If Randy Jackson signing you to his label isn’t a sure enough sign you’ve got talent, then being asked to perform at the First Annual LA Food & Wine should be enough to convince the modest music sensation Grace Valerie of her anything but modest career future. I had the chance to catch up with Grace, whose first single “When the Lights Go Down” reached #17 on Billboard’s club chart, about what’s next and why performing on stage is her biggest guilty pleasure!
Q: When did you first know you wanted to be a singer? Was this always your passion and career aspiration?
A: I always wanted a to be a singer. I grew up singing Christina Aquilera and Britney Spears in my bedroom, always imagining and pretending to be an artist. My parents wanted me to get a degree in International Economics but in high school, I started doing concerts and talent shows. Once they saw how serious I was, my parents began to support me more in my creative endeavors. I always wanted to take the extra step and train outside of school. I took lessons with vocal and dance teachers in my free time. Still, to please my family, I went to a Russian University that specialized in Economics, one of the top schools in the country actually. I loved my school years and I learned a lot but deep down I knew I was going to be an artist.
Q: You grew up in Russia, when did you make the move to the U.S. to pursuer this dream?
A: I started my career in Moscow. I recorded videos and two singles there that had a lot of air play on Russian radio and I also toured in Moscow. Last October, I made the move to Los Angeles. I began working with J.K Music Group which allowed me to collaborate with great writers, producers, and choreographers. Through my management team, I had the opportunity to meet Randy Jackson who liked my voice and saw the potential in me to succeed. I was invited to work on a few songs and see how things progressed. I didn’t expect to be signed to Randy’s or anyone else’s label at that point. I just wanted to learn about pop culture and the music industry here in the U.S. I wanted to learn it and to feel it, to be able to dance and sing like American musicians because it’s very different than in Russia. I began studying here and was blessed to find songs that fit me and to meet Randy and be hand-picked to join his label, DreamMerchant 21.
Q: What other artists do you look to for inspiration? Are there any artists you compare yourself to or hope to collaborate with?
A: I always listened to American pop culture more than Russian music growing up. Beyonce, Christina, and Britney were always my top role models for the type of music I want to create.. They showed me that if you worked hard your dreams could come true. I was also inspired by the great Michael Jackson and Alicia Keys. It would be interesting to work with Drake or Nicki Minaj whose work I admire right now. And of course, I’d be very happy to work with Beyonce. She is super talented and I am her number one fan!
Q: Do you write your own songs? How do you incorporate your dance and technical skills into your voice work?
A: When I started my career, I did songs only in Russian and maybe a few covers in English for music contests in Europe. But when I came here, I made the conscious decision that I only wanted to record in English. It was a big change because my style was very different than most American artists. It was still pop but Russian and American styles of pop are not the same. I had to adjust but keep true to my music. I’m very glad that my fans and family back home still like and support my songs. So far, I don’t write my own songs but mostly because of the language barrier. Recently, now that I’ve been here almost a year and been able to further my English and express my feelings better, I started to writing my own lyrics. I write based on my experiences which allows me to create songs that are more intimate and emotional. Also, I am starting to bring back my instrumental skills. When I was little I played the piano, then took some time away and recently got back to it again. I’d like to play the piano and guitar and eventually combine these sounds with my dance and music. I try to practice every day be it vocal skills or rehearsing in the studio-every day. It’s important. I also do private dance lessons a few times a week, up to three to four hours daily if we have an upcoming show or video shoot.
Q: What was it like first meeting Randy Jackson and tell me about the process of being signed to his label?
A: It was an amazing experience and I was nervous. We met in a restaurant and I was so excited to see him sitting there because he was this person from TV to me and I never thought I would actually meet him in real life. I had watched him on American Idol back in Russia and I didn’t know what he would be like or what to expect. But he was so sweet and kind and funny and he made me relax instantly. We just talked about my work and I told him about myself as a person. He watched my videos and I remember thinking how I didn’t expect him to be so friendly. He called my management team shortly after and said that he would like to start working on a few singles. We began that process and he felt the product was good and signed me to his label. We are working on my second single now which will be released in December or January. We’ve been discussing which single should be my second release because at the moment we are looking at a few possible songs but that decision should be made in early November. I am also set to perform in shows with other artists on Randy’s label. We are going to NYC, North Carolina, and Orlando before the end of the year and then touring Europe early in 2012.
