Published by SFX Network Group, LLC

the EMERGING ARTIST

Velvet Chain

STRONG LINKS MAKE FOR A SMOOTH SOUND

By John Schoenberger

Welcome to our third feature in the totallyadult Emerging Artist series. Velvet Chain is a Los Angeles-based band that's established an amazing local following. They've already released two full albums (Groovy Side and Warm) along with two EPs (The Buffy EP and Warm EP) on their own Freak Records, and their third solo effort, Moody Groove Music, has just been released. Not only do they sell out the venue practically every time they perform at any LA club, but word about the Velvet Chain has also been spreading far and wide via the Internet.

"Velvet Chain seduces you. Velvet Chain is a sneak attack on your senses. Like their name, they come on all touchy-feely and ethereal; then they slam you up against the wall and have their way with you. For their melodic overdose, for the pelvic action they inspire, for the obvious visual delights, I heartily recommend you go experience a Velvet Chain performance. They probably won't hurt you, but they will haunt you for days afterward." --G-Man/Rock City News.
 

Formed in 1994, Jeff Stacy and Erika Amato comprise the nucleus of Velvet Chain. The synergy between Stacy's cool-groove bass lines and Amato's sultry vocals acts as the foundation for their multi-dimensional sound. The group is rounded out by the addition of two guitars, keys, drums, samples and DJ turntables. They incorporate a variety of styles, ranging from trip-hop to modern rock to smooth pop, yet manage to create a distinctive sound that's all their own.

It all began with the release of two cassettes by Velvet Chain in 1994-95, which started a word-of-mouth phenomenon about the act that led to sold-out club dates and the eventual recording and release of Groovy Side in 1996. Along with many others who watch the local LA music scene, it was during this time that I got interested in the band. Groovy Side presented a hip sound featuring a diverse but cohesive collection of songs. Eventually the disc enjoyed airplay at KCRW Los Angeles and other local stations, which began to spread the story about the sophisticated (yet accessible) music Velvet Chain was creating. Velvet Chain was also embraced by the LA Musician's Underground, which has avidly supported them for the past five years.

This intelligent approach to their music, coupled with Erika Amato's striking stage presence (she's also a trained actress, with a degree in drama from Vassar College), gave them visual appeal that was hard to resist. In a short time Velvet Chain had a mailing list of several thousand names. This was also when the producers of the "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" TV series discovered the band. Before long, Velvet Chain was featured on the show, along with two of their songs ("Strong" and "Treason") from Groovy Side - and the monstrous fan base of that series took an immediate interest in Velvet Chain too. Since then, Velvet Chain has performed at season wrap parties for the show as well as at two annual Buffy Posting Board charity functions in Los Angeles. Ultimately, the band's song "Strong" was included on the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Soundtrack released in 1999, which has sold over 150,000 units.

 

In 1997, Velvet Chain released their first nationally distributed album, Warm (via Overall Records), which spawned a coast-to-coast tour. Warm garnered airplay at stations across the country and set the stage for exposure on other levels, including the use of their music on VH1's "Fashion Television" series, ESPN's Pro Beach Hocky series and other outlets.

In addition, Velvet Chain's music has been included on a variety of compilations, such as the TRS Radio Deadly Sampler and Radio Mafia Records' "Dialed In" Volume II. To date they've sold over 12,000 CDs, and have built an impressive base of domestic and international fans via their Website.

The current lineup for Velvet Chain is Erika Amato (vocals, percussion, recorder), Jeff Stacy (bass, composer, producer), David Fraga (keys), Brett Chassen (drums), Brian Reardon and Arif Hodzic (guitars), and Mark "DJ Swerve" Murray (turntables). They've just released Moody Groove Music, which solidly represents VC's modern and innovative sound. Whether it's the pop grooves of "Wait For Me" and "Fall Away," the extended jam in "Watching You," the seductive mood of "Walk On Water" and "Medicine Man" or the rockin' vibe of "Little Sugar" and "You Got Me," Velvet Chain has a style that's right for the times and is quite capable of making a serious impact on the musical landscape.

 

It was in the mid-'90's when you and Erika first met, and I'm assuming it was on the professional level first... or am I wrong?

Jeff Stacy: "It was actually both. I met her at a party and we started dating pretty much right away. She had never been in a rock band, but she had been in all kinds of different singing situations other than that: she'd been in musicals and madrigals, she was a singing waitress and she's been in a lot of plays - the whole nine yards. She initially became a back-up singer in another band I had at the time, but within three months I'd formed a completely new band around her."

You knew she was a star?

"Yeah. All she had to do was open her mouth. However, to be honest, before I had worked with her, she had not developed the vocal style she has now - the sort of smoky, sexy kind of style that she has. At first, I wasn't sure how to use her voice because it was actually too pretty, but after a while we figured out how to vibe it out, and she was just amazing with the music I was doing.

