Beneath Jessica Vale’s frizzy hair and dark eye shadow is the ideal product of Temple: diversified, independent and successful.
Since graduating from Temple in 2000, Vale has released two albums under Explicit Records – which she founded with guitarist Ivan Evangelista – and toured America and Europe with her band. Her second album, Brand New Disease, reached No. 3 on the Billboard Music Charts for Hot Dance Club play following its Oct. 16 release.
Vale’s music is heavy and synthesizer-laden, yet upbeat. Her musical persona, usually pictured sporting wild hair and heavy makeup, borders performance art. Her sound has been categorized as neo-gothic and electronic. Regardless of labels, it is honest and intense.
Vale, who lives in New York, aroused the music scene with her self-released debut, The Sex Album, in 2005. Not only was it an expression of sexuality through art, but it was composed using recordings of people having sex, then synthesized and turned into music.
“Could you, in theory, record anything, like people having sex and then manipulate it into music?” Vale said. The album’s engineer, Jean-Luc Cohen, specializes in synthesizers and audio synthesis. “He even took rat brain waves and turned [them] into music. So we thought about it and knew we had to try it.”
With the album concept envisioned, Vale only needed participants willing to have their ‘efforts’ recorded.
“We decided to go to the obvious place, which to us was the New York City clubs where you have a lot of people dancing and already doing risqué sort of things,” Vale said.
The process may have inspired the song “Disco Libido,” an upbeat piece that peaked at No. 15 during its 13-week run on the Billboard Dance Single’s charts. “You’re here to score / So loosen up / I’m here to dance / so I don’t give a f–k” are among the song’s playful lyrics which satirize the very dance culture that quickly lauded the single as a club favorite.
For Brand New Disease, guitarist Evangelista enlisted a drummer and bassist to complete the band, giving the new album a more organic sound than the first. Vale said that Brand New Disease was recorded with the intention of being played live.
“We didn’t want to be one of those acts who presses ‘play’ on a lap top,” she said. “We’ve always had the energy of a live band and it’s very much a performance.”
Evangelista said that because of the proliferation of programmed music in the last 20 years, there are very few people that can actually play instruments.
“That really makes a very good, truly live band a bit more of a novelty than it did 10 years ago,” Evangelista said. Much of the dark energy on Brand New Disease carried over from the dilapidated building where they recorded the album.
“It’s a self-contained subculture, raw, and at times, frightening,” Vale said. “It is a mix of artists who rent, artists who squat, and crazies who wander in and sleep in the staircase. We are trying to get as much art made there as we can before it’s turned into condos.”
The lyrics on Brand New Disease are also of a more serious and personal nature. Vale drew from her experiences of world traveling in the song “Night in Sarajevo” and co-directing the coinciding music video among the ruins of the war-torn country. She credited her time studying abroad at Temple Rome for profoundly influencing her as an artist and citizen of the free world. She plans on traveling to Liberia on a volunteer aid mission in 2008.
Vale represents the do-it-yourself workmanship as an artist by composing and performing her songs, releasing her albums and co-directing her music videos. Vale said she hopes to further this ethic by including more cinematic elements into her live performances.
“I think that she is probably a little ahead of the curve as far as the business aspect is going,” Evangelista said. “She hasn’t really grown up within the major label structure as an artist. You don’t have to get into it to be a noticed and appreciated artist.”
Jimmy Viola can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.