Just Never Say No- The Velmas Interview By: Liam Sweeny
Written by Staff on October 11, 2021
RRX: The Velmas have gotten a lot of accolades in our region, including “Best
Alternative Band” and “Best Rock Band” by Metroland. You have your own acolytes, the
“Velmites.” Considering how hard it is for any band to make it these days, I think props
are in order. So, ordered. And I’ll ask; what’s the secret of your success?
BB: Success? Hah. Well, I will say this. We have done a lot more than most bands
will ever do. I say that with no disrespect whatsoever. A lot of bands will say, “the heck
with it,” in six months. We just worked really hard and never said no to anything for
many years. We are fortunate enough to have enough talent to have written some good
songs and do a pretty good job covering other songs. Along the way there was radio
airplay, a small record label contract, tons of exciting shows, appearances, broken down
band vans, and meeting “Velmites” (fans).
MG: Well first off, thank you! We definitely put a lot of work into this band for a
really long time, so any recognition we got was always super rewarding. I think if you
can call our experience a “success” at all, it could be attributed to having a good work
ethic – never giving up and pushing on no matter what. This is a tough biz, and you need
to be able to roll with the punches and keep your goals in mind.
RRX: You have been plucking nickel-wounds and pounding skins since 1999. That’s
twenty-two years. I can 0nly imagine how many great and terrible stories you have over
the two decades. And what I see a lot, and not everyone thinks about, is that life goes on;
kids, jobs, etc.. How did you all navigate the life stuff? Did you ever have to break?
BB: We all worked two jobs. The day job and The Velmas. Endless hours of work
went into rehearsals, studio sessions and live appearances. Some were big, some were
small, some paid really well, some for free. The secret is just don’t sleep. Hah. For me, a
day job, The Velmas, family time, and get sleep wherever you can sneak it in! So, for
probably ten years straight we never said no. We did everything and anything to get in
front of people visually or hear us on the radio.
MG: Music is life. It was never an option to quit or rest, really.
RRX: You killed me. So, I’m listening to Station, and I hear your version of Lionel
Richie’s “Hello.” And I don’t care who you are, Lionel Ritchie cooked up that song in a
laboratory to hit people in the feels. So, you got me. I don’t want to ask why you did it;
it’s a great song. But why that one and not another great song?
BB: “Hello”, the Lionel Richie cover…I’m not sure how that got started. I would
guess it’s because when we added cover songs to our shows, we always looked for songs
we could mess with, have fun with, and make our own. “Hello’ turned into this partial
punk song, just having fun, and people got a huge kick out of it when we played it live.
As a result, we decided to put it on the Station album.
RRX: I read on your website that you played with Richard Lloyd of Television and
Matthew Sweet. I just interviewed Richard Lloyd, and he’s a really nice guy, I like him,
and he’s playing at the Hangar on the Hudson in October. I’m not sure if we’ll catch that
here, but playing with someone like Richard Lloyd is, how would you describe it?
BB: Richard Lloyd…we got booked on a lot of shows in NYC. One night we shared
the stage with Richard. It was cool and he seemed cool. I didn’t get a chance to
personally talk to him.
MG.: I’m just psyched that we shared the stage with the guy who played lead guitar
on “Sick of Myself”!
RRX: I contend that rock, and alternative as well, is just a universe. I always ask
people who are rock or alternative to drill down a little, to give people a better sense of
the sound, since our readers may or may not go online for a listen, so two
musicians/bands hooked up and weren’t careful. The Velmas are the baby. Who are the
BB: I honestly hate how everything is so broken down sonically and categorized. To
me, there are good songs and bad songs. The Velmas sound is rock. Our slogan was
always, “The Velmas – American for Rock.” We were just fitting in with the latest rock
direction on the radio which is what some would say was alternative. But honestly, we
are just rock. Sometimes it was faster, sometimes slower, sometimes harder, sometimes
softer, but it was all rock music. Our influences are a mixture of pop, rock, and
alternative and that’s why our albums were made up of a variety of stylish hooks and vocals. However, all rock. Everything is an influence. Kiss, Nirvana, Green Day, Hall
and Oates, Iron Maiden, Winger….the list goes on forever.
MG: With all three of us being songwriters in this band, each of us approach it with
our own background and influences, and it definitely made for great variety in our
songs. I think we really took each tune as we presented it to the others and played
around to see what made sense for the song’s arrangement and went wherever our
instincts led us. Personally, I often have in the back of my mind, “What would The
Beatles do here?” Depending on the song, if I am not sure where to go with something,
I’ll try to think of what great songwriters I love might do with a part, from Kurt Cobain
to Jerry Cantrell, Dave Grohl to Peter Steele (Type O Negative), Ryan Miller (Guster) to
Brian Vander Ark (The Verve Pipe), or tons of others.
RRX: You really have been around, and you’ve played with some big names; Soul
Asylum, Collective Soul, Everclear, Moe, just to name a few. But for each big name,
there’s a dozen smaller names. And I know that it’s pretty common to ask about “the
bands you like,” I’m going to ask, what small, local band didn’t make it that you all really
BB: When you play in a band that is serious about trying to succeed, you cross paths
and run the streets with so many others. Sirsy, Ten Year Vamp, Black Cat Elliot, The
Blisterz, just to name a few. A lot of good times playing with these bands and all very
cool! The one group that we all thought should make it though was Banana Fish Zero
from NYC (who later changed their name to The Statues of Liberty). The Velmas were
on a bill of bands playing at The Haunt in Ithaca, NY. They played one time slot after
us. After about two songs we thought, ok, these guys are nuts and we love it! They had
an incredible stage presence and their songs were as catchy as hell. We just never saw
anyone like them. We became fast friends with them and went on to do many shows
with them. To this day, we are all still friends that keep in touch.
MG: Everything Bruce said! That BFZ or Statues never made it big will forever
make no sense to me. Also, The X’s – John Law/Adams from those two bands along
with Bret Scallions (Fuel), Michael Maenza and Chris Goercke (RIP!) – their one album
together was just amazing rock and roll. I’m going to let you answer the question I didn’t ask. Dues for Velmites? Is Santa listening to the Christmas special?Educate, enlighten, emote – the floor is yours.
MG: I’m psyched that FINALLY, after years of talking about it, and then three years
of working on them (off and on), we released those three Christmas tunes! We had been
playing them live for, like, twenty years. Getting back into the studio with Chuck Weiss,
who recorded our first record, after all that time was a blast, and having my kids singing
the “choir” part with us on “Rudolph” was really fun.
BB: As for doing Christmas songs, it just made sense. We’ve done everything else,
so might as well do a holiday EP! When you are constantly playing shows all over the
Northeast and some down the coast, writing material for albums and doing everything
you can to get noticed, you forget a lot of things as time goes by. However, to have the
memories of some huge crowds, sharing many stages with nationally known acts, being
treated like rock stars when you walked into radio stations and in-store visits, being
heard on the Howard Stern show, autographing kids’ Velmas CDs, and when
occasionally someone walks up to you out of nowhere and says, “Hey aren’t you in The Velmas? You Can’t Beat That.