People who call something art for art’s sake often mean it as a slur. Sometimes, the target deserves the abuse — New York’s underground scenes are crawling with precious wannabes, folks who seem always in the process of martyring themselves over work they haven’t made yet, and possibly never will. The ambient rockers The Veldt, though, wear the phrase proudly. For more than twenty years, The Veldt has fended off lame, market-friendly monikers for their music — “alternative soul”; “black shoegaze” — which try to parse a sound that is intentionally averse to parsing. And anyway, Danny Chavis, 49, who founded the act along with his twin brother, Daniel, cited Lou Reed’s indifference toward mass “likability” in reference to the band’s decades-long career: “Some people didn’t like it then, and some people won’t like it now.”
The Chavis brothers released their first LP, through Poly/Mercury, in 1994. With their most recent band, featuring bass player and programmer Hayato Nakao, “feedback/vibe” guitarist Frank Olson, and drummer Marvin Levi, they’ve released a new EP, The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur, through Manchester-based label Leonard Skully.
The Veldt has long had a knack for impressing contemporaries with their overdriven pseudo-melodies and a sound that towers like a wall. The act was discovered in the early Nineties by Scottish shoegaze musician Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins, who has since become a friend and a sort-of godfather to the band. (Guthrie still collaborates with the The Veldt today, but the EP is all Chavis brothers.) Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre also took notice: He invited them to play BJM’s sold-out NYC show at Webster Hall on May 9th.
Danny spoke with the Voice about the process and emergence of Electric Fur, his experiences as a black musician, and the freedom of becoming an independent band compared to being signed to a major record label.
Village Voice: You started writing and sculpting the songs for The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur seven or eight years ago. What was the process behind putting together the album?
Danny Chavis: Yeah, we started a few years ago, but never really felt like it was the right time to [release the album]. We went to England to play with Keziah Jones [in 2014]. We played in Paris, England, and in Scotland. The songs developed while we were taking those trips.
We played those dates and got really inspired by the way the audiences were receiving us there. Over the course of a few months, we worked on the songs a bit more and got the great opportunity to release the record with a small label in Manchester. We were playing a gig at a small club that was called Crack at the time and the owner of the club, whose name is Dom, saw us play and said, “Hey man, I’ll put your record out.” So, over the course of the last year, we were able to build a relationship with Dom and put the album out.
Resurrection Hymns was a title you’d been passing around as a concept for a long time as well. Why did you choose to put this EP out before the initial musical concept you were working on?
We have enough songs to release four or five records now. We made a conscious decision to put out the EP, The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur, and [then] the full length album, Resurrection Hymns, which has remixes by Robin Guthrie and A.R. Kane, after it. We just separated the songs into camps and decided we were going to do it that way.
What are you trying to say with this new album?
Well, we’ve never really changed our tune, we’re just having people catch up with us. At the end of the day, we’re just trying to play music. Some people aren’t going to like it. Lou Reed said it when he was asked about the Velvet Underground reunion. He said, “Some people didn’t like it then, and some people aren’t going to like it now.”
Doesn’t that sum up the last fifty years of New York underground music?
We got a lot of love in Toronto, and that’s the case in point of having been here in New York for so long and not many people giving two shakes about us. I don’t base everything on New York. From my experience as a black musician, you have to really go outside of the United States, like Miles Davis and Nina Simone.
Do you think working with independent labels is more advantageous than working with major labels?
Of course, the only disadvantage is the money, but creatively you get to do what you want to do. It takes a little longer. Working with Shauna of Shameless PR has been a great experience, because she believes in us and got a lot of attention from so many people who may not have paid attention to us if we were on a major label. We’re dealing with grassroots people and a grassroots movement where there’s no ego involved. We’re now dealing with people who really want to hear music and to see it come out; we’re dealing with artists.
How did the invite to open for Brian Jonestown Massacre come about?
The management and Anton [Newcombe, BJM’s frontman] checked us out. I’ve always dug his aesthetic of being a brother who’s still hungry. He bypasses all the bullshit. He’s not some hipster guy, he’s just a regular dude putting out music. He’s like: “Look man, I only play music. I don’t have time for the bullshit.” I appreciate that, because of the way a lot of people have treated us in the past. I’m trying to move on and look forward and be more positive — you can become pessimistic when you deal with issues like race. Now, it’s time to make some music.
You have an amazing double-necked guitar and a bunch of Vox instruments. Why did you go with those over other guitars?
I think those things come naturally when you first start playing. I started playing in church in ’82 or ’83, and I had a lot of pawn-shop guitars. Vox guitars came from liking Echo and the Bunnymen and Spacemen 3 from back in the ’80s, and also early Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd. James Brown and his whole band was endorsed by Vox in the ’60s for an entire European tour. A lot of old Black musicians in church played Vox guitars. That was the first time I’d ever seen them.