Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the course of the past 12-18 months, you’ve likely come across at least one of a handful of posts featuring the pioneering, Raleigh, NC/NYC-based sheogazer rock quintet The Veldt. Currently comprised of founding members, primary songwriters and identical twin brothers Daniel Chavis (vocals, guitar) and Danny Chavis (guitar) and Martin Levi (drums), along with along with Hayato Nakao (bass) and Frank Olsen (guitar), the band can trace their origins back to the Chapel Hill, NC music scene of the late 80s and early 90s — a scene that included Superchunk, arguably the most commercially successful and best known of the acts from that region, Polvo, Dillon Fence, and others.
With the band’s initial lineup featuring the Chavis Brothers and Levi, along with Joseph “Hue” Boyle (bass) and later David Burris, the members of The Veldt managed to be a rarity as a shoegazer rock band that prominently featured black men in a place and time, in which it was considered rather unusual, if not extremely uncommon — and they hailed from the South. Interestingly enough, the band quickly attained “must-see” status and with the 1992 release of their full-length debut Marigolds, the band saw a rapidly expanding national profile as the members of the band were profiled by MTV as a buzz-worthy act. And as a result, the then-Chapel Hill-based band earned a much more lucrative recording contact with Polygram Records, who in 1994 released their highly-acclaimed Ray Shulman produced sophomore effort Aphrodisiac. Thanks in part to being on a major label and to a pioneering sound that meshed elements of old-school soul, shoegaze, Brit Pop and early 90s alt rock, the band found themselves on the verge of international and commercial success opening for the likes of The Jesus and Mary Chain, Lush, Oasis, Cocteau Twins, Pixies, Fishbone, Corrosion of Conformity and others; however, the members of the shoegazer quintet experienced embittering difficulties and infighting with both their label and their management, who repeatedly told the band that they found them “too difficult to market.” And as a result, the band was dropped from Polygram and subsequently from two other labels.
While going through a series of lineup changes, the band released two albums, Universe Boat and Love At First Hate before officially going on a lengthy hiatus in 1998. Now, here’s where things get rather interesting: Several years later, the Chavis Brothers had resurfaced in New York with a new project Apollo Heights, which began to receive attention locally for a sound that effortlessly meshed soul, trip-hop and electronica with shoegazer rock — and for their Robin Guthrie (of Cocteau Twins)-produced debut effort, White Music for Black People, which featured the band collaborating with Guthrie, Mos Def, Deee- Lite‘s Lady Kier, TV on the Radio‘s Dave Sitek, and Mike Ladd. (Around that time, I remember reading a profile about the Chavis Brothers in the long-defunct New York Press, a publication that a few years later, I wound up briefly writing for, before their demise. )
And although the members of The Veldt have toiled in varying amounts of relative obscurity over the past 20+ years, the Chavis Brothers’ and their bandmates’ work has managed to quietly reverberate, becoming much more influential than what its creators could have ever imagined as members of internationally renowned acts Bloc Party and TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek have publicly claimed the band as influencing their own genre defying sound and aesthetic.
Last year may have been arguably one of the bigger years of the band’s history as the members of the recently reformed band released the first batch of new material in almost 20 years, The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur: The Drake Equation Mixtape, an effort, which revealed a subtle yet noticeable meshing of the early shoegazer sound of The Veldt with the trip-hop and electronic-leaning sound of Apollo Heights as you’d hear on the swooning “Sanctified” and the sultry and moody “In A Quiet Room.” Building upon the buzz of those singles and the EP, The Veldt went on several tours, opening for the likes of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and others, and much like the resurgence of Detroit-based proto-punkers Death, the Chavis Brothers and company firmly reasserted their place within Black musical history and within musical history in general, making a a vital connection between The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Cocteau Twins, The Verve, Fishbone, Marvin Gaye, Prince and TV on the Radio among others.
The Raleigh and New York-based band begin 2017 with the “Symmetry”/”Slow Grind” 7 inch vinyl single, which North Carolina-based indie retail store and label Schoolkids Records will be releasing exclusively for Record Store Day. “Symmetry” is a slow-burning Quiet Storm soul meets shimmering and moody shoegaze single in which Danny Chavis’ ethereal crooning placidly floats over a stormy mix of swirling electronics, stuttering beats, a propulsive bass line and shimmering guitar chords — and throughout the song there’s a urgent and plaintive yearning that’s forcefully visceral. The recently released video pairs stock footage from the 1920s, featuring a brooding Flapper-type looking at a mirror and lying down before jelly fish gently undulating in lava lamp-like water take over the screen. We then see two women swimming in perfect symmetry before returning to the video’s initial imagery. And as a result, the video possesses a dream-like logic and vibe.
“Slow Grind” is a swaggering yet dreamy and slow-burning bit of shoegaze featuring staccato bursts of stuttering beats, deep low end, swirling electronics, shimmering guitar chords and distorted vocals to create a sound that evokes the sensation of being submerged in a viscous substance — or being enveloped by sound. The recently released video features a young woman seductively grinding in front of superimposed images of manta rays leaping out of the water and bright, explosions of colors. Certainly with these two releases, and growing attention on the band, I’m looking forward to seeing what else the band will be releasing over the course of this year and onward.