Chris Velan’s music sings of darkness and beauty, love and destruction, and the struggle against the doubts that so often hold us back. Searching for his own truths since picking up a guitar at the age of nine, the Montreal-based singer-songwriter’s journey has taken him down two, distinct paths: law and music. His early 20’s saw Velan determined to make sense of humanity’s struggles through a career in law, only to realize - after collaborating on the Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars’ documentary in 2003 - that he could make as great an impact through music by its simple yet profound ability to connect people.
In the decade since, Velan has released four albums and toured consistently in North America with artists such as Great Big Sea, Jeremy Fisher, Jason Collett, Matt Mays, Brett Dennen, Duffy, Corrinne Bailey Rae and the John Butler Trio, among many others. An engaging performer, he has been invited to play at Sundance for the ASCAP Music Café, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Vancouver Olympics, NPR’s Mountain Stage and numerous festivals including, Montreal Jazz Festival, Osheaga, Virgin Festival, Hillside Festival and the Ottawa Blues Festival. His most recent release, “Fables For Fighters” (NewSong Recordings/Fontana North), produced by Iestyn Polson (David Gray), has received regular rotation on CBC Radio2 and drawn praise for its song-craft and atmospheric, world-tinged folk/pop. Through his involvement in environmental causes, Velan’s music has been featured alongside artists including Jack Johnson and G. Love on the compilation “1% For The Planet – the Music, Vol. 1”.
With two new EP’s to be released in the early year and an exciting touring schedule to be announced soon, Velan’s continuing to walk the path in 2013.
Chris Velan: guitar, vocals
"Fables For Fighters" (2011) - NewSong Recordings/Fontana
"Solidago" (2009_ - NewSong Recordings/Fontana
"Twitter, Buzz, Howl" (2005) - Fontana North
"It's Not What You Think" (2003) - Barefoot Music
With previous group, "Equalizer"...
"Rise" (1998) - Peter UnPlugged
Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars -"Living Like a Refugee" (2006) - Anti- Records
SOCAN News - Chris Velan the lone Canadian to play Sundance Music Café showcase
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SOCAN member Chris Velan is the only Canadian artist to be included in the 14th annual Sundance ASCA...SOCAN member Chris Velan is the only Canadian artist to be included in the 14th annual Sundance ASCAP Music Café showcase at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, which takes place Jan. 20-27.
Rising pop star and Montreal, native Velan, who boasts such CBC Radio 2 staples as "Oceans Ago" and "There Goes Sarah," will play Jan. 25 at 3:20 p.m. at the Rich Haines Gallery (751 Main Street, Park City, Utah), the site of all performances at the café. Other featured performers include The All-American Rejects, David Gray, Garland Jeffreys and Jenny O.
The café is open to all festival credential holders. To view a complete schedule of performances and for more information, please visit www.ascap.com/sundance.
Toro Magazine - NXNE Chris Velan
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Well-travelled and well-educated, Montreal’s Chris Velan is a guy who knows music. Though his songs ...Well-travelled and well-educated, Montreal’s Chris Velan is a guy who knows music. Though his songs are typically laid-back, his dedication to the craft is focused as hell.
On the eve of his NXNE appearance, we spoke with Velan about his views on the music industry, experiences in Africa and the deceptiveness of technical skill.
Your latest album Fables for Fighters is a full-band effort, but you are touring solo. Is that an economically motivated choice?
It’s as simple as that. It was too hard to assemble people. But I developed a show using my loop pedal, which meant I could take [the album] on the road and create a bigger sound. The album was recorded mostly live off the floor, which gave it that certain vibe.
How do you go about assembling a band? Do you go through friends or try to integrate yourself with the professional music community in the city you’re recording in, New York in the case of Fables?
It’s more about integration, through word of mouth. You can spend a lot of time and money trying to find people. There’s a lot of great musicians, you have to find the ones that are into what you’re doing, who have the right sort of character.
Have you ever had to coax the players you want into participating?
No, if I have to do that, it’s not a winning proposition from the start. The people I want to play with have to be ecstatic going into it. The music really decides who comes to it. If you’re going after some hotshot session guy, he’ll say, “Yeah, I’ll do it, $500 for a show, $200 for each practice.” I don’t need that kind of attitude. There’s so little money in the music industry right now, people have to play all kinds of music, and in a way they can’t say no to anything.
I guess it doesn’t benefit session musicians to be genre purists anymore.
Yeah, if they are, I won’t get in touch with them. They have to be open-minded, to connect with people.
The models of the music industry are shifting and you seem to be aware of that. Do you feel inspired by, or strongly aware of, the new age of music as business?
I don’t feel on the edge of that. I think the change has already happened. Now it’s a question of getting on board and understanding enough of it to be able to continue (making music). I’m 37 and I’ve been playing music since the early ’90s, when there was a completely different paradigm. When I graduated from university, I still wasn’t using the internet. I’m part of the generation of musicians who have straddled both paradigms and I’ve had to adapt. If you’re in your early 20s now and are just starting to make music, this state of the industry is all you know.
But even for people in their 20s, the idea of playing music as a career still carries perceptions that may not be true anymore. The idea that if you get signed to a major label, you’ve made it and your career is set, for example.
There’s still romance and unrealistic views. But the cool thing now is, if you get how the industry works, there are so many opportunities. The middle class of musicians has widened. Now there’s a larger class of musicians who are making a pretty good living. That’s what the internet has facilitated. I gave up on the top of the pile a long time ago — I’m happy having a steady career.
There’s less room at the top of the pile than there was 10 or 20 years ago. No one artist is going to be able to garner the sales of Thriller or The Eagles, because there’s three times as many “superstars” diluting the potential audience.
There won’t be superstar bands anymore. Maybe U2 was one of the last. Coldplay will never reach the level of U2, just like U2 never reached the level of The Beatles.
In terms of exposing yourself to new music, have you travelled to different countries/cultures?
I’ve been lucky to travel to many places: New Zealand, Australia, Nepal, India. I’ve been down to Central America, and South and West Africa, to make a documentary about the Refugee All Stars. And I’ve brought my guitar everywhere I’ve travelled. Over the Himalayas with a guitar on my back.
Your use of the loop pedal reminded me of African music, which is often chant-based and very repetitive.
Before I got into African music, I loved reggae from a young age. Part of that was the repetition and trance-like rhythm. That’s the heartbeat of reggae. When I went to West Africa, I got into the aesthetic of that music, which coincided with my discovery of the loop pedal. When I got into it, I could really use the guitar as a percussive instrument, and create melodic lines — right away, the connection between African music and what I was making.
Western music is very different in that way. It doesn’t build a song in that circular, repetitive way.
Repeating lines is what African music is largely about. In the West, it’s all about individual achievement, the celebrated soloist. In Africa it’s about everyone contributing to the whole. The lines you play, that’s what you’re playing. It’s important, a supporting role. No one whines about playing the same line for 30 minutes.
