Jeff Stacy is a composer, lyricist, musician, remix artist, and producer. He is the leader and creative foundation of Velvet Chain. He writes most of the band's music, almost all of the lyrics, and is the architect of Velvet Chain's unique sound.

 

When digital studios became available in the early 90's, Jeff established Freak Productions, and began producing remixes of everything from Herbie Hancock to local punk bands. But the most interesting productions were of his own music, which tended to combine slowed down loops with groovy bass lines, dark vocal melodies, and atmospheric sounds. This was about 3 years before the term "Trip-hop" came into form.

When Jeff hooked-up with Erika Amato, he knew he had found the perfect vocalist for his pensive, groove-based music. Shortly thereafter, he formed Velvet Chain (his third band), and molded the band around Erika's pure and powerful voice. It was a natural combination that has become the essence of the "Velvet Chain sound."

Jeff Stacy was born in San Gabriel California (a suburb of Los Angeles). His mom was 17 and his dad was 19. At age 6, his family moved to Running Springs, a rural community in the San Bernadino mountains. From age 6 to 10 Jeff's back yard was the forest. He had a real bow and arrow, a BB gun, and a Sears mini bike. He was cool. In the winter of their fourth year in the mountains, they had to evacuate because of record snows, and never went back -- except to dig out their car.

They lived with his grandparents for a couple of months, until things stabilized. Jeff ended up going to 3 different schools in the fourth grade, and though this did not help him learn how to multiply and divide, three different schools meant three different girlfriends. Then, he ended up in the fifth grade in San Bernardino with a teacher named Mr. Reader who was the #1 most boring person that ever lived. He was, in fact, a complete nut case, rambled on endlessly, and talked about his daughter every day for hours. He went so far off the deep end one time, that he taught the class to sing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and forced them to sing it over and over again, practically all day. One time, Jeff passed out from trying to beat his last record of holding his breath. This is the year Jeff played trumpet, his first actual musical instrument. The big recess activity at this time was tetherball, which is actually a really cool and aggressive game. Jeff can't remember his record time for holding his breath, even though he almost killed himself.

His family moved again, this time to Upland, CA (closer to LA). Now, Jeff was looking at 6th grade and a whole new ballgame. He made friends quickly. When school started, his class had 5 or 6 hot girls, and his teacher was Miss Wedby, and she was hot too! As luck would have it, Jeff's family settled in this location for many years.

Jeff's primary interests growing up, besides girls, were records and motorcycles. He also had a coin collection, a fish tank, lots of pets, and built models -- especially rockets. He was an average student who sometimes excelled in athletics and art. He was a very fast runner.

The most eccentric thing about his personality was an abnormal enjoyment of destroying things -- breaking glass and the like. This tendency remained with him through high school. The other main oddity was an abnormal affinity for records at a very early age. At first, it was breaking them in half, then it was the sound. His record player was always his prize toy (until he got a mini bike).

Jeff's earliest favorites were the Baja Marimba Band and the Tijuana Brass. He was picky, and if he didn't like something right away he tended to never listen to it again. When he got a new record he would drop the needle down on each track for about 3 seconds to find what he liked immediately. He tended to play one or two songs from an album, and never listen to the rest of the record.

His biggest influence musically was his Uncle Alan, who was a teenager while Jeff was growing up, and played bass in a high-school rock band. The first record he got from Uncle Alan was Grand Funk. Jeff found a guitar solo on that album that changed his life. He must have played it a million times. He never played the rest of the album, and remembers not really liking it at all. But that guitar jam· it was the first time he experienced being truly rocked. He was about 7. Second grade.

Then, Uncle Alan gave him the Doors, Cream, and other hard-core, ground-breaking, intense bands. Jeff was only about 8 or 9, but he always found the two or three songs he liked and played them a lot. He also got a lot of records from other relatives who bought him prepackaged stacks of pop hit 45's, or albums like "Best of The Ventures" or "Neil Diamond Gold." Jeff rarely liked a whole album, but had favorite songs across a wide spectrum of music.

Uncle Alan, of course, gave the best records, but not always. Aunt Grace gave him a Credence Clearwater revival album for Christmas once that he played into the ground. As a kid, Credence was probably his overall favorite (which is ironic, since Jeff's music is probably further from Credence than practically anything else you can think of).

