EXCLUSIVE: Hugo Valentine talks ‘A Nation of People’ EP and Music Video

Hugo Valentine is a London-based singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist ready to enter the music scene with a bang. Hugo started playing the piano at a very young age, and cites musical influences such as David Bowie, Elton John, and Queen. His music is bold and colourful, and often focuses on themes that “transcend the boundaries” of both the music industry and society at large.

February 9th was an exciting day for Hugo, with the release of his debut EP A Nation of People, and the premiere of his music video for the title track. The EP is a collection of four original songs, all of which showcase his talents as a pianist, as well as his thought-provoking lyrics and stunning vocals. On top of all that, Hugo himself produced each song on the EP, adding another layer of complexity to the music, but also even more of a personal touch.

Being musically multi-talented (a quadruple threat of vocalist, writer, producer, and instrumentalist) will certainly help him stand out from the crowd, as will his meaningful lyrics and the authenticity shown within his music. Hugo is certainly one to watch out for in the near future!

We caught up with Hugo to talk about his songwriting process, the message behind his new EP and music video, and more! Read our full interview with Hugo Valentine below.

CM: How did you start singing and writing songs? Has it been something you’ve wanted to do your whole life?

HV: I began playing music at a very young age – my first piano lesson was at four years old. I had a little toy piano which my grandmother had bought me, and I taught myself ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’. The follow on from this was a classical training which lasted the duration of my childhood and most of my teenage years. I got a lot of subsequent exposure to all types of music, including Jazz, Rock, Blues, and Soul amongst other things, and I always knew I wanted to grow up to be a songwriter. I used to write little songs on piano as a child, very Mozart influenced, but it never really crossed my mind how I might move on from that! 

Interestingly, once I got into production, the next music I got into writing was drum and bass – I was very interested in dance music during school and university, and Dnb really gave me a sort of escape which I needed at the time – it made me feel accepted in a way. It was only really a couple of years after I left Uni that I really threw myself into the type of songwriting I’m doing now. I think because I didn’t sing much until then – I was in fact quite self-conscious about it – it had almost made things easier to that point being able to hide behind big dance floor production. But once I started singing, it really opened things up.

Who do you take inspiration from as a songwriter?

I take inspiration from a whole host of people and things – different things influence different parts of my music. Musically, the discovery of David Bowie was a game changer for me. I hadn’t really been too familiar with his music until I went to the V&A in London and saw the Bowie exhibition. That really blew my mind, how different sounding his music was. What really inspired me was the perfect balance between art and commercial pop – he really struck a balance. Elton John is, of course, a massive deal for me, both piano wise and in his songwriting, and he’s been part of my inspiration since childhood, as have Queen. I also take inspiration from songwriters like Sia, Tom Odell, Radiohead, Mika and Max Martin among others. People like Max Martin and Sia, in particular, set the bar really high for what can be done now in the pop world, and listening to their work allows me to feel free to try new things, whilst always attempting to match the kind of quality that artists like them are maintaining.

I also take things a lot from certain situations and environments. For example, a lot of the vision behind my music is inspired by music festivals, in particular, Glastonbury. When I go there I really soak up energy from what I experience, and when I’m locked away in my studio writing, that is what I dream about, that’s what gives me the energy to push myself further. Lyrically, often I’m inspired by events in my life that have resonated, and even though some of these are dark and often things which were hard to deal with at the time, I always try to put a positive spin on things.

You also produce your own music. How does that fit into your songwriting process?

The production is very much a part of the songwriting process. When I get to the studio, often a core idea is already formulated in my head, and this will always include production. I hear chords and melodies but part of what drives me forward is hearing the big production in my head. Then when I come to put it down I will bounce between the two sides. Since I spend all my time working alone, this allows me to stay inspired, using the two elements to complement each other. The tricky thing here is to really ensure that the writing always ultimately takes the lead – it’s easy to get over-excited with the production and let it become overpowering. In my experience, this often results in over-produced tracks with little substance. The fact that I play all my gigs solo piano and voice helps – the songs must always work in that format otherwise they are not quite right.

