At eighteen, Valley Queen frontwoman Natalie Meadors hit the road straight out of high school, leaving Little Rock and her blues upbringing for the not-so-wild west of Los Angeles. A common narrative, maybe, but Meadors has stayed true to her roots while embracing the psychedelia of California rock — and making some damn good music along the way.
Valley Queen’s debut, a two-song seven-inch, is pure western rock, anchored by Meadors’s enthralling vocals (think Florence Welch with a Southern accent) and produced by the talented Lewis Pesacov, whose credits include releases from Nikki Lane and Best Coast. While Valley Queen has only been a band for about a year, this is not Meadors’s first crack at making music. Valley Queen is a transformation of her old band, Mojo Stone, except this time a little less Arkansas and a little more SoCal. Together, Meadors, Neil Wogensen (bass, vocals), Shawn Morones (guitar, vocals), and Gerry Doot (drums) are creating what Meadors describes as “sun-drenched, grainy, and expansive.”
If Valley Queen is reminiscent of a new stage in Meadors’s life, then Mojo Stone was her first crack at crafting rock ‘n’ roll tinged with the blues she grew up listening to on weekend trips to Memphis. “Valley Queen was a natural progression,” says Meadors. “In the early days of [Mojo Stone], we were exploring what we knew, mimicking others in order to find our own voice. Valley Queen was the marker of something deeper and more authentic.”
At L.A.’s Loyola Marymount University, she would go on to meet future Mojo Stone co-founder David Donaldson at one of those straight-out-of-a-movie outdoor jam circles, complete with acoustic guitars and tambourines. “He was the first person who really encouraged me to share my songs,” Meadors says. After they left school, they decided to pursue music as a “real thing,” and Mojo Stone was born.
Before college, she hadn’t performed in front of anyone, save the stuffed animals in her closet. Her parents are doctors, and her brother is studying to become one. (Meadors was the academic black sheep — she decided to major in art history.) But she soon realized she didn’t want to be studying art in a classroom; she wanted to be creating it.
Later, she would meet her future producer and Fool’s Gold guitarist Pesacov. At the time, Fool’s Gold were touring with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, whose sound engineer, Matt Lenisch, was a friend of Meadors’s. They would all hang out when Edward Sharpe was recording up in Ojai, and Pesacov became an influential mentor who helped shape Valley Queen’s sound.
Now Valley Queen are finishing up their first full-length, Puritan, for which Meadors anticipates a spring 2016 release. As to whether an Edward Sharpe–ian career is in the cards for Valley Queen, Meadors dismisses the notion that you need to play for thousands of people in order to be successful. She recently moved to a home built in the Fifties in Silverlake, and hosted the second annual Witchfest, a gathering of local musicians, on a cloudy Sunday. She set up a p.a. system on the back porch, near a garden growing basil and sage, where five women shared their songs, including Jenny O. and Meadors herself. Some of her friends were in town from Texas, and they led the group in old gospel hymns.
“We all sat around and drank beer and listened to each other’s music,” she says. “I do want to play to bigger audiences — the more the merrier! — but at the same time I got so much out of just that itty-bitty performance yesterday, just as much as playing to 500 people. We’re a success if we can continue to do our work.”
Valley Queen will be playing several shows at CMJ, and hit the Sidewalk Cafe on October 13. For their full list of performances this week, click here.