On a cold Monday evening, I visited a Valentine’s Day tape repeat. It was in the basement of the newly renovated drummer’s house – chic but cozy – which has a full bar in the back, a large Buddha idol and a large comfortable couch. In the central space in front of the electric fireplace, there was a full drum set, an amp, a piano, and a jumble of wires.
I sat down to talk on Valentine’s Day and understand how this unique group was born and how it grew so quickly.
The self-proclaimed “queer and woc (women of color) band of New Brunswick” is made up of five members: Emily Tronolone, a graduate of the School of Arts and Sciences on bass guitar, Nishta Venkatesha junior from Rutgers Business School, on drums, Nastaisha McKinnonan alumnus of the School of Arts and Sciences – better known as “Stage” – on lead guitar, Sarah Dodya senior from the School of Arts and Sciences, on vocals, and Ariane Uribea Rutgers alumnus from the Class of 2018, on vocals, tambourine and backup guitar.
The group began with Tronolone and McKinnon meeting at the old Musician’s Guild club at Rutgers. They found they got along well musically and began thinking about forming an all-female band. The idea was floated in group chats like RU Creatives and New Brunswick Basement Shows, where they eventually found their members.
Although everyone is or has been a STEM major, they all share the same passion and love for music that was born in their youth. Tronolone started with the piano then moved on to the guitar and preferred it. She took up bass guitar initially lying that she could play it for her high school music club — she’s been playing bass ever since.
Venkatesh saw his father play classic Indian percussion like tabla and dhol at a young age. She was inspired to start playing drums, taking lessons from Scott Strunk of the Strunk Drum Studio in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey. “He taught me everything I know,” she said.
McKinnon’s first instrument was also the piano, but she chose to start playing guitar after seeing someone perform at a talent show. She mostly learned on her own. At Rutgers, the New Brunswick band scene inspired her to join them. She names the local group, sonoaas her inspiration, especially when she saw them perform at Beats on the Bank.
Uribe’s mother was an artist. “His one thing for my siblings and I growing up was that if we weren’t artists, we weren’t family,” she said. “From the start, she set the precedent that, in some way, art should be part of our lives.”
Dowdy also started with piano lessons. His passion for music was born from there. “My mom always made me do karaoke because it was part of our culture,” Dowdy said. Once they bought a ukulele, they started writing songs with it.
The origin of the name “Saint Valentine” was random. The members went to band name generators and started browsing, but they didn’t like the “cheesy” death metal names they were getting. When a name contained the word “valentine”, the band decided they liked the theme.
Venkatesh came up with the idea. “I think I was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we didn’t all love Valentine’s Day, but we named our band Valentine? “, she said. For them, the name is a recovery from the holidays and a way to show the juxtaposition between cheerful rhythms and more serious lyrics.
valentines day is more than just a band in new brunswick: it’s a rare find in a sea of predominantly straight, white, male bands.
“I think (the queer and WOC qualifiers) are important because we bring representation,” Tronolone said. She thinks the people around them who feel comfortable with them because of their diversity have contributed to their success.
Uribe added that the group’s IDs allow their more fluid gender identity to be more visible. “I’m a very cis and straight person,” she said, though that’s not the case. “It highlights that people on the spectrum can look like this.”
In some cases minorities feel they are not taken seriously in their field and have to work twice as hard for the same respect as their heterosexual male counterparts, but Valentine says she doesn’t feel the pressure to prove themselves on the New Brunswick music scene.
“I feel like the people we’ve met over the less than a year are really, really nice. They’re really nice, really welcoming for the most part,” Tronolone said. pressure from them…I definitely feel the pressure from myself.”
McKinnon, or Stage, says she also feels pressure because there are so many talented guitarists in New Brunswick. “I look at them and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, why can’t I be this good? ‘” McKinnon said.
One particularly memorable source of stress came from playing Nirvana on a cover show. “I have to show other people in New Brunswick that I can really play guitar and that I’m not a mess,” she said.
Venkatesh agrees, but she shares an experience where she was underestimated by some guys.
“Someone was texting Stage about hearing guys on our show. They were talking about me and saying, ‘oh, she’s really good. Normally people BS their roles,'” she said. “In that sense, I find that here and there people say things where they don’t expect us to be as good as we actually are, which can be kind of annoying, but it’s cool to be able to prove them wrong.
valentines day recently released a single titled “soft” February 14 – Valentine’s Day. In terms of production, the group shouts Justin Calaycay from Mount Moon Recording in Highland Park, New Jersey, which the group found through a recommendation from the New Brunswick Basement Show group chat.
“He really helped us bring the song to life,” Tronolone said. “It was our first studio experience together.”
Venkatesh said Dowdy, the band’s vocalist, recorded a sample melody for the song in a ShopRite parking lot and the song was about her own personal story. At 2 a.m. Dowdy began to write.
“I thought of the lyrics first, ‘walking contradiction’…People are always like that, kind of like they’re saying one thing and doing another, sending mixed signals all the time. I was dealing with that at the time,” she said.
“I’ve struggled a lot with mental health in my life,” Dowdy continued. “Spineless” allowed her to explore her experience of mental health, particularly as it relates to romantic relationships.
The process of creating this song was a lot of individual work based on everyone’s respective instruments and talents, and then a collaboration to put the song together. “For ‘spineless’, everyone pretty much wrote their own parts,” Tronolone said. “We are all doing what we do best.”
The group hopes to release an album or an EP before the end of the year at some point, although the group has not yet decided on the structure. Currently, they are back in the studio to record another single.
While Valentine isn’t set on what sound she wants or what message she wants to convey, the band is adamant that being together and working together is such a positive environment and the rest will come alone.
“I don’t think I’ve ever set foot in this space and just thought, ‘Oh, somebody’s like running the show,'” Uribe said. “We all come with the intention of (working) together. Whether it’s said explicitly or not, that’s how it feels.
For everyone, the most empowering moment of being in the band was during their performance at Mum’s House on February 17, when people in the audience were singing along to the band’s new song, “Spineless.”
“It could have been the first show where people really came for us,” Tronolone said. “It was a crazy feeling.”