Long-term repetition isn’t easy.
No, it isn’t. Look at James Brown’s band. The guitar player had to play three notes as funky as he could for 40 minutes. That’s how (Brown) would audition people. If you couldn’t keep it up, keep it funky, you were out. The loop pedal does that for me, but it’s allowed me to experiment.
Are musicians in Africa open to teaching Westerners?
People won’t necessarily come to you. There’s isn’t someone playing on every corner. You have to seek out schools and academies. For more traditional music, you have to find the practitioners in a particular area.
When you are assembling a band — and I mean this with all due respect — do you seek out players who are actually better than you?
Totally [laughs]. Way better. I want people who I’m going to have to step up in order to play with. It makes me better, makes the music sound better. If not, I’d rather do everything on my own. But it’s not always about finding someone technically proficient, but someone who has personality, and can sell whatever they do. It can be hard to play just two chords really well. There’s something in that minimalist approach. Like Miles Davis at the end of his career, would play and hold one note for 16 bars. The masters can do that.
Chris Velan’s latest album Fables for Fighters is available now from Newsong Recordings.
The Painted Lady Friday, June 17 @ 10 p.m.
Dakota Tavern Saturday, June 18 @ 8 p.m.
Huffington Post - Beyonce's 'Best Thing I Never Had' Video, Plus Chatting with Gavin DeGraw, Randy Montana and Chris Velan
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A Conversation with Chris Velan Mike Ragogna: Chris, your new album is titled "Fables for Fighter...A Conversation with Chris Velan
Mike Ragogna: Chris, your new album is titled "Fables for Fighters." Is that? how you see this assembly of songs???
Chris Velan: I do, at least on some level. For the most part, they were written during a time when I was out on the road a lot, touring for my previous album, "Solidago." I was solo and driving myself for long periods of time over ridiculously long distances across North America. It was both a lonely and purposeful time for me. It generated a lot reflecting about what I was doing and why. Because of that, I think there's a big theme of struggle and a longing for transformation in these songs.
I was generally playing for the first time in a lot of these areas, so some of the shows I did were thin, to put it mildly. But at each one, I had a least one connection with someone or something that made it worthwhile. I had to find my own meaning and bits of wisdom in everything or I would have just turned around and headed home. The constant, solitary moving through new landscapes created a dreamlike, sometimes surreal backdrop for the soundtrack that was rolling in my head. I think that influenced a lot of the imagery in the lyrics as well.??
MR: This batch of songs have a folk foundation, but they experiment with ?other genres as well. How would you describe the album musically???
CV: It's always interesting to me how other people perceive what my albums sound like. I never go into recording with the intention of having an album land in one genre or another. So, when it's completed and comes out, I have to engage in the process of describing to myself what it is that I've created. With "Fables," I feel that I made a pop-rock-folk album with some African music influences that have led some to note ancestral echoes from Paul Simon. Fact is, I have a blind spot when it comes to describing my music, which is to my detriment in this day and age.??
MR: [Laughs.] What's your bigger point in "Any Number of Ways"?
??CV: When I wrote it, I wasn't tying to make any particular point as much as I was endeavoring to capture a moment and a feeling anchored in that moment. The chorus lyric came to me during a strange, northern New Year's Eve celebration. I was overcome with a sense of hopefulness at the possibility and renewal that a new year brings. But what began as something semi-autobiographical became a more fairytale-like story of metamorphosis. I let the song follow its own course lyrically and ended up having to catch up to it to discover what it meant and why I felt compelled to write it. To me, that's when songwriting ventures into the magical and mystical. ??
MR: What's the story behind "You Don't Know (What You're Asking of Me)"???
CV: It was a bad year for friends' marriages, and I found myself caught in a lot of sad and difficult conflicts, trying not to take sides. With this song, though, I ended up doing just that as I let myself stand in the shoes of one of my long-time buddies. ??
MR: Are there any of the more personal songs on "Fables for Fighters" whose? stories you could share???
CV: Two stories: 1) One of my favorite moments on the album is the closing track, "Far from Here." It's a slow, closing-time song about life on the road. I had originally conceived of it as a much more up-tempo song but it just wasn't working that way in rehearsals. When my drummer, Aaron Steele, finally launched into a murder-ballad waltz, it all just came together. 2) I originally wrote "You Owe Nothing" as the closing credits track for a friend's horror movie called "The Seamstress." I liked the song so much that I re-recorded it for "Fables."
MR: Now, you passed the bar and easily could have been on a path to a law ?degree, so what made you turn your attention to music???
CV: I actually got the degree and did a year of student lawyering and passed the bar before finally realizing that what I really wanted to do all along was write and perform music. I've been playing guitar since I was 9 and writing and playing in bands since the age of 14. But I had always convinced myself that music was too hard of a row to hoe and that I could satisfy my passion for playing music by keeping it as a hobby. It took me a while to learn that my heart and soul were not at all in agreement with that assertion. I was helped along in that discovery by my experience with "Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars.??"
MR: How did the opportunity to produce the documentary on "Sierra Leone's ?Refugee All-Stars" occur?
??CV: The event that put my law career on hold and helped guide me back to music came in the form of an invitation from two college buddies -- Banker White and Zach Niles -- to join them in making a documentary film about refugee musicians in West Africa. None of us had made a documentary before, but we all shared an interest in African music and culture, humanitarian issues and travel. So, we pooled our respective talents in music (me), concert production (Zach) and multimedia visual arts (Banker) and hopped on a plane to Guinea with video cameras and guitars to see if we could find the subjects of our film. With the help of some people in the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, we were given clearance to visit refugee camps in Guinea that at the time were filled with Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees. The premise for the film was to shed light on the horrific rebel war in Sierra Leone and its ensuing humanitarian crisis by having musicians tell their stories of survival through the lens of music.
Somehow -- probably due to our ignorance of what we were doing and what we had gotten ourselves into -- we were able to operate under the radar and weave through the Guinean military checkpoints and U.N. bureaucracy to visit seven different camps. In each one, we put on impromptu music concerts in which we would invite the various camps' artists to join us onstage in a sort of talent show. It was through that process that we met the Refugee All-Stars who at the time were rehearsing as a band using NGO-donated instruments so they could put on concerts for their fellow refugees. We made an instant connection with them and were captivated by their eloquence and courage. We spent the next month with them in the camp and then returned for two more production visits over the course of two years. I ended up producing their first album, which we recorded back in Freetown, Sierra Leone. With the album and completed film, we were able to bring some of the band over to the U.S. in 2005 to showcase at SXSW, where we also screened the film. They were a big hit and from that visit, we were able to find them management, a booking agent and a publishing deal. It was quite unheard of. The band played their first festival at Bonnaroo and got on "Oprah." They've since toured the world and in fact just finished a U.S. and European tour to promote their second album, "Rise and Shine" with a third album on its way. The film itself won some prestigious awards at various international film festivals. The whole project gained this wonderful life of its own and far exceeded what we thought it could ever accomplish. It was a transformative experience for everyone involved. In my case, it helped me find my way back to making music.
