A local musician and social worker is looking to make his last mark on Chicago HOPES, a nonprofit organization that provides tutoring and enrichment programing to children in homeless shelters, before he leaves to join the Peace Corps.
Luis Valadez, 29, a Columbia alumnus with a degree in poetry and program director of Chicago HOPES, will be leaving the organization at the end of June and move to China to teach English. On June 3 he will be performing with his band Valid Lush at Beauty Bar, 1444 W. Chicago Ave for “A Night of Poetry and Music for Chicago HOPES.”
Valid Lush, an experimental rock band, is composed of Valadez on lead vocals, Brian Busenius on guitar, Bobby Popolla on bass and Mike Thompson on drums. At the benefit, the band will celebrate the release of their self-titled EP and will share the stage with other poets and performers.
The Chronicle sat down with Valadez to discuss his two years at Chicago HOPES, his music career and what to look forward to at the benefit.
The Chronicle: When did you begin your music career?
Luis Valadez: I began doing music combined with poetry around 2009, when my first book “What I’m On” came out. Before I was a writer, I played in bands as a bass player. When I started writing, there was part of me that wanted to integrate music with that. When the book came out, I rounded up a couple musician friends of mine, and we did an EP that was a mix of hip-hop [and] electronic with poetry reading over it. Then we continued to collaborate to the point where we had a fully-fledged band with instruments. We recorded our latest EP “Valid Lush.”
The Chronicle: What did you do while at Columbia?
LV: I spent my first few years at Columbia studying sound recording. I took a music theory class while I was in that program, and I learned a lot of great stuff about music and audio production. But I’ve always had this yearning to write. So my junior year I decided to take a few poetry classes to see what it’s like, and I never went back to sound recording.
The Chronicle: What genres would you consider Valid Lush to fit into?
LV: We traverse a lot of different genres, but I guess we could be called experimental rock. We have elements of hip-hop, hardcore punk and post-hardcore. Each person in the band comes from a pretty eclectic music background. When it all came together, we had a pretty unique sound.
The Chronicle: What do you tend to write about?
LV: My first book [“What I’m On”] was very autobiographical. A lot of it was about my time growing up in Chicago Heights. On the other hand, I am a very lyrical and experimental writer. I write about a lot of things I hear and feel, like the sights and sounds of Chicago. I write a when I’m lot on trains, so I find that the rhythm gets into my work. A lot of my work lately is a reflection of living in an urban environment.
The Chronicle: Tell me about the EP “Valid Lush.” When did you begin this project and what does it consist of?
LV: We started the project about a year ago. We recorded the album last summer with a guy named Jamie Carter. What listeners will hear is some spoken word with ambient music, but you will also hear some harder edge, post-hardcore type music. There’ll also be some electronic, experimental and hip-hop tracks.
The Chronicle: What inspired you to get involved with Chicago HOPES?
LV: I got involved in 2008. I started in the summer as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with the program. I just finished grad school at Naropa University in Boulder, Colo. I wanted to come back home and work with kids. I was trying to figure out the terrain of things in the city for doing that. I looked into the VISTA program and saw the listing for Chicago HOPES, and it sounded awesome. I started pretty much thinking I would do this for one year, but it turned into four years very quickly.
The Chronicle: What does the audience have to look forward to at the benefit?
LV: I think people can expect a lot of diverse voices. Even though it’s billed as a poetry reading, none of these poets are what I consider a “stand up and read off a piece of paper” kind of poet. They’re all great writers, but they are very intense and from all different backgrounds.
The Chronicle: In addition to yourself and Valid Lush, who else is performing and why did you choose them?
LV: I’m really psyched with the lineup. We have some incredible poets and performers on the bill. Quraysh Ali Lansana is a well respected poet and professor at Chicago State University. He has published several books. One of my favorites is “Harriet Tubman Poems.” He’s a very political, social and dynamic artist. Krista Franklin,[another performer,] is a great performance artist. She’s an intense, fierce poet who’s been around for a while. Victor David Giron is a great artist and publisher of Curbside Splendor Press, which is a local. He has a cool novel out called “Sophomoric Philosophy” which is about his time growing up in Logan Square back in the day.
The Chronicle: How much do you hope to raise June 3, and what is HOPES in need of?
LV: It’d be great if we could walk out of there with $1,000. But the big thing for us, what we really thrive off of, is people’s interest and wanting to become a part of it. These are great events to raise awareness for the program. In terms of specific supplies, we need hygienic products for the students, like toothbrushes and deodorant. We also could use school supplies, and we want to be able to give them extra stuff. Most of all, we need people’s talents and anyone who is compelled to offer their input on insight.
The Chronicle: What else would you like people to know?
LV: I know the term poetry can seem kind of stifling. But honestly, we are going to play some music and have a really good time, and for a great cause.
A Night of Poetry & Music for Chicago HOPES starts at 7 p.m. on June 3 at Beauty Bar, 1444 W. Chicago Ave. There will be a $5 suggested donation. For more information on the event, visit ChicagoHopes.org. For more information on Valid Lush, visit LuishV.BandCamp.com.