“The only revolution in which the goal is a desegregated lunch counter, a desegregated theater, a desegregated park, and a desegregated public toilet; you can sit down next to white folks on the toilet. That’s no revolution.”
– Malcolm X, 1963
To call The Veldt resilient would be to understate the trailblazing shoegaze act’s experience and journey. From their days on the North Carolina hardcore circuit to their deals with major labels and touring with legendary acts like the Cocteau Twins and Jesus and Mary Chain, Danny and Daniel Chavis–the African American twin brothers who form the core of the band–have faced every imaginable obstacle in a corporate industry that sees itself as progressive but is in actuality a propagator of conformity and imitation.
Two black guys making genre rock music that most white people couldn’t even understand was a tough sell in the 1990s. Still is. And the band’s struggles have been well-documented in an indie wave of publicity surrounding this year’s release of The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur: The Drake Equation–The Veldt’s first new album in nearly a decade.
The Shocking Fuzz is a dynamic amalgamation of big hip hop inspired beats, lush walls of sound, and soulful vocals that hint at the brothers’ formative years scored by R&B acts like Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. Theirs was the first generation to experience desegregation busing, and the same social complexities that culminated in their eclectic sound (They’ve worked closely with Robin Guthrie, and an interpolation of Drake‘s Underground Kings lays the groundwork for TSF’s In a Quiet Room), have inspired activism in their home state as the North Carolina legislature has jammed through discriminatory laws against the LGBTQ community that some have compared to Jim Crow.
We spoke to both brothers separately, just before and after a tragic American week in which the (alleged) murder by police of unarmed black men led to protests across the nation, and ended with the killing of five police officers in Dallas. We dove into details about the band’s recording process, influences, and how their experiences as black musicians have informed their stance on American culture and gender issues. We talked music and politics–our two favorite things.
“Most of the things that we wanted to do back in the day had to do with beats and stuff like that,” says Danny, who lives in New York and writes much of the band’s material. Their 1992 effort, Marigolds, released on Mammoth Records, was a glimpse at the heterogeneous sounds the band would later mold into its exclusive aesthetic: Guitar-driven rock tracks that reflected the growing alternative movement in the U.S., interspersed with mini-excursions into hip hop and downtempo electronic in the form of intermissions like those found on most hip hop albums of the time.
“Over the past few years—and with the advent of hip hop—we just came back full circle with that kind of concept,” explains Danny. “And my homeboy Hayato [Nakao]–he plays guitar and bass–and we do most of the programming with each other. So we just sit back and listen to some underground hip hop tracks, and Drake’s track came up—I was like, ‘Man, that would sound pretty good—we could get a little guitar vibe out of that, you know?’ And I said, ‘ok what way to leave a contemporary mark now for the sound so people can associate with it?’ First of all, it was hot, and you know people can associate with that sound because it’s now. If you look at a lot of shoegaze bands, [they] sound like 1987. No slam on them, it’s just that I was there already.”
“You take Al Green with a little Spaceman 3, add in some BB King and some My Bloody Valentine and you got us.”
“A lot of the new material now doesn’t have live drums,” explains Daniel, the band’s vocalist who resides in North Carolina. The band uses real drums when they play live, and records in-house as opposed to the label-sanctioned studios they used for prior releases on major labels. “Pre-production we do in someone’s house. And [we use] Ableton Live. When our drummer isn’t here we use the laptop. But we use technology to the hilt, for real.”
After years of wrangling with major record labels over artistic direction, and being labeled “difficult” in a world in which white musicians wear the “difficult to deal with” label as a badge of honor, The Veldt has taken a distinctly DIY approach to its process from beginning to end.
“We use Hayato’s home as a place to record,” explains Danny. “I come to him with the idea and then we’ll put it down together, we’ll sit around and just fuck around with the beats and the reverb. We’ll loop some things and send it back and forth. We kinda just trial-and-error where it comes from. We have a lot of ideas that we use, and some we don’t use at all. Some lyrics might come, then my brother comes in with a guitar part, I’ll come in with a guitar part, we start with a basic riff, or a basic loop, or something that we found and we’ll manipulate that sound, and just build on that sound.”
Mike Doherty at The Guardian noted that the twins were kicked out of their church choir when they were kids. But that southern church experience has had a big impact on their sound.
“A lot of the chord structures come from gospel songs that we used from, like, when I played in church and shit,” says Danny. “It all stems from soul music; but we just turn it up loud. That’s the whole thing. We like that wall of sound–that ambient sound. Emotionally, me and Hayato and Daniel try to come up with a vibe-within-a-song type of thing.”
