Sorrento is a gorgeous coastal town in southwestern Italy, full of stunning natural views and historic ruins. It was in these breathtaking surrounds that Bangkok-based artist Valentina Ploy grew up, which – when you hear the feathery, melodic pop music the Thai-Italian singer-songwriter makes – seems to make sense.
“Life in Italy was much more slow, calm and living by the sea and around mountains, I was in contact with nature a lot,” the 26-year-old recalls in a recent interview with NME. “My passion for music just naturally kicked in as soon as I was old enough to know that music was a thing.”
But the serenity of the environment didn’t necessarily translate to Ploy’s musical discoveries. There was the edgy alternative rock of the Arctic Monkeys and Linkin Park, the latter of which she considers her all-time favourite band. There was also the girl-next-door stylings of M2M, the folksy eloquence of Tracy Chapman and Ed Sheeran, and even the pacesetting hip-hop of the Black Eyed Peas.
“My passion for music just naturally kicked in as soon as I was old enough to know that music was a thing”
All of these influences have contributed to Ploy’s sound, which has been pigeonholed as easy listening pop.
“I agree that my songs are very easy to listen to as my main intent is to communicate and share,” Ploy acknowledges. “But melody-wise, there are bits of electronica here and there and also some folkish accents. Other than being identified with a certain genre, I would say my music is honest and I hope people can feel that.”
And indeed, what has so far endeared Ploy to many fans is her willingness to bare her soul and share certain episodes of her life within the framework of the three-minute pop song. But even more intriguing are the creative choices that come in the form of the contrasting rhythms that usually accompany her earnest confessions.
In her first big hit, ‘See You in Life’, Valentina warbles about the awkwardness of bumping into an old boyfriend while backed by a soaring, almost celebratory dance beat. In one line, she wonders about “all the times that we used to sit and fight, and all the words we said that made us lose each other’s minds” only to reveal how she really feels about seeing him again in the refrain: “It took just one night to forget all the things that didn’t work, and it took just a blink of an eye to forget the reasons why we broke.”
Or how in her latest single, “Love You Better” she opted for a synth-based and mid-tempo arrangement to contrast the memorably coda that goes “I don’t wanna love you more, I just wanna love you better.”
“All of my songs are about my life and personal experiences. I take inspirations from the things that happen in my life because it is my natural way to express myself,” Ploy says. She runs down some key tracks: “‘Love You Better’ and other songs on my EP, ‘Satellite’, are from different parts of my life. ‘More Than Gold’ is a tribute to my parents and how I feel about being away from them and so far from home since I decided to pursue a music career. And the title track ‘Satellite’ is about my relationship with music and the world.”
While Ploy absorbed many Western influences while she was in Italy, her mother made sure that she was exposed to Thai music as well.
“The fact that my mum used to play Thai music for me since I was a child – while in the car on the way to school – eased my perception once I came to Bangkok,” she says. “Still, when I arrived here, I was very surprised. Learning more about Thai pop songs, I discovered how interesting they can be, from the lyrics to the melodies to the storytelling.”
It has been nearly three years since Ploy first arrived in Bangkok. Encouraged by her stint as a contestant in the talent competition show, X Factor Italia, Valentina joined The Voice Thailand in 2017. Her effortless singing, however, was not the best suited to singing contests where belters (think Mariah Carey and Celine Dion wannabes) tend to dominate. Still, she cherished the whole experience.
“I remember being terrified. It was hard for me as I was quite shy and introverted when I was younger. But that was how the world knew I could sing,” she says. “X Factor was my very first experience in which I got to share my voice and passion for music with so many people, ‘Don’t be scared to share your voice’ is one lesson I’ve learnt.”
In doing so, Ploy found believers in What The Duck, an independent record label in Thailand that has established a reputation for letting its artists produce music in their own style.
“I would say my music is honest and I hope people can feel that”
“I could feel that my music would probably had to try harder to find a place in the Thai music industry in terms of both language and the style,” Ploy muses, “but at the same time, I feel like the scene in Thailand now is more open and curious about new kinds of music so it’s been challenging for me in a good way.”
With encouragement and free rein from What The Duck, Ploy was able to thrive and discover her own musical identity. As a result, she’s found an international audience that extends far beyond her following in both Italy and Thailand, which looks to grow even more, especially in Southeast Asia.
Early this month, Ploy was one of 14 female Southeast Asian vocalists who sang on ‘Heal’, a charity single released by ABS-CBN Music International for the benefit of Filipino families affected by COVID-19. She was also among the performers in the inaugural ASEAN Music Showcase Festival that took place this past weekend, and she recently recorded a special duet version of ‘Love You Better’ with rising Filipino singer Alexa Ilacad.
“It is so interesting and genuinely enriching to feel other artists’ cultures, their music, their personal backgrounds,” Ploy says. “I feel like we have so much to learn from each other, so many different perspectives to gain, on both personal and professional levels.”
Ploy is used to writing songs in a quiet and controlled environment – which is what she’s been experiencing under the quarantine conditions brought about by the coronavirus.
“My creativity was given a boost during this pandemic and I was able to write so many songs on my own. Right now, I am very much into electronic pop and discovering new and unique sounds with synthesisers,” she reveals. “I guess my music will evolve in this particular direction but who knows? I’m pretty crazy as well so I wouldn’t be surprised if one day I suddenly decide to totally change my direction.”