Sep 29, 2005

Cornerstone 2000: An Interview with Jeff Cloud

We sat down the founder of Velvet Blue Music to discuss music, new releases, and why music is trash.

This interview was conducted by Jason Morehead, Nolan Shigley, and Tricia Krull at Cornerstone 2000. Every time I’ve ever seen Jeff Cloud, he always seemed intimidating. First of all he’s tall. Real tall. Secondly, he’s quiet. Real quiet. You know what they say about the quiet ones. However, every time I’d read an interview or article about him, it always mentioned how humble and mild-mannered he is. And you know what, they were right. I knew that the moment he bought me a strawberry smoothie. He still seems a little intimidating, but maybe that’s just because he’s a mover and shaker in the Christian underground.

This was one of the more interesting interviews we did. First of all, Nolan’s voice was practically gone from screaming at the S.S. Bountyhunter show the night before. And then Jeff almost got beaned in the dome from a stray volleyball. But being the hardcore journalists we are, we laughed at the circumstances and plowed on, while Jeff patiently answered all of our questions and then some.

Jason: You just mentioned you added a new member to the band (Starflyer 59). Can you tell us a little about him.

Jeff: Yeah, his name is Josh Dooley and he kind of continues… well, in California there’s about ten bands and they are all made up of the same four people. Dooley plays in a new band on Velvet Blue called Map with the Starflyer drummer. Actually, he’s the guy who taught Jason (Martin) how to play guitar, but now he plays piano for us. It’s kind of weird.

Jason: Yeah, because I noticed a lot of the newer stuff you’re getting more synth sounds. Especially on the last album.

Jeff: Yeah, on the new album we’re trying to not put any guitars on it. I mean, we’re going to have to some obviously, but we’re going to try to take them out.

Jason: Are you still going to be composing the music on guitars?

Jeff: Yes, we’re just so into Mercury Rev and Air and all that stuff right now.

Jason: Yeah, the last Mercury Rev album was incredible.

Nolan: What about the saxophone? (Note: Nolan’s voice sounds like he ate a box of sawdust and nails.)

Jeff: The saxophone is the same thing. On that Mercury Rev album and all those English bands kind of go for putting the sax on there. I think we were real early to put that saxophone on there.

Jason: So you’re kind of moving away from the surf and lounge feel to maybe more of an orchestral feel?

Jeff: Yeah, a little bit. Terry Taylor [Daniel Amos, Lost Dogs, Swirling Eddies] is going to produce the new album. He’s more of a vocal kind of guy you know. So we’re kind of hoping he’ll do some weird kind of stuff laying out the vocals. We’re actually going to let him just change around some of the arrangements if he wants to.

Jason: Kind of like the old Daniel Amos stuff?

Jeff: Yeah. Basically, we’re just trying to make the kind of record that we would like. We’re kind of old, so we’re past the point of, “I think kids will like this.” So we just want to make the kind of record we think would be cool.

Jason: So you’re working on the album right now?

Jeff: We start in September. We’re working on songs right now, but we don’t record until September.

Nolan: Tell us about the new Pony Express album.

Jeff: The new Pony Express stuff… Well, we have the new Monkey Hearts EP on Velvet Blue. We have the Haunted Hearts 10” coming out on another label and then we have a thing called Pedro the Monkey 7” that’s going to be out in a couple months.

Jason: Is that some sort of collaboration or just some kind of a side project?

Jeff: It’s just a… when Jason and I are at home it’s like we get bored you know?

Jason: So when you get bored you write songs together?

Jeff: Yeah.

Nolan: Musically, how different is the new Pony Express compared to the last album?

Jeff: Oh… it’s not really. The production is way better.

Jason: Kind of moving away from the lo-fi kind of feel?

Jeff: A little bit, but we’re still kind of in that mode of things. There’s a little more piano on the album. Some of the songs are a little faster. I hope we have progressed a little in two years. If not, that’s how it goes.

Jason: I’ve noticed you’re distributing a lot of new stuff on Velvet Blue. Like a lot of stuff from Australia, like Battered Fish and some other bands. Are there any other upcoming releases we should keep an eye out for? I know you mentioned Map.

Jeff: Yeah, um… we took off basically about 6 months of rock n’ roll overload where we didn’t put anything out. It was kind of a depressing time. There was just too much rock n’ roll with both bands and the label. We had a death in family, so it was just all this stuff that caused me to really lay low. Now we are kind of back to the jams.We have the new Pony out, the new double-disc compilation is out, and if all goes well it should be here today. The Calicoes on the 15th and Map is the following month. There’s a band called Reverse, which we’re doing a double 7”. Pedro the Monkey 7”. J.J. from Sal Paradis, I think we’re going to put out his solo album.

Nolan: I know that Fine China is going onto Tooth and Nail and I know you guys have a tie with Tooth and Nail. What determines whether you’re going to send one of the Velvet Blue bands to sign up with Tooth and Nail?

Jeff: Well, you know Fine China was suppose to go to Plastiq Musiq. Which is kind of the electronic offshoot of Tooth and Nail. We felt that it might propel Plastiq Musiq a little bit. We thought with Fine China it might get them going a little bit and might help Fine China with the higher profile distribution. Platiq Musiq is more or less over now, so they went to Tooth and Nail, which really wasn’t anyone’s intention. It just kind of happened. But, it’s cool.

Nolan: I’ve noticed each year that there aren’t a lot of Velvet Blue bands here. Is there a particular reason for that?

Jeff: Well, this year there is Denison Witmer, Jetenderpaul, and Phaedo was supposed to play. The label only has 5 bands on it right now and there are actually 3 of them here. Pony Express has only really played four of five shows.