That soul music included socially conscious R&B acts from the era like Curtis Mayfield and Luther Ingram.
“You loop the sound, you build off that loop, and you create a moment in time. There are certain melodies that kind of get to you. You know, we listen to a song, like What’s Going On is a good example of a black shoegaze song. Songs like (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right, songs like that, or Al Green stuff–you can get into that kind of thing. Especially What’s Going On–that kind of mood. You take that with a little Spaceman 3, add in some BB King and some My Bloody Valentine and you got us.”“They say it’s a national problem when the cops get killed, but when niggas is getting killed it’s just a regular day at the office.”
– Daniel Chavis, 2016
As North Carolina hemorrhages businesses, concerts, and cash due to its decidedly backwards and much maligned “bathroom law” known as HB2 that allows discrimination against gays and the transgendered, the Chavis brothers draw a connection to their experiences as black musicians and have taken a strong civil rights stance, playing benefits to fight the legislation.
“Being from North Carolina…the HB2 law [was] passed when everybody was asleep; it’s kind of sad,” says Daniel. “It’s kind of the way that North Carolina didn’t want to secede from the Union, but they did it behind their backs, and then North Carolina became a Confederate state. Because everybody thinks that everybody in the South wanted slavery, but there were pockets of abolition in every state. See, these are the things they don’t teach you in history [class]. They tell you that the Civil War was about states’ rights. That’s bullshit. They just wanted to keep us doing their fucking dirty work. That goes back to the HB2 law that was done behind people’s backs, and now North Carolina is being represented as this backwards place, and not everybody is like that! I feel bad about it. I’m pretty sad about it. Just the fact that somebody raised the issue about going to the bathroom. This can go back to civil rights or people not being able to go to the bathroom with white people.”
“My mom went to an all black school in the 60s. She never talks about what it was like living under segregation. Ever. It’s just amazing to see that my friends I went to high school with–my parents couldn’t go to school with their parents. It just boggles the mind. And I don’t really see it getting any better.”
In fact, Daniel sees current events as regressive.
“It’s back to the sixties, even better yet the fifties, or the forties. I can keep going back! You know, it just didn’t get any better. We were the first generation to be bused into school in the 70s. I didn’t know what was going on. I just wanted to play and run around and be a kid. I didn’t know anything about any of that stuff. My parents never taught about any of that. Strangely enough, they never did. They never mentioned it.”
“Any time you can get four black guys on stage to play in front of a bunch of white people without being killed, that’s a political movement.”
“They say it’s a national problem when the cops get killed, but when niggas is getting killed it’s just a regular day at the office,” says Daniel in response to the Dallas shooting. “That’s the kind of fucked up thing about it. I’m a musician–I wake up and what part do I play in it? The only part I can play into what’s happening right now is to speak about it to our audience, which is predominantly white, and if they ask how I feel I just tell them. But in doing that–you know everybody is not the same–so you try to bridge the gap that way. That’s the only way I can see how being a musician can help in this situation because I feel kind of helpless.”
Danny, who we spoke to before the Dallas massacre, and just before the furor surrounding the shooting deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling at the hands of police, sees things through a similar lens.
“To be quite honest, I see what we do in general as a political movement, because any time you can get four black guys on stage to play in front of a bunch of white people without being killed that’s a political movement.”
But, like his brother, Danny struggles with his role as a socially conscious musician.
“For the last 20 years I think we’ve been doing pretty good,” he says. “We made a statement that music is the last thing that we need to have us divided by. I know that things are on a bigger scale than that with Trump and all this other kind of shit, but I’m like, ‘man how do you even contend with that when you wake up in the morning [and] fight every day?’ As a black musician, I see myself as musician first more than anything and then all the rest of that stuff comes with it after the fact.”
The Veldt is playing an upcoming benefit in Asheville that aims to “raise funds for Equality NC, a nonprofit dedicated to pursuing equal rights and justice for LGBTQ North Carolinians, and QORDS, a Southern summer camp that builds queer community through music.”
Beyond the advocacy, The Veldt will be playing Liverpool Psych Fest in September and has been working hard on a new album, Resurrection Hymns, to be released via sonaBLAST! later this year. Fans can expect a continuation of the sounds heard on The Shocking Fuzz, though the band isn’t yet sure as to whether it will be a full-length or another EP. In today’s rapid social media-driven culture, they recognize that feeding the masses in small pieces may be the best way to go:
“You’ve gotta keep fresh with shit, man,” says Danny, “because attention spans are really short. So just give them like 4 or 5 songs and then you move on to the next shit.”
Check out The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur right here: