Interview: Huge Shark
I think the primary surprise was just how much I still feel moved by and emotionally attached to the feelings in these songs, even when the people who inspired them have long left my life.
On April 3rd, Huge Shark will release her sophomore album, Everything. It spotlights San Diego musician, and fellow Echoes and Dust writer, Valerie Polichar’s vocal talents and exceptional songwriting in a range of adult alternative styles, from the catchy pop of ‘He Dared Me’ to the folk-rock of ‘Rolling Away’ to the drifting ambience of ‘Atoms’. It also marks eight years since her 2015 release, Almost Over. Adriana Ciccone caught up with Valerie to talk about the new album and much more.
E&D: Your new first full-length album Everything will be released on April 3rd, eight years after your last release Almost Over which was released back in 2015. How excited are you to be releasing this album after having worked so hard on it all these years?
Valerie: It is an extraordinary feeling. A lot has changed from the album I originally thought I was going to make. I ended up cutting some songs that I’d expected to include earlier on, because I had gained enough skill and enough collaborators that I was able to add some other songs that I loved even more. The album took long enough that I actually re-recorded some of the vocals and even did a major edit on a couple of the songs, because my perspective on the sound and the songwriting had changed given the space and time.
These have been complicated years. In the time between finishing Almost Over and finishing Everything, my three closest female friends all died. I was processing the first loss when Almost Over came out, and it really threw some curveballs into my creative process for a while. One of the songs on Everything, ‘Rolling Away’, was written for one of those friends, my dear friend Deb Freed who died in 2020. It’s a deceptively cheerful tune, but really it’s about working hard to make sure you don’t forget any little detail of somebody that you’ve loved who’s gone.
E&D: I’m sorry for your loss Valerie. I’m glad that you had music to help you during those times.
On this album, you’ve collaborated with Garry Franklin (U.S.) on vocals, Gary Gahan (Canada) on saxophones, Hilliat Fields (United Kingdom) on guitars and Ebow, Pete Nickerson (Canada) on drums and bass and Michael Wojtasiak (U.S.) on guitars. I have a few questions related to this…
How did these collaborations come about?
Valerie: Hilliat Fields was one of my first musical collaborators this millennium! We met on Twitter, more than 10 years ago — I believe that my friend Nikki, of the music podcast Everything and the Kitchen Sink, introduced us. He’s an extraordinary artist; he’s also just the sweetest human being, and it’s an honor to be able to work with him. The sax player, Gary, and I also met on Twitter, back in 2014 — my friend Tim posted some of Gary’s music, we started chatting, and we ended up becoming friends — first online, and then in real life. We got to be good friends long before we collaborated, but on the other hand, I met Pete, Michael, and Garry Franklin in a Facebook group around music creation called the PRF Monthly Tribute Series, and we started collaborating on cover songs really before we’d gotten to know each other at all.
E&D: Can you tell us what it was like to collaborate with these artists and see your visions for those parts come to fruition?
Valerie: So, let me give you a few examples which I hope convey the thrill of working with them. So, first, I wrote the song ‘Breath-Taking’ in 1989, but I was really never able to record it, because it needs two lead vocals an octave apart and they have to both be strong voices. After hearing his gorgeous voice on PRF, I got the nerve up to ask Garry Franklin if he would duet with me on the track, and he very generously said yes. So I finally got to hear the song that I’d had in my head all these years, and that was an amazing experience. With ‘Rolling Away’, a much more recent song, I had in my head a kind of Aztec Camera feel, but beyond just saying that, I wasn’t sure how to convey to my collaborators exactly what I was looking for. But it seemed like Michael and Gary could read my mind, because the guitar and sax parts they gave me were exactly what I’d hoped, and they really helped me create a song that I could not have made by myself. For ‘Atoms’, I had a pretty little piano piece, and I asked Hilliat Fields if he could give me a bit of his signature guitar, and he sent me some absolutely haunting guitar and Ebow tracks that just took this little song to the next level. And finally, when I was re-editing ‘Red Flares’ for the album, I had the feeling it really needed some bass. Rather than just edit in some keys with a bass patch, I asked Pete, and he not only sent me a bass track that gave the song so much more movement than I had ever heard in it before, he also sent me the drums I’d never thought of for the middle of the song, and even though it’s a small part, they give the song so much more emotional impact.
E&D: Did you record the album together in studio?
