WITH THE VELVET TEEN
On their new full-length record, Dust & Disquiet, Caspian is saying something. “We’re wide awake now,” we hear in the album’s dead center, track five’s “Run Dry.” This isn’t the first time Caspian has sung a line of discernible lyrics, but the clarity-in the tone and thematic sentiment of both the track and the whole record-has never demanded so much attention.
In part, the line is a response to their last record, 2012’s presciently titled Waking Season-an acknowledgement that even they didn’t know what changes that waking process would mean. In the three years since, the band suffered the tragic death of founding bassist Chris Friedrich, and thus felt torn between grief’s desire to hide away from everything and yet knowing immediately that the band needed to continue. But going on meant maintaining a grueling tour schedule, with the members vacillating between elation and utter exhaustion. “Traveling can create a feeling of separation at times,” says guitarist and founding member Phil Jamieson. “After a while, you can forget why you’re out there in the first place. Deciding to do another record after all that was a move to reclaim for ourselves why it is that we do all this: Music is our strongest antidote to feelings of emptiness and disquiet.”
To record the album, Caspian returned to Q Division Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, the stamping grounds where they recorded the highly acclaimed Waking Season (“the Best Post-Rock Album of Year,” said SPIN Magazine in 2012). They also looked again to the legendary chops of Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Isis, MONO, Minus the Bear) to produce, mix, and engineer the record.
2015 also marks a decade since the band’s inception. Ten years ago, Caspian played a show as a four-piece band at a small pub in their still-home base of Beverly, Massachusetts. After months of practicing before their first gig, never worrying about what it was they were trying to create beyond music that could tell a story, they arrived at a bombastic sound-guitars from Phil Jamieson and Cal Joss that sounded like a 40-piece orchestra, stripped-down drums that showed Joe Vickers could literally control chaos, and a bass sound so big from Chris Friedrich it blew amplifiers almost as often as he changed notes.
Their sound only deepened and thickened over the years with the addition of guitarists Erin Burke-Moran and Jonny Ashburn, and touring-cum-permanent bassist Jani Zubkovs.
With a sound this expansive, lyrics were simply unnecessary. And yet, 673 shows after their first appearance and on the advent of their fifth studio recording, Jamieson still says, “I view us as storytellers and musicians equally.”
That focus on narrative has continued across all of their albums, as otherwise the band would risk becoming a parody of themselves and the post-rock genre they’ve always acquiesced to with crossed fingers behind their backs. “We can do soundscapes, reverb-drenched drones, and songs based around a repeating melody that build and build for 12 minutes until we are blue in the face,” Jamieson says. “It is trying to convey a story through song structure, use of melody, and dynamics that has been the driving motivation from day one for this band.”
Since the band’s inception in late 1999, The Velvet Teen have traveled the world and challenged the very concept of genre with their eclectic and at times schizophrenic appeal. From the early EPs, which showed prowess in the pop realm, to the dynamic indie jangle of Out of the Fierce Parade, to the romantic strings and quietly political lyrics of Elysium, to the sexually charged whip-it beats of Cum Laude, The Velvet Teen truly have a talent for seducing the masses into a cult-like state, before promptly leaving the faithless with nothing but a Kool-Aid after-taste. The believers, however, will vouch that the experience is well worth the trouble.
The band officially made its debut during a brief Icelandic tour, finding founding member Judah Nagler accompanied by electronic arrangements programmed on a portable sequencer. After returning home, Nagler teamed up with former bandmate Logan Whitehurst, and together they recorded the first EP under the moniker. Joshua Staples soon joined the group, and the trio recorded a wealth of material while touring North America, Canada and Japan until late 2004, when Logan was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died from the disease in 2006. Casey Deitz filled in during Logan’s absence and later joined the group to help extend the band’s reach to Europe and record Cum Laude.
The present day finds The Velvet Teen writing and recording as always, with their newest material a culmination of the band’s history and their vision set on the horizon. You are cordially invited to take part in the madness. All Is Illusory, the band’s first full length since 2006, was released via Topshelf in 2015.