“I have two lenses,” admits Montreal-based singer-songwriter, Chris Velan. “The small one is focused internally, learning about myself. The large one point’s outward, observing how the world works in its complexity. I try to find my own truths on both those levels of inquiry.
Searching for these truths since first picking up a guitar at the age of nine, Velan’s journey to understand how he and the world itself operates has taken him down two distinct paths: law and music. In his early 20s, Velan was determined to make sense of humanity’s struggles through a career in law, only to realize – after collaborating on the Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars’ documentary – that he could make as great an impact through music by its simple yet profound ability to connect people.
Velan’s journey to make that connection culminates in his fourth full-length effort, Fables For Fighters (NewSong Recordings/Fontana North). Motivated by a range of influences spanning 70s’ singer-songwriters, blues, rock, 80s alternative, West African music and reggae, Fables For Fighters finds Velan at his most poetically versatile. Written while touring in support of his previous effort Solidago (2009), Fables For Fighters furthers Velan’s goal to carve out his own path, directly inspired by the loneliness, searching, exhilaration and exhaustion of a nomadic musical lifestyle.
“This album emerges from a distinct time-frame in my life. I’m inspired by the life I want – or don’t want – to live and see things differently from people with a rigid daily life. It can sometimes feel like a weird state of suspended animation,” he says. “A lot of the songs were written from the fringes of my emotions. Even when I hear the album now, the space and emotion of these songs and moments come back to me.”
To ensure that Fables For Fighters conveyed the rawness of the material, Velan and renowned producer, Iestyn Polson (David Gray), tracked the songs live in-studio before squirreling away for a month to subsequently create the album’s sonic atmosphere through additional instrumentation.
“Iestyn was adamant from the start that we needed live takes to capture whatever it is that’s true and real about these songs. We spent the whole month of July – the hottest on record – rehearsing the songs over and over again in a stone sub-basement in Brooklyn to get the arrangement and feel just right. We sweated like fiends. The whole city was like a clay oven, radiating heat. But with all that slow-cooking we went through, we were able to bang out eleven tracks in three days, live off the floor. It was exhausting but very rewarding.”
Polson and Velan spent the following month locked down in a small project studio, searching like mad scientists for the right kinds of overdub sounds to compliment the takes.
“The room was strewn with analog synths, omnichords and percussion instruments from all corners of the world,” he says. “Even the building itself was an instrument with the wood shop machines below us vibrating through the old floors.”
Broadened by Polson’s experience and divergent methods, Velan takes greater personal risks than ever with Fables For Fighters, turning in an impeccably balanced album, uniting unforgettable rhythms and melodies with unhindered sentiment and subtle delivery. The resulting album is one of contrasts. Sonically, it has a quality to it that is both timeless and new, intimate and cinematic, open and claustrophobic, haunting and reassuring. Thematically, the songs strive to balance the pains of struggle with the hope of transformation; the very personal search for one’s place in the world.
“With a couple of albums and a lot traveled miles now under my belt, I feel like I’ve arrived at a place where I better understand who I am as an artist and a songwriter. It’s a foothold that I’ve worked hard to find. I wanted the album to reflect that hard-worn growth by being as honest and intuitive in its recording as it could be,” says Velan. “I ended up putting a lot of its direction in Iestyn’s hands, who pushed me to capture the emotion and raw energy of my live shows. It was liberating.”
Ultimately, Velan’s efforts result in a beautifully intricate juxtaposition of music, creative process and life.
Going back to those who inspired him creatively years before, Velan had the opportunity to reunite with this friends, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, to record his standalone single,“Iñez,” released in December 2010, in advance of Fables For Fighters.
“These are the guys who, by their example, reconnected me to my own music and need to create. Recording “Iñez” with them as I headed into the release of this new album served as a perfect reminder of why I chose this path.”