[FUNK, ETC.] “It’s like we’re back from the dead,” Jeremy Hadley says, eyes wide with excitement over his pint glass at Baby Doll Pizza in Southeast Portland. Velella Velella, the resurrected band with a nigh-indescribable sound, has returned with a verve and energy that makes the decade-old group sound brand new. Hadley, the bearded and glittery-eyed Portlander who plays guitar and any other instrument in his vicinity for the band, describes Velella’s renewed jelling as akin to getting back together with an ex. It’s a perfect metaphor: The band has had some rough times, but those experiences only enrich the present.
Velella Velella’s music might best be described as psychedelic synth-funk—something pumped lovingly into listeners’ ears through a labyrinth of drum machines, vintage keyboards, bass, guitars and cool-cat attitude. The band first formed in Seattle in 2003, when multi-instrumentalists Michael Burton and Andrew Means got together to bang out feel-good, funkified instrumentals. But Velella really took off in 2005 when it released its first album, The Bay of Biscay, independently—it was re-released in 2007 on Portland’s Hush Records—and began to establish itself as one of the Northwest’s better party bands. Flight Club and Atlantis Massif followed in 2007 and 2010, respectively, each release featuring more falsetto-laden, Bee Gees-inspired vocals than the last.
As of last year, though, members are split evenly between Seattle and Portland (Hadley and Burton both moved here for work). “Atlantis Massif felt like the end,” Hadley says gravely of the increasing difficulty to stay together despite the distance.
But if Atlantis Massif had any finality to it, the forthcoming Leap feels like a new beginning. In the midst of a number of dramas—weddings, babies, deaths in the family—Velella Velella held a conference call last summer that led to three weekends of recording in October. Those sessions felt so good that the band re-committed entirely. “We were all real emotional,” Hadley says.
Featuring synthy grooves and a laid-back bounce, the new album’s tracks have a new verve and joy. Hadley credits that to an internal power shift. Where before Burton and Means were the primary songwriters, the new music came from “all of us,” he says.
That cooperative vibe is readily and happily evidenced in the band’s new tracks: “Tripple Pip” features a smooth vocal by Bethany Petersen, taking a new but well-deserved place in the spotlight; “Amp Sweat” is full of vocal and instrumental flourishes from all four members of the group. With vocals taking a front seat in the new work, the band’s little-known penchant for writing great verses starts to shine. “And the bass,” Hadley says, smiling.
Having conquered the Seattle/Portland divide for itself, the band is trying to spread the love with a celebration of bands from both bergs. Velella Velella’s two-day festival, dubbed The Bi-City Romance, mixes both hometowns and genres, with Seattle hip-hop sharing the stage with Portland indie rock and electronica. “We often think ‘the Seattle scene is this,’ or ‘the Portland scene is this,’” Hadley says. “And so often we’re not celebrating the Northwest scene—this really special, badass corner of the states.”
As for Velella Velella: “We’re a band,” Hadley says, eyes nearly brimming. “We’re a really happy band.”
SEE IT: The Bi-City Romance is at Someday Lounge, 125 NW 5th Ave., on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 3-4. 9 pm. $10 daily. 21+. For lineup, see music listings.