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  • Mike Chalmers

Ready for the Journey

Local singer kicks off career with debut album.

Lucia Valentine is not your average college student. While most 20-year-olds are still settling in to the often dreary second semester of their sophomore year at school, she’s been pulling double duty as a singer-songwriter. In fact, the Shepherd University music major is approaching February with an anticipation perhaps foreign to her peers this time of year. Why? Because her self-titled debut album—Lucia Valentine—releases this month.

A native Shepherdstownian, Lucia was raised in a music-loving family. Her festival-going mother introduced her to Bluegrass, traditional Country, and a range of American roots music. Her father, a working musician, brought Rock, Blues, and Jazz influences to the table. Inspired by Alison Krauss and The Avett Brothers early on, Lucia was playing fiddle by ear at the age of seven, and wrote her first song. By nine, she was playing trumpet.

But it wasn’t until her teenage years that Lucia really started to find her voice outside the safety of the family home. “Painfully shy,” as her father describes, it took an invite from her grandfather to sing in the church choir to get her singing for anyone beyond family. But things evolved from there. Not long after, choir members and a few friends encouraged her to display her talent online. She and her father complied with a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” on YouTube.

That caught the eyes and ears of Jefferson High School show choir singers, as well as the teacher, and the recruiting began. Soon after joining, and hitting the stage for the first time, her shyness dissolved and her confidence grew—as did her belief that she might be able to make a career out of this.

“I was very blessed to be surrounded by musicians and very supportive parents and siblings,” Lucia explained. “And I’m very excited to carry on the tradition.”

Early collaboration with her father allowed Lucia to understand the structure of music. Watching her father leave for gigs, and not return until early in the morning, taught her about the workload and dedication involved in doing it professionally. “He’s been able to mentor me through this process, and we write some songs together, as well.”

Exposure is everything for a young person—especially a talented one. At some point, if it’s meant to be, certain realizations emerge for everyone involved.

“Well, she’s always had great pitch,” confirmed Dominic. “Truthfully, all the girls [Lucia’s siblings] can sing. I would pull double-duty when they were little and practice my guitar while babysitting. They’d sing along. When she got older, and when she was invited to sing in the high school show choir, it was pretty clear that she had talent.”

But even talent has limits—especially for a young person in a world exceedingly filled with distractions. Dominic knew that there would be a point when Lucia would have to decide how serious she wanted to be about music. “There was definitely a come-to-Jesus moment later in high school,” he noted. “She said she wanted to do this for a living, and I said I’d support her one hundred percent if she could show me that she could write songs. It wasn’t long after that she came back with what is now the first song on the debut album.”

Dominic helped his daughter refine that song a bit, but he knew at that point that she’d proven capable of doing something that so many singers struggle with. “The ability to create great melodies—so many singers have trouble with this, and it ruins a lot of careers before they ever really get off the ground,” he said. “But she showed an ability to write songs, and from then on, I was on board. So many people can sing, and sing well, but the difference is the ability to create and control melodies. She has that natural ability—and it creates the ‘magic’ you hear about—where people want to hear what she creates.”

Photo – ©Piccadilly Posh Photography

Committing to the Project

Shortly after both father and daughter came to an agreement, Dominic took Lucia to Nashville to see a Grammy-winning artist he’d been working with—Johnny Neel. Lucia wrote two songs with Neel.

“That was the first time she sat down with a professional writer of note—and then we started putting her together with other writers,” said Dominic. “This record started to develop when she was around eighteen.”

At that point, Lucia’s influences ranged from R&B and Gospel to Rock, Jazz, Country, and Pop. She included Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Whitney Houston, and songwriters like Steve Cropper and Marvin Gaye as influences. Enthralled by singer-songwriters like Alicia Keys, John Legend, and Sara Bareilles, she studied under acclaimed vocal coach Pete Strobl.

By 18, Dominic had her in the studio with producer Scott Smith at The Wood and Stone Room in the Baltimore area. “Scott and I had worked together on other projects,” he said. “We brought Lucia’s first song down and he liked it. He committed to the project after that.”

Dominic also felt that Lucia was surrounded with enough talent and industry experience that the need to chase a label wasn’t necessary. “We knew we could get a great record out. Scott’s a great producer; we did it our own way. And that’s the way the industry is shifting. We’re not indebted to anyone, and we’ve got a great record that we’re really proud of. It will allow Lucia some flexibility and ownership at the start of her career, and that’s important.”

Originally torn between college and the full-time pursuit of music, Lucia has now found a rhythm within both. “I really enjoy college now; it’s nice to learn about music theory. And it’s not as hard to balance everything as I thought it would be. I’m also taking some business classes to prepare myself for what’s happening outside of school. It’s a very exciting time.”

Lucia Valentine, the album, is set for release in the middle of February. “We’re going to do a local record-release concert—the location still hasn’t been determined,” she affirmed. “We’ll have a private listening party first, and then we’ll also set up a crowd-funding project.”

With a finished album in the books, the advantage Lucia will have over so many other young artists is that she not only owns her music, but she’ll be able to concentrate directly on the promotion and marketing.

“We’ll set up a tour schedule soon and gauge where the traction is,” said Dominic. “We’ll also release some songs online to build up a base, and connect with radio. A lot of it will also be driven by Lucia’s ability to connect with her audience. It’s a new media world out there. We’ll hire PR people to run the overall machine, but she’ll have to work on that side of it, as well.”

But that’s the part Lucia can’t wait to get started. “It’s just pure excitement at this point,” she assured. “I’m really ready to see where this journey takes me, and all the directions it could go. I love traveling. I love connecting with people through this art. I feel like it can only get better from here, as long as I keep working at it.”

— To follow Lucia Valentine, and all that she has coming up, click here and/or find Lucia Valentine on Facebook.

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