Brothers and longtime musicians Daniel and Danny Chavis on the challenges of working in music — and their next creative adventure.
by David Menconi | photography by Samantha Everette
Thirty-some years ago, local musician Alex Maiolo walked into Chapel Hill’s Hardback Café and saw a band of young Black men called The Veldt. They were setting up on stage to play what Maiolo figured would be some variant of soul or rhythm and blues. He was neither the first nor last to be surprised: it was a wall of psychedelic rock, the sort of music that was more typical for British bands.
“They were playing music you don’t often see being made by Black people around here, which was very striking,” says Maiolo, who plays these days in a number of local bands including Lacy Jags. “At a time when most other Triangle bands seemed to be wearing cutoffs and playing punk rock, they had it down with dressing great, playing great, and looking cool and in control and putting on a show. They’re always early to the party with whatever they’re doing.”
Led by Raleigh-born twin brothers Daniel and Danny Chavis, The Veldt is still at it more than three decades later. They’ve been around long enough to become a local-music institution, and to tour internationally, too. And they’re still surprising people with a sound that is, as they put it, “between hip-hop and hillbillies.”
“That’s us, I guess,” Daniel says with a laugh. “It seems like we’ve spent half our career trying to explain ourselves. We came up with all these bands around here like Superchunk, The Connells, Zen Frisbee, who were all friends of ours. But because they were white, they could just go out and play without all the extra racial stuff we’ve had to put up with: getting called the N-word, stopped by cops.”
“Yeah,” says Danny, “I remember a traffic stop where they called for the canine unit, then asked if we played reggae. Play me a song while we wait, the guy says. Right.”
In spite of the travails, The Veldt has had a very fine run over the years, releasing a long string of albums on major and minor labels. The group’s best-known album is 1994’s Afrodisiac, released on Mercury Records, with the should-have-been-a-hit-single “Soul in a Jar” — equal parts wall-of-guitar psychedelic-rock thunder and irresistible dance-floor pulse. In its wake, The Veldt toured with a long list of alternative-rock hitmakers: Cocteau Twins, Throwing Muses, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Echo & the Bunnymen, and The Pixies among them. “We played with all of them and not many Black groups can say that,” says Danny. “No others, probably.”
“Daniel and Danny are not dependent on the vagaries of musical trends at a particular time — they’ve adapted and adjusted, they fold into the current matrix, but they’ve never chased trends,” says Dave Buriss, who played with The Veldt in the ‘90s and is now a television producer. “Whether you connect with them as a listener or not, their worst stuff is always interesting, and their best stuff is genius — it’s beautiful.”
More than 30 years in, The Veldt remains highly regarded by their peers, even if commercial success has been more of a slow burn.“It would be nice to get some respect and more recognition while we’re still alive,” says Danny. “We’ve been told we’re ‘just too unique’ to sell. But we’re not stopping.”
“When you look at the amount of time they’ve been able to be creative and continued to be a force, it’s clear they’re creative dynamos,” says Buriss. “The fact that they’ve been able to persist without imploding is not just a testimonial to their character but to their talent and persistence — they get knocked down, they get right back up.”
Thanks to extensive touring across America and Europe, The Veldt might be better known out of town than here at home. Playing psychedelic-rock festivals elsewhere got the Chavis brothers thinking that there should be similar events in their home state. That inspired them to launch the North Carolina Festival of Psychedelia in 2016, with a series of festival shows in Raleigh and elsewhere across the state.
Over time, the psychedelic festival has morphed into Noir Bizarre, a multimedia festival concept billed as Black-centered, bohemian, and inclusive. The first installment in September 2021 featured the late New York critic/tastemaker Greg Tate’s band Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, playing alongside The Veldt in what the Chavis brothers called “a happening.” Set up in the former Taz’s grocery store on E. Hargett Street, the well-attended event intrigued passersby with its pumping bass, pulsing violet lights, and oversize signage declaring “I Have a Dreampop.”
Future installments of Noir Bizarre will be more ambitious. After a pop-up at City of Raleigh Museum in December, they’re working toward making it happen on a larger scale for this year’s Juneteenth, with local bands and deejays of all races plus out-of-town Black-rock legends like Fishbone and Living Colour. It’s envisioned as an update of an event from more than a century ago, the Black sociologist/author/activist W.E.B. Du Bois’ 1900 Paris International Exhibit, “The Exhibit of American Negroes,” which had a goal of combatting racist stereotypes.
“That exhibit showed the many ways that Black people were living post-slavery,” says Daniel. “Now we’d like to showcase how Black people are living in America today. There are Black creators in all endeavors, and we want to focus on the art.”
This article originally appeared in the January, 2022 issue of WALTER Magazine