Rediscovering The Veldt’s Afrodisiac Album by Michael A. Gonzales #SleptOnSoul

Still dwelling down south, the Veldt released their EP Marigolds on Stardog Records in 1992. While the opening track “CCCP” was stuck somewhere between late-punk and early-Smiths, the cinematic crime theme for an imaginary movie “Tinsel Town” and the morose last track “Willow Tree” showed a band that wasn’t afraid to dig deeper as they explored dreamy rhythmic regions, spray painted multicolored melodies with guitar strings and delivered vocals with a sullen soulfulness, even if the listeners didn’t always understand exactly what Daniel was saying. At the same time, the Veldt band was also auditioning for the bigwigs at Stardog’s parent label Polygram, making more than a few trips to NYC to showcase before finally being signed in 1993 to Mercury Records.


Although the brothers were hoping that Robin Guthrie would once again be behind the boards, Mercury balked at the idea. “The label was trying to get us to work with producers that had worked with Led Zeppelin or the Red Hot Chili Peppers,” Danny recalls, “but, those people didn’t really appeal to us. I basically had to go and do a presentation of the bands that we were really diggin’ so they could understand.” Finally they were paired with Brit producer Ray Shulman; a former bassist with ‘70s progressive rockers Gentle Giant, he’d also produced the Sugarcubes (Björk’s first group) 1988 debut Life’s Too Good and Candleland (1989), the solo outing of Echo and Bunnymen lead singer Ian McCulloch.

“Ray was cool,” Daniel says. “He had produced records that sold well, but had also worked with A.R. Kane, so we had the best of both worlds.” Relocating to England, they recorded with Shulman at Orinoco Studios for a month. “He was easy to work with, very subdued. He wore sweaters all the time and he had nothing nice to say about the record company; he thought they were idiots.”


A year later, the Veldt’s full-length debut Afrodisiac was released on February 8, 1994. Having developed their sound from the Marigolds daze a few years before, the Veldt had finally come into their own, sounding bigger and deffer as they showed the world what they learnt in the studio with the Cocteau Twins and on the road with the Jesus and Mary Chain, who also did a guest remix of Afrodisiac’s sole single “Soul in a Jar.” The original version, with its big beat drums and roaring guitars, could stand on its own, but the Jesus and Mary Chain aptly dubbed the “Drug Store Mix” sounded like the Bomb Squad were shooting dice with Kraftwerk as they puffed blunts on the Trans-Europe Express.

The Veldt - Soul In A Jar Single Artwork

The Veldt – Soul In A Jar Single Artwork

With its metaphysical lyricism, Daniel wrote the “Soul in a Jar” after reading Dante’s Inferno on a Trailways bus coming from New Mexico after the Marigolds tour. Daniel says, “I asked myself a question: “’Why is having a soul so important to both God and the devil?’ It’s as though your soul is a commodity, simply a soul in a jar.” The Jesus and Mary Chain remix opened with a jarring celebration of electronic noise, but it stayed true to the flavor of the Chavis bros while also making it off-the-Chain chaotic.

“They did us a big favor remixing that song,” Daniel says. Diggin’ in the Crates producer Diamond D also provided a remix of the “Soul in a Jar” that was also included on the album, but funny enough the Chain’s work sounded more hip-hop. “To me, was more creative and experimental.” Although videos were released for both the original and the Chains remix, neither twin was impressed with the final outcome of the former clip. “The label didn’t do what we wanted, which was to make it more gothic,” Daniel says. “We wanted it to be spooky, maybe shot in a church, not me dancing around.”

A second single and video was slanted for Black pride power pop track “Revolutionary Sister,” but never happened. “That was a ‘80s era type song written back when there were no bitches or hoes in songs, just good shit and cool women listening to a Tribe Called Quest,” Danny says. Despite the fact that “Revolutionary Sister” was a cool track, musically it didn’t show the Veldt’s strengths in same way splendid “Heather” and “Last Call,” my two favorite tracks on Afrodisic.

“The whole album should’ve sounded like ‘Last Call,’” says Daniel of psychedelic tour de force. Indeed, his brother agrees. “We have a pop sensibility, but we also have a loud sensibility that can be heard on ‘Last Call and ‘Heather.’” Daniel wrote the lyrics to “Heather” while thinking of a childhood friend who was run over by a car and died when she was ten while Danny composed the music as a homage to A.R. Kane. “They always have these long drawn out soundscapes like that,” Danny says. “I also picked up a lot of guitar stuff from Robert Smith of the Cure.”

Soon after the release of Afrodisiac, the group was sent out on promotional tour with The Smithereens and, afterwards, was handed their walking papers from Mercury. Danny says, “One of the executives at the label told us, ‘You’re a little too unique.’ That’s what he said, and our manager at the time acted like he didn’t know what he was doing. It was a mess.”

Great things were expected from Afrodisiac, which was featured in Rolling Stone magazine and praised by Billboard, but it somehow failed to connect with the proper audience. Although today we can link it sonically with post-millennial alternative folks of color that the music inspired including early TV on the Radio, Saul Williams, the Weeknd and any number of Afro Punk guitar kids, back in the pre-internet nineties the community was more fragmented and not as easy for corporate record company connection.

Of course, a label might sign them, but when it came time to sell’em, labels often used the excuse of, “we didn’t know how to market them.” Promo folks blamed radio, radio blamed publicity, writers blamed editors and in the end, the band simply got screwed. “The Veldt was too Black for some people and too white for others,” Danny muses years later. “Record companies know how to market white boys sound Black, but if a Black band doesn’t have a traditional R&B sound, then they don’t know what to do with them. That’s what happened to us.” Briefly changing their name to Apollo Heights early in the millennium, they put out the slamming album White Music for Black People, which featured the hauntingly beautiful single “Everlasting Gobstopper” in 2007

Twenty-two years after Afrodisiac, the Chavis brothers are still making noisy music together. Calling themselves the Veldt again, the twins perform and record with bassist/programmer Hayato Nakao, who they’ve worked with since 1999. This year they will be releasing new music including the EP The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur: The Drake Equation (Leonard Skully Records) in March and the full-length Resurrection Hymns (SonaBLAST! Records) later this year.

Although the Veldt’s music has always been respected by their peers, historically they have been either forgotten or unheard of in the first place. Neither the 2014 shoegaze documentary Beautiful Noise or the recently released five-CD box-set Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze 1988-1995 mentions them or their contributions to the sound. “We don’t think about stuff like that,” Danny laughs. “We never aspired to be rock stars, we just want to make enough money to pay our rent.”


Buy The Veldt’s Afrodisiac Album

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Michael_Gonzales-dreamMichael A. Gonzales has been writing about music since the 1980s. A few of his subjects include Barry White (Vibe), D’Angelo (Wax Poetics) and Lauryn Hill (The Source). In addition to soulhead, he contributes to Complex, Pitchfork Review, XXL, Baltimore City Paper, Philadelphia Weekly and The Weeklings. His essay on the DeBarge family appears in Best African-American Essays 2009. Gonzales blogs at Blackadelicpop.blogspot.com. Check out some of his work for soulhead.

 

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