Tell us a bit about your new single, ‘A Nation of People’. What inspired the song and the message behind it?

A Nation of People is really a song about the passage of time. It focusses on the fact that time is beyond the control of everyone, old, young, rich, poor, and I feel this really connects us all as human beings. Time is the only real constant in all our lives, and I feel this carries some depth. I always seek to write music which is inclusive, to attempt to transcend the boundaries that society sets us. ‘A Nation of People’ really seeks to remind us that we should live in the moment because if you blink, it will be gone in a flash and you may miss it. I believe now more than ever it is important for us to observe and live in each moment, as there are so many distractions nowadays and it’s easy to let the days slip away.

How was the concept for the ‘A Nation of People’ video conceived?

The video was actually masterminded by Tom Edkins of The Hideout (www.hideoutfilm.com). He sent me the treatment of the story, and I instantly wanted to make the film. I had some ideas beforehand of what I wanted but because this was my first music video I left it in his hands initially. Also, because I was also so close to the music by this point that I felt opening up the creative process to another area would be exciting. A little after that, we worked on the story together to really slot everything into place and to work out how best to keep the message intact. The hard part was cutting it down as there were so many beautiful shots. It was a difficult but important task to keep the final cut simple whilst retaining the depth and detail of the story.

The kids in the music video are great actors! What was it like working with them, and being on the set of the video in general?

It was such an amazing experience. The process was very professional but at the same time it was new territory for a lot of the people involved. Everyone was coming at it from a different viewpoint, which made the whole process very colourful. The kids were energetic and excited, and when it came to acting they were just superb. Some of the scenes were really born out of them interacting with each other, and as all the scenes involving children were shot in a day, the tiredness of the lead actor Denis in the later scenes was pretty authentic!

Your debut EP, A Nation of People, is also out today! How does it feel now that it’s finally out there, and how are you going to celebrate?

Ahh, such a relief. I feel this really opens the doors for me to start putting more out. It’s the first thing I’ve released and whilst in one way that makes me nervous, it also excites me about where this may lead. Even though a lot of the emphasis is on streaming and online music, I have had CDs made for this EP. I feel there is something special about holding a physical thing in your hand, it really sums the work up in a way. My great friend Tommy LM has done the artwork for this and he’s been amazing at helping with the design and branding. In terms of celebration, I don’t know really. This is only really the beginning so there is not much time to celebrate now, on to the next thing for sure!

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CDs have arrived! Get ready to receive ?

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Can you briefly explain the sound we can expect from the other 3 songs on the EP, ‘Change’, Dare to Dream’, and ‘Don’t You Forget Me’?

I would say the main thing to expect is the feature of piano in all the songs. My musical ‘journey’ so far has been very varied, but since I’ve now really found my way back to the piano and have been really focussing on it for both for writing and performing, I really wanted this to be illustrated on the EP. I have tried to mix a few flavours in and I hope this will be a snippet of what’s to come.

Who would your dream collaboration be?

Definitely Sia. Or Max Martin. Both leading songwriters of our generation in my opinion. Mark Ronson would be pretty awesome to work with too.

Do you have any other exciting plans in store for 2017?

Just more writing, more music to share with you all. I am doing a small tour to promote the record and I have some exciting plans for the London show, so keep an eye out. Also hoping to play some festivals, watch this space!

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your new single and EP, or to supporters of your music?

Just that I really hope you guys enjoy it, and I hope you get something out of it. I always seek to inspire people on a personal level with what I do, as other musicians and artists have inspired me. I believe music is a lot about transferring and sharing energy between people, and if even one person gains something in any way from my music, that to me is a triumph.

Congratulations to Hugo on the release of his debut EP! Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and best of luck with your music in the future.

You can purchase Hugo’s debut EP, A Nation of People, on iTunes, or stream it on Spotify. For more information, visit Hugo’s website. Don’t forget to stay up to date with Hugo on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Share your thoughts about Hugo Valentine’s new music with us on Twitter @CelebMix.

Written by Annemarie Cutruzzola

Canadian arts & culture writer and journalism student.