Los Angeles indie pop duo Valley Boy’s new single, “Sad Girl”—out today and featured below with an accompanying video—is a grainy, R&B-tinged ode to one sad girl in particular: Brittany Amaradio, a.k.a. Delacey.
In the song, vocalist James Alan Ghaleb sulks and swoons as he looks back at the confusing early days of his relationship with Amaradio, now his fiancée: “Sad girl / I wanna love you but you’re a sad girl / and you’re in love with being that girl / and I make you smile a little too much,” he sings at the top of the track over languorous beats and spacey production. “Sad girl / you wanna boy to treat you bad girl / but I’m the worst you ever had girl / ‘cause I make you smile a little too much.”
“Sad Girl” is Valley Boy’s first single of 2021, following 2020’s “Cigarette” and “Black Cat.” The accompanying flick—directed by Valley Boy’s “unofficial” third member Zach Johnston—is a fake sex tape starring Ghaleb and Amaradio as themselves. But what starts out as a steamy, romantic night ultimately takes a disappointing turn.
“I think the strangest part of making the fake sex tape with my real fiancée was having Zach watching from the doorway of the room the entire time,” Ghaleb tells American Songwriter over email. “How did we ever manage before we had Zach [around] to ask if things looked good or if we needed to try again, you know?”
Valley Boy is the project of Ghaleb and Ian Meltzer, a pair of middle school pals turned musical collaborators, who are currently gearing up to release their yet-to-be-announced debut EP. We caught up with the duo about their new single and video, their creative process, and their mutual love of Al Green. Check out the full interview and watch the “Sad Girl” video below.
American Songwriter: When and where did you first write and record “Sad Girl”?
James Alan Ghaleb: Oh, ‘Sad Girl.’ The song that has haunted every two-syllabled word in my vocabulary since it was born. The song was actually written in a few places, starting with a balcony in Laurel Canyon. I was in a session with my friends [Pete “Merf” Kelleher and Tom “Froe” Barnes] from the British songwriting and production team, TMS, and was in the middle of writing another song when I received a text from my then-romantic interest (and current fiancée) explaining why she felt we shouldn’t speak to each other anymore. I was upset and needed to step outside and away from the song I’d been writing with Merf and Froe and that’s when the idea for ‘Sad Girl’ came into being. First it was just pieces of the chorus and some general ideas of what story the verses would tell. Weeks later, I showed the idea to Ian at our house in Silverlake playing on our very out-of-tune piano (not knowing whether or not the song was worth finishing) and Ian loved it. We hammered out the final lyrics for the chorus then but I still wasn’t ready to settle on the verses and decided to table it for another day.
I believe we didn’t actually finish the lyrics until we were at Ian’s dad’s house in the San Fernando Valley. At that point I had already played the chorus to the real-life sad girl and she loved it so much that it gave me the final push and confidence I needed to finish the song. Sometimes, I find that in the process of writing I get so caught up in the possibilities of what a song could be and could turn into, that I begin to procrastinate finishing it. Once it’s finished, it’s decided, you know? It’s no longer that kid who doesn’t know what they’re going to be when they grow up. I think I already knew that I loved ‘Sad Girl’ and I was going to miss raising it and afraid of what life would be like as an empty-nester.
We recorded ‘Sad Girl’ in our garage-turned-studio. It’s got black fabric walls, a patchwork of leftover carpet scraps covering most of the cement floors, [and] no natural light because we had to cover up the only window to make sure the neighbors won’t complain about the noise. It’s my favorite studio in the whole damn world.
Ian Meltzer: When James first played me the chorus one day in our living room I immediately loved it. I remember picturing it being produced as this kind of ‘That Thing You Do!‘-style song at first (thank goodness I grew out of that idea). James made a voice memo of him beat-boxing in his bedroom and that became the foundation of the final recording.
We knew the song was really great, so when we began recording it we became very concerned with doing the song justice. This pressure ultimately led to us to break down and give up completely for what was probably a couple of months. Once we returned to it I think we realized it was actually great and we were just being insane.
AS: How does a Valley Boy song usually come together from start to finish?
