When I first wrote about "Fire," the sixth song from Valet's second album, Naked Acid, it was just one side of a split seven-inch with Speck Mountain. Back in September, I said "Fire" was the sound of "loneliness and the lover that always seemed aloof." "Fire" still feels like that, perhaps more so in the context of a full LP. The preceding five tracks of Naked Acid are slow, psychedelic burns, damaged tones and manipulated vocals rising in thin wisps of colored smoke. "Fire"—just guitars, the voice of Honey Owens, and the crackle of amps and tape decks—cuts all of the haze free, letting something long held out of arms' length finally drift away. As Owens says, that decision was a necessity.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: Naked Acid builds through five long-tone, almost ambient tracks to "Fire," which is a ballad. Was it written first, and was it written differently?
HONEY OWENS: Yup. "Fire" was written first, except for the last song, "Streets," which was written in 2002. I kind of wanted to put something on the record that was.... Well, all of the songs on the record are about Portland, [Ore.], or things that have gone down in Portland. "Streets" [which is beat-oriented ]is one of those songs that kept that kind of theme, but then also put something on there that's the opposite of "Fire," or at least be another aspect of the music I play. Just to keep it open because the next record may be more stuff like that. I just thought it fit.
If all of these songs are written about specific, personal things, what was "Fire" about?
I was playing the song, and Brian [Foote, from Kranky Records and another Owens band, Nudge] was going through this intense heartbreak. He was breaking up with his girlfriend, and I had this pen pal that I was writing, and we were talking about all of these intense things that had happened to us. I wanted to make a love song, like Patsy Cline, a straightforward love song.
I was going through a dark period because I used to do a lot of drugs, and I was in this phase where I knew I didn't want to do drugs again but I really missed drugs. I ended up writing this love song that was about loving something so much but knowing that you can't have it because it's not right for you. It kind of went along with my pen pal and Brian's situation. It was weird because my love song was a love of doing drugs that I can't do anymore because it hurts me, but it rang true of every relationship. I don't know, but it was like this weird purging. After I wrote it, I just started crying, and I played it for Brian and my other friend, and they started crying. [Laughs.]
Maybe that's too much personal information, but that song was a real heavy song. It was hard for me. I recorded it in one day, and you can tell that it has noise issues. But I just decided to leave it raw because that's how it came out.
So the seven-inch and album versions are both the original take?
It's the original take, yeah.
It makes sense to leave something that personal alone, I suppose.
I just wanted it to be what it was. You know how sometimes you feel so vulnerable and you feel so naked? I was like, "I'm just going to make a record that's based on totally true, raw feelings." Some of the songs didn't turn out that way because they're not sing-songy—there are no chords, and it's more ambient stuff. But I was trying to get across this feeling of just being naked and having everyone look at you, or you look at everything, and it's this feeling that you're bare. That was the intent, but I don't know if it comes across.
I'm sure someone will hear this song and wonder if Valet is going to become a straight ballad project. But it sounds like that's not the case.
I felt like sometimes I was doing a lot of vocal manipulations on the last stuff to hide when I'm a dark, demon vocalist. I love Diamanda Galás or Throbbing Gristle, dark-sounding stuff. But I felt like sometimes you need to come out into the daylight, and be that other side because not everyone is ... I don't just listen to noise music, you know? It would be weird to only write one style of music. I feel like that would be really conservative.
Valet opens for White Rainbow and Atlas Sound (then joins in the Atlas Sound band) tonight, Wednesday, Feb. 20, at Local 506. The 9 p.m. show costs $10.