Photo by Valeria Lopez.
Drummer and multi-instrumentalists Valentina Magaletti is possibly best known as both the drummer of psych band The Oscillation and for her work with Tom Relleen as experimental band Tomaga, whose music has been described as sounding like 'radio messages from a distant constellation alerting us to the existence of art forms we had barely imagined'. Valentina was also the drummer on Blackest Ever Black releases; Raime and Moin, has recorded with Shit and Shine and is drummer with new London band Vanishing Twin. Highly rated by fellow musicians she took time out from a hectic schedule to kindly give an interview
I noticed on your 'Facebook' page that you are from Bari and studied Law in Italy, when did you first start playing drums and decide to make drumming your 'career'?
I started playing drums when I was 9 years old and never stopped since.
My academic life never constituted an obstacle between my musical effort and my Law Studies. I graduated in Law in my hometown in 2000 discussing a Dissertation on Intellectual Property. I have always found the two worlds compatible, and I had always time to tour, record and study at the same time.
When I first moved to London I was working part time for the Witness support at the Crown Court. Only in recent years I had to stop my full time occupation to dedicate myself exclusively to my music career.
Was it a difficult decision?
It has never been a difficult decision. I guess I planned and schemed my future in the way I’ve always wanted. I managed to work full time and go regularly on tour until I decided that I wanted to travel more and use all my mornings to make music in the studio or to have more time for myself. I felt very privileged and grateful to have a job in London that allowed me to own my own place and to choose how to live my life. I respect enormously people who work hard in order to achieve their goals and in a way my “office years” make me proud of myself. I currently teach Italian and drums when I am not touring.
How did you end up moving to London? Was that a 'musical' thing?
After my first school trip to London in 1990 I literally felt in love with it.
I visited the city regularly with some friends year after year. I remember organising all my summer trips to catch all the music festivals, Reading, Glastonbury etc…
It has always been a musical city for me but also a city able to enhance your freedom.
I instantly felt at ease with the grey urban landscape and find it incredibly beautiful and inspiring. I moved here the day after my thesis and started answering band ads straight away.
You play(ed) in, and with, quite a range of bands; Shit and Shine, The Oscillation, Tomaga, Vanishing Twin, Raime. Do these different collaborations change the way you have to play and interact with the other musicians? You must have to adjust your style a lot!
Tomaga and Vanishing Twin are more “my projects”. Hence my style is integral part of the sound and I don’t need to adjust it.
With the other bands you mentioned like Raime for example, I played on their albums witnessing the shaping of pieces of work written by someone else.
It is fair to say that, my inputs in this scenario differ slightly as I need to “ interpret” what other artists’ want to express though my drumming or simply perform strictly some parts.
I find it hard to change my drum style but I consider myself quite versatile.
Tomaga is Tom Relleen and yourself, the rhythm section of The Oscillation- is that how you started playing together or had you worked together before? How did the idea for Tomaga emerge?
The Oscillation has always been Demian Castellanos project. He is a great writer and producer. In the studio he always plays everything but the drums. As a live band we toured extensively and Tom and me naturally developed a strong musical alliance that eventually started suggesting we had something to say outside The Oscillation.
I guess Tom felt somehow restrained covering just “the Bass player” role. He is a great musician, Interested in the recording and producing side of things, he is very curious and always keen on experimenting with sounds and materials.
This is pretty much how Tomaga started with no expectations whatsoever.
You started Tomaga in 2013 and have had four releases I think, plus a split with Orlando-how does the recording process evolve? Is it the capturing of improvisation or is it more structured?
After the first limited cassette EP, we recorded our debut album “ Futura Grotesk” in 2013. Part of the material that didn’t make the final album track list ended up on a second cassette “Familiar Obstacle” that eventually was repressed on LP. The split with Orlando started as a joke. We wanted to write a soundtrack for an imaginary video game.
We haven’t found a precise way to write music yet. I am not even sure we are ever looking for one.
Surely there is both improvisation and structures but we haven’t nailed a precise ratio yet.
We constantly listen to old and new records and sometimes in trying to recreate a certain soundscape we find a “Tomaga” way to express it.
Tomaga's music is experimental and instrumental, would you see it as the musical equivalent of abstract art, the transposing of ideas and concepts, experiences and emotions into another form?
All our work so far has been like a collection of feelings, places and random events that somehow we felt the need to capture. I find that our modus operandi could be intrinsically linked to the collage aesthetic rather than abstract art. I would love to be the Hannah Hoch of drums! You can find a decent dose of paranoia, manic depression, black humour and surrealism in our compositions not necessarily “abstract” in the sense that the word entails.
Field recordings and homemade musical instruments are the main tools and the canvases vary. We recorded in many different locations; from our “Bunker” in Bethnal Green to a beautiful Tuscan colonic countryside retreat and this certainly helped our musical transposition of ideas into “ other” form.
I saw Tomaga at Colchester Art Centre with hardly anyone there (with Housewives-an amazing gig) and I've seen your gigs where the crowd just keeps growing the longer you are on! Does the immediate environment-the audience/ building-affect what/how you play or are you fairly self-contained?
One of the things I love the most about Tomaga is how versatile the whole project can be.
Both Tom and me are always up for playing as much as possible. So far we played in village squares, museums, churches, little theatres, contemporary museum and huge festivals.
