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The Velveteens Shed Poppy Past on New Album Sun's Up

L-R: Kiera Coonan, Jonny Holupchinski, and Jillian Schroeder

L-R: Kiera Coonan, Jonny Holupchinski, and Jillian Schroeder

The Velveteens | Hexagon Bar | Saturday, December 6
It's a bitterly cold Monday night for November, but the Velveteens' practice space is warm and full of life. A handful and a half of punks are milling around, doing the things punks do in their spare time. Tonight, that appears to be an intersection of board games and petting cats. In the midst of the semi-domestic milieu, a curse-filled cross-stitch pattern hangs over the stovetop on the way to the basement.

Downstairs, piles of half-functional equipment crowd the corners of the room and Christmas lights dangle around homespun sound baffling made from styrofoam coffee cups. Without all of the spilled beer and the press of bodies, it's easy to forget there were a couple of rowdy shows hosted here just a couple of days ago. The kids have a nickname for the place that sort of rhymes with "Shrimp Triscut," but for bassist Jillian Schroeder, casually flipping her laundry, it's just called "home."

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The Velveteens played some of their very first shows in DIY spaces like this, including one of Schroeder's previous residences, which was across the street from the bookstore where she met vocalist/drummer Kiera Coonan in 2008. Since then, the Velveteens have been more or less a fixture of Minneapolis's thriving DIY community, honing their sound through countless shows with everyone from crust punks to traveling hobo folkies.

"We've actually cut back," explains Schroeder, of their hectic gigging pace. "It's just that our friends ask us to play shows with them."

"We always end up saying 'yes' to too many things, but there's always too many fun opportunities," adds Coonan, with a laugh. "Yeah, I don't think we have a business strategy behind this."

In those early days, the Velveteens resembled more of a doo-wop throwback trio from a unique angle. Guitarist Jonny Holupchinski remembers finding the dark undercurrents of wall-of-sound-era girl groups particularly inspirational.

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"We first started playing more '60s-inspired stuff. Jillian had the Girls in the Garage comp, which was really cool," he relates. "And the really sinister aspects, and the spaciness of the Shangri-Las and the Ronettes and stuff, can all get really spooky. We're definitely not playing that kind of music anymore, but we're trying to preserve the tonality of it."

"When we think of bands that are inspirational to us," says Coonan, "it's a lot of sort of more minimal, spaced-out elements, and those sounds really inspire me."

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As they've grown into their own identity, the trio retained that quality while shedding most of their doo-wop trappings, ending up with a sound that's tough to categorize. The combo of Schroeder's bass and Holupchinski's guitar sounds like a psychedelic, laid-back Link Wray, but Coonan straddles the line between '60s crooners and Siouxie Sioux. Perhaps most important to the sound is the Velveteens' control of the dynamics within their songs. There's a moody, intimate quality derived from Coonan's minimal drumming and the long, luxurious pauses that the band seems to relish in.

Last August, the trio partnered with local producer Neil Weir at Old Blackberry Way studios to try to capture their reimagined sound, and the fit couldn't have been more natural.

"Working with Neil was amazing," says Coonan. "He really respected our ideas, and how we wanted to sound, not just how he wanted us to sound. It was a really collaborative process."

"His approach is definitely the one that clicked with us," adds Holupchinski. "There's no $100,000 microphone, there's no talk like that, only if we asked."

Weir, who cut his teeth at the legendary Pachyderm Studios, has a special affinity for the nexus where pop songwriting and airy, otherworldly qualities meet, and his fingerprints seem especially present on the Velveteens' album Sun's Up. There are gentle effects here and there, but for the most part, the talents of the trio are laid bare, allowing lonesome, occasionally eerie tinges to shine through. Their partnership became so strong that Weir offered to release Sun's Up on wax through his in-house studio label.

That title, and the track that bears the same name, holds a special significance for the Velveteens. It's a smoky, gothic take on the bright garage-pop of the band's earlier days, and the defining lyric speaks both to the end of a personal romance and the band's past.

"The song is kind of about starting over, and the album is kind of about starting over, as a band," Coonan explains. "It was really closing the book on our old sound."

"Sometimes I think about the line in the chorus, 'Sun's up, I wave goodbye,' and it's like a positive," Schroeder adds. "You're waving goodbye and saying hello to a new thing."

The Velveteens. With the Hecks and Waveless. 10 p.m., Saturday, December 6 at Hexagon Bar.

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