30 Oct 2022 - Joshua
Joshua might be one of the newer members on our staff here, but he already contributed a lot of awesome reviews and one of those was on the self-titled debut by Veldune. So when the chance came up to interview the band, Joshua surely was happy as can be to begin his interviewing career here at VoS with this new art pop project founded by several pretty famous musicians, who fortunately have no intention of being called a “super-group” even though they’re quite a super group!
Kevin Hufnagel is the creative mind behind such famous acts as Sabbath Assembly, Gorguts, Dysrhythmia or Vaura (which Joshua also reviewed). So it might be safe to say that he is a connaisseur of Kevin’s oeuvre and therefore perfectly suited for this interview. One thing that really strikes about the interview itself is the fact that it shows how little of an autocrat Kevin is, because all band members contributed to the interview. The band is formed by musicians he already played with in other constellations - Jamie Myers and Johnny Deblase were in Sabbath Assembly and Jeff Eber was also behind Dysrhythmia’s drum kit. So we surely are talking about four musicians with quite some experience!
Hi folks! Congratulations to you all on the release of the Veldune debut.
I’m thrilled you’re taking the time to answer these questions and share more about this project, which may come as a surprise to fans familiar with your other work. But that’s exciting! Inquisitive musicians renew curiosity, innovate, help us find new meaning. The artists I most admire are often restive, refusing to stagnate or conform to certain expectations.
Kevin, I heard you describe Veldune as your “most accessible” project on The Color of Air podcast. Was that an intentional aim of your vision for this band, or just something that happened? If we call Veldune a musical departure, what are you turning toward or away from?
Kevin When we began Veldune I made a focused attempt to reign in some of the progressive tangents of my usual writing style. My aim was to leave more space for the vocals to shine and the music to breathe. It’s a different kind of challenge for me to write in a more “song-oriented” way. I feel like I’ve learned a lot musically and compositionally about this by working with great vocalists over the past 10 years or so.
Jamie We wanted to convey an array of feelings, such as ecstasy, longing, exhilaration, and fear, to name a few. We wanted to pour these emotions into a body of music that was cinematic in nature and took the listener on a journey, like some kind of psychedelic soundtrack you’d listen to while barreling down a desert road.
Can you reveal the significance of the name Veldune, or do you prefer to keep it a mystery?
Kevin I’m going to leave it a mystery for now but let’s just say it took us two years to find a good band name. Finding a simple yet evocative name that fit the atmosphere of the material and didn’t pigeonhole us to a genre was very challenging. I think we finally succeeded but it wasn’t easy. Think of Veldune as a place our music takes you to.
Jamie It’s an emotional aura experienced instinctively.
It’s interesting to me how difficult it is to describe Veldune. Well, classify it, really. It’s rock, folk, pop – I mean, it’s not what most people mean by “country” these days, but it’s also not not-country, if you get my point. I wonder if that was a result of being driven more by mood, color, or even theme when you wrote the songs, as opposed to any style or genre expectations.
Kevin I totally agree with you. I really hate to speak in terms of genres because they can mean so many wildly different things depending on the listeners own musical background or which generation they come from. For me pretty much anything with verses and choruses is “pop” in my mind, so it’s extremely broad stylistically. Moods, atmospheres, cinema, and places shaped these songs just as much, if not more so, than musical influences.
Johnny For me, it’s definitely a mood. We spent a lot of time in the studio trying to dial in the character of each song so that each one spoke in its own way alongside Jamie’s lyrics and vocals.
Jamie Ha, see above…
Copy for the album indicates you were first inspired by the music of Chris Isaak and Concrete Blonde, among others, when composing these songs. That’s a tantalizingly brief glimpse into your musical touchstones for the record. Maybe Neko Case could be another reference point. Are there further inspirations you could reveal? Were you feeling nostalgic for a bygone era or a particular time in life?
Kevin It’s strange, I’ve made records before that were sort of throwbacks to earlier inspirations (cp. Messages to the Past; Note by the editor released under his own name) but with Veldune there wasn’t really an era of time musically we were intentionally harkening back to. It did seem some of the artists we were taking inspiration from happened to be of the early 90s time frame. We joke that if we had formed this band back then we’d be huge.
