Ian Zazueta (Guitar), Julia Johari (Guitar/Synth/Vox), Florie Maschmeyer (Lead Vox/Synth), Andrew Burmester (Bass) and Aaron Hazen (Drums) are Vela Eyes. A tremulous and musically versatile 5-piece gang of friends from San Francisco. They have just released their brand new (second) EP ‘Sparks’. A melting pot of several decades of rock and pop. A vibrant fusion of 80s new wave and post punk, 90s shoegaze, modern indie rock, electro and dream pop. The final result is… Vela Eyes. An energetic and an exuberant musical chameleon with intense poppy vocals and an overall throbbing swagger looking for the exit to rattle and shake any rockin’ body out there. Get ready. Julia, Florie and Ian are ready to share lots of sparks…
When and where was the band conceived?
Ian: “I don’t have the best sense of time, probably 2012 when we got our first drummer Jef Pauly who no longer plays with us. Before that Jules, Florie, and I were writing music on my computer with our friend Nate, also no longer in the band. We all lived in San Francisco at the time.
Florie: It’s been really awesome having Aaron and Andrew in VE because they already played together in another band called Kill Moi. Andrew was playing guitar in that band so I think it was fun for them to get together as a rhythm section for the first time. Ian Andrew and Aaron had also played in a band called Delle Vellum years ago. It’s been really cool to bring everyone together in Vela Eyes. We’ve all been dancing, drinking and hanging out together for years so it’s really fun to do something creative together.There’s already an established bond between us as friends.
What’s the story behind the band’s name?
Ian: We were originally called Vela, but there is a Latin artist with the same name, so we stuck the word Eyes on the end to give it a neo-psychedelic – in my opinion – ring to it. Vela is a constellation. I am sure Jules and Flo have a more meaningful answer.
Florie: Jules found the name Vela. It translates to ‘sails’ in Latin and means ‘Candle’ and ‘sails’ in Spanish. It’s also a constellation. Vela is the ‘sails’ in a three-part constellation that makes up a ship.
Julia: As another artist was already called Vela we stuck the word Eyes on the end per Ian’s suggestion. It was the only change to the name that all five of us could agree on. We didn’t have a lot of time to decide between discovering the other Vela and our first EP release, so the pressure was on ! It was never recorded, but one of our first songs was about a sinking ship.
When I heard ‘Latern’ for the first time, the single of the brand new EP, I thought you hired Debbie Harry to do the vocals. The same sexy smoothness.
Florie: I’ve definitely always drawn inspiration from Debbie Harry. I love all the powerful female vocalists from her time. Cherie Currie, Stevie Nicks, Grace Slick, Pat Benatar, and Siouxsie all have a vocal quality I can relate to and I learned how to sing by learning their songs so it would make sense that I sound similar. Also, that’s really flattering, so thank you !
The brand new ‘Sparks’ EP is a mix of several decades of rock and pop. Many colors. When did you know ‘this is it, this is the sound we want’ ?
Julia: We’ve actually done very little to develop any specific sound. We’re a genuine band and all friends. The majority of the songs on this EP were written with all five of us together in the practice space. Your observation makes total sense because we jam together and the sound we have is a solid blend of all of our personal influences.
Ian: The sound is a collaboration between our new bandmates, Aaron Hazen and Andrew Burmester. They are really good musicians, so it was a positive fusion of what Jules, Flo, and I had developed (Jef and Nate also helped developed our first EP). I knew the sound was right when we were all in a zone rocking our socks off.
Florie: We all feed off each others taste and style really well and we have a common love of every decade of rock so collectively our taste is really starting to shine through. It really is just a reflection of every individuals style of playing. We are lucky in the way that the instruments we like to play and the tones we bring from them reflect the past and can still create a more current sound.
Is the EP a reflection of the band’s record collection?
Ian: I don’t really think we are conscious of our influences when writing. No one has ever said, “I want to sound like this …”. I know what I am influenced by – Zeppelin, Echo and the Bunynmen, 90’s shoegaze, krautrock, and some electronic music – but I won’t speak for anyone else because we all like different stuff, and some of the same stuff.
We are conscious on writing music that has dreamy elements, but is still centered around vocals and a dose of pop-sensibility. It has to rock as well, I think we are getting better at it.
Florie: I think between everybody there is a really broad range of inspiration but also a common ground. We love the classics. And whether we recognize it or not I think there is a really strong influence from British bands. From post punk to 90s shoegaze to modern Indie rock, electro and dream pop.
Ian: Actually, my guitar took the most time on this EP. Lantern we wanted to be more synth focused, because the hooks were written on keys, not guitar. So it really depends on the song. Obsessions for instance, the instrumental hooks are guitar based – Jules and I both play guitar on this song – and Florie doubles the lead on keys.
Florie: Sparks is a reflection of how we’ve developed our sound since ‘The Pleasure Sunrise’. Bringing Andrew and Aaron’s style into the mix changed things up quite a bit. Also, Ian, Jules and I have really developed a style of collaboration over the years that is different from when we started. The first record was a bit experimental because those were the first songs we ever wrote together. We definitely have a more defined style on Sparks.
Julia: That’s so true ! Jules switches between synth and guitar. Even though Ian is still playing significant guitar on each song, Jules focused more on synth this time around, and Florie started playing more on her synth as well. We actually couldn’t afford real synths for the first album, so we were recording and performing live using MIDI. The ‘Sparks’ EP features our new synths and some are the beautiful vintage/analog synths that were available in the studio during recording. We also got a lot of feedback that we were playing too much over each other, so we did try to open up the guitar and other instruments a lot to give space to the songs. The last reason for what you’re hearing is that both Andrew and Aaron were not on the first EP, so since our process is so collaborative, the style of music shifted in taste with shifting members of the band.
