“… That vulnerable feeling when emotions aren’t dulled yet, and you live in that romantic moment between desire and despair. I wanted to make music for that state of mind. For that person.”
You know that feeling you get when you hear a recording of your own voice? It sounds weird to hear yourself speaking or singing outside of your own head. Even an exquisite vocalist like Valente Bertelli (AKA Slow Shiver) knows this phenomenon.
The first time he heard his speaking voice on a video, it threw him off-guard and set him on a path toward crafting the impeccable pipes he has on display on new single, “In Blue (Drive By Delivery),” released this week.
“The voice coming out of my mouth sounded so foreign,” the LA-based Bertelli told Vehlinggo recently. “It took me a while to realize that to each one of us, the voice we hear from ‘inside our head’ is very different from the voice other people hear.”
“I’ve always loved how my voice sounded to me,” he continued, “but I couldn’t stand what my recorded voice sounded like, so I tried to figure out more and more how to sing in a way that would sound to the outside, how my voice always sounded to me inside.”
How does that voice sound, anyway? Bertelli’s cords tap into a realm of both melancholic tenderness and sacred contemplation. Just check out “In Blue.”
There’s also “We Lost,” his recent collaboration with Anoraak.
As I said in my review of Figure, the EP that houses “We Lost,” Bertelli’s warm vocals have a timbre that resides somewhere between Peter Gabriel and Bryan Ferry, portraying an increasingly aching sense of regret every time he repeats the chorus “We’ll never know/We’ll never know/We’ll never know what we lost.”
“When I sing, I want my listener to feel as if I was right by their ear — having that intimate connection of having them hear what I hear,” Bertelli says.
With the release of “In Blue,” Bertelli’s first promoted single as Slow Shiver, we have another chance to hear more of what he hears. Bertelli’s vocals and lyrics on “In Blue” go even further into the wistfulness territory, but it’s never some form of self-loathing or despondency.
Instead, paired with a subdued and earnest (and big-snared) synthpop vibe, and a beautiful guitar lead, Bertelli conjures up those very real adult moments when you have to face up to those emotionally uncomfortable realities you’re not sure you can handle.
Finding Early Serenity in a Crystalline Swiss Lake
Bertelli describes Slow Shiver as “music for my 16-year-old self.” This doesn’t mean he’s trying to engage in some nostalgia exercise, per se. Instead, it’s about a recent epiphany about a particular state of mind — a certain sense of wonder he had when he was a teen. This is a pervasive feeling he needed so much to return to in his adult state.
The Rome-born Bertelli grew up in a Catholic boarding school in a small Italo-Swiss town on a lake. That water body proved to be an important part of his story.
“At every break, I would religiously walk to a bench overlooking the water and would just sit there and listen to records, thinking about a life I’d one day live,” he said. “I suppose I wanted to escape, just like everybody does when they are 16.”
(Above: A cut Bertelli released about three years ago via his Valente project.)
Fast forward to recent times — after Bertelli took a hiatus from his Valente project during what he says was a “pretty difficult” period in his life. He’d been making music for a while, not realizing how important it was for him to be creating. In the absence of music-making, Bertelli had a stark realization.
“One day I found myself re-listening to the records which first made me passionate about music when I was 16,” Bertelli says. “I started thinking more and more about how it felt — yearning so vividly for something, and yet being unable to describe what that something is. That vulnerable feeling when emotions aren’t dulled yet, and you live in that romantic moment between desire and despair. I wanted to make music for that state of mind. For that person.”
He scrapped everything “I knew, or thought possible,” and started fresh with this new mission.
“Not too long after that, someone asked me what did I want my listener to feel, and I remember saying ‘a slow, prolonged shiver.’ I was surprised by how natural that answer came, and I started thinking that if I’d call it that, it would keep me true to what I was setting out to do,” he said.
And so it was.
‘Dead Man Walking’
The first track Bertelli released under the Slow Shiver name was an intimate and rather ambient cover of David Bowie’s “Dead Man Walking” early this year. Its crystalline instrumentation and trembling rawness are stunning.