Valerie: No — we are scattered far and wide! We mailed tracks and mixes back and forth, something really only practical in the modern era.
E&D: The album was released via your project name Huge Shark. Can you tell us how you came up with the name for the project?
Valerie: Ha! Yes. So back in 1996, I was on a visit to Perth, Western Australia with my Australian boyfriend (now my husband), Rob. We were cruising down to Fremantle for the evening and I saw a handwritten sign on the side of the road that said “HUGE SHARK / TONIGHT / AT THE JETTY.” And I looked at Rob completely puzzled, and I said “how on earth do they know there’s going to be a huge shark there tonight? I mean, are there just that many sharks in Perth?” And he kind of laughed at me, and he said, “The Jetty is a pub. Huge Shark is probably a band.” And I thought, …man, that is a great band name.
So, you know, I waited a few years, and I made sure no one else on the Internet appeared to be using the name, and I just … I STOLE IT, Adriana, that’s what I did.
E&D: That’s an awesome story Valerie! I probably would have thought the same thing. I think that you finding the name that way was serendipitous.
I read that you revisited older compositions in new arrangements which allowed you to “see through a window into [your] past emotional self”…and that you were amazed at “how consistent [your] heart has been; how familiar and immediate those long-ago feelings are.” Was that experience like stumbling upon your diary from long ago? Were there any surprises along the way too? Things that you had forgotten?
Valerie: It was exactly like reading my diary. I’ve often said my songs really are my diary; I don’t keep any sort of conventional one. I think the primary surprise was just how much I still feel moved by and emotionally attached to the feelings in these songs, even when the people who inspired them have long left my life.
E&D: Your voice is beautiful and your piano arrangements are so emotive. When did you first start singing and playing piano and what or who influenced you to do so?
Valerie: Thank you so much. I do come from a very musical family. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t singing, and I had piano lessons from age 6-16. I do remember being fascinated at a young age by the song credits on record albums. I noticed, for example, that Judy Collins was covering songs by some guy named Leonard Cohen on her Wildflowers album, and I must have stored that understanding away somewhere. I started writing songs when I was about 13; we had an English class assignment to create some art around a book we’d recently read. I’d read Peter S. Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place, still a beloved book, and I tried to write some songs about it. As it happens, some boys in the class got hold of my cassette, they were throwing it back and forth, they broke it open, they ripped up the tape. And unfortunately, as that was my only record of the music for the songs, I lost them. But it didn’t put me off of songwriting, and I have gone on to write over 400 songs over the last few decades.
E&D: That’s incredible and I’m glad you persevered and continued to write!
So, I’m curious, on ‘Lose Your Love’, is that a synth and if yes, is that you playing? (Love it btw)
Valerie: Thank you! It is indeed, and that is me playing.
E&D: You are an incredible storyteller via your lyrics. Can you tell us what inspires you when writing music?
Valerie: Sometimes the songs are really directly about things I am feeling for people in my life. Other times, I start with kind of the nub of a feeling — either something I’m feeling about a friend or a lover, or something I am watching someone else experience — and then I just run with it. There can be a lot of poetic license in the feelings I express; it’s dangerous to assume you can take any of the songs too literally.
E&D: Can you tell us a bit about the artwork for the release?
Valerie: The art was created by graphic artist named Evan Smith. He’s a fellow I met playing the augmented reality game Ingress. The image on the cover is the inside of a shark’s mouth, as they are swimming through space with their mouth open to swallow a blue planet that’s labeled “EVERYTHING.” I really love that the art works both as representational and as graphic design — you don’t have to know exactly what it is to like it. For one thing, I think the colors are amazing.
E&D: Do you plan on touring in support of the album?
Valerie: At this point in my life, I’m strictly a studio musician, though I have thought about getting back on stage again. But the last time I played in a performing band was a blues band I sang for in the early 1990s, so, that’s how long it’s been.
E&D: Lastly, if you could pick only one favorite track off the album, what would it be?
Valerie: So I have to say it’s a runoff between ‘Pirates’ and the title track, ‘Everything’. I wrote ‘Pirates’ decades ago, but of all the songs I’ve written, I think it’s the one that has resonated with the most people over the years – people I played it for when I first wrote it still remember it and talk about it tome. ‘Everything’ is a more recent track, it’s something I still feel quite viscerally and I also think it’s some of my best lyric-writing.