“What’s a girl gotta do to stay afloat?”
That’s the question at the heart of Valeree’s soaring new single, “Broke,” which premieres below and finds the Los Angeles-via-Pittsburgh singer-songwriter working overtime—literally and figuratively.
“Being insanely poor is also something that has been a staple struggle of my adult life,” Megan Mortensen, AKA Valeree, tells American Songwriter over email. “I’ve been homeless multiple times, not eaten for as long as possible to save money, etc, so I have wanted to write a song about it for a long time but I just never quite got it right.”
“One day about a year or so ago,” she continues, “I was listening to music in the car and just really getting inspired, and I just sang what is now the chorus of ‘Broke’ over whatever was playing in my car. As soon as it came out, I knew it was what I’d been needing to make that old song work. I started working out the rest as soon as I got home, had lyrics and a melody, wrote some piano chords, and that was pretty much that.”
Lyrically, “Broke” strikes the perfect balance between specificity and relatability. Valeree sings about “living in my Mazda from ‘98, praying it don’t break down,” then tries to comfort herself in a pre-chorus: “Oh, I don’t need a fortune / I don’t need to be rich to sleep / well at night.” Still, she wonders, “wouldn’t it be nice / to work to live / instead of just survive?” Later, she sings about being “too poor to pay out of pocket” and “too poor to be insured.” It’s an anthem for anyone who’s ever juggled multiple jobs and side-hustles only to realize that “no matter how hard I work / I just keep on being broke.”
After Valeree wrote the song, she brought it to her producer Adam Allison. At the time, “it didn’t have a bridge and he convinced me to write one,” recalls Mortensen. “Then in the studio, Max [Berlin] spiced up the chords and piano part, and we built from there. What’s cool about the production of this song is that there are tons of tiny little elements all working together. It was tricky to make sure it felt full without feeling too busy, but I think that was accomplished eventually.”
Valeree shines as a vocalist, bringing palpable soul and startlingly sincere emotion to “Broke,” which is the lead single off her forthcoming EP, it’s fine, i’m fine. “I chose this song as the single because I felt it was exciting and fun and catchy, while also being the most different from anything I’ve done,” says Mortensen, who’s previously cited Etta James and Amy Winehouse as influences. “It’s more in the direction that I’d like to go in the future. I also had a very clear-cut music video idea that I really wanted to do.”
The video, featured below, finds Mortensen pouring latte art and waiting tables under the watchful eye of a toxic manager-dude. Eventually, she quits the gig, heads home, and starts tinkering with a song called “Broke.”
“I conceptualized the whole video just based on my real life,” she shares. “The only element of the video that isn’t accurate is that I’ve never stormed out and quit a job, but I’ve wanted to many times!”
“Another cool thing about the video is that it’s made with all just my friends,” Mortensen adds. “Most of us were actually quarantining together. My boss in the video is one of my best friends, and the woman who I spill water on is my best friend and also his girlfriend. It was so hard for Nick (my video boss) and I to do our scenes with straight faces. We had a million takes of us just bursting out laughing. It was also directed by a friend [Christian York] and shot by a friend [Jeremy Snider]. The director and I edited it together. I was very involved in the entire process, which was both fun and a lot of work.”
it’s fine, i’m fine follows Valeree’s debut EP, Masochist, released last year. Her sophomore EP also features contributions from Danny Balistocky, Devin Pruden, and Christina Beaulieu in addition to Allison and Berlin. Check out the promising first glimpse of the project below.
“Broke” is out February 5. it’s fine, i’m fine arrives March 19.