It’s 10pm on a drizzly Friday in the heart of Devon, but for Desi Valentine “It’s another beautiful day in LA”. So much so, that later on in our interview, he’d be placing his phone in the freezer after it overheats in the beaming 3pm sun.
From the outset, Desi’s optimistic and good-natured zest shines through in conversation. While the scheduled plan was a brief fifteen-minute phone interview, Desi laughs nonchalantly as he reveals he’s cleared the whole hour to talk. He begins to muse over how the past two years have been something of a rather surreal, but nevertheless spectacular, whirlwind for him since his song ‘Fate Don’t Know You‘ was featured in the television programme Suits. The song garnered him universal attention and acclaim with countless views on YouTube and over five million streams on Spotify, but Desi appears to only be picking up more and more momentum in his career as he talks to me the day before he plans to jet off to Australia.
Desi’s optimistic and good-natured zest shines through in conversation
The conversation naturally starts regarding his hit song, ‘Fate Don’t Know You’, a rousing soul ballad, released a day after its feature on the Suits episode. One can certainly detect Desi’s self-described “old school blues sound” within the very rudiments of the song. He reveals that his social media blew up after the episode, with fans demanding the song and was even trending for a period of time, however the exposure came at a particularly turbulent time in his life: “It was a really stressful time for me” he claims, “I had just come back from opening for Blondie and I was working behind a bar at the time and they closed it with two weeks’ notice. And as this whole thing was going on, I was so stressed out. So, I hadn’t really registered what a big deal it was. It took me even a week to even settle in my mind because I was just so preoccupied and stressed”.
With visceral metaphorical lyrics and a powerful arrangement of only a handful of instruments, I ask him how ‘Fate’ took shape. He revealed that the song, co-written by Nana Afriyie and Rune Westberg, was almost a baptism by fire, with the song’s composition being the first time these three had ever met. In discussing the lyrical meaning, Desi stated he had the idea of “what if someone told you that your life had all of these riches, but you wouldn’t have the love of your life in it? That’s where it all started to feel like we were onto something. Rune jumped on the keys and started to play the riff and I just started singing. But we were trying to find THAT line in the chorus, THE line that brings it all together and then Nana was like ‘fate don’t know you like I do’ and we were all like, that’s it, and then the whole thing was written beginning to end in about five hours”.
Its clear that this degree of musical collaboration in the songwriting process is imperative for Desi. “It expands your ideas and the possibilities of what you can do, infinitely. All it took was for me to say one thing which led Nana to say the line, or me coming into the room with that concept. So much music has already been made, so many stories have been told. Fusing these ideas and energies is the key to the new and exciting things in music, and you pour so much into the song and the song becomes king. That’s what everybody says, all the big producers, anybody of note will say that the song is absolute king. It’s the most important and powerful thing”.
the musical collaboration in the songwriting process is imperative
When talking about the performance aspect of his musical career, Desi’s face visibly lights up as he gushes about the almost magical impact music can have upon a crowd: “Having people dance, sing along if they know the words, when there is certain moments that you can change the energy of the room and all of a sudden, no one’s talking anymore, when you have an engaged room of people hanging on the edge of every word you say, there is… nothing like that. The live element is my favourite part of it all. It’s about energy, it’s exchange. Putting your raw energy, emotion and passion into your performance and also having that come back at you”.
But talking to Desi reveals that whilst music has always been a hugely seminal part of the singer’s life, growing up with an eclectic range of music being played around his home, he was originally heading down the musical theatre path. “My first job out of college was in the original cast of The Producers musical, that was the first professional job I had done outside of college and it was amazing, and I couldn’t even believe it, I was pinching myself. But I kind of felt like I started at the top of what it was going to be, it was one of the best shows that anyone has ever done and to come straight out and work directly with Mel Brooks and Susan Stroman and all these incredible people. I came in swinging at the top and I learnt a lot”.
So, when I asked him what changed, believing it to be a job opportunity or the interest of an agency, Desi explains that it was a rather unremarkable and almost mundane event that led to him creating his own music. “I was at a party in my second year of The Producers and was already wondering what the next thing to do and some random dude who I never met before and have never met since, said to me ‘you’re a trained singer, right? You should make music, a lot of people sing and don’t have the training, so you should do that’ and I’d normally have a smart retort but I was like ‘no, that’s absolutely what I should do.’ I still don’t where or who this guy is, but I have him to thank, he steered my life into a completely different direction. I had never played an instrument before, but I bought a keyboard, started writing down ideas. From that moment, I knew it was right, it was a new exciting challenge. It was really illuminating that the moment I started playing way way smaller gigs and venues, my own thing in a small bar in Clapham that had a tiny speaker, I got more of a buzz out of that than I did being in front of 2000 people in a world-renowned musical”.
I had never played an instrument before but I bought a keyboard started writing down ideas
But while the song’s success certainly garnered Desi more attention and acclaim, he claims that one of the biggest surprises he found in the record label world was there was a greater number of isolated incidences that lead to his success. “In the old days, one song would be my big break. It didn’t necessarily lead straight onto that trajectory, it wasn’t like all the doors fly open. There’s still been the downswing moments, the moments when we say ‘well we don’t know what the next thing is’, you continuously have to put a lot of energy into keeping the wheel going, it’s not very easy to keep the momentum going and I was surprised at that. I thought you would have one song that would do very well and that would be it”.
Yet regarding the publicity and the extensive interview process that is now an imperative part of a musical artist’s career, Desi is still humbled, and honoured that people are still asking about his music. “It’s cool to be able to explain why you wrote these things and why you were writing” he states with genuine humility.
The impression of the interview is that Desi’s passion is unwavering and ardent. Discussing several of his tracks, each with his own personal influence and meaning, he becomes visibly excited when he hears of people connecting and emoting to his lyrics. From the nuance of his words within ‘My Worst Enemy’ or his powerful response to the events of Charlottesville in 2017 with ‘Love is Love’. When I ask what’s coming next for Desi, he once again beams as he promises that an album is coming. “I’ve been writing solidly for the last three, four years. This will be the first time people will be hearing a body of work for me. This is the moment that I get to string everything together”. He takes a moment, smiles to himself and then states with a charming confidence: “This is it”.