WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN: You don’t have to know all the heartache that went into the making of the album Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays to appreciate it. But there’s something about understanding the bitter joy that pulses through one of 2011’s most intoxicating rock albums that makes it all the sweeter.
The debut full-length from Brooklyn four-piece The Veda Rays, Gamma Rays is the artful application of music as a saving source. For the band — guitarist/vocalist/keys James Stark; bassist Tyson Reed Frawley; guitar/keys/vox Jimmy Jenkins; and drummer Jason Gates (aka Jason Marcucci) – the intense production events of the album were just one more reflection of the urgent songs that it comprises.
You can hear it in the frantic guitars and time-shifting howl of “Our Ford”, the delicious tension and release of “Long May She Roll”, and the haunting psychedelia of “This Time Tomorrow”. Sweeping six strings, emotional vocals, and driving drums are everywhere, courtesy of a band determined to deliver on the promise of its dense melodies.
With everything from immediate family suicide and South Florida black magick practitioners fueling their dark sides, The Veda Rays went to equally painful lengths to complete Gamma Rays. With a highly accomplished producer/mixer in residence via drummer Gates/Marcucci (White Stripes, Dean & Britta), the band raced to complete guerilla tracking and mixing sessions, frantically completed as Marcucci’s studio moved amidst the massive blizzards of late winter, 2010.
Released last week, Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays is arresting from the first millimoment. Here, Stark and Gates went deep – truly deep – in their recounting of the record that brought them all back from the brink.
Q: Your bio says: “The Veda Rays began in late 2008 when Stark and Gates, who had been hatching plans, playing gigs and making 4-track recordings since grade school, resumed their collaboration via long-distance after a several year span of inactivity.” What was the creative spark and mutual inspiration that was rediscovered when you guys got back together?
James: It was not really so much rediscovered as it was re-enlivened — from a cryogenically frozen dormancy. But with us I think it has always been something very natural and complementary, this most likely being the case due to us having grown up playing together, making 4-track demos and collaborating on this whole vision for so long and through such formative phases.
The period of inactivity was simply due to a case of “life happening”, as they say. And the way we came back ‘round to working together was largely due to the same. There is a lot of back-story here… Suffice to say, the gist of it involved heavy drug use, obsession, suicide, accidental death and the westernmost point of the Bermuda Triangle. Seriously.
For me, I feel like I had finally whittled out an authentic voice. My own particular brand of “distilled spirits”. What I mean to say is that the “me” in my personal hodge podge of influences finally asserted itself and I started recognizing something that went beyond mere pastiche.
I guess some people are gifted — or maybe seriously deluded — but for me it took a long time to feel like what I was doing was legitimate. So, just recognizing and being comfortable with a bona fide identity was a great boon. That is the plainest way I can explain how I feel I had evolved as an artist/singer/songwriter during our hiatus.
Jason: I’m not sure either of us were ever inactive. I’m a real busy body, crazy energy kind of person when it comes to working on music — we both are really. We were just separate for a bit, after playing pretty much daily, growing up and into musicians together. When we were unable to work together, we both kept going. I know Jim was working his craft as a songwriter and he put together some great bands. I kept busy playing and wound up doing a great deal of engineering and mixing here in NYC.
In 2009 there was a period that I was very busy. I had just finished mixing a few tracks for Dean & Britta, which would later appear on their Warhol record. I was also producing two records at the same time, both completely opposite ends of the spectrum in every musical and vibe type sense. One was Bloody Panda’s Summon and the other Scott Hardkiss’s Technicolor Dreamer. At that time it hit me, “Fuck, I really need to start doing my own thing!”
I reached out to Jim. It didn’t take long for us to discuss how we could work on a project together. That was probably the first seed of The Veda Rays.
Hear the single “Our Ford” from Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays right here:
Q: Jason, what got you into production and the NYC studio scene?”
We had been living down in South Florida working on music, we had our own little 4-track studio and we were constantly recording. Jim had some troubles and all hell really started breaking loose down there.
I took off to NYC to have a little break. That was supposed to be a three-day trip, but a cousin of mine convinced me to stay a few extra days and see some family. I spent most of my time bumming around the village, and after a week I met up with Judah Bauer (Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Cat Power). We became friendly, started jamming together, and I wound up making a record with him in his apartment which was absolutely crammed with gear. At first he had an Otari MX 5050, moved on to a Tascam 1” 16-track, and eventually we had a Studer A80 16-track 2-inch, all in this tiny studio apartment.
I played drums on a few tracks and did most of the engineering. He had a bunch of people coming through to play on tracks — the late Robert Quine (legendary guitarist of Richard Hell & The Voidoids), Matt Verta-Ray, and many others.
From there I worked at a bunch of studios working my way up the ranks. I got to briefly work at and witness Greene Street just before they shut down. I worked at Excello in Williamsburg for years, and really made a home at Dubway. I started doing live sound a bit around the city and got very into remote recording. I think I’ve recorded/mixed over 300 bands for MTV and all the while working on sessions in the studio. Anyway I think I just really got lucky and fell into it. I also just went nuts, I mean, there were a few years straight that I was in a control room probably 350-360 days a year!
Q: Are the Veda Rays part of something new, something old, or something in between? Where does the music of this band sit in the time continuum?
James: Something in between would probably be most accurate. We are endeavoring to help evolve a particular current, and to do this well I believe it must be done in an attitude of reasonable reverence for and acknowledgement of what has come before. I would most optimistically state that we, in fact, aspire toward sitting at the “zero point” of the space-time continuum!
In plainer language, we are first and foremost about the songs. And the songs are set in the context of modern rock and roll music which is strongly informed by post-punk, shoegaze, dark psych, electro and many other micro-genres past and present. We try to have it never be boring, trite, redundant or otherwise sucky in any way. We want to be one of the ones trying to push the collective envelope. As in, how experimental can a pop song be and how “pop” can modern experimental rock get? And note: when I say “pop” I most definitely, in no uncertain terms, do NOT mean anything resembling modern mainstream drivel!