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| 21 February 2014 | Reply


Veludo is the Portuguese term for ‘Velvet’, which perfectly sums up the modern rock grooves of Melbourne’s Veludo. Frontman Gabriel Vargas tells SHANE PINNEGAR they’ll be playing tracks from their just released debut EP at The Rosemount this Friday 21 February, and Oakover Winery Saturday 22 February.

Veludo Gabriel Vargas

The self titled EP sees a huge progression in sound from the days when Vargas, alongside guitarist Jason Millar (who played bass in those days) and drummer Leslie Stuart spearheaded Perth rockers Gasoline Inc. As the band relocated to Melbourne and players came and went, they realised their sound had evolved to a different place, and the next step was clear.

“Jason started writing,” explains Vargas, “he started bringing in his own songs, and he likes to experiment more with the electronic side of things, loops and samples and so on. Once Soof [guitarist Matt Sofoulis] left the band we were in the position that we either keep what we were doing, or we follow this a bit more.

“Jason became guitarist, which gave him a bit more freedom to express himself, so that’s the way it all unfolded. We pretty quickly realised that it wasn’t Gasoline Inc, and we couldn’t keep going as Gasoline Inc, and so we made that conscious decision to change the name and rebrand. It was a big leap ‘cos we’d built quite a bit of a following with Gasoline, and we were happy with where we were going but we had to realise that if we wanted to evolve, this is what we had to do.

“Also it had a lot to do with a lot of our individual personal growth and development as well. For instance, myself, a lot of times in the past I was sort of closed off to exploring those different genres and sounds – I was [thinking] you’re not considered a rock band unless you’re playing your instruments and singing your songs, you know, and once I let go of that close mindedness, I started listening and paying attention to a lot of different songs and music and – not necessarily saying I enjoyed it all, but I could definitely listen to it subjectively and say ‘fuck I really like what they’re doing there with that chord’, or ‘that sounds really interesting’, you know?

“And immediately it started opening the doors for other stuff to come into the band, experimenting with different sounds and not being afraid to venture into that realm.”

Veludo 02

There is a decidedly modern feel to Veludo, but the soaring choruses and rousing melodies are vintage FM radio rock, with hints of Noiseworks, U2 and INXS peppered throughout the 4 tracks. Vargas agrees that songs like Stay Young and Indigo have upped the ante for the band to the next level.

“Absolutely.” He states, “just learning our craft and like I said, paying attention to things we normally wouldn’t have. Having Jason on guitar, and bringing in these sounds that we previously didn’t have – it’s given things more space, I think. Like, I have a tom drum that I hit from the front of the stage, playing percussion along with Les, bouncing off him with some rhythms. And obviously Jared [Campbell, bass] who’s new to the team and really accomplished – he’s finding these really off-rhythms to Leslie that work really nicely. It’s still a big sound, but in a different space, you know. I’ve loved it – it’s just been a lot more open. When something’s brought into the band, nothing is shut out, it’s given us a lot more freedom.”

Commercial though the EP is, Vargas is adamant that their sound was born naturally and not made with radio in mind, much less created specifically to get airplay on any particular station.

“There’s a lot of backlash with Triple J as you’re no doubt aware at the moment,” he elaborates, “but we’re staying well clear of that. We’re just keeping on doing what we’re doing and if it’s good enough it’ll get us there, we don’t need to rely on one station or anything like that.

“Like, with the name Veludo, one of the things I said to the guys is, because Veludo is Portuguese for Velvet, so i said to the boys that with my Brazilian heritage, we should get to Brazil at some stage. It’s a market we should explore – and rock music is really massive down there of course.

“So we’re not gonna say ‘if we don’t make it in Australia we won’t make it at all’. Triple J is obviously important for breaking artists here in Australia but they’re not the be all and end all: if you expand your mind a bit more and look at the bigger picture, there’s a bigger market out there. So we’re not buying into the debate about Triple J – we’re doing what we’re doing and if people get it and they like it then great!

“It is commercial, sure, but that’s what we had to show on the EP, and we wanted people to get an idea of what we’re about and they were the four best songs we had at the time and we wanted to demonstrate that. We have other songs now which are probably a bit less commercial, but we didn’t have the opportunity to put them on at this stage.”

Veludo 03

Veludo may not be an obvious name for an Aussie rock band, but Vargas claims they weren’t concerned that the average bogan wouldn’t get it.

“Well I think that was the aim,” he laughs, “because Gasoline was such a literal term, when people heard that name I think they immediately had preconceived notions of what the sound should be. So we wanted something a bit more ambiguous, where people could sort of make up their own minds of what it meant to them. So we chose a name that – you can still pronounce it, but people don’t hear it and immediately think, ‘that’s what this band should sound like’. That was one of the things with Gasoline that we were really trying to move away from, and let the audience make up their minds for themselves. So that was a conscious decision, yeah.”

Vargas goes on to explain that Veludo’s songwriting process is slightly different from the Gasoline Inc days, but uplifting lyrics and soaring, melodic choruses are still their stock-in-trade.

“It’s a different way of writing, I think. The way it was working this time round was Jase would have something down and say ‘here mate, see what you can do with that’, and I’d go and put my vocals on it. Instead of it being part of the initial process at the start, so when he had the songs there, I didn’t have the choice – I had to go with what I was hearing, with those big choruses and that really anthemic sound. And so I was drawing on these things that I was seeing in the world, that’s just kind of how it translated. I don’t find it difficult to do that.

