I Wish I Was As Cool As Daniella Valdez

Interview and text: Remy Holwick, Images: Astrid D.

We need to talk about Daniella Valdez.

The artist and model bears more than a passing resemblance to a Gen Z Patti Smith, and has as much magnetism, raw talent, and passion as an act ten times bigger.  Her stage act is raw and ambitious, with Valdez painted in a demented version of clown makeup– an unlikely contrast to her quick-to-smile, light as air personality and lilting voice.

Her last band, Sahd Wyte Guyz, produced a solid 2019 debut of dreamy, no-wave-meets-riot grrl bilingual dance music, and was positioned for a year of real momentum in 2020– but was shut down by COVID at exactly the wrong moment.  Undeterred, Valdez regrouped, and we spoke to her in the midst of preparing for a second coming– with a new band, a newfound sense of urgency, and a new message.

So— what are you working on? I know you’re making music. Tell me about it?

I have this band, Sahd Wyte Guys. We have an album out, and an EP, but we kind of stopped the project— one of my bandmates moved to Upstate New York, and COVID happened, so it’s like yeah, we just broke the magic there. 

I wanted to create a new project where I can speak about things that I’m very concerned about— like feminism and immigration. I feel like the best way of doing it is through art, and in this case, with my music. So with my boyfriend, Johann Rashid— also known as Promiseland— I started this project called Mazmorra Brillante. It’s also with Bozidar Brazda from Sahd Wyte Guys. So right now, I’m very focused on that. We have one single ready to drop— early next year. I wanted to put it out before the elections, because it talks about immigration, and it’s a protest song, but because we want to make a music video, time wise, it didn’t work out. So we’re gonna drop it— probably like February 2021. 

Personally, when I think about social justice, I feel like I need a long time to formulate my thoughts, because that kind of learning is really personal. To me it’s really brave, when people put it out there, aggressively with music. So I’m wondering if you could talk about that a  little bit…

It’s a very hard process, to be honest. I’m still unsure if I want to do it— like it’s a battle in my head every day. I’m like,”do I really want to get into that part?” It’s hard to be so vulnerable to the world, and you know, I’m gonna get attacked. I know that, no matter what, I’m gonna have haters for it. And, yeah, it’s hard to think about it because I’m a very sensitive person. All l my feelings are always at the edge. So, I know it’s gonna be a hard process, but I’m also willing to deal with that because I care about it, you know?   Some people will understand, some people won’t, but at the end of the day I’m doing it for a reason— because it matters to me.

That sounds like a kind of love, like at the end of the day this is so important…

It is, because it is.  I mean, this first song for example is about immigration,  So, being Mexican, it’s talking about my people, and my family, and my friends, and my community. So, I am lucky to have a voice for the people who don’t, you know?  I am legal in this country so I can speak up for the ones that cant— so if I can do that, I’m just gonna do it. 

Honestly, at the beginning of this project I was unsure about it — but slowly, slowly, I’ve been learning how to love it. In Sahd Wyte Guys, it’s hard for me to listen to that music, because  I don’t like listening to my voice, you know? I don’t.  I’m still learning how to love my voice. But, with this project specifically, it’s like, what matters is the message that I’m giving.

I want to shift a bit and talk about your modeling When I started modeling it was difficult to be a model and to have other interests.  It was very, like, “You better be quiet. You better be a blank slate”. But  it’s different now – so how do you feel? What’s your take on being younger and doing multiple things and having multiple interests?  Do you feel supported by the community in that?  Do you feel okay with it yourself? Do you feel torn?

I feel like right now it’s so important to be more than just a model. I feel like clients and the business itself want more than just a pretty face. And what I’ve learned in this business is that, my competition is there— you’re always going to be competing with beautiful girls— but what makes you special and different from the others is what’s in your head, what’s your personality, what else can you bring to the table?  Because, pretty? They’re all beautiful. So I feel it’s important to explore yourself. It doesn’t have to be music, or acting, even anything artistic, but whatever it is, just don’t get stuck on – “I’m a model” when you can be so many things. 