Q: You just came off a recent summer tour here in the U.S. How was that experience?
A: The summer tour was my first time touring and performing in the United States and I got to see so many new places and people. I got to learn about this country and really just experience something new to myself. Every city and every person was different and I had a great time. I loved the big cities- Chicago, New York, and LA. Every show we did felt like a big, big event, almost like a holiday because I got to be on stage and share my emotions and songs with other people which is the most important thing to me.
Q: Do have any favorite memories from that tour, good or bad?
A: What comes to my mind for me was a show we did in New Jersey. We were on stage getting ready and about to go out before the audience and all of a sudden we hear the song and it is already playing. We weren’t even set in our places yet and could barely hear the music above the crowd. We just had to quickly stay focused and jump in and start the show. It was a scary moment but also a great one because we did it and it turned out to be an amazing show.
Q: Your music could be compared to other artists in the pop/dance/electronic genre who have met with great success such as Lady Gaga and Britney Spears. What are your hopes for your career path and how do you plan to set yourself apart?
A: It’s funny you say that because my first single “When the Lights Go Down” really is like Gaga meets Spears. But the second one is going to be something completely new. It’s a new sound and it’s my own sound and you can’t compare it to anyone else who is out there currently. As an artist, I believe I bring something new to the game and can build upon the artists I’ve admired. I hope that I will try some R&B and soul down the line and maybe collaborate with a rap or hip-hop artist, but mostly I plan to stay in the pop genre because it’s what I love.
Q: You already have a strong following, who do you consider your target fan base?
A: My fan base is everyone- gays, club goers, kids, grown- ups, young girls, truly everybody. And I am happy about that because I don’t want to be an artist just for a small circle. I think it’s great that my music is for everybody to enjoy and just have fun with. It’s of course done really well with the club scene and I’ve performed at some local places including Factory in West Hollywood and My House in Hollywood.
Q: Tell me about the process of shooting your first music video and releasing your first single here in the U.S.? How has this prepared your for what is coming next?
A: My single was the first music video I made in the U.S. and it was such great experience because I had the chance to work with the best people from the start. Brian Friedman who works on X Factor and Chad Andre who works with Britney Spears did an amazing job. They created a great story and it was fashionable and modern and sexy. I remember Randy came on set and he looked around and just said ‘Okay guys, you rock’. I was so happy when I saw the final version and we plan to shoot the video for the second single by the end of this year. The hope is to release a full album next in 2012. Im recording in the studio currently and have beautiful, different songs that I think my team and my fans will really like.
Q: You recently performed on stage at LA Food & Wine at the Nokia Live complex in downtown LA. This was a huge event for the city and the first annual festival of its kind here. What did you enjoy most about this opportunity?
A: This was the first time Los Angeles had this event so it was an honor to be a part of it and I really enjoyed it. It is such a great idea to collect the best chefs and food from so many states and countries in one place. I love to eat great food and I love to perform plus Randy was DJ-ing so it was really a fun night. What’s not to love about spending time with friends and colleagues in a fabulous location. My favorite thing about being a musician is performing on stage. You can never get such emotions from anything else, not even dancing or recording in the studio. The moment you are on stage you connect with the energy and emotions of the audience and you trade what you are feeling with them. It’s a feeling you can’t describe.
Q: When you find spare time- amongst all your training, recording, and performing- what do you enjoy doing most?
A: I love to cook! I actually didn’t really cook before I came to LA but when I moved here for seem reason I just started having an interest in cooking. I’m really good at it and if I don’t make it in music I will probably become a chef. I think that’s also why I enjoyed the food and wine event so much. My favorite dish to cook and eat is lamb chops!
Q: What are your career hopes for the future?
A: Ideally, my hopes are to release an album this year and long-term to work and be known all over the world, on a global scale. But mostly, I want to feel the incredible emotions that come from performing for other people. To see their love and support and to give it right back to them.