Next Saturday, June 6, Lakeview will play host to SliceFest, an all-day music festival hosted by Slice Pizza and Brew. The festival draws big names, many of them New Orleans legends like Anders Osborne, Ivan Neville, George Porter Jr., Zigaboo Modeliste of the Meters and numerous others.
These are established, esteemed artists, so it will be a big break for Birmingham-based band Velouria, who will be appearing on the same stage earlier in the day. Their music is distinct from the others on the lineup. Theirs is not a dance-oriented, funky New Orleans style, but something altogether different.
Michael Harp, the band’s guitarist and vocalist — and one of its two founding members — calls it a combination of dream pop and shoegaze, both of which are genres heavily focused on creating ethereal, reverb-heavy atmospheres.
The band’s origins go back a fairly long way. “[Deanna Medina, the singer, and I] met in high school, and the two of us started playing shows together,” Harp said. “We wrote all the music on that first EP together, and then after that we basically…what happened was that we were kind of just an acoustic duo. And then we were in this Birmingham Mountain Radio contest called the BMR Jam, and we ended up winning the contest, and the prize was a free recording session with Les Nuby here in town. And so we recorded ‘Speak.’ We had just added a drummer a week or two before we went into the studio, and we went in and recorded ‘Speak,’ which they play on Birmingham Mountain Radio all the time now, and it’s definitely one of our favorite songs that we’ve written.”
The band’s original acoustic style did not last very long, however. The radio appearance is what set them off in their current trajectory.
With a laugh, Harp said, “After that happened, we realized, you know, enough of this acoustic [expletive], let’s be a real band. So you know, we started playing with a drummer, we added a bassist, and we just kind of cycled members for awhile…we realized we wanted to be a lot louder, a lot more dynamic, and it kind of turned from something subdued and acoustic to something that really uses volume as an asset.”
As for the shoegaze genre designation, Harp himself did not know of it until fairly recently. Asked about his early influences, he starts listing off names: “The Sundays and The Cranberries and Manchester Orchestra.”
“It was weird because you know, I didn’t really know these bands at the time, and I remember we were recording one of the songs on the first EP — we were recording Grey Matter — and Les said something like, ‘Man you must listen to a lot of shoegaze,’ and I was like, ‘What is shoegaze?’ [laughing] ‘What the hell are you talking about?’” Harp said. “So that introduced me to a whole genre of music that I’m now kind of obsessed with.”
The music got into his blood and stuck with him, and it’s now a big part of what influences his own style and tastes, along with a smattering of other genres.
“I went to go see Ride in Atlanta a few weeks back; I listen to a lot of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive,” Harp said. “And so for me, personally, it’s a lot of the ‘90s shoegaze artists, plus…a lot of the modern singer-songwriter types.”
There is a bit of alchemy involved here, however, because his band mates bring their own tastes to the writing process, often contrasting quite sharply from his own.
“On the other end of the spectrum we’ve got Zane [Lake, guitar] and Stephen [Wills, drums]… Zane listens to a bunch of doom metal and stoner metal,” he said. “And then Alex [Guin], the bassist, is in a screamo band called White Sands Missile Range; they’re incredible as well.
“So it’s very strange, because we all end up agreeing on certain sounds and certain ideas, but it’s definitely from a lot heavier angle, while Deanna and I are coming from a more melodic angle. But I like it; it meets in between in a really cool way.”
Harp said he also draws a lot of influence from the likes of Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, and he plays a J Mascis Signature edition Fender Jazzmaster. He and John Denton, the band’s first drummer (and still, in Harp’s words, a collaborator, even though he doesn’t play actively with them anymore), spent a lot of time sitting around the dorms listening to Dinosaur Jr.
There is, in other words, a lot that goes into the band’s style, and it leads to a very tight, well-put-together sound, but with a bit of fuzz around the edges. Like a sound bath it envelops the listener.
“When [Denton] joined the band, he had never been in a band before,” Harp said. “He had just been an orchestra drummer. So it was weird because he just kind of came in to this group with this really rigid playing style, because he was all jazz and orchestra — the only rock drummers he listened to was like Rush, Red Hot Chili Peppers — so he came in with this really rigid style and ended up turning into something really cool. … He writes parts; he doesn’t just play beats, he writes drum parts, leaves nothing up to chance. Whereas some of the newer stuff we’ve been working on, it’s a lot more emotionally charged, the way Stephen approaches drums.”
“Stephen and Alex…and they can really just hammer away behind you,” Harp continued. “It’s gotten to the point where Deanna and I can drop out completely and the band sounds fine. It’s really cool to see the drums and bass get to a point where they’re matching well, they’re clicking together, and they can just create something completely solid — and really loud — on their own.”
Velouria will play the Spring Street Firehouse in Avondale on June 3 and SliceFest on June 6, after which they will be going out on tour, out to Texas and up to Virginia and back again. They also have a full length album in the works; Harp reported four or five songs are already almost complete.