The Southern Boogie Band With a Dark Side
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it’s drunken and grungy hoodoo funk.
By Jim Knipfel
Listen to the Chicago-based Velcro Lewis Group’s latest album, Open the Sky, and you might think they are just another down-and-dirty party band, a raucous throwback to classic ’70s Southern-fried boogie outfits like Molly Hatchet.
But what it really is: a thick and nasty stew of metallic blues, degenerate soul and wah-wah pedal — the kind of music that demands you crank it so loud that everyone on the block can get in on the fun as you crack another warm Blatz and fire up the pipe. Hearing frontman Velcro Lewis (whose real name is Andy Slater) shriek and growl and howl over a hundred filthy funk guitars and insistent drums on tracks like “Bernadette,” yeah, you can imagine them playing a biker-gang house party on an episode of The Rockford Files. But there are a few weird twists in the mix.
Unlike most metal bands who play up the Satan angle for cheap shock value, VLG takes it pretty seriously.
Along with the standard themes of drinking, parties, girls and two-fisted manliness, the band also tends to work more occultism into their music than might be considered kosher south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Unlike most metal bands who play up the Satan angle for cheap shock value, VLG takes it pretty seriously. They started out writing party songs, says Slater, sporting muttonchops and dark glasses. He formed the band’s first incarnation, Velcro Lewis and His 100-Proof Band, about a decade ago. But then “this darkness began creeping into [the music],” he explains, which they hoped would give listeners “something to think about.” Not a surprising direction to take given that some members of the band — made up of a stage-busting nine musicians — grew up around hippie occultists, and Allison, the theremin player, is a psychic witch.
Slater and I have something unique in common: We’re both blind as a result of a genetic disease called retinitis pigmentosa. I knew Andy before I knew Velcro; old blind punk writers and artists have a way of finding one another. After we first met a handful of years back, he sent me a few albums. Speaking with a guy who leads a double life as a straight-talking advocate for disability rights, you’d never guess he could produce a drunken and grungy hoodoo funk that fit in so neatly with my massive Black Oak Arkansas collection. There are wild and dissolute times when no other music will fit the bill.
Most recently VLG took a sharp left turn into the political. They had been in the process of recording a new album, but the day after the election they started reworking songs. “We’d always done these party songs,” Slater says, “but the election was such a kick in the balls. It was like, the party’s over, and we were pissed.”
The results were the fiery funk protest anthem “Free” and the anti-misogynist rant “Patriarchal Reptile.” Both songs were streamed online on Inauguration Day and will appear on the band’s forthcoming album, Amnesia Haze, due out this summer.
The current cultural climate has also inspired Slater in other ways. As a disabled artist he’s decided to tackle a bunch of projects he’s been thinking about for a while, he says, “to try and get as much as I can out there before the War on Art comes down.”
- Jim KnipfelContact Jim Knipfel