Photos and Interview by Kaiti Bowers
The first time I saw The VeeVees perform live, I witnessed a show unlike any other I’d seen before. The way their beats and lyrics hold an audience captive and allow you not only to witness their set, but truly experience it with them is something seldom found at shows. The lead singer, Detroit-native Sophia Urista, has the most electrifying stage presence, and accompanied by Andrea Belfiore on the drums, Garrett Cillo on the electric guitar, and Art Novoselsky slapping the bass, this band’s fun, funky, and soulful style of rock n’ roll is an act you’ll definitely want to see for yourself. I had the chance to sit down at Pete’s Tavern in the heart of Manhattan and share some food and beer with Art and Garrett before their headlining show at Irving Plaza. We talked about their muses, music, style, and how this powerhouse of a rock band came to be.
Kaiti Bowers: Where are you from? What inspired you to get into music? How did you get where you are now?
Garrett Cillo: I’m originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and I moved to [New York] city when I was 18 years old, right after high school. I did some schooling for a little bit… and I was just working after that. I’ve always been a writer- I wanted to learn to write screenplays, and once I got out of school, I ended up working for the film school. I met a girl there who actually became one of my best friends, back in my early 20’s. She wanted to start a punk rock band and I said, “Yes, let’s do it.” Up until that point I hadn’t even touched an electric guitar, [though] I’d been playing acoustic since I was like 14. So I started playing in a band with her, but I never realized until that point how much I really loved music, so it kind of grew to the same importance as film to me. For a while I was battling over film and music, and eventually music just took over- I just loved it so much. Fast forward to now.
Art Novoselsky: I’m from Lake Placid [Upstate New York]. I think a lot of my music sparks from skateboarding- we’d all go skateboarding and watch skateboarding videos, where I was exposed to everything from like, A Tribe Called Quest to The Misfits and stuff. I’ve always loved music. One of my friends got a bass guitar for Christmas and within a week he fell out of love with it, so I tried it out. I played it a couple times and I was like, “Ooohh, what is this?” So he sold it to me and I started a band back in high school. Since then I’ve just been playing a lot with a bunch of different bands. A lot of them just…[ended up] not really doing anything, unfortunately, and part of it – for them it was more of just a hobby and stuff – but I just really wanted to keep it going, and make it happen. I found these guys [the VeeVees] and I moved here [Brooklyn], and it’s been, kind of a ‘right place at the right time’ type thing.
K: How did you find The VeeVees? When you found The VeeVees, was there just a “click”? Like you knew you were meant to be with them, as opposed to the other bands you’d both played with previously?
A: I mean, when I moved to New York, I wanted to be the guy that took pictures of bands before they blew up, so I went to so many shows. I was kind of unimpressed with what I was seeing, because I thought, “Oh, I’m in New York, the city of music and everything.” I was going out [to shows] consistently and thinking, “dude, this is fucking lame.” And then I found [The VeeVees] online- they were playing Pianos [music venue, lower east side]. I think [the song I heard] was “Main Squeeze”, a song that I still love to play to this day, but within the first ten seconds of it, I was just like “Oh, what is this?” And I sent them a feverish email that said, “I’m coming to your show tonight!” I met them, went to their other shows, took some pictures of them at one point, and just kind of just kept in contact with them…[eventually] they were like “Oh, we need a bassist, this guy’s alright, let’s give him a shot.” And I played a show with them. There was a week where I was like, “Soooo… am I in? Am I out?” And [Garrett] called me one day and he was like, “Yeah! We like you. You’re in.” And so ever since that we’ve been hustling pretty hard to get this to happen. Just pushing more and more.
G: Well, the original lineup was Andrea [Belfiore] and myself, and we met back in 2011. I was just getting out of that punk rock band I mentioned earlier. Andrea had just moved to New York City from Boston, because he had just finished Berklee [College of Music], and a mutual friend introduced us. We were both in between projects, so we started jammin’ together… we liked a lot of similar bands and so on and so forth… and it just kind of snowballed from there. I’d known Sophia [Urista, lead singer], for like 5 years before that. It wasn’t until like a year or two later that we even asked her to join.
It wasn’t because we didn’t want to be a duo anymore, it was just a natural progression, it just felt right. We didn’t fight it; we kept on rolling, and picked up [Art]…We’re in a good place right now. Just trying to tighten ourselves up and do the best we can with what we’ve got.
“We all live in the same “neighborhood” of style and thought process. But we all have something else that we bring to the table…we complement each other very well.”
