Musician Mojo | Singer-Songwriter Chris Velan cover image
It’s all about mojo for troubadour Chris Velan, who went from chasing six figures with his law degree to making a living with his six-string.
Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Hey, welcome to Mojo Moments. I'm your host Thane Calder and we're in season two. Anyway, welcome. And you know what it's possible over this season, you're going to hear a disproportionate amount of musicians on Mojo Moments, because I have a secret fantasy and that secret fantasy is to stand on a stage playing wonderful sounds with my guitar and serenading the night with sweet lyrics. Truth is this will not happen. I am officially tone deaf. And this has been confirmed. No kidding by Céline Dion's sound engineer. We’ll save that story for another day.  Anyway, whatever it is, I have a massive, massive amount of respect for musicians and their craft.

They're kind of the epitome of mojo masters. Yeah. They create music. They stand on a stage in front of a bunch of people. Naked almost, they hustle across the country in vans and sleep in crappy places and they got to keep up their spirits despite the Rocky road they live to make a livelihood. On top of it they're probably the most powerful collective out there giving our own lives mojo, whether that be our, you know, as we're working quietly with our headphones on or walking the streets on our way to work. Of course, music colors our most memorable moments, our evenings, our grad prompts, our weddings, our best parties.

Music is the backbone of mojo. Our next guest is a living embodiment of my personal fantasy. He stands on a stage and creates wonderful, sweet sounds with his guitar and voice. Born here in Quebec. He's a hardworking creative master, road trip and musician. He's also a generous soul. He's the master behind our own music on Mojo Moments.

His name is Chris Velan,

Chris Velan, sir. Welcome to Mojo Moments.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

It's very nice to be here.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

You're looking crispy clean on that mobile.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Good. I don't smell that way though.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

That's why we do this thing virtually now. Nothing to do with Covid.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Wise.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

So, speaking of Covid, crazy times, very heady times. Like how are you living this period?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

I'm rather lucky because I have a place in the country in the eastern townships. So, I'm in Sutton, Quebec, and that's easier just because of the space and density of people. So, you just feel a bit less, I don't know, you feel the effects less cause you just got more and more space, you know?

So, it's been nice in that regard and because I'm a creative type who spends a lot of time on his own, it kind of gives me the permission to do that. This whole pandemic has sort of, because the whole world has to change and take time on their own and be on their own. It's sort of gives me permission to do it even more

So it's actually. I've gotten a lot out of it creatively and just through personal growth, that kind of stuff. There's a low level, you know, low level anxiety there too. And it pops up once in a while, but on the whole, it's sort of like, it's weird to say but it's been good for me.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Do you feel there's been different phases of that feeling like I call the red baking period at the beginning. Then there's the summer, like more, you know, hazy, boozy, nice, hot. And then the fall new vibe coming on, do you feel there were different moods from that?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

From that time, there was sort of the novelty of it still. So, we didn't know what was happening, what was coming. And we were discovering new ways to be alone and on our own and with our families, and whatever.

And then yeah, we sort of got sick of that. By the end of, I don't know what it was. End of April, probably, beginning of May or just as things started, the weather started getting nicer and then summer came. Yeah. And there was, we could sort of forget a little that it was around. And then now, like in Quebec, today is a really auspicious day because it's the day we're sort officially starting the second wave of lockdown.

And I can feel like a collective weirdness going on out there in the streets and among people and in myself more than anything, I mean the city right now. So, I think I'm sensitive to it too. When I come into town.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Yeah. It must feel like a totally different mood.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah, but I miss it too. I miss the energy of having a lot of people around, you know, that's why I love the city and I would never choose just to be in the country. I would always sort of have a combination of the two.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

It's interesting though, you were saying that you found a good period to take a step back and then despite some of the same moments of blips of anxiety through there, but you've been able to get some creative juice out of this.

