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When the time comes for an artist to tap into a new identity, the fluidity of the human experience will always prove an unlimited resource.

Image of Valerie Renay

For the most versatile and tenacious performers, exploring the plethora of personalities, environments and mediums that make art such a connective and predictive platform is like secretly slipping into a new pair of shoes and skipping through a mortal kaleidoscope - seeing which intoxicating reflection you end up breaking them in first.

Valerie Renay is no stranger to habitually tilting her perspective, having spent her career possessing an array of visceral characters across international festivals and theatres, as well as immersing herself in Paris, London and now her much-loved home of Berlin. Her world is a central ritual in which she plays the role of every punkspirited, pleasure-seeking practitioner; such as self-teaching all the instruments on her debut album ‘Your Own Shadow’ in order to cross over to new solo territories in 2018.

For her latest solo offering, Valerie paints on a bright red smile and steps into the pointed boots of Siouxsie Sioux with her cover of ‘Christine’ (as featured on the album ‘Icon – Tribute to Siouxsie and the Banshees’ out 18 April 2022 via Infrastition). Inspired by the book ‘The Three Faces of Eve’ (Corbett H. Thigpen, Hervey M. Cleckley), the original Siouxsie And The Banshees lyrics from 1980 tell the story of Christine Sizemore, a woman living with dissociative identity disorder.

So when it comes to such a complex non-fictional character who’s already been interpreted through the eyes of several different writers, mediums and performers approximately 20 and 40 years apart, how do you add fresh colour to the palette and paint Christine a new identity? How do you go about retelling her real-life terror in a way that serves an experience full of sonic, synth-driven fantasies?

Barnaby Thornton: Tell us about the first time you heard Siouxsie Sioux’s voice and the memories associated with this particular song… Where were you? Where did it take you? What sort of impact did it have?

Valerie Renay: My earliest memory of Siousxie is going to one of her concerts in Paris where Robert Smith was also playing guitar on stage. I was right at the front and my friend fainted because we were being pushed against the security gates so hard. I also remember seeing Siousxie at Electrogogo one night in London with her friend Pam Hogg. I have always admired her and feel flattered that people seem to see similarities between her and me in terms of music, singing and stage presence.

Barnaby: How did the idea come about for your reimagining of Christine?

Valerie: It’s challenging to come up with a new approach to cover a well known song by an artist you really admire. You have to find elements in your own identity as a musician and singer that can fit with the track. I decided to work out the basics of the song with voice and piano, then I invited a friend of mine, Theo Taylor, who had played gigs in the past as my drummer.

He felt quite inspired by the slow, almost jazzy feel of my piano version and started to experiment on a bass guitar and bongos. After jamming with him for a while, I realised I really wanted to go for this down tempo moody quality inspired by the Portishead trip hop vibe. I also wanted the words to come to life by creating vocal and instrumental layers that would seem to be floating in a spacious and relatively empty sonic space. Something slightly disorientating and dreamlike expressing the confusion Christine experienced through her mental illness. A musical collage of emotions and sensations where fantasy merges with reality and leaves you drifting aimlessly. While Theo was recording backing vocals, my parents called me on messenger, we decided to keep the ringing sound in the recording as it was in tune. It just seemed right to trust such a chance element to add to the atmosphere. I believe in synchronicity.

Barnaby: Tell us about the video and how it brings your interpretation to life even further.

Theo Taylor who produced the song also filmed and edited the video. It was completely shot in slow motion in my old flat with a bunch of friends. We came up with a simple concept to illustrate the lyrics. Christine has twenty two faces, twenty two personalities, twenty two people living inside her head. So I decided to execute a series of quite banal actions: coming home, pouring a glass of wine, talking on the phone, looking at myself in the mirror, dancing. We can imagine this being a little routine repeated every night. But at any point a switch of personality might operate, and a new face appears.

Barnaby: If you could pick any artist (from any era) to cover a particular Valerie Renay song, who would you choose, what would the song be and why?

I’d love Belgian artist Stromae to cover any of my songs I am really impressed by what he does in terms of music, lyrics, performance and aesthetic. I think he’s one of the most original and refreshing artists at the moment making quality pop music.

Barnaby: Is there a similar process or mindset you adopt when working on a cover song, say, to when you’re taking on an acting/ performance role?

I wouldn’t say so, that’s why music is much scarier... you have to be yourself!

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Image of Valerie Renay

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