Natalie Carol moved to Los Angeles nearly a decade ago, but the Little Rock phone number she calls me from the day before her band Valley Queen’s debut album drops proves she remembers her roots.
The daughter of two doctors with a physician brother to boot, Carol calls herself the black sheep of the family. She grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas — a place where her family still resides.
“Doctors are really the last ones in a room that are allowed to emote or show their feelings,” Carol says of the profession when we spoke via phone. “So I was always kind of the one showing emotion in our household.”
Though Carol did in fact pursue the medical field at first — even scrubbing in alongside her father in hospitals — her penchant for showing emotion found its way into writing songs. Carol recalls doing an exercise where you’re supposed to think about what makes you happiest and pursue that, and it brought to mind singing in the bathroom as a child.
But it was as part of four-piece rock act Valley Queen that Carol really began to flourish. The 2016 EP Destroyer paved the way for them earning a ton of buzz, as well as showcases on NPR’s Tiny Desk and a performance on Daytrotter — which is how I first heard Valley Queen and Natalie Carol’s powerhouse voice.
This past Friday marked the release of Valley Queen’s long-awaited full-length debut, Supergiant (Roll Call Records). It’s been a long road for the band from the success of their EP to today. There was a breakup, which spurred Carol to convince two of her three bandmates to return to the fold. You would think with all of the trials and tribulations along the way, the band might not have opted for a Friday the 13th release.
But on the day before the album drops, I find Carol extremely happy — and she notes I’m catching her on an especially good day.
Supergiant dropped four high-powered singles ahead of the album’s release. But as I listened to the record in advance of the release, I found there was a much more delicate side to the record than the straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll that was presented.
“Honestly, I’m glad to hear you say that,” Carol said of my mentioning my enjoyment of the slower-tempo tunes. “I think the suits at the label decided it was best to go with the more upbeat tunes as singles. But there’s a real tender underbelly to the record and I’m excited to see how people receive it.”
“Gems and Rubies” is one such tender tune, with its simple guitar riff reminiscent of HAIM ballad “Honey & I”. Carol’s voice becomes the sole focus, climbing the register effortlessly while getting across the emotions of the tune. The ability to mix up speeds on this record is Fleetwood Mac esque.
Carol’s voice has been most often compared to Florence Welch, but I mostly hear late Cranberries juggernaut Dolores O’Riordan, with a slight hint of Joy Formidable singer Rhiannon Bryan. It’s an interesting comparison given those singers are from Ireland and Wales, respectively — and Carol is American.
“I’ve actually never been able to understand where that comes from,” Carol says of her unique sound. “But I did see a TED Talks with a linguist, who said the U.S. southern accent is the closest derivative to the Brits before they colonized.”
Whatever the reason may be for that sound, it wonderfully complements lead guitarist Shawn Morones’ vibrant tune. Take title track “Supergiant” for instance. It has a memorable guitar riff that precedes Carol’s home-run hitting vocal capacity.
“Chasing the Muse” is a single that showcases Carol’s songwriting at its best. Carol wrote all of the songs except one, in which she shared a co-write with a bandmate.
The song was borne from a trip to a therapist that didn’t prove fruitful in terms of helping solve her feelings related to a separation she was going through at the time. But that doesn’t mean Carol was unable to mine it for songwriting value.
“The therapist tried dividing my life into parts of a Venn diagram on a dry erase board,” Carol said of the experience. “I found it to be kind of silly but used the exercise to write the song in parts. “One part anger, two parts heartbreak, three parts relief,” Carol sings in the opening verse.
The entire Supergiant album has a blissfully nostalgic feel to it. Imagine if Florence Welch fronted Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers backing band. That’s sort of what you get here on this record.
Valley Queen has a hometown show at the Moroccan Lounge on Saturday, July 28, doubling as an album-release show.
“It’s actually those gigs at home that make me most nervous because a lot of friends will be there,” Carol says of playing LA. “But I’m actually really excited to play these new songs now that the album is out. Usually I just play the songs without talking much in between, but this time I’m going to kind of talk a bit about the songs.”
It’ll be a great VH1 Storytellers style experience for Los Angeles fans who have followed this band since they first arrived on the local scene. Personally, I’m excited to finally experience those booming vocals and intense guitar riffs in person.
Words by Mark Ortega