K: How would you describe the aesthetic of your band? Would you describe your own aesthetic in a similar way?
G: I feel the thing that makes The VeeVees unique, aesthetically speaking, is that we all are very individual characters on our own. We all live in the same “neighborhood” if you will, of style and thought process. But we all have something else that we bring to the table. So I think we complement each other very well.
A: Yeah, what’s that quote? [We’re kind of like a] “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” thing in that we’re all in the same neighborhood of thought processes, but once we all come together it’s like a lightning bolt.
G: I also think that aesthetic in a band is something you continually develop. We’re all kind of coming into our own right now. I would probably define it as fun, rock music, good vibes. I don’t know. We just don’t want to be surrounded by assholes and dickheads, so whatever the opposite of that is, that’s what we’re aiming for.
“As long as we can still affect people in a positive way with our music and make a living off of it, I would be perfectly happy with that for the rest of my life.”
K: Y’all have played Irving Plaza before, right?
A: Yeah, this is our third time.
K: So, how do you feel going back into that venue? I know a lot of big artists started there; are you ever nervous before you go on? I feel like a lot of artists who are HUGE right now, for example, Lana Del Rey, she had a show at Irving Plaza back in 2012, I think. And now she’s headlining music festivals across the globe. Do you feel like you want to be that big one day? Or are you just going with it?
G: Going back to Irving, it’s fine. I think it’s a great venue. People always treat us nice there. Sometimes it gets a little chaotic, but if everything goes absolutely right, it almost doesn’t feel right. As for nerves, do I get nervous going on? I think if you don’t have nerves, then you’re not fuckin’ human. I think nerves are a good part of the creative process and actually drive it. Do we want to be as big as Lana one day? Ha, I fucking hope so! I would say that as long as we can still affect people in a positive way with our music and make a living off of it, I would be perfectly happy with that for the rest of my life. So, wherever that leads, you know? Strap in!
A: The first time we played Irving Plaza, I was starstruck. I was like, “Oh my god… this is really happening,” and the second time we did it, we got to curate a little bit of the bill so we had our friends The Skins play after us, and that was just insane. The backstage area where we were all hanging out, just having a good time… it felt like there was a sense of camaraderie- it was really fun. So that show was a complete stand-out.
As far as how big we get…I would love to obtain a pre-Blink-182 Matt Skiba-thing; if you’re into that music scene, he’s kind of like a legend. And he made enough money to live comfortably and to get notes from people that said, “your lyrics saved my life.” [I’d be happy ] if I can make enough money to survive, or maybe even live a little bit better than just surviving. If I’m playing music and people are receptive and responsive to what we’re doing, that’s all I could really ever ask for.
K: Who are artists that you look up to? Who are artists, past or present, that inspire you and/or your music?
G: One of my favorite artists/producers, he actually produced The Alabama Shakes’ last album, his name is Blake Mills. He’s a singer-songwriter, and he usually plays guitar. He inspires me so much because he’s around my age, and he used to be a session musician where he played for pretty much everyone. The thing I love about him is that he’s so humble through it all. And he’s doing exactly what he wants.
There’s literally thousands of answers for this…Cream is one of my favorite rock bands. They taught me that you can be together for a very short amount of time and still produce 20 hit singles… ha! They were only together for two years back in the 60’s. It’s so insane to me. The first punk record I ever heard was Iggy Pop and The Stooges, Search and Destroy… they made me want to be a rock singer and guitarist. Those are all really important people to me.
A: Obviously, there’s the greats… Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Doors. Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio put out a lot of side projects and now he’s in fucking Blink-182. I am so supportive of him. I love that. Alkaline Trio got me through high school. I love their lyrics. It’s not like they have the most polished or perfect voice, either.
I think, just all of the greats. If I [like] anything that just triggers and inspires me, like even to this day when I hear A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?”, [I’m inspired]. At one point it’s just Q-Tip and drums playing, but it’s so catchy that you wanna bop your head to it. I’ve been trying to find some new music. I also like The Struts, I saw them last year. There’s people that went out and just made it happen, and I think that’s so powerful. That can be anyone from musicians to artists to entrepreneurs… I think in a world where everyone can just be so fucking jaded and so cynical, that, to see someone be like, “Yeah, it’s shitty out there. It’s scary. But you know what? I’m going to make it happen.” I think that is one of the most attractive things to me. People like Chuck [Grant], or like my buddy Grant [Reynolds], who’s opening up his 3rd restaurant in New York- those are people I’ve really been inspired by. People going out there and making it happen. ✿