by Nur Lajunen-Tal

Valere: Moving Family Photos

by Nur Lajunen-Tal

Valere: Moving Family Photos

For the past decade Shana Graham has released music under the name Valere, consistently delivering innovative electro-pop that is at once catchy and vulnerable. In March 2024 the Aotearoa-Filipino artist reaches for an even deeper vulnerability with the touching Lily’s March, a song celebrating mothers and daughters. Article by Nur Lajunen-Tal, made with support from NZ On Air Music.

Shana Graham last spoke to NZM in 2016 about Valere’s sophomore EP ‘Blue.’ Since then there’s been an album, ‘Colours,’ released in the midst of lockdown, following which Shana married photographer and videographer Hayden Graham, and moved to Kirikiriroa Hamilton. Now a mother of two, she’s readying for the release another EP. 

“It’s taken a while because of life,” Shana smiles. “I’ve been sort of slowly releasing singles off the EP over the last couple of years, and it’s finally coming out.”

Lily’s March is the third single of the project, following 2022 release Sober and last year’s single Stuck In My Head. She wrote Lily’s March in 2021, not long after giving birth to her first daughter, Lily.

“I was trying to put her to sleep, and I was also trying to figure out how to make music and do stuff as a mum. And I thought to myself, ‘I’m awake all the time in the evenings. She can’t sleep. I should try to write some melodies while I’m swaying this little girl!’ So I had that in my head, and so I just started swaying, and it was a bit of a march, like the kind of rhythm of it, and I was humming a melody. When I write, I record, so I think I was actually quietly recording it in my phone while I was holding Lily to sleep!” she laughs. “Usually I write lyrics after, and I don’t really know what the song’s about until the end of the song, and the lyrics came out and it kind of felt like, ‘Man, it sounds like stuff that I would wanna say to Lily!'”

Out of this very real moment that mothers everywhere will relate to, Shana birthed a raw yet elegant expression of deep feelings. The first verse looks back on her own girlhood and honours her mother.

“My mum went through a lot, growing up, so she’s always really a determined problem solver. If I ever had any kind of problems or fears or whatever, she’d just be like, ‘Nah, you can do it!’ Quite courageous, and I was just real like, I’m not!” she laughs again. “I’m really fearful a lot of the time, so I really leaned on her when I was growing up. Every time I’d feel that I didn’t know what to do or whatever, she was really, really optimistic. And she’s still like that. Being a mum now, I’m knocking on her door, being like, ‘How do you do this?’ So that connection is still there.”

The song’s second verse turns the focus to the present, seeing the artist voice doubts common to new mothers.

“The second verse is about what I wanna tell my daughter. I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m not like my mum. I’m very afraid, and I want to protect you.’ But realising I actually can’t do that, and trying to figure out what kind of mum am I gonna be? For me, I just wanna make sure that my daughter, or my kids, know that I love them, however that may look like. Really showing affection. I may not be like my mum, who’s like, ‘Yeah bro, you can!’ I might be like, ‘Actually, I don’t know!’ But I just want them to know that I’m there for them.”

A catchy and meaningful chorus ties the two verses together, acknowledging that life has its trials but telling us, ‘Don’t let that be the end and learn to love again’. That lyric came out of nowhere Graham exclaims and is her favourite in the song.

“I wasn’t like, ‘Yeah, I wrote that.’ It kind of just fell out of the sky! That’s literally how my mum raised me – don’t give up. We all go through stuff, and we can either choose to keep going or to not.”

The song was produced by Michael Collier, a classmate from Shana’s days at the University of Auckland. Dean Rodriguez contributes live drums, and Geoff Ong plays a delicate picked guitar. With Graham living in Kirikiriroa while the others were in Tāmaki Makaurau their instruments were recorded remotely.

“I really wanted real instruments. For a long time, maybe my second EP and my album actually, a lot of that was just from Logic, you know what I mean? Electronic kind of stuff. I was putting a lot of trust in these people to record it over there! Honestly, sometimes I wish I lived in Auckland, to just be able to meet everyone and to record and be there for the process, but at the same time, I knew those guys would do a really awesome job anyway.”

The accompanying music video, directed and filmed by Shana’s husband Hayden, has a nostalgic quality which perfectly complements the song.

“He’s quite photographic in the way he makes videos. His shots always look like moving photos. And I was thinking about how it’s about mums and daughters and thinking about the idea of family photos, and I was like, ‘I wonder if it was like family photos that were moving?’ The idea was having different shots of my family and friends, but they’re mums and daughters, and having different types of fabric at the back, and just shooting them posing and stuff, and actually taking photos at the end of it and then giving it to them so they’ve got something to take away too. So that was literally what the idea was. Then we picked a few women that I knew from Auckland and Christchurch, it was really organic. Literally – I feel like the kids dictated what to do, which was actually quite good! You try to do a real moody shot, but the kids are like doing their own thing, you know?”

The video also features scenes with Shana and Lily, who is now two years old.

“I envisioned being in this white dress in a white room, singing, and having Lily run around. I thrifted this dress that was perfect for it. And again, we were gonna shoot some moody-as shots, but Lily was just like running around, so that’s what the video looks like, literally, it’s just her having fun! Because it was a slowed down video we had to speed up things. The dance sequences and stuff had to be kind of fast so that if it’s slowed down, it will look really nice. We chucked on ABBA and just danced, because she loves ABBA, so we were like singing Honey, Honey and dancing around, running around, which was fun! But I think it was just really special, just cos it felt like I really wanted to showcase my family and my friends and keep it on the ground and real for me.

“It’s been actually really cool, because she’s seen the video, and loves it! She watches it and she can see herself, and I’m like, ‘Oh man, this is doing what I wanted it to!’ She’s the main person I want to make happy, so it’s like mission accomplished!”

Lily’s March has already moved a lot of people, Shana saying she hadn’t anticipated such a positive response.

“This song’s kind of taken a life of its own. I was just being honest with writing it, and it’s really awesome to see how people have resonated with it. It’s bigger than I am, to be honest.”