JamBase Questionnaire: Chris Velan

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Welcome back to JamBase’s baker’s dozen to the bright lights of the music world. Last time we heard from Antioquia.

Cover Photo for New Album by Alex McKinnon
Writing music that’s extremely catchy – a soft net dotted with hooks and scrumptious bait – and also substantive is a true challenge even to the most seasoned craftsmen. Which makes the breezy sureness of Chris Velan’s music such a sweet, happily penetrating surprise. He pens songs that permeate into our soil, a nourishing rush both basic and complex, particularly on his entirely winning new album, Fables For Fighters (released April 19 in Canada, arriving June 7 in the U.S.), which balls up all of Velan’s earlier promise and launches it into a smooth, skyward arc that makes one smile broadly even as it returns to gravity’s inevitable pull.

The feel of Fables jives well with Aimee Mann, Nick Lowe and other classy songsmiths with jukebox instincts, but the strongest ancestral echo is Paul Simon. But while many have chased the Rhymin’ one’s coattails, Velan knocks out an album closing trio (“Same Clothes, “You’re On Your Own Now” and “Far From Here”) that could easily be deep album cuts by Simon. It’s a major accomplishment for any songwriter, and it’s but one of many praise worthy aspects to Fables.

A reflective tone runs through the album, Velan often turning his insightful eye upon himself, and like the best autobiography, helping the rest us see ourselves more clearly in the process. Truth faced down in its fullness begets further truth, and even the most romantic moments here – and there are plenty – are marbled with sandpaper honesty. This spoonful of medicine is delivered with just the right amount of sugar, sing-a-longs that ask pointed rhetoricals, our feet shuffling even as our mind works over the details in his lines. Velan’s very inviting voice – a graceful, swooping bird in a strong breeze – is the link between these eleven tales/ruminations that skip with the ceaselessly strong musicianship, his singing a clear, bright line to follow as ukulele, chiming electric guitar, lap steel and full-bodied bass sway below.

Fables For Fighters continues the steady evolution of this Montréal-based artist with an album ready to live on repeat, a complete soundtrack as one devours white lines on the freeway or sips tea at home, dancing barefoot and thoughtful. In short, damn good music for life’s many roads from a musician that’s only growing stronger and more nuanced with each new chapter. (Dennis Cook)

Here’s what Chris had to say to our inquiries.

Chris Velan by Chris Winter
1. Great music rarely happens without…
Devotion. Sacrifice. Heart.

2. The first album I bought was…
Rick Springfield’s Comic Book Heroes. It’s a thoroughly forgettable album ( I still have it) but I was really young and it was my first time in a record store and I wanted to appear like I knew what I wanted. So, I reached for the first album cover that looked cool. I think the owner clearly saw through my posturing because I remember him asking if I was sure it was the album I wanted. I told him that of course it was, feigning annoyance at the question.

3. The last song or album to really flip my wig was…
Broken Bells’ self-titled album, The Green Arrows’ 4-Track Recording Session, Dr. John’s Gris Gris, Bunny Wailer’s Blackheart Man, Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut.

4. When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be…
I actually didn’t have a clear desire to be any one thing. I’d be lying if I said I wanted to be a fireman or an astronaut or a doctor. I just loved drawing and playing music and riding my bike.

5. My favorite sort of gig is…
One in which I’m connecting with the audience and I’m not in my head and I’m having fun and taking chances; where I feel like something is flowing through me – like I’m doing the work I’m supposed to.

6. One thing I wish people knew about me is…
Frankly, I can’t say that I “wish” people knew anything about me.

7. I love the sound of…
Waves crashing on sand, snow falling, coyotes howling at the moon, reggae on scratchy vinyl.

8. One day I hope to make an album as fantastic as…
Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush, Toots and the Maytals’ Funky Kingston, Bob Dylan’s Desire; there are so many…

9. The best meal I ever had on tour was at…
Nothing beats the taste of a meal on the road prepared out of love by a supportive friend or fan. Each one of those – because of how grateful I feel for them – is the best. But if that’s just ducking the question, I had a particularly good plate of BBQ once at the Germantown Commissary in Memphis.

10. I always find the coolest audiences in…
My hometown, Montréal, has (in my opinion) some of the coolest audiences in the world – “cool” here meaning open-minded, receptive, supportive, and gracious. But I’ve encountered lots of “cool” audiences in the most unexpected places and many un-cool audiences in the most expected places.

11. The worst habit I’ve picked up being on the road all the time is…
Unintentionally mimicking local dialects and accents. It’s bad. I can’t control it. Also listening to fire-and-brimstone evangelical radio in rural areas where I can’t pick up NPR.

Led Zeppelin or Radiohead, which flips your switch the most and why?
On a pure visceral level, probably Zeppelin The sheer physicality of each member’s playing drives right to my lizard brain. But Radiohead flips other switches for me that Zeppelin can’t. It depends what I need.

13. The craziest thing I ever saw was…
A late night dance party I played at a refugee camp in the Republic of Guinea during the filming of the documentary The Refugee All Stars. All of the international aid workers were prohibited by policy to be in the camp after 5 pm, but our crew decided to stay overnight in a local mud-hut “hotel” so we could film a concert that the subjects of our documentary (Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars) were putting on. With the help of a generator, we played late into the night through an old, beat-up PA. The energy was an indescribable mix of joyful abandon and deep desperation. It was so emotionally and physically intense that I could hardly stand up against it.



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