August 09, 2004

OUT OF THE STUDIO

Velvet Crush.jpg

Velvet Crush to tour Japan behind new disc

Velvet Crush is nothing if not steady. Since its 1991 debut, the band has built a laudable body of work with a sound rooted in power-pop chops and laid-back Byrds-ian jangle -- while consistently being overlooked.

There was a brief big-label stopover (on the prestigious U.K. label Creation Records and, concurrently, Sony/550 Records in the United States), but shortly thereafter, the Crush somewhat quietly morphed into stay-at-home studio practitioners. The band has issued a spate of releases on its own Action Musik imprint over the last several years, but has not toured America -- save for multiple stints backing up friend Matthew Sweet -- since the late '90s.

Velvet Crush's sixth studio album, Stereo Blues (due Aug. 10), finds the duo of singer and multi-instrumentalist Paul Chastain and drummer Ric Menck (guitarist and fellow founding member Jeffrey Underhill left after 1998's Heavy Changes) pounding out still another batch of hook-laden tunes, but with a louder, looser feel than much of their previous material -- evident right from the ragged guitar blast that opens leadoff track "Rusted Star."

In addition to the volume, they are turning up their public profile; the plan is to hit the road in the States this fall with Sweet, again serving as his touring band but this time also performing their own set as an interlude of sorts. Before beginning rehearsals for some festival shows this month in Japan, Chastain filled Medleyville in on the state of all things Velvet Crush.

Medleyville.us: I understand you're about to begin tour rehearsals for some Japanese dates with Matthew Sweet, but you'll be performing in the middle of Matthew's set.
Paul Chastain: Yeah, it will be something like that. It's one band and one big show as opposed to an opening band and headliner. We thought it would be more fun and given that it's all the same players involved it seems to make sense. The band will be Ric, Matthew and me with long time bass player for Matthew, Tony Marsico, and one-time member of VC and now veteran Sweet band guitarist, Peter Phillips.

How do the fans treat you over there?
Chastain: The fans in Japan are the best. They get very excited and are very enthusiastic. It's just the greatest place to play . . . we have never had a bad experience playing in Japan.

Are there still plans for some Velvet Crush dates in the U.S. this year, with or without Matthew?
Chastain: We're hoping to take this same Sweet/Crush show on the road in the States. I think some dates are being looked at in mid-October. I don't know any details as yet but it looks promising. We really want to play this year and I think Matthew does, as well so we're trying to make it happen.

It must be six or seven years or so since the last Velvet Crush tour in the States. Why so long?
Chastain: Well, after doing some touring for Heavy Changes, the band sort of cooled it for a while. Ric moved to LA [from Providence], Jeffrey decided to [stop] doing the band and have a family and I moved to southern Rhode Island. At that point, we had no further major-label affiliation and no working band, so it became much more difficult to mount a tour. Financially, it was nearly impossible. Ric and I talked about trying to play off and on during that time but never could get it together. This opportunity with Matthew, Tony and Pete was a perfect solution for us and coincided with the release of our new record.

What's it feel like to be hitting the road again? Are there any particular cities, maybe where VC has a solid fan base, you are looking forward to hitting again?
Chastain: We are excited to be going out again. I'm looking forward to playing again in Chicago, New York . . . everywhere, really. I think it's going to be fun for all of us to play together again and cool, maybe a bit strange, to play Crush songs again and some for the first time live.

Obviously you and Ric have kept busy in the past several years by releasing a ton of stuff on your label -- new albums, reissues, singles compilations, live albums. Is there anything left in the vaults that hasn't been put out?
Chastain: There might be a few things left in the archives but we have tried to make as much as possible available . . . maybe stuff from some of our previous bands.

How have you and Ric enjoyed having your own label, especially coming after your brief time on Sony and Creation?
Chastain: We were honored to be the first U.S. band on Creation, and it was good to experience the major label side of things. It made us realize that it wasn't such a good fit. Now we enjoy having control and knowing everything that's going on. We have a good relationship with Parasol, who manufactures and distributes our records for us. They are friends and i can drop by and talk to any of them at any time . . . a good thing. We're still on Sony in Japan, and they treat us very well.

Speaking of releases, your new album, Stereo Blues, sounds like nothing you and Ric have done before -- maybe a little rawer, for lack of a better term, than we're used to from a Velvet Crush record. Would you agree?
Chastain: I think some of it is different and some of it is maybe a bit more like our first record. We wanted it to be kinda raw in parts, but I always want to mix things up a bit and not just be in one gear. So, hopefully we achieved that. It's still hard for me to be objective about it, I guess.

How much did having Adam Schmitt as the producer shape the sound of this one? I see in the liner notes that he played "all over the record."
Chastain: I think it influenced the decision to make it a "studio" record as opposed to a real trashy sounding record which was the original concept. After having started a couple of songs, I felt like it wanted to go in a different direction. He was responsible for the sounds and pulling it all together. I recorded quite a bit of overdub type stuff at home and Ric did a couple of the basic tracks in L.A. [with Dave Newton], so Adam had to fix up the sounds [mine] as we put them back into the project and make them all work together. He also played a few guitar and keyboard bits here and there and sang on one or two numbers.

Your previous record, Soft Sounds, leaned more in the other direction, toward the lighter side of the band's tastes. Was it a conscious decision to sort of "plug back in" with this album?
Chastain: Yes. We decided from the beginning to make a guitar rock record, so I attempted to write songs which would lend themselves to this sort of treatment. Soft Sounds was really just a collection of quieter material, which I had accumulated over the previous couple of years. All the songs on Stereo Blues were written to be on a record together.

You live in Illinois, and Ric is in L.A. That seems pretty far apart for two guys who crank out so many records. How does that dynamic work? How do you know when it's time for you to start working on an album?
Chastain: Well, the distance only slows us down a bit. We only crank out a record about every two years, it seems. I wish it weren't so long between releases but it seems to take some time for me to get decent material together. We really are always working on a record in some form or another. I'm always trying to write, and we're always scheming to figure out how to do the next record.

Your band has been around for some 15 years now, a long career for a band that hasn't enjoyed huge attention or record sales. What do you think, or hope, Velvet Crush's legacy will be?
Chastain: I hope people will think that we tried to make good records and write good songs. That's really what we are always trying to do. That and keep on keepin' on.

-- Introduction and interview by George Henn

Official Velvet Crush site:

www.velvetcrushrockgroup.com

Posted by medleyville at August 9, 2004 10:35 PM
Comments