Shana Llorando, it seems, has a winning way. 2015 has seen her complete a BMus (Popular Music) degree, just a few months after winning the year’s University of Auckland Songwriter of the Year award. No small achievement but that wasn’t her first such title. Back in 2009 she won the university’s Songwriting Competition for Secondary Students and followed that in 2010 with an AMP People’s Choice Scholarship. Becoming better known as Valere, under which name she plies her own increasingly confident brand of electronic RnB, she talked with Anna Loveys about her upcoming second EP release.
The walls of Auckland University’s Kenneth Myers Centre practice rooms have seen many private moments, or moments shared with songwriters putting their ideas into something for beyond the impressive brick walls. They include those of a local, upcoming electro-RnB artist Shana Llorando (Valere). Together we sit on a quiet Sunday morning, taking shelter from the rain outside and catching up in one of the practice rooms on the building’s top floor. All of the lights are out and the place is unusually abandoned.
“It’s on the way to being released,” Shana beams, as she settles into her seat. “The greatest challenge this year has been actually mustering up the courage to make this and go in this musical direction. I was planning to take a break from my own music to figure things out, but these songs just organically came about, and it felt like the right time to record and release them.”
She’s talking about her forthcoming new EP, ‘‘Blue’’, which is nearly ready a year after an independent debut titled ‘Weary Eyes’. “‘Blue’ for me, is about home,” she explains.
At the end of 2014, Shana took a trip back to her native homeland, the Philippines. She came back refreshed and inspired.
“It was just a big reboot – learning about my roots again. It gave me a different perspective and helped me realise you don’t have to do stuff alone. ‘Blue’ is about that, and figuring out you have people that will help you.”
Across five tracks the EP explores issues related to identity, belonging, nostalgia, growing up, and discovering a deeper sense of belonging.
“The title track was written on a little boat when we were island hopping in a place called Bohol, back home. It’s somewhat an answer to Wayside, which talks about doing things on my own and ‘swimming’, but all I really needed to do, to find myself, was float… ‘Blue’ speaks of my desire to be re-immersed in a bigger identity, other than my ‘self’.”
Now aged 21, Shana moved to NZ in 2001 with her family from Cebu city, the bustling capital of the Philippine’s’ Cebu province. Settling in East Tamaki she went to Sancta Maria College, which saw the beginnings of her early songwriting.
“My parents decided to move here so we could get a better and more recognised education. Totally thankful for their brave decision – that’s one of the reasons I work hard, to make their sacrifices worth it. Besides my faith, my biggest influences have been the strong women in my family, like my mum and my grandmothers, just for their attitude towards life and their resilience.”
Working hard still, Shana wrote, recorded and produced the tracks on what will be her second EP – with a little input from some close friends and fellow artists.
“Most of it I produced myself, but I did work with Elena Siljic– she did guitars for a couple of the tracks, and I had Liz Keall and Brayden Jeffrey on backing vocals. They wrote the first track [Wayside] with me. It was a co-write! That was a cool experience. Also having produced it myself – I wanted to see what I could do as a producer and I’’m pretty happy with what came about.
Her own favourites on the EP include the bold title track and Know Me.
“That is about how loved ones are the most important things in life. This was the biggest lesson I learnt when I went back home, that no matter what happened my family would always be there, and that was all that mattered.”
Countering that, her trip back to Cebu and subsequent return to NZ brought out a new sense of personal vulnerability in Shana’s work, one never before shared.
“The whole idea of vulnerability is tied into my home country anyway. Before the trip I tried to suppress that side of me and be something I wasn’t. I don’t know if other Philippinos agree but they’re quite vocal about their feelings. That’s how I grew up, and I love that about my country and the people there. It’s not just exclusive to us of course. But the whole ‘home’ idea – embracing that side of me – I don’t want to hide who I am because that’s not being honest.”
Having just completed her final semester at University of Auckland, Shana happily looks back on where her music started.
“I listen to a lot of RnB,” she admits, lighting up as we bond over Jo-Jo and various other 2000’s RnB artists. “It’s hard to name all the artists who have influenced me, because my sound has changed over the years and I listened to many different people. But I would say my go-to has been Lauryn Hill, just for her authenticity and consciousness when it comes to her writing, her flow, and her heart.
“I listened to a lot of pop too – I was a pop kid. I wanted to be Britney Spears, like straight up! But the Philippines – we’re a ballad country, we really put our hearts on our sleeves. I listened to a lot of that stuff from my parents. I wrote bits and pieces when I was 12, but wrote my first full song when I was 16 on the ukulele.”
That partnership continued until the singer/songwriter came to explore electronic mediums. The last four years have been a time for experimentation in style and sound aesthetic. Proof positive that she has by now developed her own artistic sound, she was named winner of this year’s University of Auckland Songwriter of the Year award. In what’s been a big year she identifies it as being her proudest moment.
“There have been heaps of things, but winning Songwriter of the Year this year would probably take the cake. Not because of the competition itself, but because it felt like I had come full circle, since the competition was what inspired me to do the degree in the first place.”
It’s difficult to comprehend that I’m talking to the same person I saw on stage that night at the Songwriter of the Year competition. She is polite, down to earth, humble and quietly reserved – when performing, her presence becomes the size of the room she is filling. Her voice in falsetto creates soul-stirring chills, especially when she closes her eyes and lets it go. Ruby Walsh and Elena Siljic, both artists in their own right, perform as her bodyguard-esque wing women, and together they create a powerful sound and statement.
Skin and Bone (which will be on the EP) has already seen support from Philippino stations, along with an eerily stunning video clip directed by Miguel Efondo, with help from Stefanee Chua. The song itself was inspired by Shana’’s favourite comic book couple, Nightwing and Oracle, and dances around the thought process of “…feeling unworthy to be loved and closing off from people, but being loved and pursued anyway.”
That may just prove to be a suitably apt metaphor for the kind of situation an internationally successful music artist named Valere might find herself in in the future, sometime after the April release of her ‘Blue’ EP perhaps.