As far as playing an instrument, Jeff's immediate inclination was toward the drums (which made sense, given his destructive tendencies). If his parents could have somehow managed dealing with drums, he would have probably ended up a drummer. He tried trumpet once, but that didn't last. He took piano lessons in the 8th grade, but really didn't show much aptitude. His piano teacher was a mean-ass ugly bitch anyway, and if she ever reads this, Jeff says "hi."

By the time Jeff was a teenager, his family was enjoying some financial success, and he had the opportunity to attend Webb School, a private, college prep high school for boys. This is one of those expensive boarding schools, but since Jeff's family lived so close to the school, Jeff could be a "day student," and the tuition was a lot cheaper.

At first, Jeff told his parents that there was no possible way he was going to an all boys school, and recommended they seek mental counseling, since they were obviously out of their minds. But they were persistent, and Jeff was able to negotiate a new dirt bike just to consider the proposition, and at least take the entrance exam. On the day he took the test, he discovered that Webb School had a "sister school" named St. Lucy's, which, of course, was a girl's school. Once they explained to Jeff that they actually delivered the girls from St. Lucy's to Webb in big yellow buses, Jeff was in. Actually, he failed the entrance exam the first time, but they let him take it again because he had made friends with the Headmaster's wife at lunch that day, and she put in the word. Jeff's I.Q. went up 8 points, now that he was used to the test. And it was all true, they really did bring in the girls on buses. It was a beautiful sight.

Attending this school had a multitude of positive effects on Jeff and his future. From a musical standpoint, the diverse student body in a boarding school environment exposed Jeff to a lot of new and different music. Initially, Jeff got into Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, then Queen, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, Peter Frampton, etc. By the time he was a Senior, however, Jeff's tastes had shifted quite dramatically towards Elton John, the Electric Light Orchestra, and David Bowie. By the time he graduated, David Bowie was by far his favorite artist.

After Webb School, Jeff went to USC for 2 years, partied a lot, and listened to Elvis Costello, The Cure, and was introduced to Steeley Dan. By this time he was also going through a jazz phase, but his first love was the new "80's" rock that sounded unique and seemed more creative, like Bowie. At the time, this music was like the "alternative rock" to things like Journey, Bad Compay, Boston and that stuff. Unfortunately, they didn't think up the term "alternative rock" yet, so it ended up being called "80's rock," or "New Wave," which somehow has a lame connotation, and conjures up associations with drum machines and weak synthy sounding music. This new music, however, was potently innovative, and a lot more alternative (relative to the norm) than the music that became labeled "alternative rock," in the 90's.

At this time, there was a great shortage of innovative or "alternative" music. Disco was popular, Pink Floyd was breaking up, and Bowie was off the deep-end with Eno, somewhere in Berlin. The new Queen albums were horrible, the Stones seemed really boring, and the record store was like a musical wasteland with big posters of the new REO Speedwagon album. Everything was either bad or predictable, and just not that exciting.

The first couple of albums by The Talking Heads seemed to change everything, and marked a turning point. That band was completely from left field, and Jeff found their albums quite amazing. After that, things seemed to improve on the music scene, at least, for Jeff.

Jeff transferred to Cal State Fullerton because USC it was too expensive, even with financial aid. For many reasons, Jeff didn't like USC anyway, and was glad to transfer. However, he lost a full year because half of the classes he had taken at USC did not meet the general education requirements of State-system schools.

So Jeff ended up going to college for 5 1/2 years, instead of 4. He got an extra year of general education (a lot of politics), and graduated with a B.S. in Business Administration. The extra 1/2 year was spent getting a double major of Management and Finance. He did take one beginning piano music class and got a big fat easy A, but it wasn't much more than a novelty event at the time.

Ever since Jeff went to Webb School, he had become a source of family pride. He was destined to be a doctor or a lawyer. All this was fine with Jeff, who had developed a sizable ego, and loved the idea of success. By the time he got into business school, he was very motivated to make a ton of money, and then race cars and stuff. He had seen his dad make and lose large sums of money, and he had observed, and to some degree experienced, the lifestyle money can buy.

