Berlin native Valeska Rautenberg was a six-year-old when she discovered her love for ballet dance and being on stage. However, Rautenberg’s dreams of having a dance career were to be denied years later. She was left heartbroken when she was told she was not physically suited for ballet and it could never be more than a hobby. By the time she was a teenager, Rautenberg’s damaged knees would force her to stop dancing completely. As a result, Rautenberg would feel being led more into music.
Rautenberg won her first big movie role at the age of 11 without help from her celebrated actor father, Klaus-Peter Thiele. But after 10 years in movies and television while at school and college, Valeska wasn’t interested in being an actor. Consequently, music had become such an undeniable force that she realized this was her true love.
Her musical path began with vocal training in Jazz and Blues as well as a private scholarship provided by an opera singer who took an interest in Rautenberg. Although she wasn’t keen on singing classical music, she learned styles and techniques that would enable her to sing many different genres. Rautenberg would later join Der Wilde Garten, the band of famous violinist Georgi Gogow.
Her journey was then interrupted for several years while Rautenberg cared for her ailing parents. It was writing music that helped her cope during that time and with their loss. Now she has returned to the music world as an indie artist and is releasing music under her own name. Her ambient pop single “Midnight Children” came out in early March 2018. She is currently working on her forthcoming album, ‘Aerial Minds’.
I recently interviewed Rautenberg about her forthcoming album, production processes, teaching music, dancing, performing for the former President of Germany, and much more.
Congratulations on your new single release, “Midnight Children”. What is the concept or theme behind it?
Thank you so much! I’m happy it’s out 🙂 It’s about loving and accepting your beauty and your “ugliness“, about living your life a little differently, let’s say more intuitively…therefore its title was inspired by Salman Rushdie’s book “Midnight’s Children“. It’s an atmospheric, ambient downbeat song, living in the realm of Dark Pop. It’s the first singe of the “Aerial Minds“ EP.
Tell us about the 4 EPs and their themes that you are currently working on.
The 4 EPs will represent the 4 elements in an abstract, individual way. The first one will be “Aerial Minds“ which holds the more intangible, ethereal songs and themes as opposed to the “Fires“ EP, for example, which will include the passionate, more dramatic songs. I’ve written a lot of songs in the past years and they vary in theme and style, toying around with different genres, instrumentation, and vocal techniques. I’ve been exploring facets of feelings and it felt a bit like incorporating all the elements, that’s how this idea of the 4 EPs came to life.
How did you come up with the concept for the “Midnight Children” music video?
When I write music I can sort of see the song in my mind as shapes, colours, and structures.
When I write music I can sort of see the song in my mind as shapes, colours, and structures.
So basically this video is a sneak peek into my brain…this is what Midnight Children looks like to me 😉 . There will be other videos (one is already done, two are in the making), that are more story driven but this one is just colours and shapes for the viewer to sink into while listening.
Explain your production process.
I guess there’s not only one process. It really depends on the song and its needs. I usually start writing on the piano even though the piano sometimes gets kicked out of the song later in the process. After recording a guideline, I record me jamming the song with my voice until I get a feel for it and then the fun begins when I get to toy around with beats, synthesizers, field recordings, and different plug-ins. That’s the “getting to know the song phase“. When I figure out what the song wants, the actual work begins and I start making decisions, do the cleaning up, and record everything properly. Once everything is edited and the effects are all in place, I do a little pre-mix to have some sort of blueprint for my lovely engineers who will then do the final mix, with me closely monitoring … me being the momma bear to my songs 😉 .
What are the advantages of being both a musician and a producer? Any disadvantages?
Well, I’m my own boss … there you have your advantage and your disadvantage already. I really love being able to not only write but also produce my own music and decide on every bit of sound and effect that goes in it. I consider that to be my definition of success – to create a piece of music that sounds like me.
I consider that to be my definition of success – to create a piece of music that sounds like me.
The disadvantage here is that I don’t know when the song is finished, I’m too close to it and I get lost in the musical forest quite a bit, so to speak. Even though I try to finish the very personal songs by myself and muscle my way through them, a big part of producing for me is to also know when to step aside.
When I hit a wall with a song and I don’t know where to go from there, I get myself some help and have it co-produced by Marian Kuch. Not only is he a fabulous engineer, but a great producer who can read me quite well and who provides the necessary objectivity. There will be a couple of songs on the 4 EPs that we worked on together. Right now I’m working on songs that I want to open up to other musicians and co-producers. It will add new colours to the music and it’s always such an exciting process.
Why do you think there aren’t many women producers in the music industry?
Honestly, I think a lot of women don’t know what they’re capable of yet.
Honestly, I think a lot of women don’t know what they’re capable of yet.
Or maybe women tend to think or have been told that the technical side of music isn’t for them. That was me 10 years ago. But one day I just had enough of being dependent on other people and started learning how to use recording gear, logic pro, etc. … and today I try to encourage all of my female students to do the same and to lose their illogical fear of those things and to just get started.
