Musician Leslie Schott arrived in Newport just more than a year ago not to check out the the city’s beaches, history, or chowder, but to tend to a backyard garden. Transplanted from Los Angeles, where she’d converted her own back forty into an organic cut flower farm, she arrived ready to garden sit for the friend of a friend. But by the time homeowner (and Puddingstone contributor) Caroline Goddard returned from a trip to Paris, Leslie and her bandmate, Andrew Valenti, were already neck-deep in recording a new album, and decided to stay put.
Holy Golden, as their band is known, has just wrapped up that endeavor, Wax Castle, from the converted ballroom where they now live. They describe their music as an “imaginative kingdom of sound,” touching on themes that are both “deeply personal and…universally relevant.” Leslie’s personal style is equally quirky – in the best possible way. She’s a dash Victorian romantic and a smidgen vintage rock n’ roll, with a sprinkle of moonbeams thrown in for good measure.
Musically unique and free spirited, Leslie seemed the perfect style inspiration for heading into Folk Fest weekend, and Fort Adams the just-right backdrop for these photos. Here, she shares the story behind her musical journey, tips for bearing your creative soul, and the acts she won’t miss this weekend.
How would you describe your personal style?
For me, style is an opportunity to practice creativity. When I embrace my uniqueness, people can see my creative soul more clearly. My “look” shifts depending on where I am – geographically or in my mind – but I lean towards romantic, girly clothing from other eras. My mom calls my outfits “costumes” but to me, they feel natural. You should wear what makes you feel confident, and this will attract like-minded people who help get you to where you are going.
You’re one half of the band Holy Golden. What’s the other half like?
The other half is Andrew Valenti. We met unexpectedly at a record store on Martha’s Vineyard and were drawn together like magnets. I was acting in Los Angeles at the time. He came to visit me, and we drove around the state of California with a borrowed guitar. He had to return east to the farm where he worked while I stayed in L.A., but eventually we found our way together and after the first six months of being connected we had written an album and filmed two music videos and a short film that premiered at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival. Life together is continually inspiring and creatively productive.
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How did you end up in Newport?
In L.A., we converted our backyard into an organic cut flower farm. Caroline Goddard [who took these photographs] was interested in backyard farming, so we connected through our mutual friend Marielle. Caroline suggested I garden and house-sit for her in Newport while she worked in Paris this past fall. I drove out, got into film class at RISD, and turned my attention to full-time creative mode. When Caroline returned from France, Andrew and I were knee-deep into recording our next album, so we decided to stick around for a bit. I’m not sure where the future will take us, but Newport has been very welcoming, and we love being here right now.
Are you headed to the Fort for Folk Fest this year? Which acts are you most excited about?
I will be volunteering there, so – yes! Father John Misty is amazing live. His song Hollywood Forever Cemetery gives me chills every time I hear it. Lady Lamb would be fun to see. Patti Smith, Raury, and Sam Moss (who I just found out about). I mean, they are all doing their thing, and that’s wonderful. I’m sure I could learn something from everybody who is performing.
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What’s it like being part of the music scene in Newport?
When I first got here, the music scene looked like me in a bathrobe and slippers sitting in front of the eight-track recorder in my home studio and coming up with songs. I soon discovered that in Newport, when you start talking about making music, people start clueing you in to all the other music people, and you feel this group mentality which is very supportive. We got referred to our music producer Steve Rizzo by several people. Right now we are focused on music videos and recording, but I also love performing and we are getting our live act together and hoping to go on tour.
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Tell us everything about your new album!
Wax Castle is a scrapbook of our stories and travels. The album title embodies the idea of constructing a thing of majesty out of a material that can melt away. “Aliens” is a favorite; I wrote it after a dream I had when staying in Joshua Tree, California. “Cut Up in Rows” is the very first song Andrew and I wrote, at a campground across from the Hearst Castle. The songs deal with the surreal sense of suspension between one phase of your life and the next.
Ryan Campos, a teacher at RISD, did the mixing and Steve Rizzo mastered it at Stable Sound Studios. The album is available to buy on our website and will be available on iTunes, Spotify, etc. this coming week. We have music videos for “Volcanoes,” “Ice House,” “Being on our Backs,” and “Beverly” on our YouTube channel.
The photos here were shot at Fort Adams – any other favorite spots on the island?
My apartment! It’s the ballroom of an old house. It’s my quiet inspirational place where I can dig my nails into getting work done. The walking spots in this town are top notch, and the architecture is eye candy. Before work, I would walk the Cliff Walk or around the reservoir with a poodle named Thoreau, who we are co-parenting with my mom. (He’s on the cover of our new album). Maison DNA is my favorite vintage spot, and they are helping us style our photo shoots.
From the time I was about eight, I fantasized about a place where there were castles on cliffs, and before this year had never even visited Newport, so when I first got here, it felt very familiar in my mind, like stepping into that daydream.
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Where do you find creative inspiration for your art, musically and visually?
I get most of my inspiration from dream analysis and meditation. Songs or words appear, and you have to make sure to write them down or they will disappear. Keeping a dream journal on your bedside table is essential because your dreams are often puzzles that reveal important messages.
I am obsessed with cinema. I adore Maya Deren, who was a pioneer for female filmmakers. She famously said, “I make my pictures for what Hollywood spends on lipstick,” which has been my ethos for creating art even when you feel like you lack the materials and money. Sometimes you invent a way to make things happen because you have to.
My favorite movie recently was Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. Everything Edward Gorey wrote and illustrated; Shirley Jackson’s book We Have Always Lived in the Castle; and the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, who’s complete poetry collection is my go-to for word inspiration. The filmmaking collective, CANADA, who create my current favorite videos and who I hope to work with on a music video. Collaboration is exciting, and we live in a time where we can connect with artists from all over the world to make our creative dreams a reality.
From the time I was about eight, I fantasized about a place where there were castles on cliffs, so when I first got to Newport, it felt very familiar in my mind.
The Russian filmmaker Maya Deren famously said, ‘I make my pictures for what Hollywood spends on lipstick,’ which has been my ethos for creating art, even when you feel like you lack the materials and money.