Jamie I often think that this is the music Kevin and I would have loved to have played, if we had known each other during our more formative years. It’s cool that we get to do it now with some life experience behind it. It certainly adds depth.
For lack of a better way of saying it, I love the “vibe” of this record. It captures that audaciously cavalier, yet incredibly vulnerable, spirit of adolescence—maybe as seen in retrospect from a more mature vantage point. (I could just be projecting here.) Given the album’s themes of living intensely, embracing the moment, and letting go, I find myself thinking a lot about what a life lived in balance between the demands of the body and spirit might actually look like and how to realize that. Do you think people, flighty and petulant as we often are, can aspire to that? Is there an underlying philosophy that you’re bringing to this project?
Jamie We’re not expressing any specific philosophies, per se, but it’s nice that you picked up on the underlying arc of the songs. Balance of body and spirit is something we can strive for, but in this creative cycle, sonically and lyrically speaking, we were going for the opposite. The thrill of “hugging the curve” or leaning into the very thing that might destroy you was a recurring theme.
Jamie and Kevin, can you tell us more about your close songwriting relationship? Was your process for writing these songs different from your previous collaboration in Sabbath Assembly? Were there any surrounding emotional factors at play you care to discuss?
Kevin Sabbath Assembly was very collaborative with all the members contributing songs and ideas towards the last few years of our existence. A handful of those songs were ones that just Jamie and I wrote together and it always flowed so naturally. When we began Veldune we talked about taking things in a different direction musically and lyrically from what we had done previously. I would send Jamie fully finished (instrumentally) demos and she would write her vocal melodies and lyrics over them, sometimes suggesting arrangement changes, which I’m always open to.
Jamie Kevin has a way of writing that speaks to an “old soul” part of me. It’s very moving, and I’ve been fortunate to have a creative partnership with him that allows me to flourish the way I have over the last decade. It’s as if we’ve written our own code or language to speak in.
Did you always conceive of Veldune as a full-band project, or was it initially meant to be a collaborative duo? What led to the decision-making there?
Kevin I always envisioned Veldune as a full band but this first album was written basically as a duo. I wanted to mix up my songwriting process a bit and began some of these songs as drum or bass line ideas first and then added guitar. Once all the material was in place and I thought we had a strong album, I sought out Jeff and Johnny to bring these parts to life, which they certainly did. Moving forward it will be more of a full band effort since we are now officially a full band.
Johnny and Jeff, given that you came on board after the songs were written, what did you feel were your respective roles in realizing the performances?
Johnny It wasn’t so much about just “learning the part.” The four of us were collaborating as a band up to and on the actual recording on different aspects of the arrangements and individual parts for each song. Some of the songs I ended up treating more like jazz tunes where I just sketched out a chord chart and more or less improvised in a consistent feel alongside hits or other aspects of the arrangement, allowing the parts to evolve during rehearsals and the recording. Many of the bass parts I transcribed from something Kevin had written which I liked because it often led the bass melodies to places I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. One thing that keeps me going in any band is the room to stretch on parts and I think that is an important part of Veldune’s music. So maybe there are certain lines I hit every time or sometimes I just take the “written” part and use it as a guide and play over the feel of the drums. No two performances are 100% identical.
Jeff When Kevin first sent me the rough tracks with programmed drums, I loved the overall sound and vibe of the songs. All of the songs already had a clear vision by the time I started working on them, so I was really just interpreting Kevin’s ideas. It was less pressure creatively, but some songs are deceptively difficult because the drum parts were conceived by someone who doesn’t play the drums. Kevin wrote ideas that are not necessarily natural, or common, for a drummer to play, so it was fun to play parts that weren’t overly complex from a technical standpoint but more unique than a simple backbeat, with a couple interesting drum or cymbal hits in unusual spots.
In my review, I mentioned the gravity you provide to an ethereal song like “Willow Sways”, but sometimes it’s almost the opposite—as in the elasticity you give to the boundaries of the beat on ”Yearling Thunder”. I get the sense that some of these songs may have gone a very different direction were it not for the unique energy provided by the rhythm section. Were there any surprise developments in the songs—tweaking of styles or approaches—after you began performing them together as a quartet?
