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In Conversation With Velvet

Although Oxford is home to a plethora of student bands, Velvet is one that truly stands out from the crowd. If you haven’t heard of them, you should have. One month before what you could consider to be their upcoming magnum opus gig at The Bullingdon, I sat down with bassist Rupert, guitarist George, drummer Joel, and keyboardist and singer Dec to find out more about the band.

With the band forming at the end of their first year at Oxford, in June 2021, Velvet has accomplished a lot in a short space of time. They formed much like any other group, with a few friends in St Anne’s College deciding to make a band, yet less than two years later, there are few venues in Oxford where they haven’t played. Starting off in college bars, Velvet worked their way up to paid gigs at multiple balls including Merton, Brasenose, and Exeter, “a LOT of Freud”, as well as at the Crankstart Ball most recently. Dec caught sight of them for the first time at an open night, before joining them in time for a Pink Week gig. While their line-up has changed a little over time, occasionally needing some deps for bass and keys, and now playing with their new saxophonist, Rupert, the band has mostly kept the same members, forming a close knit group of friends. Although they have so many members, the Merton Ball was a clear favourite event, with a circular stage and a great crowd, although Oxford Pride in Westgate was a close second.

The gig that the band are most excited for, however, is their performance at The Bullingdon on the 21st of February. With early bird and first release tickets already sold out, and second release selling fast, this is not one to miss. Velvet have wanted their own gig since the start and are excited to show a big project they’ve been working on after doing two years of sets at events. The gig at Bully will be the first time that the band have really been able to craft a performance, as many events don’t provide as much freedom about the set. Joel describes it as “the pinnacle” of their work, especially as it may be one of the last chances to see the band perform in their current iteration, with many members graduating this year.

While the band scene in Oxford is also mostly dominated by funk bands, Velvet leads more into Neo-soul, ditching the big brass sections of the funk band and experimenting with different instrumental mixes. One of their defining features is the presence of their flautist, Izzy. Joel’s idea of adding a flute to the mix for a cooler texture is extremely effective and is complemented by the presence of BNOC Adam Possener’s viola playing. The use of the flute and viola, especially now that Adam has a new electric viola, has completely changed the band’s texture, giving them a unique and defining sound. Although the band has tried more classic funk songs in the past, like Corinne Bailey Rae’s Put Your Records On, they decided that it “didn’t feel like them”, showing a clear sense of their identity. Despite having a strong idea about what they want to play, the band is certainly not against experimentation. They explained how Hannah, the lead singer, leads the direction and sound of the band, and how the others like her ideas because they’re different and original.

Although Velvet tends not to do remixes of songs, one of the things they are aiming for is for the songs to blend into each other more during performances, with less talking time in between each one (although George adds that this would also mean less clapping time). There is also the exciting possibility of them performing their own song at the Bully gig on the 21st of February. Joel describes how Hannah is writing bits of melody for a beat that he found, and the aim is for the other members to eventually add parts so that it becomes a fully fleshed-out song. However, he adds that it is difficult to come together and write something when there are eight band members with different ideas, so the only way we can find out is by attending the gig.

Despite the difficulty of bringing all their ideas together into one cohesive song, the differing tastes of the eight members contribute to the band’s identity. Each member brings a contrasting background in music to contribute to Velvet’s own sound. For example, Izzy plays a lot of folk music, so adds this influence and texture. Dec, meanwhile, is a member of Out of The Blue, which while being very different from playing in a band, still adds to the performative and creative process. Similarly, the band members generally listen to and draw information from a wide range of artists. Joel is into D’Angelo and Erykah Badu and enjoys playing RnB as it’s well-known but they’re also able to jazz it up. George on the other hand is a fan of Tom Misch and Radiohead, while Rupert likes rock and metal. None of the members are confined to one genre however, with music taste being shared. Dec describes how he is big into Bruno Major, lo-fi, and jazz, but is now getting into D’Angelo and Voodoo as well thanks to Joel’s influence.

The band also show a lot of freedom in the way they rehearse, explaining how it doesn’t feel like a chore, but rather more of a process. Their covers of songs are unique to them as they often play without parts. They begin by playing by ear and then writing a chord sheet, with everyone reacting naturally to the music, adding an element of improvisation. Particularly as some of the members don’t know music theory, playing things off of YouTube is an especially useful tactic. Although many believe that music theory is a necessary part of being able to make music, Velvet proves that it is more than possible to do so without, with Dec reflecting that it was often helpful to keep things simple, and to engage with the music through playing it.

One of the most common issues that bands have to deal with is performance anxiety. The band members reflected that some gigs feel more relaxed than others, but that bigger ones can be more nerve-racking. An event organised by the Jazz Society was especially scary as people would generally know the song, and there was more of a sense that they were listening carefully, so certain members felt the pressure a bit more. This wasn’t an overwhelming problem though, with there being a consensus that the best way to deal with it was “have a pint” and enjoy the performance while trying not to worry about judgement.

Focusing on the fun of performing is the best way to ensure the audience’s enjoyment. Velvet is the perfect band for anyone looking for an event filled with lively and unique music that guarantees a good night out. The gig on the 21st of February promises to be an exciting and unmissable show, as well as a refreshing dose of live music in place of another night at Atik.

Thanks to George, Rupert, Joel, and Dec for the interview.

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