There seems to be a very nice, well-rounded relationship between you two on a personal level and, obviously, the two of you are the nucleus of Velvet Chain. There's been an evolution with the other members and the group has stretched itself out along the way, but you've never strayed too far from the beam of what Velvet Chain's sound is all about.

"Right. There is a creative center, as far as the style and the mood of the band. We don't really go out of our way to advertise the fact that Erika and I are married, but we don't go out of our way to hide it either. Plus we kind of take the middle path with respect to whether we promote Velvet Chain as a band, as opposed to a thing where she and I are the nucleus. Although Erika is the front person and focus of the band, and I'm the creative force behind most of the music, Velvet Chain is really more of a 'real band' than a singer/producer thing. The way we sound, especially on the new album, has very much to do with the band members."

The current lineup of Velvet Chain seems pretty stable, and their influence on your sound is clear. I would imagine you hope that this is the lineup you're going to have for a while.

"Well, you know, you hope for that... but you really can't depend on it. We've learned that people change -- their priorities change and their lives change and you can't bet that every member of your band is going to be into it six months or a year from now. When you're surviving as an independent band, there's very little money, so you do the best you can. It's all about the fun and creativity of the music on the artistic side, and the high potential of the music and the band on the professional side. That's what keeps great players in an unsigned band."

 

"AS AN ARTIST YOU SIMPLY HAVE TO BE DEAD-TRUE TO YOUR VISION, AND HOPE YOU'LL BREAK THROUGH - JUST LIKE DAVE MATTHEWS DID."

 

 

"I think that if we get a record deal, we'll be in pretty good shape because we'll have some financial support -- which is the only missing element right now. The band would be very secure under those circumstances, because there's a tremendous amount of creative chemistry and we get along really well on a personal level. So we could go out on tour and work together very well over the long haul."

Do you find yourself under pressure to follow the current trends musically?

"No. We're squarely focused on what it is that we do, and we have a lot of evidence that our music has mass appeal. So the current trends are irrelevant because we have our own trend. Anyway, we have the philosophy that artists are not supposed to be followers, they're supposed to be leaders. Unfortunately, the music business seems to have become more an industry of followers rather than an industry of leaders. That, I think, is based on economics, because a lot of record companies have gotten burned really bad trying to be leaders and a lot of companies have made a lot of money being followers. But now it seems way out of balance, with way too much 'flavor of the month' going on, and everything on the radio sounding much the same. When you mix economics and commerce with art you can end up with situations like this. As an artist you simply have to be dead-true to your vision and hope you'll break through -- just like Dave Matthews did. It can be done."

Do you think Velvet Chain will get a record deal in this market environment?

"Yes, I think so. The fact of the matter is that our songs are musically and lyrically solid as pop songs -- we're a bit on the eclectic side of mainstream, but we're not totally way out there. We do some inventive arrangements and we try to do things that are different and unique, but in the big picture we're not playing outside, whacko jazz or experimental funk. I mean, we wouldn't have 7,500 people on our mailing list right now if we didn't have some serious mainstream appeal. At this point, it's just a matter of exposure, and that's what record labels can provide."

The current state of recording technology has put studio-quality recording capability within the grasp of a developing act. How has it helped you?

"It has certainly helped, but you still need to do things the more traditional way to get a great sound. It's a bit of a fallacy that just because you have a ProTools rig you can create a world-class album in your living room. If you're a real band -- especially a rock band -- you can only do so much in a home studio. You really need a traditional studio as well, to capture a live-band energy. That's what makes Velvet Chain so unique and appealing, because we have learned how to marry the digital world with the real world. We're like (as our bio says) a trip-hop band mixed with a rock band. It's quite difficult to do both things well and comingle them successfully, either live or on a recording. But we know how to do it, and have a lot of experience finding out what works and what doesn't -- especially for live performances. That's why we never use tape or play to sequences or anything like that. It's too mechanical. But we use a lot of samples, and often play arrangements that were worked out in digital land and are not exactly 'intuitive' from a tratitional live-band perspective."

Where'd you come up with the name Velvet Chain? What significance does it have for you?

"Well, you don't realize how difficult it is to actually think up a name for a band that isn't stupid. It's agonizing, because you have to end up living with it. The reason why I chose Velvet Chain is because I sort of defaulted to trying to think up something that represented how the music sounds or how the music is put together. One of the fundamental stylistic things that I do is to transition different kinds of elements together in the same song or in the same set. I don't like to always be married to a verse-chorus-bridge format. Usually our songs will have four or five parts instead of three. But the trick is figuring out how to make these things work together in an elegant way."

Hence... Velvet Chain.