Art is created in a myriad of ways. Some create from a place of joy and others from a place of darkness. Such is the way with musician Valerie Rose Sterrett. SLUG sat down with Sterrett and her husband/bandmate/artist B.C. over coffee one rainy evening. Immediately upon introducing myself to the two, I could sense the same intense emotions that were portrayed in the album Monsteria permeated from Sterret’s being. Calm, collected and seemingly reserved, Sterrett is a woman with some pretty forward ideas.
A recent transplant from Southern California, Sterrett is working hard to define and find herself in Utah’s bustling music scene. She’s been living and performing here for a little over a year now, but prior to her move, she frequented Velour in Provo and performed at several of their open-mic events to get her foot in the door. “I liked the vibe and the scene and the ambience of it all,” Sterrett says. It reminds her of one of her old haunts back home in Ventura. Just before moving to Utah, Sterrett remembers hitting a wall. “I felt like it was time for a change,” she says. “I didn’t know what it would lead me to—I was just going off faith.” So far, Sterrett seems happy with her decision to uproot and leave the sunshine and move eastward.
Since the ripe age of 12, Sterrett has been writing songs. It wasn’t until she hooked up with Utah label Swoody Records that she figured out what to do with them all. She says that working with the record label was “the most positive experience. No pressure.” B.C. chimes in and says, “Swoody is a label meant for artists who don’t know how to promote themselves. A lot of them already have a body of work that they don’t know what to do with, and Valerie was one of them. She’s had this music for years, but it’s something she had to purge out.” And purge she did.
This past Halloween, Sterrett released her album Monsteria, a 12-track album filled with emotionally charged lyrics centered on confronting demons of her past. It’s got a real gothic vibe, with warbling vocals and some campy sound effects. But I’m surprised when her husband informs me that she actually has no interest in the horror genre at all. Confused, I asked why she picked such dark, macabre themes for her first album. “It comes from a very dark place,” she admits. She looks slightly uncomfortable but continues to say, “[The music] … is a history. The title Monsteria is about me escaping some of the monsters of my past.” It was then that I began to understand just how literally she had intended the album to read. It’s a technique, or a way for her to cope with the horrors of her past. “I was involved in some difficult relationship experiences,” she says. “I don’t want to say they were abusive … but to me … it felt like abuse.”
As we’re discussing the plethora of songs that she has already created, she pulls out a worn notebook from her bag. I can tell it’s a constant companion to her. It’s not large, but I can sense the staggering weight of the words. On the back flap, she’s compiled a list of every track she’s ever written. She says that she has enough material to release a sister album to Monsteria. It’s impressive. Sterrett hopes that those who delve into the darkness of her past can relate to her struggles and realize that “there’s a light of hope at the end of the tunnel,” she says. “It’s a modest message for a morbid album, but the way she sees it, “the album is an escape” for both herself and her listeners.
Sterrett seems to still be working out exactly who she is as a performer. At her latest show at Diabolical Records, her performance stuck to the album’s gothic cadence. “I did dress up at the last show, but I’m still trying to figure out what the best way is to go about it,” she says. “I just don’t want my performance to take away from the music. I don’t want to be pegged as one certain genre or image yet. I’m constantly trying to redefine my own genre.” B.C. points out that she even used to perform under a different moniker—Amethyst. She laughs and says, “That was part of my healing process. When I would perform, I was able to become this other character and hide behind a stage name. It makes it easier to share personal things when you’re acting as somebody else.” Authenticity seems key for her though, and somehow, the change in band names makes me approve even more of what she’s trying to accomplish.
It’s a challenging thing for any musician to start out in the industry. It takes time to get your name out and figure out exactly what you represent once it’s out there. I hope that she can move toward a clearer path soon—I’m not sure what direction her music will take from here, but Sterrett remains optimistic, and I, for one, anticipate some truly raw art to surface in whatever she chooses to dig her hands into next. Valerie Rose Sterrett will be performing for Localized on Feb. 14 at Urban Lounge. Be sure to check out her latest release at swoodyrecords.bandcamp.com/album/monsteria.