Jeff was always much stronger in English and History than he was in Math and Science. Issues and ideas were no problem, but anything with an ugly formula stopped him cold. He probably would have made a good lawyer, but was talked out of it by a teacher at Webb who had been a lawyer and quit because he said it required you to be dishonest in order to succeed. This concept, true or not, turned Jeff away from the lawyer idea. He got straight A's in business law too, but he never thought about being a lawyer again.

So Jeff ended up in business school mostly by default. His family-fueled ambitions buried any possibility of pursuing a career in the arts, even though by nature, he was far more inclined in that direction. At the time, however, everything was about money. It was the 80's.

Towards the end of his college career, Jeff bought a bass guitar for $50 at a garage sale. It was a total whim, but it occurred to him that the bass was played one note at a time (no complicated chords), so it should be fairly easy. He had the notion that he would learn one song really well, then blow his friends' minds at the next party. He has maintained that system to this day, one song at a time.

He bought the bass so impulsively, it did not occur to him that he would need an amp to play it. So after going down to the local music store and buying an amp, he set down to learning something. Within 3 days he was playing the entire Zenyatta Mandatta album by the Police. He ended up impressing himself more than his friends. The bass seemed to be a completely intuitive instrument. It was the first thing since riding a dirt bike or dropping a T.V. set off the roof that seemed totally natural to him

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Jeff has outstanding rhythm and an amazing ear. Since the bass is rhythm oriented and could be more of a "feel" instrument than a technical one, it was a natural instrument for him. The "ear" came in handy because it made it easy for him to hear the bass lines and reproduce them.

Musical talent is by no means foreign in Jeff's family. Both his grandfathers had been musicians at some time. On his father's side, his grandfather had been a drummer. On his mother's side, his grandfather had been a band leader (the band leader was cool Uncle Alan's father... Uncle Alan, by the way, became an outstanding bass player and played in a lot of funky soul music bands). This musical connection was the only commonalty between two families that otherwise couldn't have been more different.

Jeff is actually the product of an odd gene pool mix between his mother and father. Personality-wise, his parents were as different as night and day, and Jeff was a combination of both. His father was pure Sicilian; intense, ambitious, funny, generous, and good with people. He was also impulsive, temperamental, uncultivated, insensitive, reckless, and sometimes irresponsible. His mother, on the other hand, was introverted, highly intelligent, stable, kind, and artistic. She was a painter and sculptor and consistently made time over the years to be creative (perhaps to keep her sanity).

The discrepancy between these two personality types might account for Jeff's childhood tendency to blow things up. It also helps explain why his artistic side took so long to reveal itself. Ambition and money were always the dominant forces of Jeff's environment, and artistic creation assumed the role of a pastime or hobby - not nearly as exciting as money. Money meant "action," and "action" was the name of the game. This money-oriented mentality would remain in effect until Jeff was about 25 years old.
Learning to play the bass marked the beginning of what would later become a complete transformation for Jeff. At this time, however, Jeff was graduating from business school and had a job lined up with a high-level management consulting firm in Newport Beach. He would continue to play bass as a hobby, but mostly, the next 2 years would be spent working 14 to 16 hour days because he wanted a Ferrari.

By this time Jeff's musical tastes were strictly alternative. He listened primarily to Gang of Four, Magazine, the Psychedelic Furs, and Roxy Music. He also liked Tears for Fears, New Order, the Cure, and Killing Joke.

It was the mid-80's and the economy was booming. Jeff's father was making a huge comeback with his second construction business and needed Jeff's help. It looked like an opportunity to make a lot of money so Jeff went for it, and soon had a Ferrari.

This lasted about a year, then Jeff started his own business. He bought a distributorship for espresso/cappuccino products and set out make even more money. By this time, Jeff's lifestyle was fairly high, with 3 cars, a house to himself, and a lot of musical toys. However, Jeff was becoming increasingly distracted by his bass, and music in general. This is when things really began to change.

By now, Jeff had a complete home studio with the most modern keyboards, drum machines, sequencers, and the very cool new samplers that played back anything you put in. It was an amazing time, technologically, and the potential for new kinds of creative expression in music seemed limitless. It was too enticing for Jeff, and impossible to ignore.

 
Jeff had a friend from Webb named Ted Price, who was, at the time, a Senior at Claremont College. Ted was a keyboard player, worked at the local music store, and was Jeff's technical advisor when it came to all the modern music gear. Ted had two friends named Mike and John who were also students at Claremont, and were DJ's at the college radio station with the first all-rap show, ever, in the world. They were way ahead of their time, but at that time, Jeff thought they were just a couple of doofs. Rap music was very young at the time, and it all sounded pretty dumb to Jeff. Anyway, Ted asked Jeff to borrow his studio one night, and brought over these two guys to record a rap song. It was kind of a beat-box thing, and Jeff remembers thinking how dorky it was. This was the first recording these two guys ever made. They are now the Dust Brothers.

Over the previous few years, Jeff had played in a couple of amateurish bands that seemed utterly remedial to him (even though he was probably the least qualified musician). Jeff was amazed that the players had no burning interest in taking the music to the next level. Working on the arrangement was like a "big deal," or at least, it seemed like it was an inconvenience.

On the other hand, Jeff's sequencers, samplers and recording equipment remembered everything and would try anything. It occurred to Jeff that with his midi studio, he could create the music he wanted, pretty much by himself. All he needed was time, and this was the problem. He had the inspiration, but with his business, he had very little time.

This soon became a real problem. Jeff could not focus very well on business matters, and ultimately could not concentrate on what he was doing. His financial aspirations became unimportant. He felt like a mad inventor. And at a certain point, he just ground to a halt and said, ok, that's it. Screw the cars.

Upon analyzing his situation, Jeff soon realized that he did, indeed, have the capacity to do something radical about his situation. It could be done, and that's what he did.

In mid-1988 Jeff merged his coffee business with another distributor, sold practically everything he owned and moved to Munich, Germany to investigate his musical talents. He lived with his German girlfriend and was later joined for several months by a few musical friends from the states. He met and made home-recordings with musician friends from Greece, Cameroon, Yugoslavia, Italy and Germany. He wrote songs, learned his equipment, played bass, and read a lot of books.

So after nearly two years in a foreign country - in an environment of pure creativity and invention with little constraint or distraction -- Jeff came home determined to start a band. Jeff set up shop in Claremont (an artistically thriving "College Town," right next to Upland, about 45 minutes east of L.A.) There were lots of musicians around and lots of hot women. Jeff found the best ones he could and started playing and recording.

Possessing and finding the gift of inspiration can change a person's life, and in Jeff's case, that's what happened. Once he realized he was an artist, the music became a drug that pulled him in with full force. Jeff has a special relationship to whatever it is that is his inspiration, because he's not really a "normal" musician. He has never learned any musical theory, and to this day, knows not one single scale. He does not even know what the notes are on a fret board. (He does know what they are on a piano though).

To do what Jeff does with no basic musical understanding at all, is far, far from normal. And he has no desire to learn about music because that's what everybody else does, and that's the normal way. He likes his way, because he feels like his palette is clean, so the real ideas, the ones that come out of nowhere, for no reason, can show themselves and have free reign. Jeff just collects them and organizes them - mostly in notebooks, on micro-cassettes, and in his Mac.

Jeff has surrounded himself with great musicians who have plenty of technical knowledge. This balances out his "ignorance is bliss" approach with the expertise to make it actually work. V.C. uses a lot of interwoven melodies, which sometimes makes it tricky to find just the right chords that will work. Most people write songs the other way around, with the chords first, and the accent stuff supporting them. In Velvet Chain, the chords usually come last.

So after coming back from Munich, Jeff was in a pretty good position to start a viable band. He was already a trained businessman, highly organized, and quite convincing. At the same time, he had a cohesive musical vision and a lot of interesting material to back it up. He also had his hot little studio going on, and had a lot of interesting sounds and samples to use within the music (at the time, this kind of thing was still pretty new).

Within a year after returning to the States, Jeff had established a "New Wave" band called Love Game. Two singers, guitar, bass, sequenced drums, keyboards, and a lot of orchestra hits. This band was extremely tight and technologically advanced for its time. More importantly, the songs were well-received and immediately memorable to audiences. The band enjoyed a reasonable following, but it became obvious to Jeff that he could only go so far without a live drummer.

The band was becoming more of a studio project, because playing live just wasn't cutting it for Jeff without a real drummer. But at the same time, what was really exciting to Jeff was the new digital recording equipment that made it possible to record real productions instead of amateurish sounding demos. This was a second technological wave, and Jeff was determined to be on top of it. It represented the power to record industry-quality masters in your own living room. (This technology has since changed the face of modern music forever).

By this time, Jeff was more motivated than ever because his first band had shown him the seeds of success, and he knew he could take it much further. He also had a capable partner named Derek Pippert, who was good at the engineering side of things, and was totally in tune with Jeff creatively. Jeff put all his credit on the line and invested everything he could borrow into a digital recording studio. This was the birth of Freak Productions.

Jeff modeled his studio after the digital system put together by the Dust Brothers. By this time, they were already established as innovative producers, and had just finished Paul's Boutique (the Beastie Boys' second album, considered by many to be the Sgt. Peppers of Rap music). They were very helpful towards Jeff, and were an important influence. It was Mike Simpson who told Jeff he should produce his own stuff, since he already knew what it was supposed to sound like, and that's all producers do anyway.

 

Having a digital studio at his fingertips tuned out to be quite a diversion for Jeff. Before he knew it, he was doing psycho remixes of Herbie Hancock songs (he actually got interest from Herbie's publisher at the time). The computer driven studio was initially more suitable for hip-hop type production than for recording Jeff's full-blown pop songs, so much of the learning curve was spent doing remixes.

The development of expertise in digital production techniques was well worth Jeff's time investment, and he knew it. He instinctively accepted that he needed more production experience before he produced his own songs. At the time, he was more inspired by experimenting with loops and samples than by getting his own songs recorded. (This turned out to be very important, because working between the digital domain and a real band situation is fundamental to Velvet Chain's sound).

During this period, Jeff also delved into scoring and recording music for film, theater, and performance art. Working with people from the Claremont Colleges, he did projects in all these areas. It was, in fact, his association with a local performance artist named Jane Brucker that spawned the song, "Don't Leave A Diva." Jeff had the music and the "Don't leave a diva·" chorus, but wanted the verses to be spoken word. Jane came over while he and Derek were working on the song, and wrote the verses in about an hour, inserting elements of Jeff and Derek's production conversation along the way.

 

In 1991 Jeff finally found his drummer, a guy named Craig Van Sant, and formed a new band with Derek called "Heat Your Shack." The core of this band was Jeff on bass Derek on vocals, and Craig Van Sant on drums. It was an 8 piece band that included 2 guitarists, a keyboard player, a midi-horn player, and a female vocalist to sing with Derek. The band played a groove based alternative-pop style that had wide appeal. The band was tight, sophisticated, inventive, and noted for putting on bizarre shows.

Later in 1992, at the same time Heat Your Shack was in full-swing, Jeff produced and co-wrote a 4 song EP with a band from England called Tunnelmental. Jeff was the bass player, Craig was the drummer, and Derek played keyboards in this band. The English contingent was 2 vocalists (male and female) and a fantastic guitar player named Jez Smart.

Tunnelmental was a hard edged, militant post-punk band with techno flavorings. Kind of like Nine Inch Nails, a couple years in advance. It was cool music, but the band didn't get any serious interest at the time, and the project inevitably broke up.

Heat Your Shack broke up pretty much at the same time, leaving Jeff wide-open to start a brand new band. Jeff had recently replaced the female singer in Heat Your Shack with a vocalist named Erika Amato. After working together for a couple of months, they were both aware each others' talents, and both were keen to start a new band. The band they formed was called Velvet Chain.

In September, 1993, in Los Angeles, they first recruited a new keyboard player and a horn player. Then they recruited the drummer and guitarist from the old band, and that was the original lineup: Jeff on bass, Erika up front, Craig Van Sant on Drums, Tom Calzini on guitar, Sarah Josephs on keyboards, and Jay Stolmack on horns. Since then, all of the original members other than Erika and Jeff have left the band and been replaced -- and the band now has a DJ instead of a horn player.

Jeff's current musical tastes still run strictly alternative, although "alternative" doesn't mean anything anymore. Essentially he likes trip-hop and eclectic pop music like Dead Can Dance and Portishead. He still likes Bowie. He likes Herbie Hancock music from the 70's, and Tower of Power. He is a real big Radiohead fan. His all-time favorite bands are Roxy Music and the Beatles because he thinks they were the most creative.

Email Jeff

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