The paths in Chris Velan's life keep leading him back to music.
Though Velan began playing guitar at the age of nine and writing songs when he was sixteen it took him a while to figure out that music was what he wanted to do with his life.
In 1998 Velan and his two younger brothers put together a seven piece reggae band called Equalizer. Though Equalizer began to gain a following in Montreal, Velan simply thought of it as a way to keep his sanity while studying to become a lawyer.
In 2001, Equalizer played their final show and Velan left Montreal to move out west and begin articling for a law firm. But Velan was beginning to sense that law may not be his calling "I did it with one foot out already," he says adding, "I was more interested in writing songs than writing memos".
But before beginning his own music career he flew halfway around the world to document someone else's. From 2002-2004 Velan headed out to West Africa to be the musical director for the documentary film Refugee All Stars. The film is about the lives of a group of musicians who are living in a refugee camp in Guinea after escaping from their war torn homes in Sierra Leone.
It focused on how the musicians gained meaning, direction and focus from their music, Velan said "being around them, you remember things that are easy to forget," because even through all the hardships in their lives and music gave them hope. "I asked myself," Velan said, "Is that something music does for me?" and his answer was an overwhelming yes.
So when he returned home Velan had a new goal "[making the film] gave me a renewed sense for what I wanted to be doing and sent me into the direction I'd always been heading," which was towards music.
While he had always looked forward to making his own solo music he missed the synergy and energy of being in a band and knew that pouring his heart out into his music made him more vulnerable, "you have nothing to hide behind," he said, "there's no one to blame but yourself if something goes wrong".
On his first record 2004's It's Not What You Think, Velan tried to swing away from his reggae roots and go for a more folksy, singer songwriter sound. Though he loved his first record the eight-track album still didn't fit in exactly with what he wanted his music to sound like. So in 2005 he headed back to the recording studio.
The result was Twitter, Buzz, Howl the title of the record is an ode to the country, which is where Velan recorded the album, "For three months it was a real part of what we were doing," he recalls. He recalls being in a barn with the windows open in an attempt to escape the heat and hearing the sounds of the birds at night mingle with the sounds of the crickets and coyotes, and he says the influence of all these sounds snuck their way into the record.
This record more accurately depicts Velan's mesh of musical influences. It combines the storytelling aspects of artists like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison but this time not ignoring the reggae influences of his past and adding a touch of pop. "Pop has somehow become a bad word," Velan admits because most people associate the word with what's playing on the top 40 charts, but he defends the genre saying that the way pop was done by the Beatles and the Beach Boys made it an intricate and beautifully melodic sound that he isn't ashamed to embrace, "I'm not afraid of it." He says.
But the self produced album is full of songs on subjects that aren't usually addressed on pop records, like social issues touched on in "Twenty Year Flood" and the sad haunting lyrics of "Shiver". However, he manages to take his socially conscious words and combine them with a melody that makes the tunes accessible to the masses.
Velan admits that he's still growing and though Twitter, Buzz, Howl is closer to the sound he wants he still hasn't gotten there yet, "You're trying to arrive at this vision of yourself as an artist, what you hear in your head." He said and he's still trying to reach what he admits are his own high aspirations, but he admits, "I'll know when I get to it."
Chris Velan will be doing a few shows in Montreal this month and then setting up some mini tours in Ontario in February and March, keep checking http://www.chrisvelan.com for details as they become available.
Writer: Michelle Garcia