I am always pleasantly surprised to find out that no matter where we perform we manage to establish a connection with the audience. It doesn’t really matter if there is one, four, two hundreds or a thousand people watching you. What it matters is that there is a musical
dialogue between the band and the audience. That is my idea of measuring how successful Tomaga (or any other band) is.
Do you draw on, or are you influenced by, any non-musical cultural resources (eg films, books, visual art) in your creative process? You are a big art fan, are there any visual artists you find particularly inspiring?
If you ever come to my place you will instantly be introduced to my Horror Vacui.
I keep whatever stimulates my imagination and I love drawing and making collages.
Endless posters, collages, screen prints, flyers, photos, imaginary creatures, cut ups form newspapers, magazine, anatomy books, stickers, tiles, masks, little sculptures. I consider my creativity a way to exorcize my paranoia.
Currently I find art brut particularly inspiring, the naivety, the unconventional, the fantasy worlds , everything created unwillingly outside of the established art scene.
The work of Wall, Ramirez or Adolf Wölfli for example, perfectly described as “Pulsating with organic life, his patterning—which employs everything from clock hands and buildings to snails and birds—is evocative of musculature one minute, an illuminated manuscript the next” has a big influence on my taste.
Could you tell us about Raime and your work with them, has it been a long standing collaboration?... and Vanishing Twin?
Yes ,I started working with Raime when they were recording their fantastic debut album 'Quarter Turns Over a Living Line'. The record is the first release on the incredible successful record label “Blackest Ever Black”. We met in Hackney Wick long time ago through mutual friends. They are fantastic guys and extremely talented producers.
Since the first recording we collaborated periodically and I played drums for their alter ego project“ Moine” and for their latest work “ Tooth “ (out on the 10th of June 2016).
I will be playing European and international shows with them starting from this June.
Vanishing Twin is a brand new project, led by Cathy Lucas also known as “Orlando”.
We recorded an album in North London produced by one of my favourite drummers and producer Malcom Catto (The Heliocentrics, Mulatu Astatke, Madlib etc...). We signed a record deal with Soundway so you’ll be soon able to hear the album.( Out in September.) I am extremely proud of this work as it took us almost a year to finish. It is extremely orchestrated, and magnificently performed by incredibly talented musicians. It is an intriguing mix of Library, Exotica, and soul jazz and popcorn music.
How have you found being a woman in rock music? Often in mainstream pop women's physicality seems to be emphasised, and some female musicians have written about having to cope with casual sexism. How have you found the music scene, have you experienced much sexism and gender stereotyping or have you been pleasantly surprised by your experience?
I never considered myself as female drummer or a woman in rock music, but simply a drummer.
I have always refused to answer ads and I have been extremely sceptical about bands seeking female musicians. It means nothing to me. The way you play an instrument can
only marginally change according to the sex of who plays it. Certainly playing death metal or really loud and heavy beats on the drums requires more strength and could possibly be more suitable roles for male candidates so, I am not ruling out exceptions.
However music is just a way of expression, a force able to unite and separate us and in my head it has no gender, neither changes accordingly to the genders of the musicians.
I have to admit that in my list of favourite drummers I have only few female musicians but I am sure this could be just a coincidence or my ignorance in discovering new artists.
As far as the casual sexism goes, yes every now and then I feel victim of preconceptions or conventions but I attempt not to be affected by them.
I had the occasional “ You are very good drummer for being female” or once on stage ready to sound check being asked “Are you the drummer?” but in general the audience who come to see Tomaga is incredibly open minded and free from stereotypes so it really doesn’t offend me. Who cares really?
Who has influenced you both musically and more generally?
This is a tricky question.
It would be very limiting citing few artists as I find new inspirations daily in my life.
Not only browsing my extensive record collection but reading and attending events (theatre, gig etc…).I guess what comes out from my music is a random mix of my feelings filtering whatever catches my mood, my feelings and my ears.
In my head, I know this might sound arrogant, I try to distinguish a genuine product from a derivative one and base my influence on the former.
What current bands are you excited by?
There is a lot of great labels and great stuff out there! I am naturally excited by all the “Negative Days”(our imprint) and “Hands in the Dark” releases like:
Brian Case’s from Disappears debut album, Blutwurst debut album (out this autumn), MFU Home Tapes ( that hopefully will come put on LP soon), Pierre Bastien, The Heliocentrics, Bzz Bzz ueu and almost everything from www.musicalacoque.it, Rocket Recordings, Blackest ever Black, www.dieschachtel.com, www.finderskeepersrecords.com etc etc….
How is the rest of 2016 looking? Have any of the bands you play with plans for new releases ?
The rest of 2016 looks pretty busy but incredibly exciting. I have a lot of shows booked and few recording sessions scheduled. Raime is out on the 10th of June ( Blackest ever Black), Vanishing Twin ( Soundway) will be out second week of September ,the new Tomaga album should be out the first week of September.( Hands in the Dark/ Negative Days)
Moreover I recorded an album with new project called “UUUU” with Graham Lewis, Matthew Simms (Wire) and Tighpaulsandra (Coil) currently being mixed. (Not sure when it will be out on EMEGO).
Big thanks to Valentina for her time, interview and music.