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Sal Valentine and The Babyshakes

Sal Valentine and The Babyshakes

Interviewed by
Glen Meltzer
Thursday 31st October, 2013 10:33AM

Auckland rhythm and blues group Sal Valentine & The Babyshakes kick started the year with the first single from their forthcoming debut album which will finally be unveiled tomorrow.  The ten piece ensemble have made quite an impression in the intervening months, building a  solid following for their notoriously raucous live shows. Playing the UnDeadbeat Prom tonight in Auckland and Saturday's Deadbeat Prom in Wellington, we got in touch with band leader Ivan Luketina-Johnston, aka Sal Valentine, to find out more about the development of the project and his stage persona, translating their live energy onto record and the future of the band...

Sal Valentine is not your real name, but an awesome stage persona. What is the back story of Sal and where did the name come from?

My full forizzle name is, whilst quite nice on the ears, quite long. I needed something snappier. At the age of 18 I was very much inspired by the works of Jack Kerouac - especially 'On The Road' - a quintessential classic of the Beat Generation which is more or less biographical, wherein Jack has renamed himself 'Sal Paradise'. I met a Gentleman (and I mean that shit) whilst on tour a few years back named Logan Valentine. It should also be mentioned that he is a total babe, and never once complained that I stole his last name without asking. Cheers.

Therein lies a strong conflict of lifestyle choices - on the one hand being a mischievous motherfucker filled to the brim with yolo and a carefree attitude can be appealing. On the other, striving to be a well mannered, generally nice person who is kind and considerate with a great work ethic also has it's merits.

I constantly feel like a ping-pong ball paddled between the two extremes, never quite nailing either one.

You've played in all kinds of bands (80s Jacket Club, Pink Fluffy Clouds, Glass Owls among others) but always at the back of the stage playing the drums. What made you get up and start fronting your own group as the singer?

There are quite a few sangers out there who could sing the testicles off a well-testicled man, and could certainly out sing me. But perhaps they don't make an attempt at connecting with their audience? Perhaps their band stares at their delay pedals when they play? Maybe they tailor their music specifically to be enjoyed by other musicians? Who knows, maybe you just don't leave their show with a smile on your face.

Who can tell with these things?

Sal Valentine & The Babyshakes are well-known to deliver an upbeat, raucous live show. What tricks do you have to get a crowd active and dancing rather than the usual Auckland standing around awkwardly at a gig?

I think first and foremost, before we even delve into the specifics of tonality or composition or any of that bullshit, we have quite an appealing timbre. It's hard to make that instrumentation sound sombre or lusterless. Opening with something in-yo-face helps as well, and if people aren't dancing then you just ask them to dance. Straight up. If people don't want to dance it's probably because you're not providing them with a music to dance to, and that's fine. For example: I mcmotherfucking love My Bloody Valentine but I probably wouldn't dance to it - Sean Paul on the other hand...

Is the songwriting process you as the band leader sitting at a piano writing sheets of music for the band to learn, or is it more of a group jam based process?

I sit at the piano whilst Graham Stoddard reclines behind me with a Negroni and long whip. Magic happens. Upon receiving their written charts at rehearsal the band takes it from there, under my guidance. Ben Sinclair (on tenor sax) has a lot to answer for. He co-arranges with me, proof reads all my horn parts and helps with the specifics of running a four piece horn section. 

This album is your first full length release. How hard has it been to translate your live performance into a studio recording process?

To be honest we were wondering if it was even gonna translate - it has though. We basically set up in a room with Bob Frisbee and recorded everything except the vocals fully live. The music is far too organic to be set to a jarring click track and recorded part-by-part - it would ruin all that lovely interaction that occurs between The Babyshakes. The vocals were a little bit more involved and I was, and still am 'finding my voice' so to speak so we recorded those afterwards. 

Do you plan to tour the group around the country this year? What are the challenges with touring such a massive band?

We've fanged around the country a bit already this year and it's really just a case of getting a van big enough, or sussing flights. It's thoroughly enjoyable because there's ten of us. Critical mass for super fun time jah.

What's next for Sal Valentine? 

Stuff. Things. More Stuff. Tour in January and February around New Zealand... Maybe record another album. The First one is upbeat and flirty - all my newer material is quite dark. I don't mean like 'Schlinder's list' or 'AntiChrist' dark. Not even 'Empire Strikes Back' dark. But dark none the less. Not deliberately either. My writing has taken a strong turn for the autobiographical and over the last year the moments that really meant something to me were all quite unfortunate. Naturally I felt a need to have said moments exorcised from my mind so I set them down on paper.

I guess we're just following trend and giving the next one 'The Dark Knight' treatment.


The brand new Sal Valentine And The Babyshakes will be available tomorrow (Friday, 1st November) via their bandcamp.

Presales are here for the Undeadbeat Prom and the Deadbeat Prom.


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