As a musician in small-town Wyoming, Margo Valiante’s songs had paid the bills all on their own. In those days, she made up to $400 a night. Now she has a day job substitute teaching.
With a saturated artistic market, Valiante’s new Austin home has proven difficult financially but under the added pressure of a more competitive scene, the young artist has thrived. In just a year and a half, the acoustic-folk singer has already made a name for herself in Austin.
In March, the Austin Chronicle’s “Austin Music Awards” ranked Valiante as the 10th best local blues performer and the ninth best for indie. On I Can’t Pray—Valiante’s new EP set to release at Momo’s Friday April 23—the singer-songwriter even had the opportunity to collaborate with Rich Brotherton, a guitarist for Texas music icon Robert Earl Keen.
“I felt so at home [in Austin] right off the bat,” she says. “In Austin you’re always given at least one shot.”
In 2008, 27-year-old Valiante uprooted from her hometown, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in pursuit of a larger market for her acoustic-folk sound. With a full-length CD, New Blue, already under her belt and a following in Wyoming already established, Valiante entered the Austin scene as a seasoned musician.
Austin-based music fan and critic Duggan Flanakin says that when he met Valiante she had just recently made her Austin debut but that she already had the musical skill and vocal command to leave a lasting impression. The talent to make it in the Austin market has never been her problem, Flanakin says.
“It’s a matter of getting to know people and getting to know an audience,” he says.
Valiante agrees and has done her best to strike the proper balance between self-promotion and exposure.
“I have to be careful not to play too often every week. I don’t want to exhaust my audience,” she says.
Ben Winship, the producer of New Blue, explains that when it comes to her music, Valiante takes the necessary steps to make positive progress.
“Her demeanor defied her age,” he says, in reference to the recording of New Blue. “I’ve worked with a lot of people who’ve been at it a lot longer than her who were a lot harder to work with.”
Though Winship says that she does not take herself too seriously and has a generally relaxed personality, through her music she seeks perfection.
And given her musical training, Valiante has developed the skill to achieve her desired sound.
She grew up singing informally with her father, a fellow guitarist and songwriter, and in high school she began voice lessons. In her senior year Valiante picked up the guitar.
As a music student in college, she studied under an opera singer. Though Valiante says her old teacher would be devastated if she heard what she does with her voice now, the training gave her the stamina to pull through sets that can last up to four hours.
Though Valiante’s sound has been likened to Alison Krauss, Patty Griffin and Norah Jones, she claims some surprising sources of inspiration, like South American folk singer Violeta Parra. In New Blue’s title track, Valiante says she even included a touch of Latin style chord progression, a choice influenced by her university semester abroad in Chile.
Valiante’s expansive musical interest and capacity comes down to what Flanakin describes as dedication.
“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Margo is passion,” he says, explaining what he describes as her transformation from Clark Kent off stage to Superman during performances.
Now with a full band—which she sometimes pays out of pocket—her sound has developed further. She now writes with her band in mind and has her eye on new projects.
And with the added pressure of her day job, Valiante feels an even greater incentive to develop her music professionally.
“I do take pride in teaching” she says, “But being with a bunch of freshman all day definitely makes me want to write a bunch of great songs so that I can make music my main focus again.”