(Re)Collection #13: The Velmas Demos
I met John DeMoulpied one night in June 1995 at a sports bar in a strip mall in Valparaiso, Indiana. He was a Philosophy PHD student at Purdue which is located there. I played drums in a band called Tart, and we got an out of town show with his group the Velmas. I don't remember much about the evening other than being blown away by John's songs. I expressed as much to him and Jessica Billey, who played violin and sang back up vocals. She was great, too.
The next time I saw them, she handed me a clear TDK cassette with fish stickers on it. Written in French on the stickers on the A and B sides: "If you like to sleep, I announce the Velmas."
I wore this tape out. I could not get enough of the interplay of their voices and her violin. The words were also interesting and smart, and the melodies stuck in my head. I carried that tape with me everywhere. I was the keeper of secret music. A handful of other people knew about John's amazing songs. It was a tiny club that got to experience that miracle, and the rest of the world didn't know about it.
A year later in the summer of 1996, I was seated on a bed in the garret of a row house in Reading, England. My group Number One Cup was playing some festivals and assorted dates around the UK and Europe that summer. Our tour manager got us some rooms in a bed and breakfast in between shows.
I was still obsessing over that tape. I had a tape recorder beside me and an acoustic guitar in my hands. I was trying to figure out how to play the first song on the B side. I didn't know the title, so I called it the Answering Machine song. I had just bought this really tricked out little Sony stereo cassette recorder. I was convinced I was going to record some excellent bedroom recordings on tour with it.
Uh, no. I couldn't play guitar for shit. That didn't stop me from many feeble and embarrassing attempts to do so. I would listen to that song. Stop it. Then I would try to play it and sing it into my recorder. Over and over. Eventually, I put down the guitar because I had no idea what the actual chords were and sang it into the recorder. I wish I still had my recordings. There is something sweet and innocent about how inept I was. Yet I still tried. That encapsulates many of my musical endeavors. In the absence of recognizeable talent, knowledge and experience, I make it up as I go along. Haha.
Here is a link to a couple of my favorite songs from that Velmas demo. The sound quality is lacking as it is a 25 year old third generation cassette recording that I wore out on a series of crappy tape players. But it gives a decent picture of what John's songs are like even in stripped down, lo-fi form.
I asked them to do a 7" on my label, Sweet Pea Records, later in 1996. They recorded it at our friend Jeff Boyd's studio Stroppy. Here is a little info about that release.
John Demoulpied, Jessica Billey, Guy Crundwell and Kevin Dunbar would eventually record their only full length, Landscrapes, in 1997 for Beluga Records at Kingsize Studio with Dave Trumfio and Mike Hagler. This record is an unknown classic.
I feel a strong responsibility to share this music. People should hear it and not just the lo-fi home-recorded demos. They are great in their own right, but people should hear the Landscrapes record. It is a definitive picture of the full band and their vision of how their music should be presented.
I plan to reissue it on vinyl on my label Sweet Pea in the next year. I am going to talk to John soon and iron out some preliminary details. It needs to be heard. To quote Dewey Finn from School of Rock, "No more secret songs, Kurt Cobain."
Here is a link to the opening track, Grinder Paine. Enjoy.