?MR: Your continued association with the group has resulted in the recent?charity single "Inez." Where do the proceeds go, and who benefits from the? recording's sales???
CV: You can actually download the song for free at www.inez.chrisvelan.com. But in addition, there is a donation page, the proceeds from which, once we cover the recording cost, are going to WeOwnTV. It's a great non-profit organization founded by Banker White and Zach Niles, the filmmakers behind the "Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars" doc, that uses a community-engaged curriculum to teach filmmaking to Sierra Leonean youth to build a foundation for the future and help bridge cultural divides.
??MR: Your association with 1% for the Planet led to your performing at the? Sustainable Brands Conference in Monterey. What was the experience like?
??CV: It was great to be involved in what I understand is one of the leading business sustainability conferences out there. I was happy to team up again with the 1% folks who I've worked with in the past on various tours. This particular performance was also special because I got to play with a side project called "Infidels" that I'm doing with Dan Lebowitz and Dave Brogan of ALO, who are also 1% FTP members. We act as each other's backing band for our respective, original material. It's a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I didn't get the opportunity to sit in on any of the various talks because we had to be in and out for other shows in California. But I've been catching up on the discussions via the Sustainable Brands website.
MR: You're also associated with a track with Patagonia music that benefits The Big Wild. Can you go into that???
CV: Patagonia has launched a music platform on its site that allows people to purchase yet-released tracks by some huge artists, the proceeds from which go to benefit environmental causes chosen by the artists. I'm donating my song "Napkin Manifesto" to the The Big Wild, which is a Canadian conservation movement, spearheaded by Mountain Equipment Co-Op (MEC) and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society to protect Canada's wilderness. It's a an important movement because less than 10 percent of Canada's wilderness is currently protected, leaving some of the world's last expanses of pristine landscapes open to under-regulated exploitation and harmful resource extraction.
?MR: Considering all of these humanitarian associations, would you consider? yourself socially conscious???
CV: I care a lot about issues pertaining to the environment, social justice and humanitarian aid. I just try to stay engaged and active in ways in which I'm able. I see it as a moral imperative. Music seems to be a good way to get some of those concerns across and at least raise awareness about them to whatever groups of people might be listening to. ??
MR: Do you perceive that more and more artists are becoming aware of bigger issues and causes?
??CV: I do. It may have something to do with a greater shared awareness of the urgency of various social/environmental issues that we're facing these days. It may also have something to do with the fact that the Internet has allowed for a radically widened middle class of artists to develop who can scrape a living together doing their art, and who collectively represent a growing demographic of people who, by nature, are idealists and sensitive to what is going on around them. Combine all of this with the fact that there are now many online ways for artists to connect directly with their fans and communities to mobilize action and carry out fundraising initiatives for the causes that inspire them. I think it all adds up to a sense that there's some sort of growing consciousness afoot. At least I feel that's true. I believe that many little ripples can form together to make a wave.
?MR: Musically speaking, what advice do you have for new artists?
??CV: Find a way to keep connected with your art, to keep challenging yourself and growing artistically, to keep looking in the mirror and smiling, to keep love in your heart and to keep hanging in there. Everything else will follow, and if it doesn't, well, you could have done a lot worse.
1. Any Number of Ways
2. Oceans Ago
3. Interrogate Me
4. You Don't Know (What You're Asking of Me)
5. Hurting You Kind
6. There Goes Sara
8. You Owe Nothing
9. Same Clothes
10. You're on Your Own Now
11. Far from Here
Now Magazine - Chris Velan: Fables For Fighters - Album Review
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Montrealer Chris Velan was on the road while writing much of his fourth album, and that comes ou...
Montrealer Chris Velan was on the road while writing much of his fourth album, and that comes out in lyric references to distance, time and identity. Produced by Lestyn Polson (David Bowie, David Gray) in upstate New York, the album features Velan’s high, sweet, Jack Johnson-like voice backed by layers of overdubs. Sometimes the synths are too much.
The big production works best on the Wilcoesque Oceans Ago and You Don’t Know (What You’re Asking Of Me). A summery ukulele nod to the Grateful Dead opens the album, Interrogate Me has a reggae vibe, and There Goes Sara is a radio-friendly love song. The songwriting is uneven, but Velan is onto something when he channels Paul Simon on Same Clothes.
Top track: Oceans Ago
Ottawa Sun - Musician Searches For Meaning
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Musician searches for meaning By Denis Armstrong, Ottawa Sun First posted: Tuesday, May 17, 2011...
Musician searches for meaning
By Denis Armstrong, Ottawa Sun
First posted: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 05:48 PM EDT
Montrealer Chris Velan was on his way to becoming a human rights lawyer, defending the rights and dignity of those suffering around the world, when he experienced an existential crisis.
Once he passed his bar exams, Velan became increasingly disenchanted with law. Something about it, even in a field as altruistic as human rights, didn’t sit right with him. In the end, it was a commitment he wasn’t prepared to make.
So instead, Velan joined a documentary film crew covering the genocide in Sierra Leone. That experience showed Velan that he might make a bigger difference if he gave up the law and plunged full-time into his first love, songwriting.
In 2003 Velan returned from West Africa and released his debut solo album It’s Not What You Think, which incorporated a mix of his old and new influences ranging from folk, pop and rock to world music and reggae.
“I’m happier being a musician because I feel like I’m doing what I should be doing,” Velan admits during a stop in Toronto where he’s promoting his new album Fables For Fighters.
“When I was working in law, I worked against myself. As soon as I switched to music, it got easy.”
Paradoxically, his rigorous training as a lawyer and frontline experiences with social issues taught him something about being a more meticulous songwriter.
“Law taught me to be more anal about how I express myself,” Velan says with a laugh. “I’m more careful about how I express myself. And peeking behind the curtain of many big humanitarian organizations is an eye-opening experience of how the world spins
Bitterweet and personal, Fables For Fighters is 11 intimate, eclectic songs about the year Velan spent mostly on his own while touring the U.S. with his 2009 album Solidago.
Listening to the new tunes, it’s clear that there’s no hiding his fierce intellect and naked desire to write meaningful songs that listeners can relate to. “Everything became a struggle after awhile and I had no one to process it with, so I wrote these songs about struggling to make it, struggling as an artist. Everything from the existential crisis of playing to an empty room to just missing family when you’re alone. It’s all that stuff that leads one to ask ‘Why do I do what I do?’ ”
Velan performs at blacksheep inn on Friday, May 20 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door or online at Ticketweb.ca.
