Last week, I read an interesting Fcbk post from Boyce & Hart (award-winning pop/rock songwriters) via The Monkees’ Fcbk account about a young indie band out of California covering one of the 60’s iconic hit-writers’ songs, (I’m not your) Stepping Stone which was originally recorded by Paul Revere and the Raiders but it was The Monkees who created magic with the tune. As many of you know, I’m a huge Monkees fan – I used to argue with my BFF at high school who was better, The Monkees or the Rolling Stones (LOL) – then in the 80’s I got to work press for the eastern Canadian leg of their original reunion tour (sans Mike Nesmith). Below, hanging with Davy Jones backstage pre-show in Toronto.Needless to say, I was intrigued by this groovy young band, the VELVET STARLINGS, and clicked thru to their cover version of “Stepping Stone”…WOW! Big juicy sound, great licks, fab vocals. Bravo, boys! I was hooked and said so by leaving a comment on the Boyce & Hart page who seemed to like my response. So when the songwriters of a classic pop song endorse your cover version, you must be pretty damn good. The band was founded by young lead singer, guitarist & organ player Christian Gisborne, brothers Foster Polling (drums) and Hudson Polling (bass), and new addition Ashton Minnich on second guitar. I wanted to make sure I shared news of my latest discovery with my music-lovin’ friends and industry colleagues so I reached out to the band who is participating in this year’s virtual version of Canadian Music Week and asked them a few questions….
Congratulations, lads, on your participation in this year’s CMW, even though it’s online only. How has Covid quarantining and travel bans affected your new album launch and reaching new audiences? We’ve actually finished 2 albums during Covid and we’re finally putting out our debut album “Technicolour Shakedown” this summer (to be distributed by AWAL/The Orchard in US.)! While Covid did put a damper on touring, it gave us the time we needed to really focus in on the music. We’ve started doing a lot more livestreams and such so that’s been pretty fun getting to connect with people mid-song, playing requested songs and what not.
Has the band participated in any online concerts or socially distanced events over the past year, and if so, how were you received by fans? Yes! We did a livestream benefitting Alexandria House, raising money for displaced women and children. It was super fun as we had to learn how to do multi-camera editing which ended up being the reason for our new extremely DIY music videos coming out this summer…haa haa! We’ve played a couple of socially-distanced local shows and they’ve been pretty fun, I think people are ready for live stuff to come back – just gotta get on that vaccine!How long have each of you been playing/performing? And do any of you have formal music training? Drummer Foster says: I started playing when I was about 12, and my brother, our bass player, Hudson started playing when he was about 10. We both took music classes at our middle school and high school, but we really started getting serious about music when we started playing in high school bands. That’s around the time we figured out that we really just liked playing rock n roll as opposed to the jazz and classical music we’d play in school. Lead singer, guitarist and keyboardist Christian (pictured below) says: I guess with music I took the same approach as Brian Wilson, McCartney and Lennon. I learned to play by ear for most part, found all of the chords in my Beatles songbook and just applied them to my own songwriting. I had heard that George Martin made sure Lennon & McCartney didn’t learn to read and write as he thought it would confine them creatively. I wanted to play organs and keyboards after hearing Alan Price (The Animals) & Ray Manzerek (The Doors) – those guys are huge influences.What drew you together as a band? Was it style, genre or simply the love of music creation? Christian: I met brothers Foster and Hudson at a Cage the Elephant show and we’ve been friends ever since. Ashton used to play in their band and now we’re all rocking out together. I think growing up in a time when everyone at school worships Drake and Post Malone definitely contributed to the ‘want’ to find other people who dig rock’n’roll and organic instruments. We all love the same bands and it all just somehow worked out.
Being an oldie, I am truly impressed with your musical influences from the 60’s – legendary artists such as The Stones, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Iron Maiden…even Humble Pie! Did you each discover these groups via your parents (or grandparents)? And what appealed most to you about the rock/R&B grooves? Foster: We just love rock’n’roll. The energy of playing music in a room or outdoors and getting a reaction out of the audience is really what we love to see each time we play, and we work hard to try and squeeze it out of an audience at each concert. Of course, this has a lot to do with what music we were introduced to when we were younger. Growing up during the garage rock revival was huge for us, listening to all these killer bands like The White Stripes or Jet really kickstarted our love of the energy that rock n roll gives off. From that point, you start to really get into it and research who influenced who, and then you just go down the rabbit hole from there.I discovered Velvet Starlings thanks to a Boyce & Hart/Monkees Facebook shout-out …you covered their “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone”. Why this song…what did you hear in it that prompted you to cover it with your own style? Stepping Stone is such a bad-ass moment in their discography. We were gonna try and do Valleri but the solo just rips too hard and I couldn’t figure it out..haa haa. That’s so sick that you worked with them for their reunion tour! Seeing The Monkees live would be the dream – I saw Mickey Dolenz play Pleasant Valley Sunday and Last Train to Clarksville at a mini local festival in Laurel Canyon and just that blew my mind.
Thanks, guys, any messages for your new fans in Canada and around the world? We’re big fans of Canadian rock’n’roll. Arcade Fire, DFA1979, Mac Demarco. The New Pornographers was actually the last show I went to right before Covid. We’re hoping to make it up to Canada some day…hopefully in 2022. Toronto & Montreal are on our list of places to rock. We really appreciate Steven Dagenais & Robert Singerman for including us on this year’s CMW line up. The funny thing is we were supposed to be in Toronto in 2020 for CMW & Indie Week, but due to Covid they were postponed along with our official SXSW conference slot and our UK tour. We look forward to getting back out there again playing to a live audience.
Good luck with CMW, fellas – check out news of the Velvet Starlings and other great artists at www.cmw.net (online May 18-21) and I encourage you to visit VS’s own website for more music videos & band news as well as social media links www.velvetstarlings.com
Big thanks to Roger Gisborne, Owner/CEO Sound x 3 Records and Gemma Downes, Label Mgr/A&R/Artist Development at Sound x 3 Music UK for their kind assistance with writing this blog. Band photos courtesy: Skyler Barberio