The Veldt, an ambitious, sonically adventurous atypical shoe-gazers and one of rock and roll’s best best kept secrets, continue to push musical limits. Formed in the late 1980s by the Chavis brothers Daniel and Danny, the Veldt took part in the golden era of ’80s underground rock, playing support for bands such as the Pixies and Jesus & Mary Chain. Thoughtful, dreamy and inherently rebellious, the Veldt‘s Daniel (guitar & vocals) & Danny Chavis (bass) and Marvin Levi (drums) speak with A Love That’s Sound about adding hip-hop beats shoegaze music, befriending the Brian Jonestown Massacre, avant-gard jazz artists, and the challenges of being black and playing rock and roll.
DL: What’s the origin of the band’s name? Does that have anything to do with the famous short story? [Read the short story “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury]
Daniel Chavis: I was a great student in school until my grandfather died. And I needed to graduate English. I had an english Summer school course. I got all “F”s in English because I just didn’t care. I was one of the first students in class that had to read; “Alright, turn the page… blah, blah, blah…” At that point, we were called the Psycho Daisies. I opened the book and it said “The Veldt”. I went “oh shit” and ran home and told my brother “Danny! let’s call the band this.” I remember he drew something with poke-a-dots, I don’t know why he chose poke-a-dots in it.
Danny Chavis: Because I’m creative.
Daniel Chavis: We didn’t use the name for awhile and then we came back to it, the name The Veldt. I thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. And it’s a sad story, I thought it was adpt.
In the beginning, our songs were pop oriented because Prince had come out with Around the World in a Day. After leaving high school, I went to California to follow the Bangles and the the Three O’Clock, it was called the Paisley Underground. Prince’s Purple Rain hadn’t come out yet. We had been reading and reading about it. It was gonna be to be psychedelic and all of this shit.
I had taken a bus to LA. I washed dishes, I had a hundred bucks in my pocket but I went to LA to work with these guys. It just so happened that I was hanging out with the the Three O’Clock and one of the guitar players was going out with Susana Hoff of the Bangles. She was like “yeah Prince is following me around, he wants me to quit the Bangles and join the revolution” I was like “okay, fine” but the album hadn’t come out yet. I asked Danny, “Do we have an album yet? Danny, what’s the cover look like?” and he’s like “Daniel, forget about it… all bets are off.”
Danny Chavis: It was psychedelic, hazy bullshit. We were thinking about that stuff at the time but nobody else was doing that kind of thing.
Daniel Chavis: That album… we wanted a band like that album. It had everything.
Danny Chavis: We wanted a band like Spacemen 3, Prince, Marvin Gaye, we wanted that vibe and that’s what we have now.
DL: You mentioned that The Veldt had a very particular vision. Can you tell us how that vision came to develop?
Danny Chavis: People were like “you should try and sound like Lenny Kravitz” or that “you should sound like Fishbone.” We know those people too, with all due respect. They think all black people should sound the same. When we told them to go fuck themselves, they said “oh these people are hard to work with.” We stuck to our guns, to financial disadvantage and you know, relationship wise, in order to play music. We just kept the vision of what we wanted to do.
Like Anton Newcombe, with his non-compromising way of getting his idea through is the same way we had our vision. Anton, you know is very anti-establishment, so when he read our story, “difficult to work with,” he just said “Yeah I love difficult.”
Daniel Chavis: Rob Campanella [the Brian Jonestown Massacre] made a really good point. Talking about 15 years, the BJM were playing the lower East side back when the Veldt came through New York, they were always at the Continental. It always seemed that simple, “who are they?” but it turns out that they never stopped. People came around to them. I met Anton on the lower Eastside back in 2000 or something, back when he was drinking. We met in a bar and had a good conversation about indie music, ‘60s music, guitars and things. It was cool.
DL: How did the Veldt become a part of the Committee To Keep Music Evil showcase at Levitation 2016?
Daniel Chavis: Rob Campanella looked us up for these shows invited us to the Committee to Keep Music Evil and they were talking about putting us under their umbrella which would be amazing. The whole night last night Levitation 2016 has always been our aesthetic. Now, we didn’t fit in because we were more folky oriented than the other bands but the aesthetic for the kids that were there was always what we wanted to play in front of. We’ve never had that before. That was the response … what that the soul band brought to the psychedelic thing.
