Sometimes the best things happen when least expected. This is the case for Houston independent band Velveteen Echo. The four band mates came together in a very unintentional way and much like their sound, the energy and connection was organic.
Lead singer, keyboardist and guitarist Ren Massa released a video for her song “Do You” directed by her sister, Kristin Massa and then local players started contacting her hoping to join her band. The band members agree that it was Houston’s local music scene that provided them all with the opportunity to connect with one another.
“This is my first full band project so I'm really pleased with how we are doing and the content we are making. It definitely exceeded my expectations,” says Massa.
She describes their songs as a collaborative effort with the rest of the band agreeing that though the bones of each song originate with Massa, each member adds a layer of meat to the finished sound and shares credit for their work. “I think it definitely takes my music to the next level to have these guys on board,” says Massa.
Massa remembers going to see Wells perform in Birthday Club and being blown away by his sound and personality. “He has this really cool spiritual element that kind of grounds him,” says Massa of Wells. “I love working with him. He brought some fresh instruments and some fresh energy.”
“It was the first time we worked with a real producer,” says bassist Grant Loomis. “He was so good at it and it really upped the result a ton. It was really fun.”
Engineer Steve Christensen has become a highly sought after engineer for artists in Houston and beyond. His work with bands like Khruangbin, has really helped to put Houston on the map for independent rock bands.
Velveteen Echo originally linked up with Christensen through their guitarist Jacob Villarreal who also plays with El Lago and had previously worked with Christensen. “Jacob is really the connection but it goes back to Steve making himself available to people of all levels and budgets,” says Loomis.
Villarreal agrees saying, “Absolutely, because he works with some really successful musicians and artists but he understands what a local artist does and has to go through. He accommodates them, makes time for them and really puts the heart and center of his energy into it, despite you being a smaller act so to speak.”
Massa mirrors the sentiment adding, “It’s because Steve has been so available I think that he's contributed a lot to the sound of Houston independent acts. It’s a really special person to have and I think he's done amazing things to give a real character and sound to people that record with him.”
Mirrors/Myths will surely only help to propel Velveteen Echo further into the independent music stratosphere. The album is brimming with dreamy vocals and whimsical, often poetic yet relatable lyrics, which complement the more structured and grungy guitar riffs and drum patterns.
“I think that a big part of the trajectory is just sort of trying to open up more to stuff that isn’t just lead guitar or rhythm guitar, which there's nothing wrong with, but we've been trying to sort of do things a little differently,” says Loomis.
Velveteen Echo had performed some of the songs from Mirrors/Myths prior to the pandemic but they took advantage of their time during shut down to really hammer down the details, often using a new approach of sharing files through Dropbox due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Massa describes the urgency she felt to get these songs finished and out there, pandemic or not saying, “Once it’s in motion, I am not a patient person. I just want to see it to the end. It would be like trying to hold back a pregnancy or something, eventually the baby is going to come.”
True to their origins, Velveteen Echo has continued to focus on creating visually stimulating and artistic videos. They have released three videos prior to releasing the album.
Their video for “Dark Form” was directed by Lindsey Cooper and features a combination of vintage footage found by Cooper and footage of Massa all played on a grainy VHS tape.
“I’m really lucky that I’m surrounded with so much talent, with my sister especially. I think just having any visuals, even if it's not a narrative or a traditional music video, having any visuals helps a lot.”
Mirror/Myths is a cohesive expression of art in its sound and visuals. Massa describes the title as reflecting her lyrics, which invoke mythological elements, combined with her own personal experiences saying, “It’s like a mirror of what I’ve experienced, but through the lens of a myth.”
Even the cover art itself is another happy accident representing the complexities lurking behind seemingly ordinary things. Villarreal took the photo for their cover art as he went for a bike ride.
The photo itself is of a dirty, Houston street puddle but after he played with the contrast, it looks more like a galaxy sucking in the viewer. “It somehow strikes me as a useful metaphor of Houston for all of us, it’s a little gross but out of it, pretty things happen,” says Villarreal.
As more and more people in our city get vaccinated and venues are re-opening, it appears the return of live music is close and though the band is anxious to get back on stage, they remain cautious.
“I’ll definitely feel way better about it once I’m vaccinated,” says Massa. “I’ll feel more comfortable taking my mask off to sing. What a bummer singing a muffled song with a mask.”
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