CJLO - Chris Velan @Petit Cafe Campus
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Chris Velan @Petit Cafe Campus Joel Balsam It was homecoming for Montreal’s own Chris Velan on T...Chris Velan @Petit Cafe Campus
It was homecoming for Montreal’s own Chris Velan on Thursday, December 8th; he rocked out for a crowd of about 50 at Petit Café Campus for the first time in over a year. “I will never do that again,” vowed Velan about being away from his hometown for so long, and I hope he keeps his word.
He played mostly songs from his third and fourth studio albums, Solidago (2009) and Fables for Fighters (2011); the audience was treated to an eclectic mix of rock, funk, blues, and reggae from Velan and his three full-bearded band members. The skilled keyboardist aptly filled the void left without a second guitarist to strum the chords, adding to each funk-inspired bouncy beat. The bassist and drummer showed their aptitude too, playing like the travel-savyy tour group that they are.
However, as he should, Chris Velan stole the show with his clear, personable and emotionally charged voice. Songs like "Interrogate Me," and "There Goes Sara" (my personal favourite off the new album) started the show off on an up beat, presenting that Velan is much more than just an acoustic guitarist. The excellent use of lighting, which alternated from passionate red to cool blue and green, brilliantly increased the experience. Yet, the crowd was standoffish at first - surprising for a hometown act who has been featured at dozens of concerts and festivals across Canada and the US.
-Photo credit: Joel Balsam
The new album is riddled with different experiments, but none stood out more than "You’re On Your Own Now," featuring Velan’s voice altered with autotune at certain points in the song. Yet, despite the dynamism and variation of Fables for Fighters, it wasn’t really until Velan picked up his acoustic guitar and started playing songs from Solidago that the crowd got into it. By then, the infectiously poppy songs permeated through the modest audience, transforming a bit of swaying into an all out jumpy dozen on the dance floor.
For "Pauper in a Palace" and "Wobbly Bones," Velan went off script, altering the pronunciation of the vocals and beat from the recorded sound to give an effective individual experience. The scat doos on "Out of Range" and the heart-thumping beat of "House Upon a Hill" got everyone dancing, culminating with "Best of Me" off of Twitter, Buzz, Howl (2006), which had all the local Velan fans mouthing along with the words.
Right when the party was at its height, Velan dipped out, but not before a unique and much appreciated encore performance. Returning to the stage alone, Velan grabbed the ukulele that was perched ever-so-softly beside the mic stand throughout the show and sang "Any Number of Ways." After about a minute and a half into the poetic country song, the band came out from the depths of backstage to finish the song with Velan, who rocked out hard on the little red ukulele.
The only thing missing was my favourite Velan song "Go Easy." I guess I’ll have to check that one out next time he plays Montreal. See you there!
-Joel Balsam co-hosts Currently Concordia every Friday from 11am-12pm
Arts Touring Alliance of Alberta - Bragg Creek Performing Arts presents Chris Velan in Concert
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Since first picking up a guitar at the age of nine, Velan’s journey to understand how he and the wor...Since first picking up a guitar at the age of nine, Velan’s journey to understand how he and the world itself operates has taken him down two distinct paths: law and music. In his early 20s, Velan was determined to make sense of humanity’s struggles through a career in law, only to realize – after collaborating on the Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars’ documentary – that he could make as great an impact through music by its simple yet profound ability to connect people.
“With four albums and a lot of miles travelled now under my belt, I feel like I’ve arrived at a place where I better understand who I am as an artist and a songwriter. It’s a foothold that I’ve worked hard to find”. Chris Velan unites unforgettable rhythms and melodies with unhindered sentiment and subtle delivery
“Chris Velan stole the show with his clear, personable and emotionally charged voice”. Joel Balsam Co host Currently Concordia
Buying Shots For Bands - Chris Velan - Fables For Fighters
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Montreal-based singer-songwriter Chris Velan is releasing his fourth full-length, Fables for Fighter...Montreal-based singer-songwriter Chris Velan is releasing his fourth full-length, Fables for Fighters. Velan’s history and path to his musical career is a unique one. After studying law and passing the bar, Velan worked on a documentary featuring Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. Though the music does not specifically focus on these experiences, it is clear that this is a man with a story to tell, with life experiences colouring his music.
Fables for Fighters starts off full of life, highlighted by harmonies, handclaps and Velan on ukelele on “Any Number of Ways.” There are fewer hints of Velan’s world music influences than with some of his previous work, but there are occasional tip-offs, such as the drums in “You Don’t Know What You’re Asking Of Me.” There are also unique moments, such as the vocal effects on “You’re On Your Own Now.” Velan’s sound is sometimes reminiscent of Phil Collins or James Taylor, sometimes a combination of both, but he also finds a way to bring in a refreshing sound not unlike Jack Johnson.
Throughout 11 songs that make up the album, there is a feeling genuineness accompanied by heartfelt lyricism. Although there aren’t any standout songs that really blow the listener away, the album is one that can be appreciated front to back, perhaps while relaxing with a glass of wine and a loved one.
Although available digitally since February, Fables for Fighters has been officially released today, April 19th via NewSong Recordings. Velan will be playing May 12th at The Rivoli and this video should give you a good idea of what to expect live. It’s an older video, but this immediately had my attention and it should tide you over until the show.
Hero Hill - Quick Hitters :: Chris Velan - Fables For Fighters
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The term world music is polarizing. For most indie snobs, you can’t help but recall John Cusack’s ra...The term world music is polarizing. For most indie snobs, you can’t help but recall John Cusack’s rant about Tim Robbin’s in High Fidelity, shudder as you hear more and more song writers pick the carcass of Graceland clean and pass many of the same judgments.
When it comes to Montreal’s Chris Velan, the time he and his friends spent in a Sierra Leone refugee camp with the now famous Refugee Allstars actually shaped his musical (and personal) vision and playing with the likes of ALO, Brett Dennen and percussionist Adam Topol has helped him fine tune his sound.
All things considered, it’s hard to find fault at the breezy, uke driven melody and harmonies that kick start Velan’s fourth record, Fables for Fighters. “Any Number of Ways” and “Same Clothes” float along effortlessly and set the tone , but Velan doesn’t rely on those familiar sounds. His songs, while still light song writer numbers (any radio programmer would happily invite “You Don’t Know What You’re Asking Of Me” and “Hurting You Kind” over for a cup of coffee), do themselves a favor by exposing some grit and and more surprisingly (and for me, most enjoyably), jamming out some Phil Collins inspired gems (“Interrogate Me” and “You’re On Your Own Now”).
Velan’s story is a good one, and Fable for Fighters fits into the pocket carved out by musicians like Paul Simon and James Taylor maintained by Dennen or The Brushfire Records crew. Velan’s not reinventing the wheel, simply helping it keep turning.
