When and how did Velocipede get its start (and why the name Velocipede)?
I was in a band called the Square back in the early 90s...just the singer (and songwriter), didn't play anything. Although I enjoyed the band, I had lots of ideas outside of what we were trying to do. I also wanted to play guitar. I bought a guitar and learned to play, sort of...ha. I did what came naturally...power chords and such. Noisy.
During this time I saw a band called Flat Duo Jets, a two-man rockabilly band. Just guitar and drums. It was probably the loudest show I've ever seen, at a club in Nashville called the Exit/In. The guitar was a glorious blur, and the drums were so loud. It was astounding that two guys were making so much noise. Their recorded material was quite different than the live show. It was just so..big. A true wall of sound. Probably one of the most intense concert experiences I'd had. The guitarist was just crazy. I think he had a nervous breakdown on stage that night. It was the 'punkest' thing I'd ever seen.
I began to think how cool it would be to do a two-man band that was very hard rock. And I talked with the Square's drummer about it, who was my best friend. He also thought it was a cool idea, and we started to work on it. I had bought an amazingly loud Ampeg half-stack, and we'd spend hours attempting to sound 'big'. My playing style sort of evolved around the concept. Huge low end and tons of distortion. I started to write songs, and it became my most important creative outlet. When the Square broke up, me and Mark just kept going, the two of us.
Somewhere along the way, I had seen the word 'Velocipede', which is what a certain style of very old bicycle was called. I just thought it was a cool sounding word...and sounded like a band name. Mark liked it, and that's what we became. We always referred to ourselves as 'the Pede'.
Who were (and are) your musical influences?
Sex Pistols, Social Distortion and Killing Joke were probably my three biggest musical influences during that time. I like (and still like) very distinctive rock bands. I liked a lot of the riffs and rhythm of metal guitars, but pretty much couldn't take metal bands seriously (early 90s). I was into bands like Midnight Oil, the Godfathers, and Sugar. I was also a fan of several Christian rock bands, like Undercover, Daniel Amos, and the Altar Boys. I am still a big fan of Steve Scott, as well. Brilliant stuff.
My vocals evolved from trying to rant like Johnny Rotten to actually singing. I realized I could actually sing pretty well, and had a lot of power. I developed a very straightforward singing style (as opposed to vocal 'riffing' that is quite common in rock), trying to imitate Michael Been of the Call, and Sim Wilson from Undercover.
As far as songwriting and lyrics, I took my cues from Michael Been. He was definitely my favorite songwriter. I wanted to talk about the 'inner life' as he described it. I began to write songs that were very introspective, and wanted to project passion and intelligence in my words.
My singing style did not match my music, according to a lot of people...ha. To me, it seemed natural. I wanted to sing like Michael Been and play guitar like Geordie Walker (Killing Joke). The 'Pede happened in a time where people were pretty obsessed with labeling music, and I think that worked against us.
These days, I’m a huge Filter fan, and love Gargabe, Curve and obscure things like Suzanne Vega and Michael Penn. I love modern rock…from the Cure to Girls Against Boys. Not really fond of the most of the stuff this decade, overall…it all sounds like Creed and Pearl Jam crammed into a blender, then pooped against a wall.
And yes, I am a huge Morrissey fan. No apologies. Ha.
How did you get hooked up with REX and Neverland?
I had known Tyler Bacon, REX's A&R guy since college. He had always seemed to like the music I did, to a degree, but always made suggestions for improvement which I dismissed. His tastes were more polished, I guess you could say. I contributed a song to the Demolition album, and he called and said he wanted to do a complete record. I did some demos at a friend's house on his four track, and sent it in. Tyler liked it.
During this time, I had moved to Knoxville, and changed drummers. Mike Santrock, who was an old friend, and an amazing drummer, really pushed me musically. I 'drilled' with him for months, and my guitar playing really stepped up. It became second nature to me to play and sing. I never practiced with a microphone...I would face the drummer and sing as loud as I could. It really helped me build power. Mike didn't play the drums as just a beat...he played parts. Very specific things at specific points during the song. This was a huge difference for me, and really changed things.
These days, the White Stripes and the Black Keys do fine, as two-piece bands. Back then, it was a struggle to make people 'understand' the concept. I didn't have anything against the bass, I just thought the idea of two guys just 'going for it' was really cool. When we played live, people would say, 'Where's the rest of your band?' Thirty seconds into the first song, they'd say, 'Oh, nevermind.'
