Getting to Know Laura Petracca of Hunter Valentine
The lesbian rock band’s drummer opens up about her wild side, her soft side and conquering her passion for cooking.
Photos by Leslie Van Stelten
“I was born into a family of drummers,” says Hunter Valentine’s resident wild child, Laura Petracca. Making noise in the basement until her parents put her in drum lessons at the age of 8, which lasted a year, she eventually picked up drumming again in high school, heavily influenced by god-like drummers like Led Zeppelin’s late John Bohnam and Keith Moon from The Who, and found that every time she tried to give it up, it found its way back. It was a chance-meet with Kiyomi McCloskey at a gay bar in Toronto that eventually formed Hunter Valentine. Nine years later, they’re zigzagging across the country in one almighty estrogen-packed van on a national tour. And after the whirlwind introduction into reality TV that was The Real L Word, they’ve slated a showcase in Japan at the end of November, and as of this past week, their third studio album Collide and Conquer was released.
So, what is it like to be known as that rock chick on season three of Ilene Chaiken’s reality series who got topless on the streets of New York—and didn’t think twice about it? According to Petracca, and the bandmates who know her so well, it’s nothing out of the ordinary—in fact, just another Thursday afternoon with Hunter Valentine. The Canadian born on Queen Victoria’s birthday admits she has a dual personality that crops up at the most opportune of times.
“I have my extreme wild, crazy side. And then I have my professional, responsible side. I know when to get shit done, and when I want to party and have fun, and jump naked in a pool of 150 people, then I’m going to do it.” And in between, she totes a lighthearted, natural wit that’s noticeable to who meet her.
As a tyke, Petracca was constantly getting into trouble. “I was that kid who as a 12-year-old bought a BMX flame off a guy for 10 bucks, which was my allowance for two weeks. And then I built a BMX bike because I wanted one,” she says as-matter-of-factly. “I knew what I wanted, and I was going to figure out how to do it. And it didn’t matter how.” It’s no wonder she and McCloskey—Hunter Valentine lead singer and our December cover girl—hit it off so well when they first met. “She gave me her demo tape, and my mom asked me, ‘Is this girl 40?’” It was apparent to Petracca from the start that she had met her match—someone with that outward, seasoned roughness who wanted to take this whole ‘We’re starting a band’ thing seriously.
The two are the yin and yang of Hunter Valentine, sharing common ground and a deep understanding for a group they’ve shaped through the years, going from a quartet, to a trio with former bassist Adrienne Lloyd, to bringing on bassist Vero Sanchez, their brief trial with Somer Binghman, and at present, the addition of Aimee Bessada on guitar and keyboards. Finally, there is wholeness in Hunter Valentine.
Pictured: Vero Sanchez, Kiyomi McCloskey and Laura Petracca
And it seems things have come full circle. In a recent Huffington Post piece McCloskey wrote about the wild ride of touring and reality TV, mentioning, “People come to shows and don’t just want to hear “Liar Liar,” but they want to see Laura’s boobs, watch keyboards break, and see me live out the role as “the Dictator.” She is of course referencing the caricatures of their reality TV portrayals—but does what you see onscreen in fact ring true in person? Though there’s some validity to what we saw on The Real L Word, that’s only a fragment of who each band member is—who Petracca is.
“They filmed us 24/7, and everybody needs some kind of leader—and not necessarily that [McCloskey] is the leader, because we share that role indefinitely, but, I think they captured more of what she was doing, as opposed to what I was doing, or what Vero was doing,” she says. “When Somer would make a mistake in the studio, and I would make a joke, saying, “Get your shit together,” it wouldn’t make the edit!”
Still, Petracca’s portrayal on the Real L Word was not void of standout moments where we witnessed her cleverness at play. In fact, she quickly became a season three favorite for her keen observations, viewers asking, ‘I wonder what Laura will say about this!’ In an episode where the band gathers for drinks, they are, coincidentally, at the same place as LA castmate Lauren Russell. Petracca and McCloskey both size up the likelihood of hitting it off with the pink-haired beauty, the whiskey keeps flowing and finally the two Valentines are in the corner discussing who has a chance with Russell or not, a moment that every lesbian everywhere has faced when the proximity of potential lez hookups abound.