Glide Magazine - The Hot Spot - Chris Velan
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The Hot Spot Chris Velan By Shane Handler August 29, 2011 “There are the things that haunt my ...The Hot Spot
By Shane Handler
August 29, 2011
“There are the things that haunt my mind: The blurred relationship of good vs. evil, ghosts, and the lessons and stories of history….. I’d like to think that this isn’t an exhaustive list,” says Montreal based artist Chris Velan on the vast inspiration of lyrical themes found in his songs. His latest recording Fables For Fighters (NewSong Recordings/Fontana North) is influenced by a range of influences spanning David Byrne, Randy Newman, Neil Young, West African music and reggae that can be summed up best as “smart pop/folk song-smithing.” Recorded during the hottest recorded July in New York City history, Velan let the swampy surroundings turn busy guitar arrangements into “slow murder ballad waltzes.” Glide recently had a chance to discover the inner mysteries of Chris Velan.
The album cover for Fables for Fighters in you are costumed “plushie/mascot” in a dressing room – what was inspiration behind the cover shot?
I wanted the cover photo to tell some kind of story and suggest that something is happening beyond the corners of what you can see in the picture. I’ve always loved album covers that do that (like Tom Waits’ Small Change or The Basement Tapes). I remember staring at those covers in my dad’s record collection when I was young and just being transfixed by them. I wanted to know the story behind them. The concept for Fables For Fighters grew out of the title. An image popped into in my mind of me wearing an animal costume. I‘m not sure why but it just felt right. The shot was actually taken in a costume shop. The photographer (Alex McKinnon) and I pretended that we were there to rent a costume but the owner wasn’t fooled. The squirrel costume was the least ratty and gross-looking of them all. The photo we ultimately chose had me staring into a full-length mirror – as though I’m about to go on stage for some soul-sucking show. I really like how it turned out.
How would you describe Fables for Fighters to be most different musically than your past efforts?
It’s different in two respects. First, the songs from Fables were by and large written around the same period of being out on the road extensively to tour my previous album, “Solidago”. I think that lends to the album a greater cohesiveness in spirit and theme than on my other albums, which have tended to be collections of songs written under disparate circumstances in different time frames. Second, this was the first album in which I recorded all of the core tracks (vocals, guitar, drums, bass) live off the floor. On past recordings, I haven’t had the ability to rehearse long enough with a band prior to going into the studio to feel confident that we could pull off capturing the material properly with live takes. So the recording process fell to an overdubbing approach. With Fables - because we knew we wanted it to be live takes in the studio and because we built in the time for rehearsals - there’s a certain raw and honest energy (and even vulnerability) in the recorded tracks that I feel has maybe been harder to find on past albums.
It seems you worked your ass of on the album by spending the whole month of July rehearsing the songs in Brooklyn. Did the heat and repetition cause any significant creative moments?
It ended up being the hottest July on record in New York and we spent most of it in a stone-walled basement in Park Slope, getting slow-cooked. The heat and endless repetition put us all in a sort of Zen-like state and did, in fact, leave its mark on the album. The best example is with “Far From Here”, which I brought to the rehearsals as an up-tempo, guitar-busy arrangement. We all liked the song but the arrangement was just not working. We reached a point, after many times of playing it through, where our brains had just fried under the heat and creative effort and we had run out of ideas and were too spaced-out to think. My drummer, Aaron Steele, channeled the energy in the room and just launched into a sad, slow murder-ballad waltz that immediately unlocked the song for us. It was as if we had to reach that point of exhaustion before we could be given the key.
Thematically, you songs strive to balance the pains of struggle with the hope of transformation – how has your musical and creative journey fostered your creativity?
There has always been a part of me that has gotten in the way of my creative self. I’ve carried around a strong censor and judging voice that has made it hard for me to accept myself as an artist. But somehow, despite dragging that weight around, I’ve managed to keep writing and performing and developing. It’s taken a while but I feel as though I’m finally learning what it means to let go and surrender myself to the creative process. And the more I employ that knowledge, the better my art becomes. It’s an ongoing lesson but I’m starting to get it in a way that I didn’t before. So in some fundamental ways, my musical/creative journey so far has been about pushing through those internal landscapes to a place of greater happiness and self-acceptance.
What lyrical themes do you find yourself visiting most often and where and when do you feel yourself most inspired to write?
I’ve only recently become aware of the broad themes that I seem to have a need to revisit. There’s the personal fodder of my relationships and shortcomings. There are things the things that boil my blood: Collective idiocy, social injustice, and greedy shortsightedness. There are the things that haunt my mind: The blurred relationship of good vs. evil, ghosts, and the lessons and stories of history. There are things that haunt my soul: Love in all of its complexity, the kindness of people, the greatness of small everyday things, finding meaning and solace in nature, and my relationship to a higher power. I’d like to think that this isn’t an exhaustive list.
I get very inspired to write when I’m traveling and out of my mundane daily routine at home. Airports in particular seem to really activate me but driving long distances does as well. I get extremely inspired by watching other musicians perform and looking at visual art. I’m also inspired by things that humble me: Human stories of great courage, being in nature, the ability for beauty to exist in dark places.
Musically where do you hope to take your music now and in the future? Are there orchestral collaborations or any other sorts of experimentation you hope to dive into?
I just want to get keep evolving and pushing myself to try new things as an artist. I never want to get bored with what I do. I’ve been feeling the need lately to branch out into different, collaborative projects so I can explore the different musical facets that are in me and learn from other artists. I think I’ve been doing the solo, guy-with-a-guitar-thing for too long. It’s been largely out of economic necessity but I want that to change. My new necessity is to become more connected with an artistic network so I can be sustained by it and grow in it. These days, as a musician, that’s all you’ve got. It’s too hard of a road to walk on your own. So yeah, I’m open wide to any opportunities for collaboration and experimentation that feel right to me.
What is it like for an artist based out of Montreal where there is such a diverse pool of bands?
For as long as I’ve been playing music, Montreal has always had a happening music scene. It’s come on the international radar lately as a cool scene because the music magazines deemed have it so but it’s always had something radical going on. Godspeed You Black Emperor! and Bran Van 3000 were breaking ground as music collectives before anyone knew what that term meant. There’s always been a pioneering punk (Doughboys, for example) and electronic/DJ scene here. But yeah, it’s great that it’s enjoying recognition as a fertile artistic city. Lots of transplants have been coming here from the rest of Canada because it’s both a relatively affordable place to live as an artist and a thriving creative scene in which to do your thing. That means more live music venues popping up and more sharing among musicians. That can only be a good a thing. Having lived and recorded music through different periods of Montreal’s musical development over the past two decades, it’s exciting to see it happening.
You’ve been steadily touring to other parts of the U.S./Canada lately – how has reaching new audiences and expanding to different regions effected you as a performer and a song-writer? Are there any new regions in particular that you have been particularly inspired by?