Tyler didn't get it. He was worried about production, and worried how the record would be perceived. He went to Neverland, which had just moved to Nashville, to talk to Chris Colbert, because Chris was known as the king of punk, and he knew how to make a record CHEAP. The studio was booked, and we had a week to make a record.
Chris recorded us as we were...raw and crazy. Stacking the guitar tracks in fours or more, sounded huge, but turned things into a dizzy mess. Mike's drums didn't sound very good, and his cymbals were utter crap. It frustrated me at the end of recording to find out that the studio had many good cymbals we could have used...just sitting in the closet. Chris was pleased with the way it sounded...it was a big, glorious pile of sludge. 'That's what you sound like', he said. Although I had to agree, I wanted a more polished sound, and wish I had known more about production. I kind of felt like a bystander during the process. No one's intent or fault. There was no producer listed on the project. Chris explained to me why he didn't claim to be producer. 'My job as a producer is to **ck an artist up. You were already **cked up.'
Tyler said he did not like the way the record sounded. Chris offered to remix it. Tyler said not to bother, it didn't matter. I later found out through a friend that a couple of songs actually charted on the 'Hard Charts'. REX never bothered to tell me, and never offered any support other than to say they were unhappy, but not to bother remixing. They were obsessed with Fleming and John and Sixpence None The Richer at the time, and everyone else was a bit of a nuisance, I think. I really think we could have done something with the record, if it sounded better, and if REX even pretended to care.
I sent in some demos for a new record, but they were rejected because John Armand Petrie, Tyler's favorite producer, said they sounded silly. He said it sounded like it was done with a bad drum machine. I was very frustrated and just gave up, thinking no one cared, and having no sense of the 'Pede having any fans of any kind. I asked to be released from my contract. No, that's not true. I angrily demanded it. REX didn't even give any free product to their bands. I got a check for about seventy bucks from SESAC...that's all I ever got out of the deal. The REX concept for their heavy music, overall, was to just sell records to the same 4,000 kids every time. The money earned from each project, paid for the next one, by a different band. There wasn't a commitment of any kind to help develop artists...just criticize them and dismiss them. I know that may sound bitter, but it's the way it was. I had another friend who worked there, and he confirmed my feelings.
I felt I had a lot of potential as an artist, and was sad to see it all get flushed away so quickly. At least that's how it felt at the time.
I was quite amazed, years later, to find references online, and especially the lyrics to 'This Way'. It was touching to realize that that song had meant something to someone other than me.
What was it like working with Chris Colbert and Steve Hindalong?
Both guys expressed a lot of appreciation for me, and were very gracious. Chris ended up becoming a close friend for a while.
I loved the studio...it was in an old building on 4th Ave., the older, more industrial part of downtown. They had a Studer two inch tape machine, and a vintage sound board that had been bought from the BBC in London. And an entire closet full of guitar effects pedals, which I loved. I think we used every one of them...ha.
Chris was great to work with, because he got it. He thought a two-man rock band was a cool idea, and he was a true noise merchant. He was relieved because I could play the guitar in time, sing well, and didn't have a giant ego that needed to be nursed constantly, unlike a lot of his other projects. According to him, half of producing a record was dealing with explosive egos and difficult people who could barely sing or play. I was just so honored to be there, and be making a REAL record, that I would have done anything they asked.
Chris liked my random, weird guitar ideas, and encouraged them. He was great as an engineer, and has plenty of work to prove that, regardless of how '..sane' came out.
Chris has a great sense of humor, and we got along well. He's one of the smartest, deepest people I've ever met, and I feel honored to have been his friend for a while. He meant a lot to me. Talked to him briefly a couple of years ago, and he is doing well. He was running live sound for a band called the Walkmen, and living in the Pacific Northwest...not sure what he is doing now.
Steve? I didn't get to know Steve very well. He was going through a tough time in his life, and that was obvious. But so was I, honestly. Who wasn't? Steve brought out some harmonies that I would never have thought of, or tried, and he was great at communicating what he wanted. I don't think I did a single retake because I wanted to. I trusted him, and I think he got a good vocal performance out of me. If I had a project in the works, and need a great vocal producer, I'd probably call Steve, sure. He is also an amazing percussionist, and had a closet full of the most amazing hand drums and shakers imaginable.
Are there any funny/interesting stories from that time?
