It was 1994 and my favorite bands The Cocteau Twins were in town to support their last album Four-Calendar Café. I got a pleasant surprise that night in the crowded standing room only smelly mosh pit otherwise known as the Newport Music Hall in Columbus, OH. The surprising thing about that show wasn’t the featured act, but the opener by a quintet called The Veldt.
Based in the Triangle area of North Carolina, the Veldt centered around two twin brothers Daniel and Danny Chavis. On stage they had dynamic version of a sound that reminded me of the Cocteau Twins. Daniel’s soulful voice gave a new dimension to what on the surface sounded like shoegauze indie-rock. I was so impressed that I immediately bought a copy of Afrodisiac, the album they were supporting at the time.
In 1994 the dreamy psychedelia of shoegauze styled music was becoming popular. It was mostly a British phenomenon or started out that way. The problem was that a group of Black Southerners somehow did’nt fit most listener’s Eurocentric image. At least that must have been their record company was thinking, as The Veldt was sadly under promoted and exposed in their native land.
They were relatively unknown outside of the Raleigh-Durham area while the Connells, Superchunk, and Archers of Loaf were gaining national attention. Breaking stereotypes still coveted by the music industry may have been why they were sadly overlooked, despite being more interesting and original than more visible acts.
One of the biggest reasons the Veldt were more enjoyable to listen to once again comes back to the vocals of Daniel Chavis. In addition to sounding soulful, they were pointed and topical. As the album name might suggest, Afrodisiac was about issues in the black community. Where most psychedelic shoegaze indie rock had little to say beyond muddy abstractions, Chavis was always clear in his messages while not resorting to being preachy like many righteous rappers of the first half of the ’90s.
Songs like “Revolutionary Sister” and “Heather” combined sprawling sounds-capes with tight funk. Other tracks like my favorite “I Wanna Be Where You Are” have a twin guitar sound made popular by the Cocteau Twins, but with more rhythm and dare I say soul. Despite the soulful influences, The Veldt would not be classified as R&B, a point that must have frustrated some.
The bands influences on closer listen go much further than The Cocteau Twins. There were bits of Prince, Hendrix and Echo and The Bunnymen. In fact The Veldt would often open for bands like The Pixies, The Church and Throwing Muses whenever they came through town. The exposure shaped the bands sound around the context of more rhythmic and muscular song structures.
While The Veldt was mostly ignored in America, even their record label who hardly promoted them did not want them to tour in Europe. When they finally were able to as the opening act for the Cocteau Twins, they became popular in the UK. In some ways the Chavis brothers wanted to prove that “white music” could be made by black people. This was the struggle more exposed bands like Living Color and Bad Brains also. The situation today has improved somewhat, but Black alternative rock acts still have an uphill battle. It still seems far easier for white people to make soul music and be accepted than it is for blacks to make rock.
The Veldt broke up shortly after the follow up to Afrodisiac after 1998’s Love at First Hate was released. They recently re-united, created a label and released a new single “The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Furr”. The single is a tribute to the 4AD bands of the ’80s.