Yeah, it’s easy to get in your head being aware that you’re “professionally beautiful”. 

Yeah. I actually think that the most insecure people I’ve ever met are models. We always have these feelings, like I’m not pretty enough, I’m not skinny enough, I’m not tall enough. And even though you feel that way you have to create the opposite, you have to create the idea that “I’m the most beautiful girl in this room,” even though you don’t feel that way. It’s crazy to me to think about that, because I listen to friends in the industry who say, oh “aah I look so ugly”, and I just feel like, “what are you talking about, like, you. are. BLESSED!”.

This is a very personal question for me because of my background— Do you ever feel like you have trouble being taken seriously, in the arts, because you model?

Yeah, Sometimes I feel embarrassed, to be honest. When I have an audition for acting, [they ask what I do and] I say first that I’m a musician, because I feel like models are not taken seriously, that the world sees it like “oh, the pretty girl is bored with being pretty, and now she wants to see what it’s like to be an artist”. At the end of the day, I feel like most of the models that I’ve met are artists in so many aspects, they’re painters, or activists, or they make music, they act…. They’re very interesting people.

They’re worldly, too! You go through so much so young.

Yeah! One of my best [model] friends; her dream is to have a restaurant and cook. But the business doesn’t help you to explore it— you know like, when you go to a casting, they’re not gonna ask you what else do you do?. So I feel like a lot of girls don’t get to explore a lot of themselves because they don’t get pushed.

Let’s talk about social media.

Oh, I hate social media. Like, nothing you see on social media is real. It’s ALL fake. Sometimes I post a picture looking super fun, inside I’m fucking dying, man. Sometimes I like to joke about it, like, when I feel down, so I post like a dark meme, but people don’t get it. People think that I’m being funny. I hate this feeling that you have to keep up. This is an issue for artists as well as for models—  I think [people ask]. “Hi, what’s your name, and how many followers do you have?” And then how they treat you depends on that, you know. But like, does it really matter?  I know people on Instagram that have millions of followers, and honestly, they call them influencers, but like, they don’t fucking influence shit, they don’t. There’s nothing important in their content. Then, I see people who are so fucking smart and authentic, and they have 5000 followers— and the person that has million followers will get the job. It’s wrong, it’s so wrong. 

It’s so complicated.  Especially with agency politics and the reality of being a model, versus modeling on Instagram.

Yeah, on Instagram you have the “concept” of a model, but you don’t see how much politics goes into it. Yeah, no, no, no.  It’s deep shit, my friend! It goes deep. People think that modeling is just being a kid, and having the luxuries, and it’s not cute— sometimes it gets dark. Yesterday I was talking about Emily Ratajkowski, and that photographer that is still publishing her images. It fucking pissed me off! It’s not okay. How come he has more power than her over her own body? I hate that. 

And then the paparazzi sued her for putting her own picture on Instagram? 

Yeah. As women, we’re always so oppressed. I don’t see this happening to guys. People think that they have power over you because you’re a woman. I hope my eyes get to see the day that it’s completely changed. We’re here fighting for the next generation. You know, I had a conversation with my mom the other day, and I was so proud listening to her, you know, because I come from Mexico. Mexico is a religious country with a closed mind, ruled by a very intense patriarchy.  I was speaking to my mom about the feminist movement in Mexico, and how it is growing. The pro-life conversation came up. My mom, without me even saying anything, she says “a woman should have the power over her body, no matter what”. I was like, “Thank you, mom, thank you. I’m so happy to hear that you’re such a smart woman, because a lot of people of your generation don’t understand it— but we’re fighting for our own rights, why would I want to stop my own right of choice? At the end of the day we’re fighting for the little ones that are coming in. We’re fighting for them to have that choice, for whatever they want.”

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