Kevin For sure, I was programming drum machines to demo the rhythm parts and a lot of these songs have a loose organic feel, so I couldn’t wait to hear the parts played live in a room with an actual drummer, especially with one as great as Jeff.
Johnny Agreed! The songs really came to life when we first started rehearsing as a quartet, which because of the pandemic took way longer than we wanted! This kind of music really demands a live performance environment. It would have been impossible to try to track this album in isolation.
Jeff Kevin did a great job writing parts for the drums and bass that intertwine, support each other, and add to the melody, which really comes alive when we’re playing together. All the instruments are playing off one another and contributing to the melodic idea, rather than just providing a supporting role to one melodic idea.
“Chasing Down the Sun” is a great single, the way it leans on those chords to accentuate the supreme sing-ability of the chorus. I wonder if it was the obvious choice. This is an idiosyncratic way to receive the song, but it’s helped me emotionally in trying to come to terms with the decline of our eldest cat, Glasha. We will have to say goodbye to her soon, and this song punches me right in the tender spots of those mortal impulses and painful limitations. What does the song do for you?
Kevin I’m glad that song could comfort you in some way. I love this song and knew we had something special when we were writing it. It was one of the first songs we worked on.
Jamie Oof, this hits in the feels. We humans are quite fortunate to keep the company of our animal friends. I’m also glad if the song provides some solace. The song, for me, touches on the cyclical nature of life, and the pursuit of something just beyond reach.
You all are animal lovers, yeah? How are your familiars doing?
Kevin I’ve got an 18 year old cat named Miso and she’s doing great. It’s quite amazing.
Johnny My cat Kooti just turned 13 and is doing great! :)
Jamie I serve as a humble servant to my feline overlords: the queen Chiyo, her royal advisor Buddy, and her jester Smokey.
Jeff My wife Annie and I have cared for 11 rats – just 2 or 3 at a time – over the past 10 years. They sleep in their cage most of the time, and when they get the courage to jump down to the floor they enjoy making nests in old couch cushions.
Jamie, I’m enamored of your vocal performance on this record, ranging from the vulnerability of your delivery to those gorgeous choral harmonies and interesting phrasings of lyrics—as in “A Glimpse of Being”, when you sing “Where nothing IS but a mask it seems / And we the ghostly form beneath.” What was your vocal approach for the instrumentation of Veldune? Do you have any pointers for singers out there who want to chase delicacy and presence?
Jamie My approach can be theatrical at times, at least in my head it can be. Sometimes I attach a “character” to a song, which allows me to embody an alter ego. With these songs, there were moments that needed to be tender and vulnerable, and others that needed to be more commanding. I always try to really listen and be sensitive to what the other instruments are doing and to augment them. As for those looking to get into singing or to increase their abilities, you have to practice, practice, practice. Don’t be afraid to make some weird noises along the way. Get over the need to sound or appear perfect all the time, don’t be embarrassed, just experiment. Above all else, if you want to learn how to do something, surround yourself, or join a band with people who are better at it than you. Be humble, and ready to soak up any knowledge they are willing to give.
Your lyrics have me on tenterhooks, too. They are so emotionally piercing and poetically lithe, “Willow Sways” being a particular favorite of mine. (I’m also glad you released lyrics with the album, because now I can better suss their intricacies without as many mondegreens.) What sources of inspiration did you draw from when composing lyrics for Veldune? Do you ever struggle when coaxing your lines into melodies, and how do you work through that?
Jamie The melodies are the easiest part for me to write. I often don’t get bogged down with lyrics at first. Lots of times I won’t even bother with pen and paper, I’ll just immediately start recording a non-lyrical vocal demo that allows me to capture an idea in the moment. Then I can work on specific phrasing, and theme later. I think being an avid reader helps. I also enjoy poets such as Yeats, Blake, etc.
Kevin, can you give us any guitar-nerd specs or insights into your writing or recording for this record—what guitars you used, if you had a different setup, any toys you brought into the mix?
Kevin I bought a Gretsch guitar specially for this band. It ended up being the perfect choice in the studio for the main tone as it’s sort of a nice in-between of the brightness of a Strat with the warmth of a Gibson. For amps I believe we mainly used a Fender Twin. I did use this Boss guitar synth pedal for some textures in “Yearling Thunder” and on some other tracks. On “The Final Bow” I used an Electro-Harmonix Mellotron pedal for the weepy melodies.
