vela eyes

“What’s the difference between a savings bond and a musician?” Andrew Burmester, bassist for Vela Eyes asks me, turning the interview around for a moment. I don’t know this one. As a musician myself, I should know all the self-deprecating, sadly kinda true jokes about our breed, but Andrew’s got me stumped. “A savings bond eventually matures and makes money.” Again, self-deprecating and sadly kinda true.

This is what I love about in-person interviews as opposed to the detached phone call or cold email–I can get drunken bits of bullshit like this that give a fuller picture of a band’s collective personality. This particular picture shows there are two distinct sides to Vela Eyes: one that composes somber, gorgeous, and powerful shoegaze/psych-rock/electro-indie music, and another that is funny and a bit dorky, telling me corny jokes and gig horror stories.

Meeting through mutual friends, the most recent lineup–featuring Andrew, guitarist Ian Zazueta, drummer Aaron Hazen, singer/keyboardist Florie Maschmeyer and singer/keyboardist Julia Johari–is set to release their new record this Friday on the local label Green Chair Music. At a hip bar in Hayes Valley, the band talked to me about their unique sound, their upcoming album and the challenges of marketing music in the modern age.

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The Bay Bridged: How has your sound changed and developed since your first release (The Pleasure Sunrise)?

Florie Maschmeyer: I felt like our last record was more experimental and there was definitely a learning curve. Now that we’ve been together for a while with this lineup, we know how each other operates, what our particular place in the band is, and how we each contribute to the writing process.

Ian Zazueta: Yeah we’ve all matured quite a bit. We’ve developed as both friends and musicians. I think that shows in the new music we’ve been making. It’s taken the process to the next level.

Aaron Hazen: We are trying to be better at interviews though (laughs). I think we’re aiming for a more focused sound on this one. I’m especially going for more simplistic rhythms, laying back instead of being too flashy.

Andrew Burmester: That’s always a fine line to walk too. You want to throw in just enough color and eccentricity to make it unique but not enough to make it inaccessible. I’d say our new stuff is just as aggressive as the last record but with an added touch of fog and melancholy.

TBB: Your sound mixes heavy, psych-rock elements with lighter, harmonic pop tendencies. Do you ever feel you may not be aggressive enough for the rock crowd and not soft enough for the pop crowd?

FM: That’s always in the back of my mind when we’re writing new material. We try not to let the marketing aspect fuck with our creativity, but you have to at least consider it. I think people like the fact that we sound so unique, that you can’t quite pin our sound down to one simple genre.

IZ: And the way the music industry is today, you don’t really have to fit a certain category. It’s really about how good are you at your craft. I don’t worry about the marketing so much as the music. If you’re good and can execute great live shows, you’ll be respected and earn a fanbase no matter how hard the band is to categorize.

AB: Look at a band like Warpaint, another group that’s tough to define in terms of their sound. They’ve succeeded because, like Ian said, they were good at their craft and people respected them for the music itself. Audiences, in general, are more eclectic now.

TBB: Most of you are in multiple projects now or have been in other projects in the past. What separates Vela Eyes from other experiences?

AH: Of all the projects I’ve been in, these guys care more about sound quality and have more passion for the finished product. Not quite perfectionists, but professionals. It’s nice to be in a band where the dedication is mutually felt.

IZ: Good thing Aaron feels that way because he’s one of the best drummer in the Bay and I’d like him to stick around (laughs). This band is more motivated than other projects I’ve been involved with, and it has challenged all of us to step outside our egos and personalities in order to create this music.

FM: Well this is my first official project so I can’t really compare it to anything else. It’s been a great growing experience for me personally. It’s also Julia’s first band too, and we should really mention how great she is as she couldn’t join us tonight.

IZ: Yeah this band wouldn’t sound nearly as good without Jules. The way she harmonizes with Florie brings the stuff to a new level. She has a high musical IQ and adds so much to our sound.

FM: We’ve developed more complex vocal harmonies over the years and she’s way more involved on the new record. We’re also starting to switch instruments at live shows now to add another element to our performances.

TBB: Though you obtain a highly unique sound, have you been able to fit into the San Francisco music scene?

FM: We’ve definitely made friends with a lot of great bands in the scene and now we are sort of immersed in a world full of all these connected musicians. It took us awhile, and we’ve certainly played a few shows where we did not fit in, but I think we’ve carved out a little place in the city. But we’re always seeking to be more visible, to get our music out to as many people as possible.

Vela Eyes, Scissors For Lefty, Survival Guide, The Greening
Elbo Room
February 20, 2015
9pm, $10, 21+