“His passing had a very deep impact on my own viewpoint as an artist,” Bertelli says. “I always loved his work, though I wouldn’t say that he was one of my main influences.”
“When he passed away after making Blackstar and the videos that follow[ed], I found myself thinking about the fact that he knew his time was up,” he continued. “He had more money that Midas. He could have easily called it quits and spent his days having Mai Tais on a tropical island.”
“Instead, he decided to do what he loved,” Bertelli continued. “Not only that, but he realized what his impact was on all of us and decided to make videos which would make sense to the ones following him — once he was no longer here.”
Bertelli took Bowie’s message to heart. He walked away from the news of Bowie’s Jan. 10 death knowing that he needed to do what he loved and what was most important to him: Music.
“It made me see how in the end, it’s really up to you to make what you want,” Bertelli says. “There is no right or wrong way of doing things. We are all monkeys on a rock flying through space, playing with finite time. Might as well do what you really love.”
The “slow, prolonged shiver” on display in Bertelli’s cover of the late, great legend’s 1997 single caught some attention soon after Bertelli released it. Famed director Paul Boyd — whose work includes videos for everyone from Sting, Seal, Digable Planets, Kylie Minogue, Des’ree and The Roots to Jamiroquai, INXS, and Shania Twain (all her best 90s videos) — was particularly taken aback.
“… He sent me a message saying we should shoot something,” Bertelli said. “It was a pretty surreal moment.”
They’re currently finishing up the video for “In Blue.”
An Anoraak in Paris
I didn’t catch on to Bertelli’s deft ways until this past summer, when he showed up on Anoraak’s new EP. Their collaboration on Figure is perhaps the EP’s best cut.
It wasn’t their first trip together, though. That honor goes to a remix Anoraak did of the Valente project’s “The Distant Lights” three years ago.
“He did an amazing job,” Bertelli says.
They still hadn’t yet met in person. It wasn’t until Bertelli was in Paris for a project that he called up Anoraak (AKA Frédéric Rivière) to finally meet properly.
“We went for an afternoon drink with some friends, and six bottles of wine later I think we both realized we’d be lifelong friends,” Bertelli says.
Bertelli’s first major release as Slow Shiver derives from a particular shade of fear and heartbreak. He says the cut is about “being stuck in a moment at a stoplight in your car and seeing your ex — that ex— and her new lover in the car beside you.”
“Writing the lyrics for it was incredibly personal, yet cathartic for me,” he said. “It was almost too close to home, as it deals with being forced to look at a reality you just don’t want to face.”
The seeds of the song were sown a few years ago in a project Bertelli conjured up called Il Regista. He says he had an idea to develop something that was “a bit unconventional” from what people typically do.
“Often times it’s either a musician making a song, only to have a director shoot a video for it, or a director making a piece, only to have a musician score it,” Bertelli said. “I wanted to develop something which was a true collaboration of music and film together, from the early stages of the plot — developing the characters, the wardrobe, etc. Essentially, creating some sort of an unsung video/musical with today’s mediums; both music and visuals coming together to tell one story.”
Bertelli started searching and eventually found a person named Jesse Salto. He was “the perfect person for it,” Bertelli says. “He’s an amazing director, so much so that we can never find the time in our busy schedules to shoot our ideas.”
Bertelli developed a wealth of music for Il Regista, with “In Blue” being one of the cuts that stayed top-of-mind.
“We’ll someday get the time to continue the project, but in the meantime I just wanted to get this song out, as it is very near and dear to me,” Bertelli said, noting that he did end up using a Salto photo for the cover of “In Blue.”
Going forward, Bertelli has commissioned some artists to do remixes of “In Blue,” which we’ll hear soon enough. Beyond that, though, the man who activates our souls with his honest renditions of life’s complex moments is all zipped lips.
“… The rest… I am keeping close to my chest.”