Soft Sounds is the first album of new Velvet Crush material since 1999’s Free Expression, and is unlike anything the current band, now a duo, has ever done.
Drummer Ric Menck mostly takes five while multi-instrumentalist Paul Chastain plays and sings the mid-life blooz. Recorded over a two-year period at Matthew Sweet's house in Los Angeles and Chastain's music room in Rhode Island, Soft Sounds wasn't an easy record for the boys to make. Life just kept getting in the way. At one point they even figured on trashing the whole thing - too sad, too personal, too much to take - but here it is, all guts and glory, the perfect bummer to end the summer.
Ric Menck explains the process, “Paul recorded a lot of the stuff on his own and I wasn't involved. He was putting together material for a proposed solo album, but I convinced him we should use it for a new Velvet Crush record instead. I got the idea while we were in Japan last year to make a ‘soft rock' album, and the stuff he was recording perfectly fit the concept. Luckily for me, he was into the idea. It's turned out to be a great record and a great showcase for Paul's softer side.”
Chastain continues, “We basically compiled this from a session we did at Matthew Sweet's house in LA and some squishier, acoustic-ish numbers which I had recorded at home. We decided we had enough material to put together a soft rock record, which would be something a bit different for us.
Among the 12 songs on Soft Sounds three are covers, including Scott Walker’s “Duchess,” an Alex Chilton/Box Tops song titled “Rollin’ in My Sleep,” and the Fleetwood Mac Tusk track “Save Me a Place.”
Chastain is big Lindsey Buckingham fan and has always wanted to record one of Lindsey’s songs. “‘Save Me a Place’ was recorded at my house on a whim. My friend, Jeffrey Underhill (original Velvet Crush guitarist), came down from Providence one day for a visit and to transfer a set of drums from his basement to mine. I had been thinking of attempting a version of this song and asked Jeffrey if he would set the drums up and play for me. He agreed and I hastily set up a couple of mics. He learned the song and did a take or two and that was it. I finished the recording the next day.”
Though Chastain’s work-time on Soft Sounds exceeded his partner’s, Menck had plenty to keep him busy over the past two years. He toured with Marianne Faithfull in Europe, went to Spain with the Gigolo Aunts, and joined The Tyde who recorded an EP, an album, and toured England. Menck also played drums on two new Matthew Sweet albums - both coming in 2003 - and started a new label named Reaction Recordings with Parasol owner Geoff Merritt. That label’s debut release is the highly-acclaimed Rolled Gold disc by ‘60s mod-turned-psychpop-outfit The Action.
If all of this distance suggests the imminent end to Velvet Crush, console yourself with news that the duo recently re-grouped in Urbana, Illinois, with some guest locals – Jay Bennett, Adam Schmitt, Bob Kimbell, Darren Cooper, Nick Rudd - a new batch of songs, and a new lease on life. For now Soft Sounds, the album that almost wasn't, will serve as the ultimate soft-rock soundtrack for those air goes cool autumn nights.