As a singer, composer, and producer, you have said you have been discredited in the music industry many times. Can you share any experiences? How do you think this attitude toward women can be changed in the music industry?
I don’t want to go into detail here, it’s not my style to bash people or blogs ;-). Let’s just say on a lot of occasions I “only“ get credited as the “pretty voice“ but not the writer/co-writer or producer. How can it be changed? Speak up for yourself;
How can it be changed? Speak up for yourself;
I know haven’t many times and still have to learn that. I really hope women will continue to support each other more and more and I hope that men, who always thought of women as their equals anyway, will educate their fellow males.
Tell us about how you got your training in jazz, blues, and classical vocal techniques. Why did you train in all these different genres?
Constant curiosity I guess. I started with Jazz and Blues as a teenager, mainly because I was fascinated by how masterfully those singers could move their voices, in such pace, with such beautiful runs. A little later an opera singer took an interest in me and granted me some sort of private scholarship, even though I wasn’t too interested in singing classical music. She showed me a lot of techniques and styles that gave me the means to sing in a variety of genres. All of that broadened my understanding of voices. I’ll be forever grateful.
You started out at age 11 working as an actress and went on to star in movies and television shows on and off for 10 years while at school and university. Why did you not continue it as a career?
It wasn’t for me. I never truly liked it. Don’t get me wrong, I always loved the experiences and I got to travel quite a bit which was invaluable and I’m grateful to have had this in my life but the acting itself just wasn’t for me. Coming from a family of actors it seemed to be the logical thing to do but I realized at some point I wasn’t really seriously interested in it. I think I was kicked out of my agency three (!) times (they brought me back two times 😉 ) for not showing enough interest … haha.
How did your father, the famous actor Klaus-Peter Thiele, influence your journey into acting?
My father was a very down to earth kind of person, even though he became famous overnight in the sixties, and this is what he wanted me to be as well. He always said acting is just another job; the work that runs in the family, and I shouldn’t get cocky about it. I got my first main role when I was still a child and it actually had nothing to do with him, it was a total coincidence. If I remember correctly, he was away from home at the time, playing in a theatre in Hamburg. He wasn’t especially happy when I told him that I got the part in this film. He wanted to protect me from the dark sides of the business, but still, he was very proud. He didn’t get too involved in my acting, but when he felt that I wasn’t happy with it, encouraged me to stop. My father wasn’t too pleased about me wanting to become a singer either. Even though he was an artist himself, he wanted me to do something “proper“ 😉 . It’s the wish for security and stability every parent has for their child, isn’t it?
When did you start to dance? What was your experience like being in a dance company? Why did you not pursue it as a career?
Oh, dancing was my first love! I think I was around six when I started and I would walk around in a little tutu all the time at home, and I enjoyed being on stage. Dancing accompanied me for about 10 years of my life. I loved it so much but it soon became quite clear that I didn’t have the physical dispositions for it – there was a doctor at ballet school who examined all the children whether they were suited for dancing as a career or not. So it would just stay a hobby which broke my heart at the time. When I was a teenager my knees were so damaged that I had to stop completely but this incident was what eventually steered me more and more into music. I still think about going to dance classes again, eventually.
How did you decide to pursue music instead of acting or dance as a career?
The circumstances described earlier and furthermore, the music itself, at some point, became so undeniable. It was just a force possessing me. It became my language, my form of expression, and processing.
It was just a force possessing me. It became my language, my form of expression, and processing.
It never felt much like a decision, it was just an inevitable way with good and bad sides to it. Sometimes I describe music as being married to a very jealous spouse, who doesn’t leave room for anything else. This is why I eventually need to take a break from it for a while and do something completely different. Fostering kittens sounds like a brilliant alternative to me 😉 .
What do you enjoy most about doing voice-over work? When did you start?
I particularly enjoy the totally absurd stuff. The other day I gave my voice to a snail with a lisp for a children’s audiobook. I love that sort of thing. I used to overdub myself (the roles I played) as a teenager and this over time progressed into the occasional voice-over work.
Explain how you got the opportunity to perform with famed ‘City’ violinist Georgi Gogow and his band for the President of Germany, Horst Köhler in a televised Christmas concert.
Ha! I honestly don’t know how that happened. I joined Georgi’s band “Der Wilde Garten“ a couple of years prior to that gig and I don’t exactly know what the circumstances were leading to that opportunity. We turned an old German folk song from the 16th century into our own version and gave it a jazzy, gypsy, and classical spin and performed it there. It was nerve-wracking performing in front of the president and a bazillion cameras in far too high high-heels – with a single thought in my head: “Don’t fall!”)
It was nerve-wracking performing in front of the president and a bazillion cameras in far too high high-heels – with a single thought in my head: “Don’t fall!”)
and had champagne with the president and his wife afterward 😉 . Lovely memories. Fun fact: We just released that song, even though the recording already took place in 2008. You’ll find it on my Spotify page. It sticks out quite a bit 😉 .
