Sarah Bleach has just rushed back to her English flat. She was out shopping, but hastily returned to meet an appointment to talk to Illinois Entertainer about her band’s latest album Fourfold Remedy, and strange subsequent career uncertainty.
Since there were hardly any copies of their CD dropped on the American market, you probably haven’t heard of Velocette. But the band follows in the spirit of other European moody pop bands like Cornershop, The Cardigans, Pale Saints and Snowpony. Led by Bleach’s thinly waifish vocals and broadened by warmly soaring strings and organ backgrounds, the band cops retro feels on songs like the Phil Spector wall-of-sound homage "Bitterscene," the Doors-ish keyboard scales and Santana-esque percussion jam on "Someone’s Waiting" and more classic pop ambience on "Unkind," where Bleach sounds as langourous as Vanessa Daou.
While Fourfold Remedy is Velocette’s first album, the band has been around in some form for several years; until January of 1997, the three main players in Velocette were paired with a more punk-oriented sound and songwriter in the group Comic Game, which was signed to the London Wiija label — also the home of Cornershop.
"I’m not a punk singer; it doesn’t fit my voice or personality," Bleach admits. (Frankly it’d take quite an imagination to picture her voice rockin’ out with a punk band.)
"And Sam (Pluck, guitarist) doesn’t write punk either. Both songwriting teams really ended up reacting against the other one."
And so the traditional "artistic differences" were cited and Velocette was born, the newly dubbed threesome taking their name from an old British motorbike company.
"We liked the name because it doesn’t sound ‘British’; more French or Italian,"Bleach says. "It looks and sounds nice." Which is as good as any way to describe the group itself.
Velocette released its first single on Wiija in "Get Yourself Together" back in 1997. They followed that in the summer and fall of 1998 with "Spoiled Children" and "Reborn." Finally, early this year the band released their album and from it, "Bitterscene," their best and most hummable single to date, which garnered them a "Single of the Week" spot on the BBC which in turn earned them a Top 100 spot on the British national pop chart.
"We hit number 96 on the chart, which was as high as we could go since we sold every copy that we released," Bleach says, leading into the story of why a band seemingly on the verge of success is now without a label.
"It was all very disorganized," she says. "They only pressed 1,500 copies and wouldn’t issue another pressing."
Despite the chart success in England, Wiija fumbled the promotional ball with Velocette. The label didn’t put the band out on tour, released only a limited number of copies of their singles and Fourfold Remedy in Europe, and only pressed 1,500 copies of their debut album for the U.S. market through Wiija’s American arm, Beggar’s Banquet. By the time the CD made it to America, the band had already opted to sever its longrunning ties with Wiija.
"They just didn’t seem to know how to target the band and didn’t seem to want to put any effort into making it happen," Bleach says. "It’s been a bit of a downer, really, but we learned a lot about the music industry in the process. They wanted another Cornershop, which happened without a lot of work from the record label. We needed a lot of promotion and getting our image around."
Bleach blames part of Wiija’s inattention on the fact that the band had been with the label under another guise for several years.
"When a label finds a new act, there’s all this ‘get up and go, make this happen’ attitude. But they’d been working with us for five years."
Currently the band is "on holiday" trying to sort its business arrangements out. But they plan to play a summer festival in Spain, and already have been demo-ing songs for a second album, though who will press and promote it is still wide open to question.
Bleach says the fans they have found with Fourfold Remedy and their "everything but the kitchen sink" single "Bitterscene" may be surprised with their upcoming direction.
"People kind of put us as a retro band right away, because of the fun we had with ‘Bitterscene.’ If you do a tune like that — kind of a "Leader of the Pack" thing — people think that’s all you’re about. But our second album will be more focused. We’re not ‘60s kids really. We cover a broad spectrum of music, from the Phil Spector kind of stuff to ‘70s folk like Fairport Convention...and Sam’s into heavy metal like Black Sabbath and the like. Part of the retro sounds on Fourfold Remedy are the instruments we used, not because that’s our focus. We want to update our keyboard equipment so we have a more modern sound for the new album. One of the new songs is going to be a bit Roxy Music sounding, and there are some big ballady numbers too."
With any luck, another label will hear the moody beauty in Velocette’s sound — and know what to do with it. In the meantime, you may have to search the Internet and/or record stores extra hard to hear the smooth textures of Fourfold Remedy. But if you can find it, it’s worth a dose.
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