Before Hunter Valentine took the stage at the Supermarket in Kensington Market on Nov 17, the floor was swarming, the air littered with mouthy demands for the trio. When the young guns finally stepped up, the room somehow got bigger. Laura Petracca slivered out backup vocals while feverishly pounding her skins; Adrienne Lloyd’s fingers fancily strummed up bass rhythm, only a few sly smiles slipping out; and Kiyomi McCloskey delivered shards of melody on guitar, her breathy wails really making it with the mic. “You can’t steal this/ ‘Cause I feel it,” warned McCloskey in “Fight.” When they get to “My Regrets,” the band saucily dedicated it to me. This interview? Say it ain’t so.
Maybe there was cause for concern. A few nights before, I sat down with the “Romeo rock” darlings, as they’ve been called, over nachos and beer along Queen West. We talked music, girls, vision, everything. In the span of three hours, Petracca managed to get picked up by a woman dining a few tables over, McCloskey disappeared to “meet some girl in the bathroom,” Lloyd enigmatically avoided all personal questions and the three of them vowed to steal my mother’s heart.
I wouldn’t be surprised. After all, since their genesis in the summer of 2004, they’ve managed to steal hearts at June’s NXNE Music Festival, a performance by invitation where they secured two critics’ picks. A few days later they graced the cover of Now magazine. Their August gig at the Drake Underground sold out well before show time. They were selected for October’s Halifax Pop Explosion Festival, and they’ve already toured much of Ontario. Their first EP, a four-track affectionately referred to as the “Scarborough Sessions,” was recorded back in February with the help of Percy (aka Jason LaPrade, of the now-defunct Jane Waynes). “My Regrets” was just featured on a Confidential Records compilation (November 2005) and their slick new website just went live on Nov 17, including a new version of “Van City.” But perhaps their biggest stolen heart to date is that of lauded Canadian producer and musician Ian Blurton (The Weakerthans, Tricky Woo, C’Mon), with whom they just recorded their new demo.
How’d they do it?
“It was after our Jun 18 show at the El Mo,” says McCloskey. “I was backstage and this very rock-and-roll dude came up to me and said, ‘Hey, that was awesome!’ And I was like, ‘Uh, okay,'” McCloskey mimics speechlessness. “I gave him our EP and he said he’d be into working with us. He came to our rehearsal space, we played him our songs, he told us what he thought. And we were in the studio Aug 20. It was all really quick.”
“Working with him was a great experience,” says Lloyd. “Letting a producer in can be intimidating, but Ian’s integrity and insight into our music was perfect. He really got inside the sound.”
Exposure brought opportunities and challenges. “People were calling, wanting something to do with us,” McCloskey says. “Others were really questioning our credibility because we did this so quickly. It really made us check ourselves.
“Especially going into the studio with Ian – we needed to strip down all the bullshit and figure out exactly what we were doing, whether or not we were going to totally commit everything. We’re a hardworking band and I want to be known as a hardworking band.”
“We were struggling to keep it together under a lot of pressure,” says Lloyd. “The night before we recorded, we sat outside our rehearsal space in tears. We didn’t know if we had the money. We were completely worn out. It was a breaking point. But then we went into the studio and had the most amazing experience: For three days we had the opportunity to dream that this could be the rest of our lives.”
Sure, they’re still in debt, but who cares? They’ve got a crisply cut demo to shop around — the beginnings of an LP if they choose — and the confidence to know they can do the job. “We’re going to take a month or two off to make some good decisions about our future,” says Petracca. “We’d like to write some more songs.”
Writing is a collective effort. “Kiyomi will come with a riff, an idea, a melody and Hunter Valentine collaborates to make it happen,” says Petracca. “Kiyomi handles lyrics. Adrienne is the bridge queen.”
It was in March 2003 that McCloskey and Petracca first met. During a night of debauchery, they hit it off, traded numbers… and promptly lost them. It wasn’t until August that they stumbled upon one another again. Things clicked immediately. “We can read each other’s minds,” says Petracca. “There are lots of times we don’t say what we’re going to do but we both do it.”
“We can’t read Adrienne’s mind because she’s a vegetarian,” adds McCloskey.
In fall of 2003, the duo morphed briefly into a four-piece that quickly flat-lined as people left to pursue other projects. They found Lloyd through a mutual friend — the Parachute Club’s Lorraine Segato — just a couple weeks before a gig at Juicy’s 2004 sold-out Pride party. So began the swaggering rock that’s Hunter Valentine.
Lloyd, 26, studied piano at the Royal Conservatory and classical music at Western. “I spent four years denying the fact that I actually really loved rock and roll. When you’re supposed to be loving Brahms and Beethoven, it seems kind of antithetical.” The various bands on her bio include The Jane Waynes, for whom she subbed bass for a spell. “They nurtured us in the beginning, let us open for them. Sharing an audience is a really gracious thing to do to a young band.”
McCloskey, in her early 20s, also has a polygamous resumé. “I actually have a long musical history of quitting instruments,” she laughs. “In grade four I started off with the viola, but I was really bad so I quit. In high school, I played baritone sax and liked it but it’s the largest orchestra instrument and probably one of the most expensive. It wasn’t until one year at camp that I started playing guitar. I had a crush on this counsellor and she was teaching the lessons so I started going to them every day.”
Back in Toronto, she continued training and launched a solo act until it began to wear thin. “I was sick of people putting me in this girl-with-a-guitar category, calling it folk right away.”
Petracca (ex-Crawling Ivy), 25, is known for cleaning up at drum competitions. Her grandfather and uncle are both drummers. “There was always at least one kit set up at my grandmother’s house. I’d always sneak into the basement and start playing soft but inevitably break out into something loud until someone would come down and tell me to shut up. I got seriously into it at 14. I was in a number of bands with lots of crazy stupid names.”
McCloskey explains the concept behind Hunter Valentine. “It’s the space of the heartbreaker and the heartbroken, both a mentality and a fiction – the character that everyone hates to love, envies and wants to be, who we’ve all felt ripped off by at some point. Everyone has elements of that character in them. When we’re onstage, we’re singing songs about how our hearts have been ripped out, but at same time, drawing people in and maybe breaking hearts as we go.
“Some people don’t get it. They think we’re just young, cocky little pricks.”
What of their own breaking-hearts track record? “Why don’t you take a poll at the Gladstone and figure it out?” McCloskey deadpans, bursting into laughter. “I was 17 when I had my heart broken. It was my first love. I went out and did ridiculous things for this girl — in the middle of the night, I painted a bench in Trinity Bellwoods Park bright red for her. That was right before the heartbreak happened. It’s faded some, but the bench is still red.”
Petracca’s first? “I was 21. She kissed my shoulder and stole my heart instantly. We never got to a foul point, which made it the hardest. It just kind of ended before it got really good. And I broke a girl’s heart very badly in a very bad way. I Dear Johnned my girlfriend of almost three years. I couldn’t talk to her so I wrote her a 12-page letter.”
“That’s not a Dear John!” yells Lloyd, who McCloskey calls “Mysterious-O” – she won’t divulge any of her own stories.
Whether they’re hammering out the melancholy of losing someone to addiction or muscling their way through heartbreak, Hunter Valentine’s tightly knit rock, equal parts brawn and angst, demands that hips sway and hearts swell.