The Velvet Touch 

Velvet Alex left Utah to record an album. Now They’re coming back to release it.

Velvet Alex is an ambitious foursome who used to call Salt Lake City home. About a year and a half ago, they decided to get serious about making their first full-length CD, and transplanted themselves to Mill Valley, Calif., where they reside in a motor home two exits north of the Golden Gate Bridge. They put most of their time, money and energy into making the CD, Velvet Alex, which will see its release here in Salt Lake City on Christmas night—at least, that’s the plan.

After several interstate calls and e-mails to the band about the CD and the Christmas release, I finally got a call back from bassist Michelle Minchey telling me they hadn’t received any such e-mail yet, because there was “too much porn to sort through” in their e-mail box.

Upon finally reaching guitarist Mike Doran, he brushed aside the porn question and immediately started talking about life in Mill Valley and how they live in a motor home surrounded by lavish homes, some with price tags in the range of $7 million. But they made this sacrifice a reason: the CD. Michelle and Mike have been living conservatively in the motor home with the other members of Velvet Alex—singer Cameo Bown and drummer Sean Higgins—with the music in mind.

Wonder how four people can live together in that close space without killing each other? “There were times,” Doran says, “that two words could have destroyed it all.” Someone could have walked out, and it would have been a very Behind the Music end to Velvet Alex.

Despite the cramped conditions, Doran admitted that leaving Salt Lake City for the Bay Area was the smartest thing the band could have done. “Everyone is awesome and super-supportive here,” he says. “A lot of clubs will let you play.” San Francisco is very supportive of the college music scene, which means the band has made a name for itself in ways that aren’t possible in Utah. Michelle throws in the fact that their song, “Hook,” from VA’s previous Ashtray CD, reached No. 8 on the CMJ (College Music Journal) charts.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, however. Halfway through a 58-date tour, bassist Darrick Riggs decided to bail on Velvet Alex. He left so quickly, then-keyboardist Michelle had two or three days to master the bass guitar and relearn all the music. Still, the band has enjoyed travelling all over the western states, opening for the likes of Filibuster, Spoon, Gene Loves Jezebel and one of their biggest shows, Missing Persons. Michelle also laughs about a venue in Phoenix, where they were “bumped for Vanilla Ice.” On the upside, they’ve also been bumped for Built to Spill.

Recalling the heyday of Vanilla Ice and his gold chains, bad hair and expensive cars, and how quickly he blew his millions, I asked Michelle what they intend to do with their first million. “It goes right back into the band and the next album.” If only the Iceman would have thought like that.

The lead track on the new CD, “Reactor,” was held over from Velvet Alex’s five-song Ashtray disc. They wanted it on the new collection because it was the song that originally got them some attention. Another tune from the same EP, “Realize,” was also given a new arrangement, one they’re much more satisfied with. Another track on the album, “Slip Away,” was written in five minutes. Mike was trying to give it a reggae sound, but Sean ended up doing a bossa-nova arrangement that won the band’s popular vote.

Paired with the band’s souped-up songwriting are the producing talents of Adam Berkowitz, whose prior projects include an album for Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads. Naturally, VA couldn’t be happier with Berkowitz. “He held us back when we needed to be held back,” Mike says. “Some of our arrangements were really crazy.”

Velvet Alex has nothing but optimism about this release. Michelle is convinced it will instantly become “one of the favorite albums of anyone who listens.” Their trip back to SLC is essentially a pre-release party, because they won’t release the CD in the Bay Area until February. But it made sense for them to do a show for their Salt Lake friends while they’re home visiting family for the holidays.

Is there really anything to miss about Salt Lake City? Mike reassures that there is, partially because he thinks Utah and Oregon are two of the most beautiful places in America. The group also misses gyros, because finding Greek food in San Francisco is close to impossible—the same goes for Arby’s restaurants, which they miss as well. Seeing a movie for less than $9 is difficult in their current situation, so they’re thinking about catching up on some of Utah’s fabulous dollar movies while they’re here. By the way, they give Unbreakable eight thumbs down, and Billy Elliot several thumbs up.

And before we go, how did so much porn end up in the Velvet Alex e-mail, anyway? “I have no idea how that got there,” Mike says in a rather matter-of-fact voice. Good answer, Mike.

Velvet Alex’s CD release bash will be at the Zephyr Club, 301 S. West Temple (355-CLUB), Monday, Dec. 25, 9:30 p.m. Info: www.VelvetAlex.com.

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Troy Russell

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