“You haven’t heard some of the other stuff we’re doing, which is less of those big anthemic choruses – what I’m learning now is to give the song a bit more space, coming in not as strong. We’re a rock band first and foremost and we wanted people to hear that, but down the track they’ll come on more of a journey with us and learn more what we’re about. So the EP is what it is, but there’s other stuff going on too.”

Veludo 04

Along with the name change has come a complete new start, and Vargas says they’ve left the old Gasoline Inc material behind as well.

“Pretty much, yeah. There’s a couple of songs sitting there that we kind’ve put on the back burner to go in and rework a bit, but we just haven’t got around to it. We had to make that distinction pretty early on – that this is the way it’s gonna be and we have to move on.

“Initially it was kind of like, we didn’t even want to mention Gasoline Inc, but as things moved on we realised we had to acknowledge that that was part of our history and we couldn’t close that off totally – because people had come on that journey with us, they’d seen us progress from Gasoline Inc to this new entity Veludo. So we have to be proud of that and not just hide from it. I guess we had to move on, but we have to also say ‘that’s where we came from, we’re proud of it’ and while there’s songs there we might rework, predominantly Veludo is a new sound.”

Letting go of your songs, such as Superstar, which was much loved and got the band a lot of publicity and airplay on AFL coverage amongst other things, might be hard for some, but Vargas says not for Veludo.

“No, not really – I haven’t found it hard,” he muses pragmatically, “I dunno about the other guys. I don’t think they have either, it’s just been… that was a song for that point in time, you move on and that song becomes a reflection of that memory. It is what it is and you try not to hold on to a song too much and be too precious with it – it served its purpose for that time and we’re very proud of it, but you gotta let it go.”

A friendship struck up on tour in 2012 led to James Reid, singer with Kiwi band The Feelers, co-writing a track on the EP and laying down some vocals, explains Vargas.

“That was a very cool timing thing. We toured with The Feelers as Gasoline Inc in 2012, and I struck up a friendship with him in particular. They’re a great band and what they’ve done in New Zealand is kind of akin to what Powderfinger did here in Australia – every album they’ve put out has gone platinum.

“So I thought, this is a great opportunity for myself as a songwriter, to learn from James and how he writes. He’s worked with all these big names – like Slash, Gil Norton, who produced Foo Fighters – so it just happened that when we were going to Sing Sing Studios, he called me up and said ‘mate, I’m coming over, do you mind if I stay with you?’ I was like, ‘yeah, come, stay with me!’

“We were just hanging out, like mates, and I had this song Endless Wonder, which was at a point [where] I had to write a third verse for it, and I didn’t know where to take the song. James came in and I said ‘what do you reckon?’, and we sat down and nutted it out the day before we went in to record it. It was really funny ‘cos we went in, and said James & I have got this chorus & third verse, and the others were like, ‘oh shit, isn’t it a bit late?’ ‘nah nah nah – it”s gonna make the fucking song!’

“So we sat there with the acoustic and showed them, and it was hard ‘cos the drums and bass were already down, so we had to kinda take bits out and add bits in, but the finished product really makes the song. And I said to James, ‘I think you need to sing this verse, ‘cos it really differentiates from the early verses – you take the lead and I’ll take the backing here.’ And when he got up to sing, it was just magic. Because we recorded differently this time – we didn’t isolate the vocals in the booth this time, I’d sing in front of whoever from the band was there at the time. So when James took the microphone from me and just sang, it was like ‘FUCK!’ I just learnt a lot from him – he helped out with some other vocal bits, and it was like an open forum, it was so good to have him in there.”

Veludo 05

A music video for Stay Young has been released to promote the EP, set in 1992 and full of kitsch reminders of that time, including a lot of day-glo! Vargas explains how the concept owes a debt to a Youth Group video featuring footage from Australia’s first skateboarding competition in 1975.

“We’d written the song, and when we started thinking about a music video, I started thinking about the song Youth Group did – that Alphaville song Forever Young – the music video for that with the skateboarders. I remember my uncle at the time was in his 40’s and he said to me at that time, ‘Gab, I really love that song ‘cos the video takes me back to my youth’ and I really resonated with that.

“So when it was time to do Stay Young I thought we could do the same sort of thing, but for kids that grew up in the early 90’s. So we decided to set it in 1992, get all the props together, and it really tied in with the song nicely.

“It was a real balance to try and not overdo it,” he continues, “and just let the story unfold – which is another reason why the band doesn’t feature all that much, it was more about the story than the band’s performance.”

It’s this subtlety and soft touch that makes the clip work so well. Vargas explains that they sourced the props from all over the place.

“Op shops, eBay, pulling in favours from friends for whatever they had lying around,” the singer laughs, “you know, I still had the super nintendo lying around so we used that… in 1992 I was 7 years old, but I was still at the age where I could remember a lot of it, so I still had a few of those things lying around – it was really good fun!

“I don’t know if you noticed, but there’s a little Pearl Jam Ten thing in there, which was paying testament to Tim Palmer who mixed the EP for us, he also mixed that album. So we had some little things like that in there in the background, little nods.”

In closing, I ask Vargas if returning to Perth from Melbourne stirs up musical memories of his formative years playing around the traps.

“Yes, but it’s a mixture of personal memories more so than musical,” he responds, “but I guess they can be inter-related and there are some musical memories which are triggered when we come back to play.

“For instance, the last time we played the Rosemount hotel was for Gasoline Inc’s debut EP launch, which was an amazing show and really kick started what was to be a successful year for us. There are some great memories of that show – and here we are 4 years later doing the same for Veludo, so that will be a little trip down memory lane for us but also the heralding of a new beginning. We never forget Perth and always consider it a home-coming when we play here. Hopefully we can be back a few more times throughout the year.”


Category: Interviews

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