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A&E >  Music

Spokane goth rock band Cruel Velvet goes for atmospherics with a metal edge

July 18, 2022 Updated Thu., July 21, 2022 at 3:42 p.m.

Left to right: Joel May (drums), Taylor D. Waring (vocals, bass) and Josh Rodriguez (vocals, guitar). Not pictured: Matt Lefebvre (keys).  (Taylor D. Waring)
Left to right: Joel May (drums), Taylor D. Waring (vocals, bass) and Josh Rodriguez (vocals, guitar). Not pictured: Matt Lefebvre (keys). (Taylor D. Waring)
By Julien A. Luebbers The Spokesman-Review

Cruel Velvet make “goth rock for metal heads,” says vocalist and bassist Taylor D. Waring.

The band’s roster is filled with experienced musicians from local metal, punk and hardcore bands, but when the four members come together under the banner of Cruel Velvet, the result is an authentically melodic, poetical and macabre goth rock.

“I started writing songs in this style like 10 years ago,” said guitarist and vocalist Josh Rodriguez. “But I was already in a bunch of metal bands and didn’t know anyone that could do traditional singing, or anyone that would be interested in a project.”

Waring and Rodriguez founded their goth rock band after Rodriguez saw Waring with a patch of the British goth rock band Sisters of Mercy.

The two bonded over their shared interest and started jamming. They then gradually built up their roster to its current state, with Joel May on drums and Matt Lefebvre on keys.

Waring said Cruel Velvet has evolved into “a rock band with the goth accoutrements.” They bring melodic lines and traditional vocals into contact with 80s-inspired synths and melancholic but humorous lyrics.

A sense of humor is crucial to the goth aesthetic, Waring explained. “Our lyrical aesthetic is like a very serious matter taken not seriously.”

Discussing “I Never Feel Alive,” a slow-building, vocally driven track released earlier this year, Rodriguez said Taylor Waring “definitely wrote that song about depression. But when you hear the lyrics it’s like ‘oh, it could also just be about being Dracula.’ ”

That sort of pun-infused, dual-interpretable lyricism permeates Waring’s writing.

The band’s latest release is “Angelus,” a single that hit platforms last month. “Angelus is like a straight up goth rock song,” Waring said. It’s driven and catchy, undergirded by eerie chord progressions and a dramatic sense of pace. “But now we’re starting to bring in these other elements,” he added. The song’s goth core is tinged with moments of metal-ness and glimmering synths.

“Angelus” was the band’s first song, though it is their fourth release. It has grown over the band’s history to a complex, interweaving track; Waring’s vocals alone swell up to five layers in the chorus.

Where most groups would see the release of their fourth single as the time to start a longer project, Cruel Velvet have decided to stick with a schedule of singles. “We have something to come out every month and a half, every two months, and we can build a name for ourselves that way,” said Waring, who also cited the current state of the music industry among reasons for their album-less approach.

The goth rock genre has undergone a lot of change since its emergence in the late ‘70s. “The culture,” Waring said, “as much as everything else is culture, is kind of a question mark.” He pointed to online discussions of whether the goth subculture, in its current state, is a purely aesthetic one or if it is rooted in its musical origins.

For Cruel Velvet, it’s the music and not the aesthetics that are most important.

Rodriguez and Waring were able to isolate certain traits of the vastly defined goth subculture that appear in their music: “an inherent, somber tone” and “bittersweet melodies” said Waring and Rodriguez.

For Cruel Velvet, the genre is more about “the atmosphere rather than the subject matter,” and the freedoms that they are allowed as songwriters and musicians within the scope of goth rock that their metal groups aren’t conducive to.

“Goth culture is performative,” Waring said. It draws on the nostalgia of “that eighth grade, ‘my girlfriend broke up with me’ or ‘my crush doesn’t like me’ … feeling. Reveling in those young feelings is inherent to the genre.”

What it comes down to, for Rodriguez and Waring, is the opportunity to bring themselves to the forefront of their music. “I’m writing about my life,” Waring went on. “My background is in poetry.”

Rodriguez lets his own interest in horror and video game soundtracks shine through in writing the synth parts, and his training in music production to guide the sound of the tracks. Cruel Velvet allows them both to take their interests and backgrounds to the stage.

From an audience perspective, though, Cruel Velvet feels authentic, melodic and emotive. They make music for the dark times and the bright, spinning from threads of the bitter something with a hint of sweetness.

To stay up to date on Cruel Velvet’s shows and releases, follow them on Instagram @Cruel_Velvet.

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