Jason: Yeah, I remember reading another interview with you in which you said that’s really not a touring band at all and it was never intended to be.

Jeff: No, I hate being the guy in the front. I don’t enjoy it at all. So, that and LN is really sporadic on their shows and Lassie Foundation barely ever leaves the state.

Jason: Yeah, I get concert announcements sometimes and they’re always in Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Jeff: The Calicoes probably should have been here, but we just can’t get everyone on all of the time.

Tricia: Whatever happened to Phaedo?

Jeff: Phaedo actually broke up. They are no longer a band anymore, but they’re all in this new band called the Colemans, which is basically all the guys in Phaedo, and their sister sings. So we will eventually put something out for them.

Jason: I remember you mentioned that you don’t really like to put out a lot of CDs, but more 7” and vinyl releases. Is that more of a cost factor?

Jeff: Well, as weird as it sounds, a 7” is more expensive to manufacture than a CD. I just don’t like full length albums. There’s too much pressure on them. If you do an EP and it’s like four songs, and it’s just short… well, mostly everyone can come up with at least a few good songs. There’s a little more pressure when you have to come up with 10 or 12. The studio time and everything is just more of a mess. There’s a lot more demand on it.

If you put out an EP and it’s just so-so, not saying that we try to put out just so-so material, but if you do, then it’s like whatever. But if you put out a full-length, people look at it like it’s this band’s debut album. It’s garbage. I don’t like them. I hate them.

Jason: Now, when most people think of Velvet Blue, they think of Jeff Cloud. Who else works on Velvet Blue?

Jeff: There’s Wendy James who does all the artwork, my wife who so-so helps out. Dirk from Stavesacre works there. He works every other day for Velvet Blue. Every now and then there’s someone who wants to intern. It’s a pretty small production.

Jason: Is it one of those “run out of your living room” kind of labels?

Jeff: Well, we have an office behind our house. I guess I could hire someone, but if I can do it by myself, why?

Jason: Yeah, definitely. Plus it gives you a lot more control over the production.

Nolan: What are you usually recording the music on?

Jeff: Well, we did the new Pony thing… it’s the first thing we have done all at home. We’ve got a half inch 8 track. We did all the songs on that. I don’t really think you can tell after it’s been mastered and everything. All the Lassie Foundation stuff has always been on 8 track. Most of the other bands we put in the Green Room or with Bob Moon. Whatever’s around.

Nolan: How active are you with Plastiq Musiq?

Jeff: I’m not active at all.

Jason: Is that pretty much solely Ronnie’s thing?

Jeff: Yes.

Jason: Back to the Pony Express, is it still the original line-up? You, Jason, and Daryl from Upside Down Room? Have you brought in anyone else?

Jeff: Yeah, to continue the incest thing, Josh is playing keys for us and the guy in Map, he came in and played some guitar lead.

Jason: You guys are doing the Elephant 6 Collective.

Jeff: Yeah.

Nolan: So who is going to be the regular Starflyer drummer?

Jeff: It’s Joey. He’s been with us… we haven’t played with Wayne for about a year and half or so. Joey played on the Fell in Love at 22 EP and he’ll play on the new album.

Jason: How’s that been working out?

Jeff: It’s good man, it’s been great. We all miss Wayne, since he’s our friend.

Jason: Is he solely focusing on the Lassie Foundation?

Jeff: He’s doing Lassie Foundation and he’s a school teacher. He just got married. He’s doing a lot of stuff. It takes a lot of commitment to be in a band full time. He’s just a busy guy.

Jason: Anything else you would like to touch upon?

Jeff: Mmmm…

Nolan: How did you like S.S. Bountyhunter?

Jeff: You know, I really didn’t get to see them. I really liked it when I saw them last year and I was really into it.

Jason: One last thing. You’ve always referred to rock n’ roll as “trash”. Is that kind of more to keep it humble, or to de-emphasize the whole rock n roll thing? Or do you just think a lot of rock n’ roll out there is crap?

Jeff: Well, it’s like we’re just three guys… (Note: at this point, a stray volleyball nearly hits Jeff in the dome, instead hitting the lady sitting next to us whose eating lunch).

Jason: We’re calling the ambulance right now.

Tricia: Note to self, never conduct interview in volleyball court again.

Jeff: Like I was saying, we’re just three guys who plug in an instrument and just make motions with our hands. Then people are paying money to buy what you happened to record. The concept of music is real random if you think about it. I mean we are just three normal people. People put so much emphasis on what you say or what sounds you happen to record onto a piece of tape.

In the end of everything man, especially as a Christian, it’s literally just a bunch of trash. I know its cool that music means more to you at certain times, like when stuff’s happening. Everyone has that, but the overall picture of a kid giving me a dollar for a Pony Express sticker is stupid in the scope of everything. But I guess while you’re here, it kills some time for entertainment.

Nolan: Last night, you guys played a totally gorgeous surf set. Are you really into the surf scene?

Jeff: We’re just tired of playing the rock n’ roll. We played “Duel (Overhead Cam)” because we were out of songs at the end, but we’re just tired of playing the same songs. We’re kind of tired of doing stuff for everyone else. If we want to play “Help Me When You’re Gone” for twenty minutes, we just play it.

I mean, when you look around at a lot of the younger bands, they’re all making the same kind of t-shirts and they all think they’re hilarious in their Poison shirts (Editor’s Note: We at Opus think we’re hilarious in our Winger shirts). Whatever… we’re just a few guys making music so we’re not trying to… if a kid buys the album, that’s cool, if he doesn’t, whatever.

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