If you took The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Nine Inch Nails and mashed them up into an analog ball of post-punk, goth-pop goodness, you’d come out with Brooklyn’s own Veda Rays. Veda Rays consists of Jason Gates on drums, James Stark on guitar and lead vocals, and Maria Joanna Bohemia on keys. Stark’s uniquely deep and confident crooning voice seems to carry the analog synths and upbeat drums into a dark, 1980s goth-inspired dance party.
Veda Rays recently released their music video for their single “Close Range,” featuring lion masks, screens, and paparazzi. Stark and Bohemia took the time to sit down with us and answer our questions about their latest music video and inspiration:
Can you tell us about the making of your video? Any funny behind-the-scenes stories?
MB: James and I had to be tied up for one scene. As soon as we were bound and ready to shoot, Jason decided it was a good time to take a break, and he and Steve went outside for like 10 minutes that felt like 30 as we sat there, tied together and helpless. It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to being kidnapped by a sociopath, but it’s pretty funny in retrospect! We were also entertained throughout the shoot by Steve’s dog, Oiler, who is a good boy and very obsessed with frisbees.
When we guerilla filmed the Julia Salazar benefit, we were in very close proximity to both Salazar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, because we were set to go onstage after they both spoke. James ended up in the background of a press photo of the two of them, filming the melee, so we have a “making of” picture that doubles as a photo op with Salazar and Ocasio-Cortez!
What’s your latest single, “Close Range,” inspired by and how does the storyline of the video tie into the lyrics of the song?
JS: The earliest ideas for the video were inspired by symbolist filmmakers like Jean Cocteau. The lyrics, also largely symbolic, came about through a sort of cut-up method. I had scratch vocal takes with mostly-formed melodies, but without intelligible words. Maria started fitting actual lyrics to my gibberish, then I, in turn, would refine what she came up with and try to figure out where it all was leading us. In the end, it seemed to be a story about someone struggling with reconciling their own conflicting impulses in respect to personal ethics and ambition.
The storyline has the character broken up into different aspects of the self. The two main characters played by Maria and I are shown kind of stuck in an isolated place staring out into the larger world through our digital windows. What we are viewing are scenes of outcomes to the potentialities we are dreaming of.
In essence, the psychodrama is mostly taking place through the imagination of Maria’s character. I am more of a symbol of her animus, I guess. I also represent grounded-ness and realness. She considers the things she is viewing and psychically steps into the bar scene where she becomes the glamorous celeb-type character who is being closed in on by the photographers. The lion character (played by mystery man Jason Gates) has two aspects, one representing a higher nature of the self and the other a lower. The higher one is a symbol of perfect virtue and nobility, the other a symbol of avarice and corruption. So, the lower form of the lion subjugates the lead characters and tries to dominate them. As the photographers close in on Maria’s celeb avatar character in the bar, she begins to fight back, and, eventually, overcomes. Then we see the lion in its higher aspect over the two sides of the self (Maria & James), uniting them, in the attitude of the angel from The Lovers card of the tarot, which is a symbol of individuation.
There are a lot of other levels at work that fit with the overall theme of the song cycle “Close Range” was a part of (I wrote about some of it here.)
Where did you shoot the video, and who was involved in the making of it?
JS: We shot mainly at three locations: Do or Dive Bar, Sunnyvale, and our friend Steve Pierce’s apartment in Bedstuy. There was also some guerilla footage from the rooftop of Our Wicked Lady which we filmed with an iPhone during a Julia Salazar benefit we played. Our friend Steve Pierce (Saudade Studios) really helped the most, being that he shot and edited just about all of it.
The video was a long time in the making and the scale of it, compared to how it was originally envisioned, definitely had to be trimmed in the end. We started out with a really overblown, too-ambitious vision which sort of read like an episode from Twin Peaks: The Return or something. There were actually several attempts at it before the final thing got made. Our friend Christian St. Gallo (who co-produced the video for our song “The Upsidedown Tree,” from our late 2017 Shadow Side EP) did a bunch of development sessions with us. Nikki Belfiglio from Bodega also helped us out with some development early on. We shelved the whole thing for a while, then fate prompted us to pick it back up via the Salazar benefit and our impromptu filming of the photographers.
I thought I recognized the Salazar benefit show in the video! Your voice is very striking and unusual, what vocalists inspire you?
JS: Thank you, Brit. These are very thoughtful questions. We appreciate that. As for my vocal delivery, I tend to be mostly into the crooners, which I guess makes me a man out of time. I’ll take Sinatra over Billy Corgan any day of the week. Big influences would be singers like Scott Walker, Bowie, Ian Curtis, Nick Cave, Ian McCulloch, Morrissey, Michael Stipe, Robert Smith, Brett Anderson, & Paul Banks, to name a few. (Is that too many? I have a bad habit of laundry listing in interviews. I apologize.)
Currently, I’m really into Joe Casey of Protomartyr. I’ve also been influenced, maybe less obviously, by Bryan Ferry, Anohni, Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade/Moonface), PJ Harvey, Nina Simone, and some of Devendra Banhart’s earlier material, to name a few more. There is a lot of stuff in the timeline of rock that I willfully choose not to react to. Plenty of stuff I’ve avoided like the plague, like the emo/pop-punk bratty baby voice and the millennial whoop. You’d sooner hear mumble rapping on a Veda Rays record. And, also, going to the high falsetto note in the chorus ala Coldplay. We’ll never do that, either. One last thing on the subject of my vocals, which you called “striking and unusual”: I’ve sometimes joked that we have a hard time really fitting in anywhere because DIY normies think I sound like Sisters Of Mercy, while to goths and metalheads I sound like Perfume Genius or the guy from EMF or something like that.
If you could create your own music festival, who would the headliners be (dead or alive)?
So, think a three-night festival with two main stages, Maria & I each picking headliners for all three nights. Here it goes:
The Rolling Stones circa 1969
Jane’s Addiction circa 1990
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the late ‘80s/early ‘90s lineup
The Bad Seeds played Lollapalooza during the daytime in the ‘90s, so we’re rectifying that by giving them a proper nighttime slot.
With the exception of Bob Marley, maybe, I don’t know if any of these acts are popular enough to be headliners, but in my heart, they’re bigger than Beyonce.
OK, most important question of all: If you could make up a new dance move what would it be and what would it be called?
JS: It would be called “The Fit” and would basically entail just dropping to the floor and convulsing or jumping up and down, wildly gesticulating. This is the reaction we want from our audiences at shows, so I think you asking this question is a really good prompt; a perfect time for me to offer this suggestion to our fans and to show-goers in general.
MB: I really like enigmatic hand gestures, so mine would be called “The Enigma” and would consist of a long sequence of gestures that seem to convey some deep symbolic meaning but really don’t.
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