’” Desi laughs. Looking back on tough times, he has no regrets, and credits success to hard work. “That is the thing that really outlasts anything else. When you struggle, just be inspired by the struggle and draw from it… Life is for living - the ups and downs - and you’ve got to embrace that.”
This mindset contributed to the creation of his anticipated new single, My Worst Enemy. The song arose from a place of intense, but unrequited longing. “Sometimes, somebody can just make you forget yourself,” Valentine says. “[Rejection] is such a knock to the ego. It derails who you know yourself to be.”
Valentine partnered with Morgan Taylor Reid to bring the single to life, and the result is disarmingly catchy. When My Worst Enemy drops on October 6, audiences can expect to be emotionally moved…and moved to dance.
From mid-October through November of 2017, Valentine will be touring with Vintage Trouble throughout the U.S. and Canada. He looks forward to two shows in particular: The Wilton in Los Angeles (November 15), and The Fillmore in San Francisco (November 16). “It’s going to be great to have a hometown show [at the Wilton]. And the Fillmore, that’s one of those venues that legends have performed in. I’d love to see everybody come down.”
With a packed touring schedule and brand new single, Valentine is not slowing down. Fate Don’t Know You has made its way to the upcoming season premiere of A Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce (Bravo). Another song made it to the mid-season finale of Queen Sugar on OWN.
Valentine’s new EP is set to debut in early 2018. This will be his first collaboration with STINT, the Grammy nominated producer behind Gallant’s critically acclaimed –Ology, as well as Grammy nominated songwriter and Cheers to the Fall producer, Jenn Decilvio. The EP weaves a modern twist through silky, old school vibes.
As Valentine moves forward, he doesn’t look back. “Don’t stand in the way of your music growing and evolving. Create something brand new, even if it’s drawing from something that’s quite old.”
There is beauty in memory, but truth lives in change. The music, for Desi, is both.