New Audio: The Soulful and Trippy Sounds of Shoegazer Pioneers The Veldt


Earlier, I wrote a lengthy post about pioneering Raleigh, NC/NYC-based shoegaze quintet The Veldt. Currently comprised of founding members and identical twin brothers Daniel Chavis (vocals, guitar) and Danny Chavis (guitar) along with Hayato Nakao (bass), Frank Olsen (guitar), and Martin Levi (drums), the quintet can trace their origins to the vital and quirky Chapel Hill, NC music scene of the late 80s and early 90s — a scene that featured Superchunk (perhaps, the best known out of that entire scene), PolvoDillon Fence and others. Initially featuring the Chavis Brothers and Levi along with Joseph “Hue” Boyle (bass) and later David Burris, The Veldt managed to be a rather extreme rarity  as shoegaze act prominently featuring black men in a genre, as well as a place and time in which it was considered highly unusual — and honestly still is; however, despite how unusual it seemed, the then-Chapel Hill, NC-based band quickly attained “must-see” status in their home city and a rapidly growing national profile with the release of their debut effort Marigolds. 

Their 1994 Ray Shulman-produced sophomore effort Afrodisiac propelled the band towards international recognition and the band wound up opening and touring with the likes of  The Jesus and Mary ChainLushOasisCocteau TwinsPixiesFishbone, Corrosion of Conformity and others. Unfortunately, throughout their initial run together, the members of the band found with their management and labels who found them “too difficult to market” as their sound meshed elements of old school soul and shoegaze. And unsurprisingly, the band got dropped from their label. Struggling to fund writing, recording, releasing and marketing their work and touring, the band went through several lineup changes before officially going on hiatus in 1998.

Several years later, the Chavis Brothers had relocated to New York and started their post The Veldt project, Apollo Heights, which received quite a bit of buzz locally for a sound that added trip-hop and electronica to their previous mix of shoegaze and soul. In fact, I can clearly remember reading a raving and informative profile of the band in the old New York Press, a few years before I started to write for the publication. And honestly, it shouldn’t be surprising that critics and journalists were raving about the band — their 2007 Apollo Heights debut White Music For Black People was produced by Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie and featured guest spots from Guthrie on guitar, Mos DefLady Kier of Deee- LiteTV on the Radio‘s Dave Sitek, and Mike Ladd.

Sadly, despite their early successes the Chavis Brothers work have been reduced to largely cult-favorite status; but interestingly enough, their work in The Veldt and Apollo Heights has managed to quietly reverberate and influence some highly regarded contemporary musicians — the members of  Bloc Party and TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek have publicly claimed The Veldt as influences on their work and sound, which has proven that the Chavis Brothers had the somewhat bitter misfortunate of being about 20 years ahead of their time; however, with the forthcoming release of The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur: The Drake Equation Mixtape, their first batch of original material in almost 20 years, the members of the reformed band seek to firmly establish their claim as the forebears and pioneers of a sound and aesthetic that has captured the blogosphere and fans by storm. And interestingly enough, they hop they do so in a similar fashion to the incredible renaissance that the members of Detroit-based proto-punk/proto-metal band Death has seen over the past few years.

“Sanctified,” the first single off The Shocking Fuzz reveals how deeply indebted TV on the Radio’s sound is to The Veldt as towering squalls of guitar chords played through gentle amounts of reverb paired with skittering yet propulsive drum programming and Danny Chavis’ soulful crooning in a tender and swooning song that evokes the feeling of being desperately, madly, stupidly in love — in a way that nods at subtly cosmic version of The Jesus and Mary Chain, if they had been influenced by Fishbone , Marvin Gaye and Prince; in other words, it’s shoegaze that manages to be irresistibly sexy.