I’ve enjoyed playing in every single place that I’ve been to – and I have ended up playing in some strange places in North America. As a performer, I’ve learned something important from each audience (no matter how small). In fact, sometimes, the lesson has been how to dig deep and put on a good show for five people (two of who are watching the basketball game at the bar). I’ve also learned not to pre-judge people and the towns in which they live. I’ve been surprised by the open-mindedness and coolness of people in rural areas as much as I’ve been surprised by the closed-mindedness and lameness of people in cities. There are stories everywhere that are not being told. Everyone is a movie worth sitting through. All of this has made be a better listener and observer. It’s made me more attuned to seeking out the diamonds in the rough and seeing the beauty in what may first appear ugly. Those are tools that serve the songwriter well.
What artists from the past and present have you most been influenced by and how would you describe your sound in your own words?
Dylan, Paul Simon, David Byrne, Neil Young, Mark Knopfler, Tom Waits, Jackson Browne, Bob Marley and more recently, Jeff Tweedy, Nick Cave, Josh Ritter, …
My sound is a whole-hearted attempt at smart pop/folk songsmithing with ancestral ties to Paul Simon and a querulous kinship to Bruce Cockburn, Randy Newman and Mark Knopfler. Whether it succeeds is another question.
What can we expect at an upcoming Chris Velan show?
Me in a squirrel costume.
Ottawa XPress - Chris Velan - On The One Road
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On the one road Dave Jaffer Chris Velan rolls out the solo with Solidago Montreal's Chris Ve...On the one road
Chris Velan rolls out the solo with Solidago
Montreal's Chris Velan, a veteran of playing with bands, is going by his lonesome these days. Like some character in a country song, he's traversing the highways and byways of Canada (in an '85 VW van, Tweeting all the way), bringing his third album Solidago to the people. "I'm a solo, one-man, travelling act right now," he says of his current spate of touring. "Staying lean and mean makes a lot more financial sense," he adds.
That said, Velan, who abandoned what would probably have been a relatively lucrative career in law, has never been about the money.
A classically trained guitarist from an early age, Velan has played music and had bands since, well, an early age. There was the high school band, the college band and the band (Equalizer) he started with his brothers when he was studying law at McGill. "We had a good thing going in Montreal," he says of Equalizer. "What started out as 'We had to play music' became something that had a strong following in Montreal. We were opening for big reggae acts. We were a really good live reggae act. It was pretty cool."
Later on, while he was articling in Vancouver, he was still writing music, and in that city his real passion started to take hold. "Music was always there, it was just always really at the front," he says. "In a lot of ways I always knew it was what I needed to be doing, but I kind of took a while to arrive at that realization."
From Montreal to Vermont (Middlebury College) back to Montreal to Vancouver, the idea was there,
percolating, but the thing that hammered it home and made the decision for him came when he was halfway around the world. A few years back, he found himself in Guinea on a filmmaking trip with some university friends. Then and there everything changed.
"Through that production visit, we met the [Sierra Leone] Refugee All Stars in one of the camps, and [we] decided we were going to make a movie about them. We headed off to West Africa with the idea that we would make a movie about an African conflict told through the view of an artist, and a refugee artist specifically." Velan went on to produce the All Stars' record and, through that experience, found the moxie (and the cojones) to do what he's doing now.
"These guys [were] making music in a refugee camp," he says. "We complain about how hard it is to be a musician in North America. You try setting up a band in a refugee camp without any instruments. You have to buy the fuel to run the generators to put on a party. It's crazy. These guys really connected me with that.
"I came back from that and I could no longer make excuses for why I couldn't do music."
Since then, he never has.
Solidago is Velan's third album, an understated, organic and poignant piece of music that's informed by a whole hell of a lot, including but not limited to his time in Africa, and the interest in politics and social justice that sent him there in the first place. That said, he's no dummy; he's more than aware of how the commingling of politics and art doesn't work for everyone.
"I think the risk is that if you want to be 'that kind of artist,' the danger is that people will turn off and they will label you and go, 'You're a political/social activist musician,'" he says. "Some people just aren't into that. They aren't into being preached to, for lack of a better word. What I start with is that I want to write about the things that move me, I want to write about the things that inspire me, [and] I want it to come from a place where I can look back 20 years later and still want to sing that song."
"I don't try and be preachy at all," he continues. "Like, that's not what I want to be because I get turned off by that too. I just want to try and find certain truth in these issues out there and express it in a way that makes people think about it as I think about it. It's funny...I've even tried to turn that faucet off, and not write those songs because of those fears, because [they don't] represent everything I am as a musician. I don't want people to take it the wrong way. But it still comes through."
@ Zaphod Beeblebrox
CKUA Edmonton - CD of the Week
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CD: Solidago Artist: Chris Velan Label: New Song Recordings Reviewed by Lionel Rault, Host of ...CD: Solidago
Artist: Chris Velan
Label: New Song Recordings
Reviewed by Lionel Rault,
Host of Nine to Noon
Listen to samples from Solidago:
Out of Range
Pauper in a Palace
Chris Velan and his brothers built a large fan base in Montreal with the reggae inflected band Equalizer, but it was his love of songwriting that inspired his solo career. Chris.Velan’s third solo CD, Solidago, is our CD of the Week.
From 80’s British alternative to Delta Blues, Velan took it all in, but it was the music of the storyteller songwriters like Dylan, Waits, Knopfler and Neil Young that made the real impact upon him. That, and his uncle’s vast collection of reggae.
On Solidago, Velan has very successfully blended these elements. There are so many instantly accessible tunes among the 11 tracks that the challenge was to choose a few favorites. Highlights include ‘Wobbly Bones’ ‘Pauper in a Palace’ and ‘Out of Range’.
On Solidago, Chris Velan makes music that is intelligent and accessible and a whole lot of fun. Highly recommended to fans of Jeremy Fisher, or Joel Plaskett.
October 2, 2009
Montreal Gazette - July 7 Disc of the Day - Chris Velan: Solidago
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Chris Velan Solidago New Song Chris Velan is a singer-songwriter, pure and true. He couldn’t wr...Chris Velan
Chris Velan is a singer-songwriter, pure and true. He couldn’t write a bad tune if he tried. But he tries anyway – not to write a bad song, to write better ones. He outgrows the Jack Johnson and Paul Simon comparisons on his latest, without going out of his way to do anything drastically different. Opener Hard Way Learner has hints of Neil Young. Oldest Trick carries guitar grit and a solid backbeat. Pauper in a Palace lilts to an infectious reggae rhythm (complete with chunky horns), while A Year Can Change a Lot rides a subtle African groove. Velan has no qualms about singing from the heart, and it enables him to pen some arrestingly prettiest songs. Prepare to be swept off your feet.
Chris Velan performs Tuesday, July 7 at 9 and 11 p.m. on the Festival Stage.