“That’s what friends do. We never had that experience before…I’ve never had the same attraction Kiyomi has to other girls, so to have that experience where I’m like,
‘That girl is fucking hot!’ And I can tell Kiyomi thinks it, but isn’t going to say it…I knew that they were more compatible.” Flash to Petracca taking her shirt off outside the bar, ignoring off-camera catcalls from strangers, beaming with intoxication; but alas, her uplifting wild side comes through to save the day, only, it feels less appropriate to call it wild, and more accurate to say it’s carefree punk rowdiness.
Petracca, who says she’s the most single she’s ever been, fancies any girl who’s ambitious, makes intelligent decisions, and is satisfied with her life’s direction. If a blue-eyed lady walks through the doors, she may even call in her smooth-talking guns. “I try to be cute,” she defends. “I have a tough guy attitude that wears thin and doesn’t last long once you get to know me. I have a soft center and a hard outer shell. But I’m nice!” And she’d like to set the record straight—she isn’t getting naked in public all the time—when she’s with someone, she isn’t stripping down, she just recognizes the body as a beautiful thing. Hey, Regional Reps everywhere: take note.
Pictured: Laura Petracca, Kiyomi McCloskey and Vero Sanchez
Speaking of representing, at a previous gig this month in Chicago, she was blown away by the fan appreciation. “We had like 500 different phone numbers on our van,” she laughs. At this point, Hunter Valentine is still very much a band you can go say ‘Hi’ to after their set. Though some places become a little too huge, like all-girl events in L.A., Las Vegas or NYC, the one-on-one interaction is a priority for the band, and Petracca says they love any and all gestures.
“We just want fans to come out to our shows; we want them to walk out and to make fools of themselves and jump up and down. We just want to party out with everybody after the show, and have fun with the music.” Performing new songs off Collide and Conquer highlights the band at their best—and where they’re at in life right now. They’ve come a long way from standing in front of 500 people at a pride event in Toronto for their first show in 2004.
Collide and Conquer, produced by Greig Nori (who’s worked with Sum 41 and Iggy Pop), is a tried and true assembly of the band’s power rock authenticity, blending the past with the unstoppable future, with the addition of new musicians into their fold. And their stage presence is full of swag, thrust and unmistakable edge. “It’s going to sound cheesy, but this album sounds like a real album. You’ve got pop ballads, dance tunes, and of course that classic Hunter Valentine rock and punk. I feel like we really captured that.”
Petracca is a rocker of many talents and ambitions. What you may not know about this drummer is her affinity for string instruments. “I’d love to learn how to play the cello,” she says, contemplating her desire to understand the trumpet, too, since both the drums and the trumpet seem to be cut from the same musical cloth. But music is only one of Petracca’s true loves.
“Beyond conquering the world with Hunter Valentine, I want a cooking show. I have a YouTube thing, but I’d really like to hit the big time.” She’s serious (and her videos will crack you up!) Petracca attended culinary school ten years ago in pursuit of following that dream. “I think I have some great ideas—if the Food Network is reading, they can contact me, or whatever,” she quips. One of the perks of touring all over the world for this foodie is tasting what each city is known for.
The chaotic city-to-city touring also acts as a chance for the band to sync up with other likeminded musicians like their friends and Lady Killer Tour-mates, Sick of Sarah. “I have no doubt we’ll eat some Vietnamese soup with Abisha [Uhl] and meet up with Jessie [Farmer] and have a couple of jam-out sessions,” she says in preparation for a meet up in Minneapolis. And if you think a Lady Killer Tour needs to happen again, you aren’t alone.
“It’s still on the drawing board, but we definitely want to do another Lady Killer Tour...We’d like to take it to Europe.” Offering up a comparison as Lilith Fair’s older, badass queer sister, Petracca responds with, “That’s exactly our thought.” And hey, she can’t give any of this up now—after all, we’re still anxiously waiting on word of a season four reappearance on TRLW. But most importantly, McCloskey made a promise to Petracca back when they started. “She said if I stayed in Hunter Valentine, she’d make sure we tour in Australia.” And Petracca just might get what she wants. (huntervalentine.com)
To purchase the new Hunter Valentine album, visit their website. Upcoming tour dates are available as well.
Watch Petracca in one of her legendary cooking videos below: