Identical twins Daniel and Danny Chavis may originally hail from Raleigh/ Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but they have been East Village residents for the past 28 years. They are also co-founders of the groundbreaking band The Veldt, who lifted their band’s name from a Ray Bradbury science fiction story. Musically reared in the church and juke-joints of their native southern state, the twins have been performing since they were children, listening to music that included gospel, Motown and Pink Floyd.
In their early days, the Chavis brothers made a name for themselves playing throughout the south at a time when fellow southerners REM and Superchunk were securing major label deals. As more black rock bands (Living Colour, 24/7 Spyz) began selling records and gigging throughout the world, The Veldt was courted by various labels, including IRS Records and Capitol. Initially signed to Capitol Records in 1989, The Veldt embarked on a musical journey that changed their lives. Soon, they were in the studio with dream-gaze guru Robin Guthrie working on their initial recordings, playing American concert halls with Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain, and recording Marigolds with Lincoln Fong (Moose).
The Veldt were a sensation from the start as they became a part of amovement of innovators who came of musical age at a time when rhythmic rebels were reflective, gritty and wild. Their sound inspired future generations of alternative artists, including TV On the Radio. They switched labels and Mercury Records released Afrodisiac in 1994, produced by Ray Shulman (The Sundays, Bjork, Sugarcubes). Their single “Soul in a Jar” was an underground hit. As the brothers moved to expand their musical language, fusing more electronics into their soundscape, they retired the “Veldt” name and, for various reasons, began recording and touring under under the name Apollo Heights. In 1999, the Chavis brothers met bassist Hayato Nakao, who would become their permanent partner. Their music was loud, exploring color, space, sensuality and beat driven melodies with rhythmic and dynamic tension. Daniel’s falsetto vocals cast a contrast upon the wall of sound created by Danny’s heavy rock dreamscape guitar and Hayato’s pounding and licentious beats. Although The Veldt had signed to two major labels after leaving Mercury Records in 1995, the brothers decided to remain indie and self-released their 2008 album White Music for Black People.
The major labels were always trying to get us to change our sound, our look or both, but, we had no interest in being the next Lenny Kravitz or Tony! Toni! Toné! Unfortunately, not everyone shared our vision. We weren’t trying to be rock stars, we just want to play our music and pay our rent.
Apart from Robin Guthrie and A.R. Kane, they have collaborated with TV On The Radio, Mos Def and Lady Miss Kier (Deee-Lite), and have shared the stage with My Bloody Valentine, The Pixies, Echo & The Bunnymen, Cocteau Twins, Manic Street Preachers, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Oasis, Living Colour and TV on the Radio, among others.
The Veldt will be touring central Canada and also opening for The Brian Jonestown Massacre for various east coast dates during their forthcoming U.S. tour in May.
We asked Danny these 20 questions about music, life and his experiences as musician.
Step On Mag: What are you listening to these days?
Danny: Pol pol vah, Alice Coltrane, Flying Saucer Attack, Arthur Lee and Love, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Spacemen 3, Isaac Hayes, A.R. Kane, Ummagma, and Miles Davis. Also a lot of deep south trap music – I like to keep it crunk you know.
What was the first LP/tape/CD you remember owning?
Batman and Robin theme.
Who is the most underrated band that you just can’t understand why they weren’t more celebrated (any era)?
Cocteau Twins, A.R. Kane, Wolfgang Press.
Why do you live where you do?
New York City because I can walk to the store, rather than hitchhike in North Carolina. I live on the Lower east side near to the Hells Angels.
What is your favourite journey?
To Chinatown, then to KFC.
What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday?
Playing guitar and going to Chinatown.
What essential do you take on a plane or tour bus?
What is your dream vacation if money was no object?
Going to Japan or Germany.
What do you do with 4 free hours in a new city?
Look around look for the nearest music shop, book stores, thrift shops, and record stores.
How did you get into music?
My grandfather liked the blues. And spending time with the burn-outs in the smoking court in high school – that’s how I first heard of Jimi Hendrix and it took off from there. Then my granddad bought Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’ and I got hooked. He was way ahead of his time.
What was your most memorable day job?
None of them.
What advice should you have taken but didn’t?
Don’t get married. Don’t order from that salad bar.
What should everyone shut up about?
What they think I should be doing, or what they want me to do because I probably won’t do it.
Who’s your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what the menu be?
Clara Bow or Louise Brooks. Would indulge in catfish…or them.
Who is your favourite hero of fiction, or favourite films or TV series?
Old King Cole, Sanford and Son, and Nova.
What was the best live gig or music festival you were involved in as an artist?
Opening for the Jesus and Mary Chain and also Cocteau Twins.
What is your “must” read (magazines, news, websites, blogs)?
Too many of them to count.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art (by any definition- music, visual art, film, natural phenomenon…)
2001 A Space Odyssey, Gustav Klimt, The Voyage to Pluto.
What does the next 6 months look like for you?
I hope busy doing music and playing and meeting kool kool people.
Which musician rule do you agree with? Always meet your heroes or Never meet your heroes.
Take a chance and if they turn out to be an asshole, fuck ‘em – they’re human, just like you are. Always try to make time for people who love what you do.
The Veldt will be performing at The Silver Dollar Room, Toronto on Sunday April 3rd.