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazett
Blurt! Magazine - Chris Velan - Solidago
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Sounds like Jack Johnson? He gets that a lot. But it would be a shame to write Chris Velan off as ju...Sounds like Jack Johnson? He gets that a lot. But it would be a shame to write Chris Velan off as just another beachbum copycat. Rather, Solidago reveals whipsmart songcraft and no-bullshit guitar rockers, neatly juxtaposed amidst easy-going ditties.
From the Petty/Wallflowers-flecked “Oldest Trick” to the more languid “Out of Range” (think “Obvious Child,” Paul Simon), Solidago harkens back to that Synchronicity-esque art of the album, journeying from a volume-up, frontloaded A-side which eventually drifts off into a delightfully lazy Sunday morning B-side.
So don’t let Solidago’s jangly, chill-lax pop disguise fool you. It’s the combination of Velan’s no-slouch guitar, wizened lyrics, downright bemusing hooks (the kind that sneak up on you long after you’ve stopped listening), and political/romantic moxie that’ll have you thinking, “Hell yes, I too am a ‘Hardway Learner.’”
Montreal Gazette - Chris Velan - Montreal Jazz Fest Review
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Montreal Jazz fest 2009: Chris Velan all smiles By Natasha Hall 07-08-2009 Filed under: Metrop...Montreal Jazz fest 2009: Chris Velan all smiles
By Natasha Hall 07-08-2009
Filed under: Metropolis, Rocksteady, montreal international Jazz Festival 2009, Chris Velan, Toots, Burning Spear
It must have pained Chris Velan to miss Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae last night at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Talk about unfortunate timing. As the legendary Leroy Sibbles took to the massive GM stage at 9 p.m., our songman from N.D.G. stepped onto the much smaller Scene du Festival, just a stone's throw away from the big blowout show. Velan's catchy folk and reggae infused-pop should have been the perfect compliment to Rocksteady, but instead he was competing. No fair.
The good news is Velan returned to the same stage again at 11 p.m. to serenade the still-high post-Rocksteady crowd. He is so damn charming. Bouncing and grinning as he strummed and sang his little heart out, Velan was a one-man spectacle. He does it all himself, crafting simple-yet-stirring songs with the help of a tap on the loop and the occasional accompaniment of Sara Johnston's sweet voice and delicate touch on the harmonium.
The even better news is that Velan will be the opening act for Burning Spear and Toots & The Maytals on Thursday at Metropolis. Expect to float away on his pretty ditties and infectious voice -and to see him in the crowd afterwards, enjoying the rest of the show with a big ol' smile on his face.
Backstage Vancouver - Chris Velan - Solidago Review
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CHRIS VELAN – Solidago Album: Solidago Record: NewSong Recordings 4.5 stars Once again, the tale...CHRIS VELAN – Solidago
Record: NewSong Recordings
Once again, the talent that continues to flow out of Canadian musicians amazes me. I never know quite what to expect when I play a new release, and Chris Velan’s smooth voice and delightful melodies leave me yearning for more. This may be The Album of Summer 2009.
The beginning of the album has a heavy Western influence. While I grappled with the notion that this isn’t quite country, but it isn’t entirely not country, Solidago continues its journey through the wide range of Velan’s musical influences. A classically trained guitar player from the age of nine, Velan grew up listening to family favourites like Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Willie Nelson, and Van Morrison, as well as early 80’s new wave and reggae. This culmination of musical influences has resulting in Solidago, his third solo album.
His songs reflect a number of genres, and his delightful music can belie darker lyrics. Some of my favourite songs include “Wobbly Bones,” which manages to convey both the horrors and the hope witnessed during his time in Africa touring UN refugee camps; reggae-influenced “Hunting Season,” which features my favourite line: Why are you still swinging when no one can win? I also love the final track, “May Your Soul Get To Heaven,” which finds profound spirituality in a book of superstitions and offers a blessing in the form of a lullaby.
Chris VelanChris Velan has been lucky (and talented) enough to open for artists such as Duffy and Animal Liberation Orchestra, as well as performing at Ottawa’s Folk and Blues Festivals. His live performances are not to be missed, and you can catch him on his Canadian tour as he visits BC and other locations. He’ll also be performing at the Virgin Festival at the end of July, along with The Roots and K-OS. Backstage Vancouver will be covering his show at The Media Club on Wednesday 15 July 2009, so follow BackstageBlog for live updates throughout the evening.
Solidago can be purchased from iTunes and CD Baby, and be sure to check out his MySpace to listen to his music. Don’t let his delightfully pleasant album distract you from the depth of his artistry and song writing abilities.
1. Hard Way Learner
2. Wobbly Bones
3. Oldest Trick
4. Pauper in a Palace
5. Hunting Season
6. Go Easy
7. A Year Can Change A Lot
8. Out of Range
9. I’m In, Come In
10. House Upon The Hill
11. May Your Soul Get To Heaven
By Lauren Eldridge Wednesday July 8, 2009
Performing Songwriter - Chris Velan - Solidago CD Review
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Talk about college-dorm credentials: Chris Velan can skank like Sublime, strum like Jack Johnson and...Talk about college-dorm credentials: Chris Velan can skank like Sublime, strum like Jack Johnson and float four chords with the easy expertise of mid-’90s Tom Petty. He sometimes does all three in a single song, moving seamlessly from head-nod guitar pop to bottom-heavy, surprisingly credible roots reggae.
If Velan’s latest album doesn’t become a staple of freshmen beer parties, it may be the result of the singer’s low-key personality. This Montreal-based artist is no rebel toker, à la Petty or Sublime’s Bradley Nowell. He’s more like a modern-day Cat Stevens, singing about ending hostilities, whether describing love affairs or African wars.
A former environmental lawyer, Velan spent part of 2002 in Guinea, helping friends shoot a documentary on West African refugees. Those experiences color “Out of Range” and “A Year Can Change a Lot,” subtle Africana perfectly suited for scruffy co-eds. —K. Partridge
FOR FANS OF:
Tom Petty – Wildflowers
Sublime – Sublime
Jack Johnson – In Between Dreams
Published on March 9, 2009
Boston Herald - Album Review - Chris Velan: Solidago (NewSong recordings)
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“Solidago” (newsongrecordings): A- You’re tempted to write Velan off as just another querulous-v... “Solidago” (newsongrecordings): A-
You’re tempted to write Velan off as just another querulous-voiced folkie when a line like this stops you dead: “The last time I saw you, you were lying on a bed / With bracelets on your wrist and a hole through your head.”
Clearly, he’s made the most of his experiences working in war-ravaged Africa as producer of the Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. Comparisons may be odious, but it’s hard to describe this striking blend of reggae-spiked, politically charged folk-pop without referring to its antecendents: Bruce Cockburn, Paul Simon and Jeb Loy Nichols. At the same time, Velan’s mix is so original and so apt, he places himself beyond the realm of comparison. Download: “Go Easy.” (Appearing Wednesday at T.T. the Bear’s Place, Cambridge.)