Daniel Chavis: I met Rob Campanella through Facebook. He said “what do you do” and I said “I’m in a band called the Veldt with my brother Danny.” And he goes “wait a minute, your brother’s name is Danny?” and I’m like “yeah but my band is called the Veldt.” “But your name is Daniel, right?” The manager of the BJM said, “hey, I’ve been a Veldt fan for years. We played under the name of Palo Heights for a few years. We went to hang out with [the Brian Jonestown Massacre], they invited us to play some shows. Anton invited me on DeadTV. And he goes you “Wanna be on DeadTV? Let’s do it right now! Let’s do it. Let’s make it happen right now!” I’m like “yeah” and I get on Skype and he could see my house, I have all of this bullshit on the wall and goes “oh, handsome.”
I was talking to this other musician from LA. He said did you ever hear of this band called the Veldt? He said “yeah, sounds like I should have been into them. They were kind of a goth rock band. They came out to LA, something I should have been into but I missed them.” This other guy was talking about us… I got on there, we were talking about how hard a time we had in the ‘90s and Anton was like “fuck that man, we need to bring this out, people need to see this shit. To the man!”
Danny Chavis: They said we were difficult because we had a vision. Anton isn’t anti-everything but he’s against the establishment.
DL: Speaking of the West Coast, psychedelia is most associated with scenes like the inaugural San Francisco ‘60s wave or the music scene in Los Angeles. Coming from the eastern US, how do you see psychedelia as different?
Daniel Chavis: It’s funny that you should say that. I think that psychedelia is a West coast thing. In the East coast, it’s more of a shoe-gazey kind of thing. Anton melded the shoe gaze and the psych thing together. I love the Pol Pot album!
Danny Chavis: He was like “fuck it, i’m going to do it all.” He was just like a white version of us.
Danny Chavis: He’s a just like a white version of us. He’s like a white Arthur Lee.
Daniel Chavis: Think about it, Love was just like that.
DL: Speaking of Black rock Arthur Lee was under a lot of pressure. Jimi Hendrix was both under considerable social pressure not to play with white guys and have mixed race bands.
Danny Chavis: Yeah, a big part of our career we’ve been silenced by a lot of that. Wether we didn’t fit in or whatever else. I feel that a lot of people missed out on us cause they’d keep us back because of our colour. We never gave up though.
Marvin Levi: They were branding. They weren’t trying to keep us back, they were trying to keep things simple so that the public can buy things. If you have a white guy playing something black or a black guy playing something white, they don’t know exactly how to sell that so it’s not the best thing for them. But they might love it. It might be great. You catch it on in the zone. It’s done its work for us.
Daniel Chavis: We were very naive in the beginning. We knew who our idols were, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Cure, the Clash, Big Country….
Marvin Levi: We expected the people who signed us to know as much or more than we did. When we didn’t see that it was surprising a little bit. To then see that they don’t have the business acumen to express the difference than that is even more frustrating.
Daniel Chavis: So, when we signed to a major, we thought that we would have the money to expand on this idea that they would know better. But they didn’t. They didn’t know anything. We had to educate them and education was a battle because they only wanted to do what was current in the pop world. For example, I know now someone who wants to work with us but they are only thinking about the bigger picture in terms of Jimmy Kimmel and all those things. They don’t want to talk about the in-between but it is the in-between that will sustain us for the rest of our careers.
Danny Chavis: Grassroots people are where you are going to make it happen. That’s where the soul comes from. When people like music and they don’t think of what kind of brand it has. If they hear something cool and they like it, it’s going to be around for a long time.
Daniel Chavis: Branding has always been a part of music.
Marvin Levi: Marketing, it’s just a new phase. The fact that these people, with money and knowledge cannot seem to run their own business and now they are forced to take merchandise and get money from live shows from people who are talented and that’s sad.
Daniel Chavis: They are not directing prog-rock and shoe gaze to Mexican Americans. But they should be. The grassroots people are the ones who are going to be there. These are the people that are coming out to our music now that missed out on it in the first go around. The younger kids went around and now that the’ve heard what we did they’re like “wow, you guys played with Jesus & Mary Chain? What was that like?” We were there and we’re alive.
Danny Chavis: We’re not the black musicians who died and can’t tell their story.
DL: Despite commercial and genre hurdles, do you feel that your uphill battle has positively influenced your art?
Marvin Levi: Yeah. When we got dropped we made two records immediately. And then we went right into Apollo Heights. It was frustrating but it was just a little bump.
Danny Chavis: Stopping was never an option.
DL: How would you describe those two records ?
Marvin Levi: Independently creative. The ability to do what we want to and express the tones we wanted to without having to table the sounds at a meeting with producers; it was everything about being able to make a record with freedom. The second record, Love at first Hate and Universe Boat. In 1996 and subsequently 1998, we had the freedom to create. You get backed-up from being on a major label by writing more and more songs and not being able to record them in a timely manner so, it’s another word for a blessing. It was great.
Daniel Chavis: Danny and I have so many songs that we haven’t done. Last night a couple of the songs we played haven’t even been released. After this album, we have another album ready to be tweaked.
Danny Chavis: We have always made music together. We have a backlog of maybe 10-12 albums.
DL: the Veldt have a new record, The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur.
Daniel Chavis: The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur: The Drake Equation was put out by a small company in Manchester, England, run by a guy named Dom.
Danny Chavis: He put our record out because he liked it. We got some songs that we had been working on at that time, while listening to some beats that Drake did. We vibed offed the beats for awhile and created some things that came out as that record.
Daniel Chavis: I went over to England in 2013 to play some acoustic dates and the guys would come a bit later. Dom is a guy who owns an art space in Manchester. We had played in Paris, one of our largest shows. After doing that date, Dom offered to put out our record. It was our first time going over. Hopefully with this lineup we can do more. We played in Canada, all of this is because of Canada. We played in Toronto. The Guardian did an article on us. From that article, all of this shit snowballed.
Danny Chavis: Because you can’t give it away in America, you can’t give it away.
Marvin Levi: Listen to Howie Zowie, who did a fabulous interview and he’ll talk many things about many things, reggae, folk, Zappa. Great guy. He took us to London, Ontario, and interviewed us, he did a great job.
Daniel Chavis: Does everyone in Canada worship Zappa? It’s like everywhere in Canada…
DL: What are some of your earliest musical influences?
Danny Chavis: My mom had Daniel and me when she was 16 so we heard all of this soul and Motown stuff like that, no choice. My stepfather was a Black Panther in Atlanta back in 1972. I remember he had this record, we had this stereo. He had Al Green. And then he had this record with this white dude on it and these dogs. It scared me. It said David Bowie –Diamond Dogs. I remember that, it scared the shit out of me.
Daniel Chavis: Our stepdad had this big, fold out stereo. And there was a record with this guy with all of these axes and snakes coming from out of his head; Axis Bold as Love. I had to turn it over before I went to bed because I didn’t want to look at it. We didn’t know what it was.
Danny Chavis: He was a gun runner for some drug shit. He took us to a bar one night. I remember seeing a black light poster of a guy. I asked “who’s that” and they told me “that’s Jimi Hendrix, he died five years ago.”
Danny Chavis: When I was in high school, there was this girl who said, “Danny, you don’t party, do you?” and I was like “no I play guitar.” I used to play gospel music and stuff like that. She asked “do you know Jimi Hendrix, like Purple Haze?” She went out and bought that record the next day. My life was ruined forever…
Daniel Chavis: You know the high school heavies, with the Led Zeppelin patches….
Danny Chavis: They’d be like “Hey Danny dude, what’s up you gonna lay tonight?” [laughs]
Daniel Chavis: That led us out to Pink Floyd and Syd Barret. I have the Syd Barret solo stuff. My mom heard it and she was like “What’s all dying?” I said, “Mom, that’s Syd Barret.” It was the “Madcap Laugh”. We gambled with everything we pretty much liked. With Danny, it’s been a fucking lifetime so there’s no getting away from this shit. When you have a person who looks like you and says dumb shit all of the time, don’t get away from that. Hayato Nakao has been our partner in music for 17 years. And Marvin even longer.
Danny Chavis: I got beat up behind a school one time because somebody thought I was Daniel.
DL: Given the trials of your musical careers, what advice would you pass on to newer artists?
Daniel Chavis: And if you are with a man or a woman who does not support what you do, goodbye. “Oh, you’re a musician? This is serious?” [laughs] When they say that, it’s time to go.” Maybe you should think about getting a real job…” I was in high school this one time, I told a girl I was with that I was going to buy a new guitar. She said, “a guitar? Why don’t you buy a car?” I walked away and out of the cafe right then and there
Danny Chavis: Don’t listen to nobody. And do whatever the fuck you want to do. That’s the key to everything in life, don’t listen to nobody. Whenever you do, you lose everything. Stay focused and get what you want out of life. Follow your soul. People come into your life, you know how it is, you meet a woman or a friend and you know that if you don’t follow that trail, you are going to regret it.
Daniel Chavis: We have our own intricacies within our community, a kind of self hate that keeps us from being together. I talk about the black community using other communities as an example by how they make things work. The Jews work together. The Mexicans work together. Economics is a big divide between the black community. Economics and emotional health are bad in the black community. We have a cancer together that goes deeper than you can see on the surface. We cannot get together as a whole to come together on some issues. That’s why you have these things. That’s why you have black people liking Trump. That’s why you have them liking Hilary and some liking Bernie. When I asked my mom who she was going to vote for and she said Hilary because she thought Bernie would die in office. I told her that’s not a good point.
Marvin Levi: I think that points to the difference between Motown and stacks. Color and collar, they are two different things. “What do black people think of this issue? What do white people think of this issue?” There’s no such thing. There’s no such thing in music or any art form. People are free thinkers, just because they are from the same color or the same background, ethnicity, country or culture, it doesn’t necessarily dictate a liking hegemony for a given audience.
Daniel Chavis: We have a bigger stake to speak about these things. Rather wearing a torn t-shirt or studded belt and calling it rock and roll, that’s not a statement. Or opening your mouth to growl like punk rock.
Danny Chavis: It’s a reflection of the soul. You can do something because you want to be hip or something but you do it because it is who you are. It’s lifestyle. All of this music we’ve come up with, I remember when “funk” was a dirty word like “Funkadelic.” People would say funk and you’d be like “watch your mouth.”
Marvin Levi: Funk was a dirty word. It was like “ooooohhh funk music. Everything was so taboo back then, which ultimately shows that we evolve and smarten up.DL: How do you guys feel about the Rolling Stones?
Daniel Chavis: White privileged guys playing rock music for over 60 years? They did good at it, they took it to places that any other black person couldn’t.
Danny Chavis: They killed Brian Jones!
Daniel Chavis: They didn’t kill him….
Danny Chavis: I know, they just said “fuck you” and left.
Daniel Chavis: The Rolling Stones are a bunch of privileged middle class white boys who did blues and got good at it. That’s it. Kind of like Radiohead.
Danny Chavis: Brian Jones had soul though. He knew what the deal was. God bless his soul. He was the one who tried to bring them back into the whole R’n’B thing. Remember he told Jimi Hendrix when he heard Electric Ladyland, “Jimi, stick to the soul music, go back to the Blues.” So did Syd Barret too. I heard that Roger [Waters] was a quiet boy early on but that too many people got in the way. Like people do today.
Daniel Chavis: It’s funny. Roger Kramer, the manager for Living Colour, said “the only problem with you and your brother is that people got in the way of what you wanted to do.” He saw what me and Danny were trying to do back then.
Danny Chavis: The trouble is, vision is a cruel thing when you are a young, black artist. They want to speak for you and make you out like everybody else. That’s how I felt at the time, kind of like they weren’t listening to us or the kind of music that we are making. They said that they didn’t hear it. I said, “well I do.”
Marvin Levi: “We signed you to be something else.”
Daniel Chavis: That’s when we began to bitter and just say “fuck you” and were told we were hard to work with. [laughs]
Daniel Chavis: Hip Hop beats behind guitar? They say “you can’t do that, nobody does that.” Why?
Danny Chavis: I went to Ornate Colman’s apartment, his loft. He had a process called harmolodics, a way of playing, a style he developed in California. He told me that people laughed at him in the beginning. There he was in this huge loft, like he was a 21 year old dude. And he was playing this gold, white sax and I put on “Aurora Boreialus”. He said, “I like that young man, what do they call it?” It’s called shoegaze. “They call it what?” He started playing to it. Ornate Colman said that and I’m rolling with what he told me, god bless his soul.
Marvin Levi: They said Thelonious Monk was crazy so he didn’t get the jazz opportunities that other avant garde artists were given in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Diatoneal tones, all of those crazy notes.
Daniel Chavis: Thelonious Monk had all of these producers in the studio one time. They said, “why, don’t you do this, why don’t you do that? Thelonious, he goes “when do I get to do what I want to do?” The story of our lives. “When do we get to do what we want to do? Please?”
“Follow Your Soul” an original interview with the Veldt by A Love That’s Sound.
Grace Dunn – Photos.
Marie Ingouf – Artwork.
David Lacroix – Photos, Web & Interview.