How did you become a ghostwriter?
Just by chance … people realizing what I do and asking me to help out with their music. I don’t want to do it too often because it takes time away from my own music but I really like the occasional indulging in music or lyrics I would never write for myself.
You’re a music teacher training students in piano, singing, and speech. What do you like most about being a music teacher? How long have you been teaching?
Oh wow … I love everything about it. I could write a novel here ;-). It’s like unwrapping presents. I can hear the musical and/or vocal potential in someone and then I get to discover and unfold it together with the student.
I can hear the musical and/or vocal potential in someone and then I get to discover and unfold it together with the student.
It’s magical to listen to these developments. It’s the most rewarding experience and the best thing is I get to be a part of someone’s journey to get closer to themselves. I think I’ve been teaching for about 15 years now. It wasn’t planned, it sort of just happened. Musician friends asked me if I could help them out with a certain issue in their vocal techniques and so it progressed into much more … wouldn’t want to miss it for the world!
How do you train your students in body language? How does this help with singing and speech?
I guess I help them realize how they appear body language-wise by reflecting them and together we try to find out if their body language actually matches their inside. It’s all about becoming aware of yourself again. It’s helpful if you need to stand up to your boss, hold a presentation at work or end up in an uncomfortable situation where you have to stand your ground. Those are great tools to have. When it comes to singing I usually train them in body language to raise their awareness of how to communicate with their own voice via the body.
When it comes to singing I usually train them in body language to raise their awareness of how to communicate with their own voice via the body.
For example, if your body doesn’t look ‘loud‘ (as in euphoric, wild, furious, passionate), you will not get your voice to be loud in a natural way. Your body needs to understand why it’s supposed to sing loudly, so get into the appropriate body language to convey your intent – your voice will follow.
Elaborate on how meditation, Qi Gong, and Yoga can expose the creativity and natural voice of your students?
It helps you understand where your power comes from, where the energy is. A lot of people think the voice is something you create in your throat and they fail to see that the whole body is the instrument
A lot of people think the voice is something you create in your throat and they fail to see that the whole body is the instrument
and needs to support everything you want to sing and express. I use a lot of movement to bring my students closer to their voices.
How do you think women in indie music can be better supported?
Firstly by supporting each other even more. Secondly by men… I know so many lovely male musicians, producers, colleagues, who would never look down on a woman and her skills. I hope for them to spread the word and educate fellow men who may have been a little misguided in their attitudes towards women.
What advice would you give to women who wish to or are pursuing a career in music?
Go for it! Don’t let anybody tell you, that you can’t. Even if you fail, then you at least can’t blame yourself for not trying once you’re 70 years old. Be prepared to work hard and to face harsh criticism that is not always constructive.
Be prepared to work hard and to face harsh criticism that is not always constructive.
Create yourself a network of like-minded people for yourself and support each other.
What projects besides your EPs have you planned for 2018?
A lot…hopefully this year will be long enough for everything! I’ve been away from the music world and everything that used to be the content of my life for several years now due to my parent’s long illnesses, followed by their passing and the aftermath of that. It will be a long journey to digest what happened. Writing all this music has been a big part of coping. I decided to mention that here because this involuntary change in the course of my life and the dealing with it is one of the main themes in my music and also, whether I want it or not, one of the first google entries you’ll find about me anyway.
And now that I’m finally releasing music again (for the first time under my name), I have to learn so many new things. I sort of started again from zero. It’s my first-time self-releasing music without a label in the background, which has its advantages regarding freedom and choices, but also its disadvantages concerning promotional support. I have no clue about promotion, social media and how to find an audience for my niche music yet, so I guess I have a lot to learn. It’s scary but I get to do everything on my own terms now, that feels good.
It’s scary but I get to do everything on my own terms now, that feels good.
In 2018 there will be more collaborations with Boston based “We Are All Astronauts“. We musically ‘click‘ and it’s always great cooking up new songs together. Our latest collaboration you can find here – Ether: https://open.spotify.com/track/2QCtisCUsyG1XtEqlme0lJ?si=WiylQCFhTK6L9y7m1xS8KA
Furthermore, I’ve already finished 10 neo-classical piano pieces that I want to release as well. Lots to do 🙂
What are your tour plans for 2018?
I have none. I think I will be busy with making videos, finishing the productions, creating cover art, learning about social media and whatnot. I will play, however, the occasional living room concert or have a guest appearance here and there. I’ve really come to love the concept of living room concerts recently. After releasing all that music, I want to take a break and go traveling. And wherever I’ll be in the world I will be open to play, teach, and collaborate.
wherever I’ll be in the world I will be open to play, teach, and collaborate.
So let me know where you’re at I might swing by for a song or two 😉 .
Thank you, Valeska, for the opportunity to interview you!
Thank you so much for having me, for your support and for giving me the opportunity to tell my story.
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