You know the experts, the COVID experts, they were expecting a kind of COVID baby boom, because of people being more at home and it actually hasn't at all panned out that way. In fact, and even though this show is not about the other type of mojo, the libido of people is way down. And I was talking to another friend who's really into reading and he's like, I can't read, I don't have any desire to read right now, which sounds so weird cause I would've had no excuse to not read.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah, but I miss it too. I miss the energy of having a lot of people around, you know, that's why I love the city and I would never choose just to be in the country. I would always sort of have a combination of the two.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Like, I wouldn't feel guilty about it. And then I was talking to another musician friend, who's a singer songwriter and he's just like, I don't have it. Like I'm in a listening mood. I don't. I'm just trying to see what's in there, you know, mind you, that was earlier in the summer.

So, I don't know if maybe that's changed for him.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

That's a good point though. I was having, in my case, I was having problems at the start, way back in March, you know, when this whole thing started. I was having problems tapping into or even giving myself permission or finding that desire to write.

I was certainly feeling a whole lot of things. But to sit down and write them was strange. Cause it's like, to write a song right now? Like what is, it felt like a strange act to do in the face of everything. It felt so insignificant and it felt so meaningless sexually to do that, that I, that it kept me from doing it for a while.

And that's weird too, because I had been pulled from, ripped away from a residency at band, a songwriting residency that started March 2nd and went till March 15th, until they had to close down the camp center. And we were sort of all unceremoniously, like booted out. And so I came from a sort of like highly creative environment where you're really vulnerable and open and back to this.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

And you're like in the groove of I'm going to create good stuff here and then it was BOOM.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

They had this groove and it was a very sort of supportive environment and you're, and then you're just kind of ripped from it. Into sort of reality as it were. And I came back and it sort of clamped down on me and I was just like, Oh, I can't give myself permission right now to just sit down and feel self-indulgent, you know, to sit down and write songs like.

It didn't make sense. It just didn't make sense. So, there is that processing, like you can't force that kind of thing. Sometimes you just do have to live through things and live your life and feel what you feel. And then you can process it later. You know, you can't force yourself to take advantage of a situation like that when things are getting stirred up, there's a certain wisdom.

And just being like, okay, I'm not forcing this. I'm just going to live through it. And then when I can process it, I'll write, I'll write it.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

And have you found that stride now?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

 I eventually came around to finding a way to do it and give myself permission to do it and let this stuff flow. And that was good. Like that's good. And now, it's there. And so, I'm realizing like, this is, this is what I do. This is all I can do in the face of this stuff.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

So sort of just do it, just do it.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Just let yourself. For me so much about creating and writing songs is giving yourself permission to do it and just say what you, what you need to say. And just to not censor it.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

My dad was really into bluegrass, but a lot of the sounds that came out of the civil war, the music of the civil war in the U S was born out of that. I don't know if it was during the war or more after when people getting selves permission to capture the stories of what went on or, or we think of the, you know, the sixties, the late sixties, a lot of music came out of that period.

Yeah, it'd be interesting to see in a few years, what came out of this period? You know, not only are we dealing with COVID, we're dealing with all that craziness going on. South of the border, right.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Allot of upheaval, like on every level of society, it's super disorienting. And I think probably a lot of people right now feel like there's just too much being said about it.

That's what I'm interested in too. With the whole, everything being shared all the time. It's like, and so much music being out there and so much commentary, it becomes very meta and instantaneous. You're like, Oh God, I don't want to write a song about this. Like what, you know what I mean?

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Yeah. I guess you kind of feel like I'm not adding anything to it. I'm just jumping on the same bandwagon or....