Who are the songwriters in the group?
Julia: Everyone. We all do different things well. For the most part, we have a healthy routine comprised of trying each other’s creative ideas, even if we don’t initially agree. By the time we finish a song, everyone is usually happy. We have our issues — don’t get me wrong — but I have been in a lot of bands and this one is pretty good with the creative process.
Florie: I love the way we collaborate in this band. Everyone is so good at what they do. Because we write together, everyone can be passionate about the song because its made up of a collection of our individual creativity. I love writing the lyrics and singing but I couldn’t play guitar to save my life so it’s really nice having amazing musicians to compliment my vocals and inspire the melodies. I also really love writing two-part harmonies with another girl. Our voices seem to compliment each other perfectly and it makes for a really dreamy sound.
Three boys and two girls. No need for another girl in the band?
Florie: I like the dynamic between us. I love playing with Jules because she is like a sister. I have four brothers so I am used to being with the boys. It’s really nice having the best of both worlds. I can’t see where there’d be room for another girl. Our dressing rooms are usually pretty compact. There’s usually only room for two in a car and just enough place in front of the bathroom mirror.
Julia: Florie and I are actually worth three vaginas – just joking. Handling five people in the Democratic way that we do is a delicate process… I can’t imagine six ! We have our ‘Spinal Tap’ moments, for sure. I think every band does.
Rock & roll still is a man’s world. Why is that?
Florie: The reason I wanted to play rock and roll was to hopefully be a part of changing that. I was inspired as a young girl by all those rock goddesses I mentioned previously. They had this attitude and this strength that said “ I don’t give a fuck ! I can do anything a man can do on this stage and I have a voice so I’m going to wail until I get my satisfaction.” It’s hard to be taken seriously as a female. All my life its been my goal to be smart and skilled and change people’s minds about what women are capable of in rock and roll. All I can hope to be is a good influence to girls younger than me and an inspiration to my female peers. Together I think we can change things. We are so lucky to play with such supportive guys. They are also good examples for guys who support feminism.
Julia: We know so many rad lady rockers, we’re not sure that it is ! Maybe we’re just lucky to be from the Bay Area, but it probably has everything to do with how the media portrays women. We’re not really encouraged to play rock & roll by many role models in mainstream society. Even in the scene I grew up in. I was around local bands for years and no one really encouraged me to do anything other than sell march or take photos. I owe our former bass player Nate for believing in me enough to bring me into this band.
There’s a photo on your Facebook with one of the girls having a skull in her hand. Who’s the victim?
Ian: Hopefully nobody I know.
Florie: That’s my bear skull. It was a gift from my dad. One of his hunting buddies had an unfortunate encounter with a bear and had to defend himself. It’s a warning for all you guys out there. Don’t mess with the VE girls. My dad has lots of guns and is a great shot.
When I come to San Francisco should I still wear flowers in my hair?
Florie: Psych is huge right now and as great as that is, there are still tons of great bands from all genres. When it comes to live music there’s everything from glam punk and rock at the Make out room and Knockout to psych at the Chapel to pop scene at Rickshaw stop as well as a wide variety at Bottom of the Hill. If you look at the calendars for all the popular venues you’ll be happy to find anything and everything you are looking for. One thing I love about this city is the variety of taste and how each scene bleeds into the others.
Ian: Florie’s roommate, also a female musician, is in a pretty rocking psych band The Spyrals. We saw them last Saturday at the Chapel in San Francisco. I know there is supposed to be an active psych/garage rock scene here, but I am the wrong person to ask about it.
Julia: There’s many scenes. Psych & garage rock are going really strong right now. ‘Thee Oh Sees’ is a pretty big name over here. You can definitely still wear flowers in your hair !
Your number one artist to do a world tour with?
Julie: Dang, that’s a hard question to answer. Whoever is the most fun to hang out with ! And preferably another band with women.
Ian: Dang, that’s a hard question to answer.
Florie: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Dum Dum Girls or The Raveonettes… oops that’s three.
If you could travel in time what artist would you jam with on stage?
Ian: Can’t speak for anyone else, but I would be down to have a guitar wanker session with Jimmy Page.
Florie: I would love to play with The Runaways.
Social media: a blessing or a pain in the ass?
Florie: I do love it for promoting our music and to keeping our friends updated. But playing music is my favorite part of being in a band so I’m just waiting for the day when we have a label or a production company to do the promoting for us. It’s a lot of work. But very helpful. We are still learning how to use it to our best advantage.
Any NBA fans in the band? Who will be this year’s champion?
Julia: Ian is always checking his goddamn phone for scores !! He says: “Well the Warriors are doing pretty damn good right now. Might actually make a run at it this year, we’ll see…”
Ian: Well the Warriors are doing pretty damn good right now. Might actually make a run at it this year, we’ll see.
Florie: I’m into baseball.
What’s the next step for Vela Eyes?
Ian: Touring and pushing this EP.
Florie: We also want to make some rad music videos from the new EP. That and writing more songs, continuing to develop our style and grow along side the other great bands we are associated with. Building our following is really curtail for us right now.
Julia: Touring and sharing our hard work with as many people as we can.
Here’s the excellent ‘Sparks’ EP in full…
And while you’re here check debut EP, “The Pleasure Sunrise”
Many thanks to Julia, Florie and Ian for taking the time to speak to 50thirdand3rd. Vela Eyes are doing pretty damn good right now. Might actually make a run at it this year… we’ll hear !