The inside-out transformation of the theme from guitar to organ in “The Final Bow” brings a powerful drama to the album’s closing. When I listen to the tension developed between the synth and guitar midway through, I’m astounded how much it reminds me of the classic dynamics of Tony Banks and Steve Hackett. Talk about unexpected! But the hymnal quality of the theme’s final statement is ingenious. Was this figure composed on guitar or synth first? How did this song, somewhat of a stylistic outlier, develop?
Kevin It was written on 12-string acoustic first. I didn’t write it with any particular project in mind because I wrote it so fast. I added the synths afterwards. It certainly stands out on the record. We weren’t so sure we wanted to include it even though it was one of our favorites, since it’s so different from the other tracks. That’s also why it’s the last song on the album.
The presence of synth becomes more obvious in the last three songs on the album. What role did you conceive for the synth in Veldune’s sound? Was it a thematic decision to give synth more prominence toward the end of the record?
Kevin It wasn’t intentionally structured that way. It seems the second half of the record is a little darker and more atmospheric, so the synths seemed an appropriate touch. I never planned to use synth in the beginning stages.
Johnny I’m always pressuring us to add more synths! I think especially over this music well-orchestrated pads for certain songs really drive home the vibe. Also we spent a bit of time adding extra percussion and vocal layers to many of the tracks which in some cases were spontaneous studio arrangements and I think those ended up adding even more character to the songs. It also helps that Colin is a wizard and was able to placate all of our ideas and make them sound cohesive in the mix!
It would be incredible to see this project live. Do you have any plans to stage some Veldune shows in the future, maybe schedule a tour?
Kevin For sure. Tours might be hard, but certainly some shows in the northeast next year at least.
Jamie Yes! Bring on the shows!
Is there anything else you’d like to share about Veldune, or any other shout-outs about recent or upcoming projects you have?
Kevin We already have new songs in the works. Around five songs so far. The writing process is my favorite part of being in a band.
Jeff Can’t wait to hear all of Kevin’s new ideas. He’s probably scoring a drum part where five drums and cymbals hit at the same time on the same downbeat. Kevin likes to write things that sound good, not things that are possible to play.
What’s your favorite stretch of road to drive, and what’s an album you’d be sure to bring along?
Kevin I don’t drive. I hate driving, ha.
Johnny I’ve always loved driving out in the Southwest. The drive from West Texas out to LA.
Jamie Any back road. Eat a peach.
Jeff I love driving in the Southwest desert. When we were practicing the songs for this album, images of the drive from Texas to Albuquerque kept popping into my head. It’s a drive we’ve done many times on tour – and it’s a long one – so we’re usually still driving into the evening when the sun starts setting over the desert mountains. I think the sound of Veldune invokes images of that long stretch of road at sunset. I like listening to repetitive beats on long drives in the middle of nowhere, maybe some classic Krautrock like Neu!, Can, or Kraftwerk.
It’s tradition at VoS to close interviews with a round of rapid-fire questions for everyone. Here goes:
Michael Jackson or Prince?
Kevin Tough one. I give props to MJ because the Thriller album was one of the first records that made me love music. However, I think all in all I have to go with Prince.
Johnny Yeah I’d say Prince, but that is a tough one.
Wands, Cups, Swords, or Pentacles?
Johnny One of each please…
Jeff A cup of swords. Tiny swords.
Vintage or contemporary?
Jeff Contemporary. Maybe distressed contemporary? That’s like vintage, but without the musty smell.
Al pastor or carne asada?
Kevin Al pastor.
Johnny Definitely both!!
Jamie Vegetarian al pastor
Jeff One of each please…
Interstates or state highways?
Kevin the scenic route
Johnny Public Access Roads
Jamie back roads
Jeff How quick do we have to get there?
Paranormal thriller or slasher?
Johnny Paranormal thriller
Winter, spring, summer, or fall?
Jeff Winter. Mountains.
Sunrise or sunset?
Jeff I’m not waking up early. I’ll take a beer in the evening and gaze off to the west.