Valerie Franco is a drummer who works with the biggest names in pop. Check out our interview with Valerie to learn more about her perspective as a drummer.
As a battle drummer, session player and former podcast host of Behind the Beat, Valerie Franco brings her rhythmic prowess to every project she touches.
Before studying at the Los Angeles College of Music, Valerie spent her childhood falling in love with the same rock n’ roll heavy-hitters that her father adored—particularly Rush.
Since starting her professional career, Valerie has recorded and performed with some of pop’s biggest artists including Halsey, Kacy Hill, Redfoo, Franky Perez & The Truth, Kylie Minogue and American Idol winner Allison Iraheta, who recruited Valerie to play for her group Halo Circus in 2012. In 2015, Valerie began earning album credits on releases in the pop music realm, including Bonnie McKee’s punchy EP, Bombastic and Megan Tibbits’ album Until I Fly
She’s landed a few TV spotlights as well, including a week-long spot on The Late Show with Seth Meyers to stand in for Fred Armisen. Currently, she tours with Hayley Kiyoko, who performed alongside Valerie on an MTV Unplugged at Home session to showcase “Gravel to Tempo" and "Sleepover."
Ultimate Ears is glad to have Valerie Franco on the roster. We talked with Valerie about her perspective as a drummer and how she became a lifelong music aficionado.
Check out our conversation with Valerie below.
What are your first memories of playing music?
My very first memories of playing music were with my dad, who isn’t a musician. He taught me how to air drum, because his favorite band was Rush. Literally, we have home movies of me, air drumming on his shoulder, stink-face, playing to Rush.
He took me to my first Rush show when I was 10 years old, and I thought, “This is it.” I took that same energy home to set up buckets on my desk and play them with pencils. My parents walked in on me playing buckets with pencils, and it was over. They said, “Oh, we have a drummer.” They got me lessons, and then I started playing immediately.
Looking back on the whole journey, what do you think made you stick with it?
When you're meant to do something, you know it when you see it. That's it. That's who I am. I see myself in Neil Peart; I see myself in this man, behind two other legends. It was a magnet. Once I saw it, it was over. It was just meant to be.
Did playing the drums come naturally to you?
One hundred percent, and that isn’t a brag at all. I think it came naturally. It was like missing an arm, and then finding it.
Talk to me about the energy at the Rush show your dad took you to.
It's nerd rock, so everybody just got really nerdy with it. I'm in love with the Rush fandom in general, and my dad is that same character. He’s that nerdy dude who's into progressive math rock—I just took it from him. I remember being so floored that anybody didn't know who Rush was. How could you not know about the feeling of being in this crowd? It’s everything.
We were in the nosebleeds, so he sweet-talked the security guard to let me up front. I was just a 10-year-old cutie pie. I remember gawking at Neil at the front barricade. Even though I wasn't on stage I could feel the energy, and I wanted all that energy aimed at me too.
When was the first time you felt that energy from a crowd?
Oh boy, it’s all a blur. I sort of black out on stage sometimes. It's everything I could ever possibly dream of, but it’s like sensory overload from the applause, cheers and whatever else. It's insane joy, immense pride and a spiritual experience. It's a whole bunch of energy directed at you like a Ryu Hadouken. It’s hard to explain.
What do you think is unique about your vantage point behind the kit at a show?
It's unique being the artillery in the back, holding it down. I have an eagle-eye perspective when I’m perched in the background, so it’s a cool vantage point. It's so cool because you get to see the show happening, the audience and everything that's going on. I don't think I've ever been front and center. I've always been perched somewhere, so I get to see the whole show. I get the best of both worlds.
I imagine it changes the way you interact with your band members too.
Absolutely. It creates those moments on stage where we're like, “Oh, this part of the song, you hop on the riser, and then we high five or whatever.” One of my favorite pictures that I have is of an artist I play for—Hayley Kiyoko. We're at Lollapalooza, and there's a part of the song where I get to stand up and play. She hopped on my riser, and we shared a moment. Some brilliant photographer, Zoe Rain, captured the photo of us looking out into Lollapalooza from behind. It’s making me misty even talking about it, because that was such a wonderful moment.
Talk to me about the value of in-ear monitoring on stage.
As a drummer I have to be dead-locked to the tracks in order for everything to move forward. It's impossible to do it without any errors. Getting the right in-ear mix changes the way I play and makes me a better performer. When I hear something I like, I play better.
Can you explain how a mix affects whether or not you like what you play?
I mean, it's a combination, right? It takes a village. You have a great in-ear monitor engineer who can communicate those things, and you have the tools of great in-ear monitors. Again, if you hear something you like, you play the things you like. If it sounds bad, you'll play bad or you'll think you're a bad player. I've gone out so many times and had a poor mix.
Prior to Ultimate Ears, I felt like I was a bad player. It affects everything. It would be like if you took a picture and it came back a blur. You think, “I must suck at this.” If I'm hearing something I don't like, I think “Oh, do I suck?” That’s a really good example.
When did you realize you needed in-ear monitors for hearing protection?
I've been in the game for a minute. I did a show at Viper Room. It was kind of an old school camp. We were doing ‘60s and ‘70s rock songs. I was in the back corner of the Viper Room with no in-ear monitors. The stage monitor was literally just a wedge that was blaring. I had like the beginnings of tinnitus afterwards, which if you don't know what that is, it's the ringing sound you hear after a loud show. It was in my head, but it wouldn't go away. Ever since that day I've been like, “There's no way I'm traveling without in-ear monitors.” The thought of living life with a tiny little alien screaming in my head is like not okay. So, in-ear monitors for the win all day.
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