The Villager: For Valerie Ghent, Music is a Constant

For Valerie Ghent, Music’s a Constant

by Robert Hicks

Years of performing on keyboards and singing in some of New York’s groundbreaking funk, dance, R&B and synthesizer pop bands – Defunkt, Foreign Legion, Debbie Harry and Nursery School – still found Valerie Ghent without a CD to call her own until producer James Biondolillo encouraged her to take her skills as a songwriter, musician and sound programmer to task.

“It took a while to adjust to the concept of having the record really focused on me and not on my band (sound)” says Ghent from her West Village residence and home midi studio. “For me the ballads have always been the easiest thing to write. It goes back to when I was a kid, writing songs about feeling sad. It’s always been a comfort to me to just sing and play. (Ballads) usually come out on a rainy day like this – or late at night – when I’m just noodling around, singing and playing. The uptempo stuff is much more fun – and I just love playing grooves with the band” adds Ghent.

During 1996, Ghent spent most of her days working with Ashford and Simpson on (their new CD) “Been Found”, featuring Maya Angelou. Val works as their engineer, recording and editing music as well as their radio show on WRKS-FM and has recently performed with them on the Oprah Winfrey and Rosie O’Donnell shows. Her nights she devoted to her own debut CD, “Unstoppable”. Most of “Unstoppable” features Ghent’s solo work on keyboards, vocals, drum programming, sound design and sampling, but for some tracks she’s backed up by Tony Bridges (Chaka Kahn, Freddie Jackson) on bass and Knox Chandler (Psychedelic Furs) on guitar. Russian accordionist Yuri Zak appears on “Truth”, giving the CD a temporary feeling Tom Waits, and a sax solo by England’s Nigel Hitchcock and Knox Chandler’s cello add a touch of jazz to the predominately funk-driven and synthesizer pop sounds from Ghent.

Ghent is a child of the ’70’s, having grown up on the rock scene at Max’s Kansas City, CBGB’s, the Bottom Line and the Ritz. Ghent was raised in Greenwich Village and SoHo. Her father, electronic music composer Emmanuel Ghent, first introduced her to a sound recording studio and her mother, violist-composer Nathalie Ghent instilled in her a love for songwriting. Ghent’s first composition, at age 8, was performed by her mother’s group, the SoHo Ensemble. By age 15, she was rebelling against the classical world around her and performing with local bands at downtown clubs.

“There was tons of music in the house when we were growing up. I couldn’t listen to classical music until I was about 20 after hearing it so much at home! My dad brought me out to Bell Labs, in Murray Hill, NJ, where he (composed on) the computers. It was a real eye-opener for me in terms of bringing computers and music together. Both my parents helped me develop a sense of songwriting – they’d give us these huge cardboard musical staffs and these plumbing washers to throw on the cardboard. Wherever the washers landed, (we had to name the notes) they’d go to the keyboards and play the notes. That was our first experience with ‘songs'”, recalls Ghent. Those household games involved Valerie and her two sisters in music. Ghent’s older sister went on to pursue a career as a classical violinist and her younger sibling commanded the world of computer graphics, creating web sites, including Valerie’s at http://home.earthlink.net/~valghent. But for Valerie the pop sounds of the Beatles and David Bowie and the funk of George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic became her preoccupation.

“We lived on Charles St. until I was about 3. It was a pretty small apartment…in the late 60’s my dad bought a loft on Prince St. before (SoHo) was zoned for residential use. We had to be pretty quiet about living there! Ornette Coleman lived (and rehearsed) in that building, and some other musicians and artists did as well. The S.D.S was in that building, too, which made for some pretty exciting times. My mom was always afraid they were going to blow up the building – the Weathermen, that whole thing. In the mid-70’s my parents divorced and my mom went back to the West Village, so we went back and forth between the two houses. I was used to not seeing them together, I pretended it didn’t bother me…I would just write a lot of songs. Whatever I was feeling at the time I would put into music – I felt that was the only constant thing in my life,” says Ghent.”

© 1996 The Villager

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