THE VELVET CRUSH opening for Matthew Sweet at the Mod Club (722 College), Monday (November 8). $25. 416-588-4663. Rating: NNNNN
The whole sad "quiet is the new loud" trend sucked in a few unfortunate artists who took the opportunity to try a gentler approach to rocking out. Even power pop patriot Paul Chastain put away his Rickenbacker and sat down at the piano for the horrifyingly sappy Soft Sounds (Action Musik) album.
Not that there's anything inherently wrong with filling albums with weepy ballads - some people have made a career of it - but the Velvet Crush's Chastain and sidekick Ric Menck are just at their best when bashing out jangly melodic pop thrillers. Happily, they've returned with guitars a-blazin' on Stereo Blues (Action Musik).
The album's opening rip, Rusted Star, and the kick-ass Want You Now bring back that rock 'n' roll rush that's been missing from the Velvet Crush's recordings for far too long.
"We definitely wanted to rock again, so it was a conscious decision to make Stereo Blues a guitar record," explains Chastain from his home in Bloomington, Illinois. "I also tried to write more immediate songs and throw in some noisy bits just to see what would happen. I think it worked.
"Soft Sounds was a real departure. I had some songs that I recorded at my home studio that didn't fit on our other records, and it seemed to me that not having a big rock guitar presence would be a nice change. But once you do that, you think, 'Hey, wouldn't it be great to get out the guitar and do something really loud?'"
The album's title was something Menck came up with after listening to Chastain bitch and moan about his relationship trouble. Although any one of the Velvet Crush's previous albums could've been called Stereo Blues, since it seems like Chastain was going through bad breaks every time they were about to enter a studio.
Chastain wouldn't be the first to use his real-life dramas as a creative catalyst, but the apparent correlation between romance and recording bears further investigation.
"You know, there may be something to that. I mean, something was happening during Teenage Symphonies To God and then again during... well, yeah."
The band recorded a few sessions for the new album before the relationship ended, but it wasn't until he moved back to Illinois that the group really got into the album. Chastain says the breakup was the fuel for pretty much all the songs.
"Maintaining any kind of relationship can be difficult if you're in a working band. If you don't pay attention to both, you risk losing one or the other. I've seen the end of more than a few relationships over the years, but, fortunately, I still have the band."
Chastain has also remained on good terms with Matthew Sweet, who's been a frequent collaborator over the years. On the current tour, it's actually just one big band, with Sweet and his bassist, Tony Marsico, joining the Velvet Crush's Chastain, Menck and guitarist Peter Phillips onstage for their opening set and the Crush crew hanging around to back Sweet for the rest of the night.
"We've gotten to know Matthew really well over the years, so even though he's never performed our songs with us onstage before, it feels comfortable having him there.
"He's like one of us. We have many of the same influences, and we make a lot of the same songwriting choices, so when I play his stuff it feels like I'm playing my own songs. If we'd met years ago, we'd probably have formed a band together."