Published on April 3, 2009
Jam Base - Chris Velan: Solidago Review
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There’s a lubricated slide to Chris Velan’s music, voice, general steez. He moves with unhindered sl...There’s a lubricated slide to Chris Velan’s music, voice, general steez. He moves with unhindered slickness, going down real easy on his third album, Solidago (released April 7 on NewSong Recordings).
There’s nothing wrong with accessible stuff, per se, and the latest from this Montreal-based singer-songwriter is a pleasant reminder that chart potential doesn’t necessarily equal artistic paucity. Produced by Tim Bluhm (The Mother Hips), Solidago is honey sweet and almost too easy to like. There’s no doubt that the same social networking, latte drinking gals that gobble up John Mayer and Jack Johnson will find much to swoon over here – Velan’s yearning, sexy voice, the warm, interesting guitars, the general coastal sunset pop vibe - but Bluhm’s presence is a hint of the subtle layers in what may seem known territory. Further bolstered by contributions from Jackie Greene, drummer Adam Topol (Jack Johnson), Dan Lebowitz (ALO), horn player David Ralicke (Dengue Fever), Sarah Johnston (Bran Van 3000) and Bluhm himself, as well as other Hips, Solidago is open-handed listening that’s not simple or pandering – it’s just bloody catchy. Caught up in the island rhythms, analog synths, inviting sax and sensuous picking, one discovers inner sway and smiles, and that, friends, is a fine thing.
Published on 4/7/2009
Burlington Free Press - Chris Velan Live review
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“…the music was great - Chris plays a mean acoustic guitar, has a compelling voice and uses those so...“…the music was great - Chris plays a mean acoustic guitar, has a compelling voice and uses those sound-loop pedals like KT Tunstall uses to record percussive sounds and his own backing vocals for use during the next song, making him something of a one-man band. It’s fun to watch him work. His songs incorporate healthy doses of African sounds that you can especially hear in the bright, upper-register notes from his guitar.”
NPR.org - Chris Velan On Mountain Stage
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Montreal-based singer-songwriter Chris Velan played in various bands throughout his youth before for...Montreal-based singer-songwriter Chris Velan played in various bands throughout his youth before forming a reggae group with his two brothers in 1998. In 2001, he decided to put music aside to instead begin practicing law, but just a year later he got back in touch with his musical muse when he agreed to accompany two friends to Africa to film a documentary.
The Refugee All-Stars became a highly acclaimed documentary film about a group of musicians who came together as refugeees in the Republic of Guinea. Velan produced the group’s debut CD and still keeps in touch with those musicians today.
Now, with two solo CDs under his belt, Velan has honed his sound into a reggae influenced, socially conscious brand of folk music. He recently performed live on Mountain Stage in anticipation of his third solo recording, Solidago, and is heard here with just his voice, guitar and a trusty loop pedal. In his music, you’ll hear layers of hummable tunes and head-bobbing beats that consistently build and release tension. Click here to listen to his Mountain Stage set.
December 12, 2008
SoulShine Magazine - Chris Velan: A Shiver of Gladness
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The paths in Chris Velan’s life keep leading him back to music. Though Velan began playing guitar at...The paths in Chris Velan’s life keep leading him back to music. Though Velan began playing guitar at the age of nine and writing songs when he was sixteen it took him a while to figure out that music was what he wanted to do with his life.
In 1998 Velan and his two younger brothers put together a seven piece reggae band called Equalizer. Though Equalizer began to gain a following in Montreal, Velan simply thought of it as a way to keep his sanity while studying to become a lawyer.
In 2001, Equalizer played their final show and Velan left Montreal to move out west and begin articling for a law firm. But Velan was beginning to sense that law may not be his calling “I did it with one foot out already,” he says adding, “I was more interested in writing songs than writing memos”.
But before beginning his own music career he flew halfway around the world to document someone else’s. From 2002-2004 Velan headed out to West Africa to be the musical director for the documentary film Refugee All Stars. The film is about the lives of a group of musicians who are living in a refugee camp in Guinea after escaping from their war torn homes in Sierra Leone.
It focused on how the musicians gained meaning, direction and focus from their music, Velan said “being around them, you remember things that are easy to forget,” because even through all the hardships in their lives and music gave them hope. “I asked myself,” Velan said, “Is that something music does for me?” and his answer was an overwhelming yes.
So when he returned home Velan had a new goal “[making the film] gave me a renewed sense for what I wanted to be doing and sent me into the direction I’d always been heading,” which was towards music. While he had always looked forward to making his own solo music he missed the synergy and energy of being in a band and knew that pouring his heart out into his music made him more vulnerable, “you have nothing to hide behind,” he said, “there’s no one to blame but yourself if something goes wrong”.
On his first record 2004’s It’s Not What You Think, Velan tried to swing away from his reggae roots and go for a more folksy, singer songwriter sound. Though he loved his first record the eight-track album still didn’t fit in exactly with what he wanted his music to sound like. So in 2005 he headed back to the recording studio.
The result was Twitter, Buzz, Howl the title of the record is an ode to the country, which is where Velan recorded the album, “For three months it was a real part of what we were doing,” he recalls. He recalls being in a barn with the windows open in an attempt to escape the heat and hearing the sounds of the birds at night mingle with the sounds of the crickets and coyotes, and he says the influence of all these sounds snuck their way into the record.
This record more accurately depicts Velan’s mesh of musical influences. It combines the storytelling aspects of artists like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison but this time not ignoring the reggae influences of his past and adding a touch of pop. “Pop has somehow become a bad word,” Velan admits because most people associate the word with what’s playing on the top 40 charts, but he defends the genre saying that the way pop was done by the Beatles and the Beach Boys made it an intricate and beautifully melodic sound that he isn’t ashamed to embrace, “I’m not afraid of it.” He says.
But the self produced album is full of songs on subjects that aren’t usually addressed on pop records, like social issues touched on in “Twenty Year Flood” and the sad haunting lyrics of “Shiver”. However, he manages to take his socially conscious words and combine them with a melody that makes the tunes accessible to the masses.
Velan admits that he’s still growing and though Twitter, Buzz, Howl is closer to the sound he wants he still hasn’t gotten there yet, “You’re trying to arrive at this vision of yourself as an artist, what you hear in your head.” He said and he’s still trying to reach what he admits are his own high aspirations, but he admits, “I’ll know when I get to it.”
Chris Velan will be doing a few shows in Montreal this month and then setting up some mini tours in Ontario in February and March, keep checking www.chrisvelan.com for details as they become available.
Published: January 10, 2006
Prepared to play any length set list (have performed anywhere from 20-minute sets to 3 hour shows in the past).