Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Music has probably saved all of us at least a few times during our lives, but what if diving into the process of creating an album really had a huge impact on your mental health?

I’ve been virtual friends with the fantastic Amber Valentine for a while, and heartily applauded her courage for coming forward and writing honestly about her recent struggles with anorexia and anxiety, and really just admiring this lovely, beautiful girl for fighting and finding ways to make her life better.

Out of her struggles, Amber Valentine’s Shriveled Heart & The Skeletons Left Behind came about with an EP full of songs inspired by The Wizard of Oz. She calls it “morbid fairy tale pop” – and I couldn’t agree more: each piece is a haunting melody featuring Amber’s child-like sing-songy voice. And the video she made (that I've posted above) explaining the process is a great, inspiring, honest watch. 

I had a chance to interview Amber about why she decided to create an EP in 13 hours by herself, what it means to her, and what’s next.

TIG: Can you talk a little bit more about what pushed you to create an EP of songs?

Amber V: I'd been writing songs since I was a child. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a musician more than anything, but I never had the confidence because of my anxiety disorder and because people suck and are mean and say awful things. So I ended up doing behind the scenes stuff, which led me to a career in band management. It wasn't until recently that I got confidence, through the support of my friends, and through working with the Tennessee Teens Rock Camp organization … and also through losing my iPod. I got drunk and left my iPod at Archie Powell's this spring. I was forced to make my own music basically through boredom.

TIG: Why do you think you had an urgency to finish them in such a tight deadline?

AV: Because I'm a manic weirdo. Honestly, I wanted to mess around with garage band because I'd never touched it before. The day I recoded the EP was the day I had finally—after months—written the final music for "Tin Man", so I wanted to try to record it. I'm an ambitious creature, however, and once I start a project, I have a hard time putting it down. So eight hours later, I had a version that I was proud of. Unfortunately, I had started this whole project at 1am. At that point, I figured "Why sleep?" because I had a handle on garage band and I was comfortable with "Scarecrow". I'd been playing that song since the 4th of July. So I recorded that too, and then at 6am, all haggard and feeling like Marianne Faithfull in the early '70s, I croaked out "The Emerald City", which is a song that never existed in that form before that night. I never meant to embark on a weird project and I never walked down to my basement lair that evening saying "I will finish this EP in 13 hours!" but I'm glad I did it because my self confidence wavers so much. If I didn't just record it and put it out there, I'd probably die with my shriveled heart full of regret. And F being scared! Being scared is the worst. The roller coaster in Disney World with the Yeti taught me that being scared is stupid because at the end of the day, it's probably just a silly plastic Yeti.

TIG: You make comparisons to yourself as Dorothy falling in love with the Tin Man, and then the Scarecrow—can you elaborate on that?

AV: I would love to tell you that this was all fictional and I'm just really creative but obviously, the Tin Man is based on my ex-boyfriend and the Scarecrow is a real person too. The situation I was in was sort of a strange low-rent, Fleetwood Mac-circa-Rumors thing, only without any hard drugs and with a snake infestation. It was a big ball of "this person is that person's ex and so-and-so has feelings for your girlfriend". I don't know if the Scarecrow ever cared about me, but he certainly showed me more affection than the Tin Man ever did. It wasn't a love triangle by any means because all three of us were horribly stunted people, emotionally. The Scarecrow was my best friend. So when I was dumped, I didn't just lose the Tin Man and the Emerald City, I lost a whole slew of characters that are mentioned in songs that didn't make the EP, like my Cowardly Lion, and Ozma, and Glinda the Good Witch … but what wrenched my heart the hardest was that I lost my Scarecrow too. Just like the song says, I miss him the most. So I suspect I kissed the wrong fella that first night in Nashville but who knows. It's all over now.

TIG: I think it's amazing that you put this all together so quickly. It definitely seems like creating these songs has helped you exorcise some demons. Do you agree?

AV: Oh, I could not agree more. As both a creative person and a vengeful girl, I definitely needed a creative output for the insane amount of emotions I was feeling. Because of the nature of the breakup, I was just sent back to Michigan with my suitcases. I never got closure. So as everyone below the Mason-Dixon line processed their own feelings and what happened and how it was portrayed to them, I worked through my feelings by relating the whole thing to the Wizard of Oz. I definitely let go of it all completely when I got that EP recorded. It was definitely like fairy dust.

TIG: When can we expect the next songs? And will they all be Cinderella themed?

AV: Well, my first project is working on a music video for the song "Scarecrow" which I'm hoping will be the pop hit that carries the preteens of New Zealand over to 2K13. Luckily, however, I'm obviously a quick worker. Right now, I have three songs that I'm going to start tracking this week. I'm hoping for it to have five songs total and be done sometime in January. I'm leery to give you any actual date because I feel like a "release date" is the biggest curse you can put upon yourself as a self-releasing artist! They will all be Cinderella themed. In real life, I am blonde and I was once told on a Craigslist Missed Connection that baby blue is my color. Also, I feel as if I live a Cinderella lifestyle because by day, I'm a maid and by night, I put on party dresses and get effed up with rock and rollers and … Sometimes, I kiss these boys. And lots of these times, my hair is even in a topknot. In my mind it all fits well. I'm definitely gonna keep this "morbid fairy tale pop" thing going. After this, who knows what it'll be. I might go find a group of seven boys and live in their house rent free in exchange for cleaning it just to get all Snow White on everyone. I'd hate to dye my hair black again, but I just really hate inauthenticity.

{Writer's note: Amber followed up on our interview with more info about her upcoming songs. She’s working with Zak Freed, who goes by the name of Zunk, and does AMAZING beats. The new songs will still be all about Cinderella, but the "dark twist" is that there is an undercurrent of violence. And after the glass slipper tunes? She’s planning something about Peter Pan & Wendy. I love this girl!}