Q&A: Rikki Valentina
By August Edwards
The LA-based Rikki Valentina was raised by a drummer father and an actress mother and is now storming the entertainment industry with her own silky pop. Rikki has a compelling, smart image that enhances her artistry; it's one of the clear and exciting draws of pop music. Her aesthetic harkens Audrey Hepburn and Tim Burton - two icons she praises as inspiration - and still remains her own.
Rikki excels in seeing her visions through. Regarding "Paranoid," her recent single featured below, strong emotions instigated the creation of the song, and she was able to transcribe the emotions as imagery in her music video. In our Q&A we discuss social media, social anxiety, and the business of music.
We hope you'll watch "Paranoid" and follow along for some soft pop enchantment!
ABQGR: Your father is a drummer and mother an actress; did you learn any valuable lessons from them regarding being an artist and creating?
Rikki: A little bit, but I think there’s a big difference between them and me because our generation was raised with technology. When it comes to the business, I would go to my dad for advice, and he was like, ‘Oh, I don’t really know anymore, because you guys have social media now. With us it was the newspaper and playing shows, that was the thing.’ So, there was some help here and there. My mom helped me get an agent when I was a kid. ‘Cause at the time, when I was really little, people were still accepting headshots and resumes by mail, and they were still doing black and white photos too, which is pretty funny. They set me up with classes in the acting and music worlds, [and] set me up to be prepared for whatever comes at me on the talent side.
How would you describe your relationship with social media?
I have a love-hate relationship with social media lately. When it was more about art and less about clout, I enjoyed it a lot more. Even Myspace days—it was about taking cool photos, and making your profile what you like. I thought that was more important than people posing with nice, designer items, high luxury places. It’s not the same. We don’t get to see who you are—we get to see what you have. And there’s a big difference between that, which I don’t care for. I do wish social media could go back to that. But I do like that because social media has grown so big over time, you’re able to connect instantly with someone who lives on the other side of the globe from you. And when you’re posting your art or trying to promote yourself, you can connect with anybody.
"Paranoid" is a song about social anxiety stemming from a very specific experience you had. What is the significance of the single to you, it coming out this month, the production - what does it mean to you?
I wrote this song in 2019, in December, but I already had "Dazed & Confused," which was about the same thing of not having that group around you that you can trust and not being able to be yourself. And I was like, ‘Well, I feel like I already have a song about [social anxiety], so let me just change it up a little.’ I kind of made it more about the feeling of anxiety, which is terrifying, and I know a lot of people have experienced the same thing. Where there’s times where you’re so afraid and you don’t even know why, and you’re crying, and you’re like, ‘Why am I so scared right now? Nothing’s happening!’ And it’s a very terrifying feeling.
So [I thought], you know what, why don’t I make this into the Halloween song? Because it’s scary for a lot of people who experience it, and at the same time, I want to also make it about the people that I have surrounded myself with at parties or just friends of friends, feeling like you don’t really belong—that’s why in the music video I used mannequins, kind of explaining that these people are not real, and just not fitting in and not feeling normal in these situations. It’s a Twilight Zone thing going on. I used other fears as well--I used [imagery of] talking on the phone 'cause I had such a big fear of talking on the phone with people. I know a lot of people who feel the same way, so I thought it was funny to throw that in there.
I also used for my promotion videos, in the beginning, this hypnotizing background—poking fun at [my past experience]; when me and my sister were younger, my sister was diagnosed with anxiety way before I was, and my mom’s like, 'Hey! I know how to fix you! We’re gonna go see a hypnotherapist.; Just the idea seeing a hypnotherapist was hilarious to me. Everything kind of has its own little backstory [slash] secret thing going on.
How do you successfully instill those emotions into your songs and songwriting?
It’s just being honest and not being afraid to put out there how you feel when it comes to songwriting. And also creating a visual through the sounds. I think that’s very important because whenever I’m writing a song I like to make sure I can hear the music video before I make the music video, if that makes sense. In my head, all of my songs have a music video. Some of them might not be out—I don’t have the budget for it, unfortunately. But I have to make sure that I see some type of vision for the song before it can be completed.
What’s something about paranoid that you wish your audience knew?
The backstory of my phobias—the things that trigger my anxieties. I [used an image of] a crystal ball, and I guess it’s kind of like seeing into the future, which is a big anxiety for me because you don’t know what the future holds. That’s something that’s scary for a lot of people as well. So, it’s kind of funny--it’s like, this song is supposed to be so scary but really it’s just everything I’m afraid of.
I heard you wrote your recent EP Daddy’s Girl in response to losing your father after a motorcycle accident in 2019; did creating that help you through the grieving process?
I guess in a sense it helped—in the beginning it did because it kept me busy and I knew what I was doing was living on his legacy, my dad’s legacy, because he was a musician and he was rooting for me and he was helping me with my career by setting me up with mixing and mastering, and he has friends that he’s in a band with that he pushed my way. But at the same time it was really tough to go through with it. I don’t know if it was 100% healing. I think I was more trying to make it healing than it really was. I was trying to figure out a way to heal. I’ll be honest, it doesn’t work that way, but it helps in the meantime to keep me busy doing something positive. I’ve also written more songs that are not out yet that are about grief as well. Those have kind of helped me realize my feelings, and I think that’s important to place your finger down on what you’re feeling and be okay with it.
I know that was a tough question but that was a great answer and helpful to the people reading who relate to you.
I don’t wanna lie and be like, oh! I’m all better now! I was really hoping for that to happen, but it didn’t, unfortunately. And I guess that’s a good thing to let other people know.
Anything I missed that you’d like to talk about?
I really enjoyed that we were able to talk about all the phobias in the video because I didn’t get to elaborate on that with other people. Something I’m very proud of that I did was I actually color-graded my music video myself. My cinematographer was putting random LUTs on it and they weren’t in the realm of my aesthetic. I was like, no, I need to do this! So, I went on YouTube and taught myself how to make presets in Lightroom and convert them, just to have my vision. So I’m pretty proud that I was able to teach myself something like that really quickly and now if I ever need to help anybody with that, I can put that on my resume.