Kurt Vatland & Velveteen

Kurt Vatland

Beaner’s Central

Friday, November 3rd

Andrew Olson

Reader Weekly

Back in the 1960s everything seemed so clear. It was a time, not long ago, when people believed in a new American religion called Rock and Roll. Today though, in the time of divorce, yuppies, and corporations; faith is harder to grasp. Young people search for a glimpse of the mythological nostalgia that remains an image of freedom. Kids sing inebriated words to American Pie, American Woman, or Janis Joplin; drinking to forget. Incendiary guitar chords light up evenings of depression for many searchers of the truth.

To a generation abused and let down by the "moment hippies" who left the bandwagon years ago, there is no truth. What was once the art of expression now becomes hope for the “rock star lifestyle.” Copy on top of copy losing its original clarity the modern prophets have abandoned their bible of the blues. They copy big hair artists whose only purpose was to get "coke and chicks". A generation that knows all the words to Brown Eyed Girl, but a few songs in the past five years has lost its faith. To the searcher of salvation finding a prophet during ones own lifetime can become a Titanic search. Within the Roman wilderness of pain a few children found the bible of the blues and were trying to open the church doors again.

Way back in 2001 in a small basement in St. Cloud, Minnesota there existed a family. It gathered every weekend under the tragic name of Velveteen and soaked itself in ancient brews of dissension. Diving to the bottom of a city drowning in mass consumerism, alcoholism, and lost dreams this family carried on a spirit. Young men who were the children of garage bands grow up with a chip on their shoulder trying to break through the clout of people’s conception of popular music. Velveteen fought night after night with no belief from the Romans, being thrown to the lions of moshers and preppies who stood drunk up front. These same preppies believed that after buying a Best of Hendrix CD that they were a “Rolling Stone”. But these modern rolling stones were the same people who tried to get on stage to yell of drunken consumerism. It is hard to believe that any band would still try to revive the death of Rock and Roll. Yet Velveteen on the other hand raised the question of whether Rock and Roll really died in the 1970s, taking a religion with it.

Kurt Vatland, the enigmatic and provocative lead singer connected to the crowd using a firm belief. Carrying on the torch of frontman he believed and still believes that rock exists. He has always listened to scores of struggling artists and fans trying to grasp their pain and let them in. An electrifying talent, Kurt exercised his demons on stage for all to see. No yuppie life for the country boy who partied with death until finally meeting his Velveteen family. While sitting at a party in St. Cloud after dropping out of college Kurt met fate. Intoxicated and hunched over in a hallway he began to strum a few chords from a stranger’s guitar. This stranger noticed that the guitar did not belong to the long haired fellow and had to spark up a conversation. The stranger, Jimmy Lyback, asked to borrow the guitar to show Kurt a few chords of a song he was playing with. The song the two wrote in the hallway would later become a staple in a live show that with two other songs led Velveteen to winning the 2001 battle of the bands a short time later. Jimmy Lyback came up with intricate and original bass lines that gave the band a totally new sound. Looking to ancient legends he discovered a template and added his own love of alternative and funk to create a fresh new sound. Clubs like the Fineline in Minneapolis, and The Red Carpet, Java Z’s and McRudy’s in St. Cloud scheduled the band for weekly shows. Later Velveteen went to a recording studio and recorded a CD. Adam Johnson found his place in the band adding a drummer with the veracity of Keith Moon. He gave deepness to a struggling group that quietly expressed itself through his music. These rolling stones ran through a college town and became notorious rock stars.

One night while traveling with Kurt to an "after bar" party he was confronted by a tall, large man wearing a St. Cloud State Football baseball cap. The large man had seen Kurt in a newspaper article earlier in the day and began to heckle him. The man even began to refer to Kurt as a, "long haired Morrison f#@ker.” Kurt’s response was to question whether he had slept with the large man’s girlfriend or done something to provoke this reaction. The man then preceded to lunge at Kurt like a scene out of Easy Rider, swinging away. A few days later Kurt played a show with the battle wounds of a very broken nose and faith. Being the only band in a drunken party town who was gaining the faith of the people Kurt went back to the desert to gain knowledge. Lost in the Babylon of St. Cloud and Minneapolis that had surrounded him, Kurt decided to save himself by moving to Winnona and working at a porn shop for a few months. When he returned there was a brand new guitar player and a new emerging sound.

While waiting for shows to be booked, Kurt would go up on stage during other bands’ performances in between sets and play an acoustic guitar. He was singing a new song called "Dead On Arrival", about the death of John Lennon. A line from the chorus states, “It’s what the world would call a tragedy, but he’d never want us to imagine that”. Songs that used to create only drunken yelling now were replaced with songs calling on the gods.

Songs about abuse, alcohol and girls that were once staples in an energetic live Velveteen show were now replaced with the more reflective ones. Songs like, "Suitcase Man" invited the audience to ride along on Velveteen’s journey. Kurt was finally showing who he was to an audience that he had tried to capture for so long. The irony was that the song "Suitcase Man" was an observation by his new Velveteen family member Justin Schommer. Still fresh out of his generation Justin brandished a fake ID and tried to follow where his older band mates ventured. He still plays from the same guitar that prophets like Robby Krieger, Brian Jones, and others spoke with on their mountaintop. He revives a sound that was lost using a 1966 Gibson Les Paul SG. Mixed with brand new equipment the band had a striking sound. This group was more than a band though, it was a family. Each member had an unconditional love for each other, at times looking more like a family….dysfunctional or not.

When it came time to play there was a sacrifice on the alter of rock and roll. Each member tried to let the crowd live the feeling of mass for a night. After spending a summer writing and recording Velveteen set off to change the world of Rock and recapture it from boredom. A great song they played was a reflective piece on Velveteen’s love of a former alternative band named Blind Melon. The only thing that holds this family from taking over the mall record stores is that they are not trying to gain acceptance from the retail rolling stones. They are rolling stones.

A few years later this band ended and the family that surrounded them divorced. Today Justin Schommer and Jimmy Lyback of Velveteen have a band called Sunshine Behavior in Minneapolis. The lead singer, Kurt Vatland, comes to Beaner’s this Friday on his own journey. Kurt is one of those people in life who has a light around them and could brighten any room. He is the epitome of what a rock and roll frontman should be. Now, three years removed from Velveteen, he has fine-tuned his solo show yet still carries on the torch for music. His songs still talk of freedom, but contain a more graphic take on the word. His way of combining music with emotion still resonates alone, even at times being more captivating than when he was surrounded by a band. Kurt lives on the edge so we don’t have to, come see what he has to show and tell of the journey.