Laura Valk (T'13) returned to Duke over the weekend of February 14, finding time during her visit to record two songs in a live video session with Small Town Records and host a lunch for students interested in the arts and media. Recess editor MC Bousquette spoke with Valk about her work with Saturday Night Live, life as a young singer-songwriter in New York City and advice for Duke seniors.
The Chronicle: To begin, how did you become interested in entertainment and media? Were you involved in something at Duke that sparked that interest?
Laura Valk: Sophomore year, I joined Small Town Records at Duke, and that’s really where I solidified my interest in the entertainment and media world. At first we had a pretty modest setup (picture a broom closet converted into a control room, no joke), but I just loved being a part of the creative process when it came to music. By senior year we moved studios and added a visual element to some performances with our Small Town Sessions. Because we were such a small organization, there was a lot of autonomy in terms of what role you could play creatively. One day I would take point on sound engineering, while the next I would be directing a shoot or editing film. I loved every minute I spent with Small Town, and I knew I wanted to translate some of the skills and experiences I gained there into my post-grad life. Television was kind of a natural stepping stone from there.
TC: Can you describe your job search process and how you ended up at Saturday Night Live?
LV: It’s all about networking. Honestly, I wasn’t all that concerned with the job search process my senior year. You hear it time and time again, but it really is true that securing a job in the entertainment and media industry before graduation is near impossible. With that in mind, I spent my senior spring making connections rather than searching for specific job opportunities. One of those connections was my mom’s friend’s friend, who happened to work at the production company behind SNL. I flew to New York in February to meet with her, and we talked about all the possible career paths in the industry. I actually left thinking I would become an NBC page to gain industry experience. Well, the Page Program didn’t pan out, but four months later, I get a call from her that two spots at SNL had opened up. She passed along my resume, I had both some good and some bad interviews, but ultimately I pulled it together, leveraged my network and landed a spot here.
TC: So, what is it actually like to work for SNL? What is your best memory so far from your job?
LV: Every day is different, every day is an adventure and I’m loving every minute of it. The environment around the office is pretty reminiscent of college in a lot of ways. You’re surrounded by great people, working ridiculously late nights and joking around the entire time. In addition to my set schedule as a writer's assistant, helping coordinate writing sessions between the cast, writers and producers, I tackle a lot of odd jobs as well, which makes every day quite unpredictable. Each week is like a six-day long marathon, but I still get chills every Saturday night when the band starts playing that legendary SNL jam and we’ve made it to the finish line—at least until Monday when we start the whole thing over again.
As for my best memory, that would have to be Seth Meyer’s surprise going away party. I was tasked with putting the whole shindig together, so I had a crazy week of calling vendors, organizing decorations and tracking various people down. Surprisingly I managed to avoid any major catastrophes, and the party turned out to be such a blast. There was no better feeling than watching the cast, writers and staff all come together to celebrate the career of one of SNL’s legends. Everyone let loose and the night ended in a crazy dance party. That was a pretty surreal time.
TC: To change gears, let's talk a little bit about your music career. What do you have going on right now?
LV: So with any second of free time I can manage, I record and perform as Skout, the name of my music project. Right now, I have a catalogue of music from my time at Small Town that still needs to be released. I also just finished recording a four-song EP with a really talented team of musicians and producers in Brooklyn. We’re finishing up mixing and mastering, and I’m hoping to get that out within the next two months. I’m really stoked because for the first time, I think I’ve found a sound that is cohesive, unique and really defines what Skout is. I can’t wait to share it in the coming months.
So in addition to recording, I’m working on a lot of behind the scenes things to prepare myself for a music-intensive summer. I’m working with my manager to craft a social media plan, make quality relationships with music blogs, build a website and of course craft a live-show agenda for getting my music out into the world.
TC: Wow, how do you make time for that? That's pretty impressive.
LV: Lots and lots of coffee.
TC: Which artists are your biggest influences?
LV: Ben Howard has probably had the biggest effect on me as an artist. His lyrics, guitar playing and song structure are so beautifully woven together it’s ridiculous. Some of the other big players are Noah Gundersen, Nick Drake, Lissie and of course Fleetwood Mac.
TC: How have you changed as a songwriter and artist since you first recorded at Duke? Where do you think you'll go from here?
LV: I’m a lot more honest with myself and my sound than I was when I started recording at Duke. At the beginning, I would try and write songs and lyrics reminiscent of some of the artists I admired most. But now I’m a lot more focused on taking ownership of my own sound and writing honest songs that go a little deeper than what you might find on the surface. All I can hope for is that as I continue to grow and change as a person, my music will mature and take shape in much the same way.
TC: Have you ever thought of making a music video or recording a session live?
LV: I have! I filmed a music video with Uki Deane (T'13) last year for my single 'Fool’s Gold.' We filmed the video in one day with zero budget and two of my best buds, and I don’t think I would want it to be any other way. As for live sessions, I’ve recorded a few Small Town Sessions while at Duke. But I think adding a visual element to your music is crucial these days, so I’ll definitely be working on as many video productions as possible in the future.
TC: Awesome, well I look forward to hearing your album when it comes out. I have just a couple more questions for you today, I promise. What advice would you give to seniors currently in the midst of the job search process?
LV: It’s so easy to say in retrospect, but I think every senior’s priority should be enjoying senior year. Not to burst any bubbles, but you will never have that time and those people surrounding you in such capacity ever again, so love every minute of it. But, when and if you are in the midst of the job search, I think the best thing you can do is make genuine connections with people in your network. Someone is more likely to offer a hand if they get to know you as an individual, and if you express interest in them beyond what jobs or connections they may have to offer. Don’t worry about getting that dream job right out of college. Instead, seek out a position that will allow you to learn, grow and love who you are as you do it. The rest will follow with time.
TC: Finally, if you could bring anyone for LDOC, who would it be?
LV: Fleetwood Mac. Done. Period. Game Over.