Formed in 2006, Valentine Wolfe is the combined effort of Sarah Black and Braxton Ballew. Imagine Sarah Brightman being backed by Francois Rabbath blowing through a Marshall stack at midnight. Having dubbed their music “Victorian Chamber Metal”, the duo have synthesized a love of metal, classical and industrial, infusing them with a Victorian sensibility that evokes the likes of Bram Stoker and Edgar Allan Poe. The ethereal soprano vocals of Sarah Black—which call to mind not only the aforementioned Brightman, but also Dianne van Giersbergen of Xandria and Tarja Turunen—are buttressed by the thunderous growl of Braxton’s electric upright bass, and the two coalesce over pounding rock and electronic grooves punctuated by a maelstrom of synthesizers, keyboards, samples and sound design. In addition to their gothic metal stylings, their post-graduate backgrounds in music (Sarah has an MM in Composition, and Braxton a DMA in Double Bass) has afforded them multiple opportunities to broaden their musical horizons in recent years, having been contracted to lend their unique sound to theatre productions; composing and performing the scores for Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest (Warehouse Theater), The Winter’s Tale (Furman University), and Twelfth Night (The Distracted Globe), the voice of The Angel in the Warehouse Theater’s production of Angels in America, silent films and short horror films (most notably, Your Cold Black Heart).Their song, “I Felt a Funeral,” is HorrorAddicts.net’s theme song for season 16: Cultural Horror.
I chatted with one-half of Valentine Wolfe in the person of Sarah Black—a talented and gracious woman. We spoke of music, Valentine Wolfe’s new album, and Emily Dickinson.
NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Sarah! Valentine Wolfe is the theme song band for this season. How do you feel about being the theme song band again?
VW: I am so humbled that you would use our music again! I also am really proud of our latest album so I’m glad more people will get a chance to listen!
NTK: And it’s a terrific album! Could you tell us a little about it?
VW: When there is not a pandemic going on, we love to perform at our local library. They have had us doing live soundtracks to old silent films and performing our music about Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Shelley. Then they asked us to be part of an American poets series and asked us if we’d be interested in doing a little something for that. I was thrilled when they mentioned Emily Dickinson. I was super excited to try setting some of her poetry to music. Then, I felt like I couldn’t stop so a little project ended up turning into a whole album set to her poems.
NTK: That is awesome! Is that where the inspiration for “I Felt a Funeral” came from?
VW: It is! I checked out a book with most of her poems from the library and it was so hard to narrow down my choices for thematic material. We decided to go with lullabies, laments, and love songs. So, “I Felt A Funeral” fits into the lament category.
NTK: Oh, it certainly does. What was the creative process like? How does Valentine Wolfe come up with such great songs? Do you both write the music and lyrics? Or is it more like an Elton John/Bernie Taupin kind of collaboration, where one writes the lyrics and the other writes the music?
VW: When we are not using prewritten lyrics, I do most of the writing, but not all. Braxton has written a lot of them, and with some of our older songs, I now have a hard time remembering who wrote what. We do love to collaborate and bounce ideas off each other and write together. Sometimes though, I’ll start writing on my own and basically have an almost completed song finished before I show it to him. And sometimes, he’ll write a song and show it to me. Whenever I write bass parts or he writes vocal parts, we sometimes have to make slight adjustments, but we both are learning more and more what ourselves and each other best gravitate to.
NTK: What is your favorite Emily Dickinson poem?
VW: My favorite message is in “The Soul Selects Her Own Society,” but I also really love how “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” turned out on our album!
NTK: You have some truly beautiful tracks on this album. Very romantic sounds. Do you have a favorite Gothic romance?
VW: I am really enjoying some of the newer books by Leanna Renee Hieber. Do new books count?
NTK: (Laughs.) They sure do! What about movies?
VW: I love the newest version of Dracula the BBC put out. The one by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat.
NTK: Sarah, do you have a favorite band? Who do you like to listen to? Who inspired you to become a musician?
VW: Some of what I am listening to right now is Under a Godless Veil by Draconian. They layer ethereal vocals with luscious slabs of sound that always seem to fit my mood perfectly. I also am just loving the new album by Evanescence! Also like the new Epica and the new Moonspell. All of these are gothic but in slightly different ways.
As for my original inspiration, I can’t remember! I was so lucky to get to grow up with music. My parents supported me taking music lessons at a young age, so I started on piano and added clarinet. My first piano teacher was so great because she included music theory in with the lessons. It was such a great foundation and that may have been what started my love of composing, getting an early start on the theory side of things.
NTK: You mentioned the pandemic before. How have you kept busy during it? Have you done anything over Zoom? Or attended any virtual conventions?
VW: We have done some virtual events! It’s been such a heartbreak not to get to play live shows, but it has been such a wonderful opportunity for us to learn to do more with video. We’ve really been working hard on that aspect and we made a lyric video for each track off the Emily Dickinson album, Only Gossamer My Gown. Even though live shows are still such an amazing way to share music, we can now share our songs in the best way with new listeners from countries we aren’t likely to be touring in. Even before the pandemic we mostly only performed along the East Coast. These videos will hopefully help us reach more people.
And we recorded a short set for the virtual DragonCon last year.
Virtual DragonCon was certainly quite different from the hustle and bustle of being there in person! Everyone there works so hard to put on such a great show every year. I was so glad they included us!
NTK: I’m so glad to hear that! So wonderful you could adapt. Going back to the new album, what’s it like translating a poem to music? Do you hear the music in the words?
VW: I do hear the music in the words! I realize that everyone who reads poetry probably hears music in the words, so part of my job is to try to be unobtrusive with my own take so it doesn’t distract too much from another’s enjoyment, but then, I also realize that my take is unique so it won’t mirror exactly anyone else’s experience. Hopefully, people can accept my versions without it ruining any music they hear in their heads!
NTK: What does the future hold for Valentine Wolfe? Is there a new album in the works? New conventions-or virtual ones-to attend?
VW: For now we are waiting to see what it will be like for shows to start gradually coming back. If we don’t get to play out again until October, we will just be happy to be safe and healthy. Because in the meantime, we are writing a new album! We don’t have a specific theme this time, we are just writing and seeing where that writing takes us. The new video we have includes a snippet from a new song with some background storytelling from Braxton.
NTK: Thank you so much for chatting with me, Sarah! I always have a great time interviewing you.
VW: I really enjoyed this too! Thank you so much for including me!