Special gift for you
North Coast indie trio the Velvet Teen makes infectious, uncontrived pop music
Santa Rosa’s sleepy exterior belies the wealth of music that hides just beneath its surface. It is home to a number of solid acts, including indie-pop trio the Velvet Teen.
Walking into the quadruplex home of bassist Josh Staples, one is first struck by the orb-like paper lanterns illuminating the warm, burnt-orange walls and by the red brocade couch that is as unexpected as it is inviting. Two bookshelves sit side by side, one filled with more than 700 CDs and the other filled with just as many vinyl albums—all in alphabetical order. Browsing through them reveals just how varied one person’s tastes can run, with albums ranging from Justin Timberlake’s Justified (“It’s a good fucking album,” Staples said) to the Dali’s Car disc The Waking Hour.
Staples explained that the three band members all share some common influences—Björk, Radiohead and the Beatles—but each member is highly influenced by individual tastes. “Logan [Whitehurst, the drummer] is a bit more [into] the singer-songwriter type like Randy Newman, and he likes They Might Be Giants and Oingo Boingo. I’m more into Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Cure and New Order and a lot of punk bands,” Staples said. “Judah [Nagler, on guitar, lead vocals and keyboards] is really into a lot of electronic music, like Squarepusher and Boards of Canada.”
The variety of musical influences manifests itself in the depth of each and every song, producing a unified sound marked by well-executed harmonies, falsetto vocals and poignant lyrics.
Although the Velvet Teen has been together for three-and-a-half years, the band made its first full-length release, Out of the Fierce Parade, last year for Slowdance Records. Produced by Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla, the album is a testament to the importance of not flooding listeners with mediocre, immature albums. “We’re just taking an organic approach,” Nagler said. The result is songs that are both infectious and uncontrived.
The Velvet Teen isn’t a struggle to listen to, and it isn’t an acquired taste. It provides immediate gratification that comes in easy-to-swallow pop-ballad form. No learning-to-like-it required. You’re going to enjoy it the first time you take a listen.
It’s hard to dispense with the common comparisons to early Radiohead and Jeff Buckley. The nature of falsetto, as is heavily employed by Nagler, is that it produces a very ethereal effect; however, Nagler’s use of falsetto with upbeat songs, as well, is more innovative than evocative.
Resourcefulness is something that none of the band members are short on. Their daily food allowance while on tour is $5. Staples described how this played out in a recent tour to Japan with Finland’s Mew. “Japan had vending machines on the streets that served alcohol like canned beer and canned whiskey,” he said. “And I got strawberry Kit Kat. They don’t have that here.” At least the calorie count should prevent him from passing out from malnourishment onstage. Doesn’t beer have more than 30 vital nutrients?
The Velvet Teen’s creativity plays out in its approach to music, as well. Before the band’s current incarnation, Nagler found himself short on people with whom he could perform. No matter; he would just record himself playing drums and perform onstage with himself. “It didn’t work out too well, but it was still fun to do,” Nagler said. “I think the audience was into it, but the sound guy couldn’t get the audio up enough. Someone told me that Paul McCartney did it before me. But I’m sure [that] wasn’t as low-fi: This was just a TV and VCR.”
To be sure, the Velvet Teen makes itself in its live performances. It isn’t just a haphazard rehashing of its CD. Rarely is an act so captivating that it makes the audience members hear each song with a new clarity and engages those who may not be at all familiar with its music.