Name: Vels Trio
Members: Jack Stephenson-Oliver, Dougal Taylor, Cameron Dawson
Occupation: Keyboarder (Jack Stephenson-Oliver), drummer (Dougal Taylor), bassist (Cameron Dawson)
Current release: The Vels trio's debut album Celestial Greens is out via Rhythm Section on October 29th 2021.
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Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
Our creative output derives from collective improvisation most of the time. I feel that our sources of inspiration are often subconscious- something to reflect upon once the process has started. Like putting a name and a theme to something that already exists, rather than starting with a tangible inspiration.
This is most likely because our music is instrumental. We usually end up visualising a similar setting or inspiration when listening back to recordings of our improvisations.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Not necessarily concrete ideas as such, more just a starting point, a groove or set of chords or a melody. We build upon this as naturally as possible and eventually turn something that was improvised in to a through-composed piece.
A song like "The Wad" for example. This song came from a jam and actually was played in a very open and jammed out format at live shows in it’s early days. We spent time crafting it in to something that went a bit further and had a bit more to say.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
It depends on the song really. Sometimes we will spend time together listening to old voice notes that we have recorded to see if there is anything that we find interesting with fresh ears. We then elaborate on what’s there.
We’ve been a band for a long time, despite not having a huge amount of recorded output. We have years and years of jams and unfinished songs, some of which will probably see the light of day at some point, with an up to date version of where we’re at.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I would say there’s a bit of both really. Some songs are just asking to go in a certain direction, and we just have to let that happen. There’s no point in swimming upstream in those cases.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
This is a great question! Yes, that definitely happens with us. We often follow the new path set out for us which can either be exactly what the song needs, or it can be a clear signal that the original path was best, because it was what came naturally. Both of these scenarios are really helpful.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
There definitely is. When things are really working, and we’re connecting improvisationally it can feel like we’re writing and arranging a song as we improvise, and that can be quite an out-of-body experience I believe.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
This can be one of the hardest things in the creative process. Being a three piece, diplomacy can really help here, as can having input from a producer.
We get less precious as time goes on I feel. The mindset being that we’re trying to document a time in our lives, rather than create a masterpiece.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
We have become quite involved in the mixing process- for example- with Celestial Greens, we had regular zoom meetings with Raven Bush, who co-mixed the album with Dougal (Our Drummer) for real-time blending, and processing, so that our sound came across as truthfully as possible.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
We’ll let you know once it’s released! We’re actually working on new music currently which is certainly helping.
We wrote the music for this album quite a while ago, so we’re ready to continue exploring the kinds of songs and sounds we can create together.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Our music’s instrumental nature allows the listener to interpret their own emotional response, I would say. We’re not trying to direct a listener too far in any direction.
"Mundane" tasks have their own level of mastery, and we’re all huge coffee fans/addicts so can all appreciate the effort it requires to make a killer cup of coffee. But I suppose we’re trying to give the listener an other-worldly experience if possible.