James: Well, sometimes it’s quite a long process from start to finish, as was the case for ‘Sad Girl.’ Sometimes I can just bang the whole thing out before even showing it to Ian. Actually, now that I think about it, it’s usually one or the other—a long process, or something that I write basically in its entirety in one sitting.
Ian: Yeah, James pretty much always starts the songs on his own and then we finish them together. Once they’re finished we usually sporadically play or jam on all of the yet-to-be recorded songs for a number of weeks, in between working on other productions. Once the new songs start to feel familiar and fun to play, we start to produce them. Then one of two things happens: either it’s extremely fast and easy and we don’t doubt ourselves at all and we just have fun and then it’s done and then months later we realize it’s not actually done and we work on it a lot more… OR we go very slowly and doubt ourselves the entire time and it isn’t that fun but eventually we gain the correct perspective and after a very long time it’s done and then months later we realize it’s not actually done and we work on it a lot more…
AS: You worked with musician/director Zach Johnston to craft the accompanying video. How’d you get connected to him? And what was it like to make a fake sex tape inspired by your real relationship?
James: Zach Johnston is much more than a director for us. He’s become one of our best friends and essentially an unofficial member of Valley Boy. When I moved out of the house and into a place with the real-life sad girl (artist Delacey), Zach moved in. We’d already been friends for a while and Ian had already drummed on many recordings of Zach’s musical project, Sonntag—which is amazing. When Zach moved in we began working with him as a director.
Ian: I was a huge fan of Zach’s work with the band PHOX and happened to become friends with him many years ago after drumming on one of his albums. The great thing about working with Zach on these videos is that he really understands us and what we are trying to do, oftentimes better than we even understand ourselves. [His] aesthetic suits our video concepts very well. Also, he is my favorite editor because he’s a great musician, so his editing is very rhythmically satisfying. The ‘Sad Girl’ editing is a perfect example of his rhythmic sensibilities.
James: Making the fake sex tape was a journey before we even started shooting. Weeks before filming, I got all motivated—by my vanity, honestly—to get in shape and sexy for the video, and then my dad had a heart attack a week before the shoot and all my weeks of working out went out the window. My dad is now fine and seemingly in better shape than I am.
Getting into the filming was actually a lot of fun, though I did have to remind the sad girl of how aloof and upset she generally was in the beginning of our relationship. Through the process of making a video for every song of this upcoming EP, I’ve felt very awkward in most instances on camera, [even] doing totally normal things like walking. It’s even become an inside joke for us that I can’t turn my head to the right because of a night of filming for the “Cigarette” music video. As it turns out, simulating sex and the aftermath with my fiancée turned out to be the easiest time I’ve had acting “natural” on camera. I think the strangest part of making the fake sex tape with my real fiancée, was having Zach watching from the doorway of the room the entire time. How did we ever manage before we had Zach [around] to ask if things looked good or if we needed to try again, you know?
AS: I read that you two met in middle school—what were some of your musical inspirations at the time? What about more recently?
James: At the time we met, our influences were very 60s/70s rock. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, The Ramones, Steely Dan.
Ian: Over our teenage years we went through many phases and it was kind of all over the place. We were heavily into The Cat Empire from Australia. I should also note Gentle Giant. You could pretty much always find us listening to something with jazz or soul influence I would say. We fucking loved and still love Al Green.
More recently I have a harder time describing my contemporary inspirations, but at this moment I can say that I have deep respect for Dave Longstreth, Frank Ocean, Big Thief, D’angelo, D’angelo, and D’angelo.
AS: What else can fans expect from Valley Boy in 2021?
James: Expect our first EP, baby! And with it, the release of the complete short film that accompanies the songs. The fans will get to see the exciting conclusion of the story. And then expect me to have several existential crises about what even matters and what kind of music is worth making—these crises will not be made public for all to enjoy, but fans should still expect them.
Expect more music after our first EP, also. Maybe an album. Maybe something that sounds like an album but we call an ‘EP’ for some dumb reason?
Ian: We have fans? Sick. They can expect to see and hear a lot of things from us that we will have spent a lot of time and effort trying to make look like we haven’t spent a lot of time and effort making.