Oh sure, too many to remember...and some I couldn't repeat...ha. I remember random things, like Chris, myself, and Skye (2nd engineer) passing a guitar around in a circle, making crazy noise, and keeping it all on the track. I remember Mike, the drummer, eating day-old pizza covered with cat hair. I remember putting the old 70's Peavey logo on the wall in the main mixing room, and that it pissed of Derri. I remember trying to play a Bazuki. I just loved the feeling of being involved in something that felt important. I was 27 at the time.
After the album was recorded, I moved back to Nashville, and ended up hanging out at Neverland a bit. I actually gave Chris an old car in exchange for recording a song for me. The recording never happened, but I heard lots of stories about the car. Can’t remember what it was…an old Nova? My wife at the time had bought it from a friend, and when we moved, we didn’t need it. I gave it to Chris. Apparently the universal joint wore out, and it would stay in drive, no matter what…heard some funny stories from him and Steve about that…the car ramming into a building while they were flooring the brakes. I think there’s a line about that car in a Fluffy song, actually.
I was called to be an additional male vocalist on the second ‘Foot of the Cross’ album, and was then politely asked to leave after several takes, because I was so much louder than the other guys. Didn’t’ mean to be…
Velocipede and Fluffy played a joint show at the Strand in Marietta, GA, once. Nathan, Fluffy’s singer, was in town working on the last Fluffy record (Sugar Pistol), which was later rereleased as a Duraluxe record. We all drove to GA together, and after the ‘Pede set, I unplugged the guitar, plugged in a bass, and became Fluffy’s bassist for a night. I still remember playing the intro to ‘Guns, Guitars and Girls’ over and over, while crazy kids rushed the stage and started to mosh. Chris had bought a thrift store guitar that day, planning to trash it on stage. He did so, gloriously. At the end of the set, as he demolished it against the floor, a bunch of kids ran onstage to grab guitar parts. Chris yelled out, ‘The pickups are mine! Take anything else!”
Chris moved to New York for a while and ran sound for MTV’s ‘120 Minutes’ show, and several of their live events. He had lots of great stories about that time, including running sound for an outdoor Kiss concert. He told me that Ace Frehley was so messed up that he was wearing an in-ear monitor so someone offstage could coach him through the performance. Tell him what chord was next, etc. Pretty funny stuff.
What are you working on now?
I decided after the ‘Pede that I was a solo artist. I did another record with Chris, funded by myself, in 1997, called ‘…losing steam’
I am intensely proud of that record. It was recorded at a tiny studio Chris owned in west Nashville. It was not a very heavy record, guitar-wise, even though it is a guitar record. I wanted to prove that I could do more than create a wall of sludge. I played guitar, bass and did all the vocals, and my good friend Jeff Bradshaw played drums. It was a very personal project for me, and it’s nowhere close to perfect, but I still listen to it and enjoy it. ‘My Ghost’, the opening track is probably the one track people seem to latch onto more than anything I’ve written.
Anyone who wants it can download it here: http://danngunn.com/losing_steam.zip
I recorded another indie project in 1999 called ‘Floating, Spinning “Upside-Down”, and have played sporadic gigs over the years. My heart has always been in making music, but I was never a part of any ‘scene’, or ever felt I had any real fans, beyond a friend or two.
Last year, I recorded a batch of songs I am extremely proud of, and I am working to get them on Jango.com and iTunes. I am also working on new recordings soon. The newer songs have a decidedly ‘industrial’ feel to them, and I like that. I have gotten into drum programming, and like it. I will always use a live drummer on stage, of course. Two different things.
You can listen to these songs at: http://danngunn.com/ I am in the process of completely overhauling that site. The songs will be available for download soon.
I am hitting age 44, and I feel like I still have a lot to say. Many years ago, at a frustrated time in my life, I promised God that if He allowed me to continue making music, I would respect the honor, and that I would only create beautiful things. I would never do anything that was angry for the sake of being angry. I would attempt to be redemptive in my thoughts and words. I still honor that promise, and hope that the songs I have made have some impact, and gives someone a little more strength, and reminds someone that they need more love in their life. I will always want to do something that matters, and talk about things that make my heart shake and keep me awake at night, with a brain on fire…for me, music is all about catharsis.
Again, special thanks to Dann Gunn for taking the time to answer my questions. Definitely check out his new album, Easy, available on Itunes now! I'll probably post a review soon.