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah, I'm just sort of like throwing up into this same vacuum of people. You know, giving their opinion or saying how they feel. And I guess that's what if you can't do that? Well, then there's not be any art, so you gotta find a way to do it, but yeah, it will be interesting to see what, what kind of expression comes out of this stuff.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

So, can we just talk about your roots of music? A little. So, my peeps were asking me, like, how do you know Chris, your old buddies? I said, yeah, well, he's my buddy, but we don't see each other.  But he's actually became my son's friend. Although Chris doesn't know that, but you know, my children are like "my friend, Chris", cause they listen to your music in the car.  But certainly, my wife, knew you from way back. And so, did it all start with you and your brothers and equalizer. Was that like in high school, were you guys like jamming out? Is that when it all started? So sort of just do it, just do it.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

I've been playing guitar since I was nine and writing songs since I was, I'd say 14, so it's always been there and I played in different groups in high school.

And then when I was in university, I played in a group all through four years, university. And then equalizer that band you're mentioning that I was in with my brothers that started when I was in law school. So, I've always had music going alongside everything I'm doing. And it was only later, after I left law and went and did a documentary film in West Africa that I decided to like, okay, let's, this is what you want to do. This is what you're passionate about. This is what you're drawn to. Let's just, let's just try doing music.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Wait, let's pause. Let's see. So I know you did the law school thing. Did you actually write your bar or you didn't do that part?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

I did, ya.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

So, you did the whole thing.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

In British Columbia, not in Quebec.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

But it's a bar.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

 I went to school here in Montreal, but I ended up doing my bar in BC.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

And was there a moment, like, I'm going to be a lawyer and I'm going to do this, or it never really felt that that was going to be your path.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

I think for a while, I had sort of convinced myself that that was something that I wanted to do.

You know, I wanted to get into environmental law, like not from the nonprofit side and getting into construction, human rights. Like I want, I didn't want to do like corporate law, but, I guess what I realized doing through law school and then through my, articling was that I was like divided in myself and I didn't feel a passion for the law that I noticed in the lawyers who I respected. Like they were passionate about it. They wanted to, they knew they want to do it and they loved it. And I didn't recognize it myself, that same sort of passion or love, and because, you know, I'm an artist. And so, I guess what I realized was even though there are aspects of a lawyer in me and wanting to do good for society and, you know, social mindedness, I could serve that with music somehow.

You know what I mean? I can find ways to use music to, to satisfy that and challenge myself.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

 And so, do you think that's like, kind of a key piece and you know, our whole show's about mojo, but you know, you need to align what you really believe in with what you're doing.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah, I think so.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

And did you find that, in Sierra Leone, had gone on a mission or where you thinking of doing a documentary?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Myself and two of my close buddies from university, we did this documentary and we each had a different role in it. Although we were all wearing different hats, but it was the first time any of us had made a documentary, but we'd spoken about this idea of going to do a film documentary and in Africa in some sort of war effected region.

A documentary that sort of looked into music and I guess how that affects or is used by, people in sort of humanitarian crises, because we all have this love for African music and interest in it. And international affairs and we just, we're just like, well, look, let's combine our talents and go try and do this.

And then we were put in touch with someone in the UN high commissioner for refugees who himself is a musician and former refugee, from Rwanda. And, so our interest lined up really, really well. And he directed us to, Guinea where all the, at the time, refugees from Sierra Leone had set up camps, refugee camps in the hundreds of thousands.

And he had a whole sort of group of musicians that he knew in the camps and then local musicians in Guinea Conakry and he loved the idea of using music to tell the story of refugees, like letting refugees, tell their own stories from music. And so he helped us and he became critical to us being able to do it and getting us the permission papers and, you know, all of the documents basically to travel through this country.

Cause you can't, you can't really just show up as a tourist and go, go into a refugee camp.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

So, I guess, not.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

 Yeah. So that's how it happened. We were all very green. We didn't know what we were getting into, but it turned out to be a very well transformative experience for me, but then also for everyone involved in the band who were the subjects of the film, went on to have a long, touring and recording career. It's been put on hold now.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

 Yeah, I remember seeing the document. It was awesome. And was it during that process that you sorta got clear on I'm choosing the music path?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

I'd always sort of fought against the possibility of doing music, I guess just the way I was raised or whatever. I was just sort of, I believed that like you can't make a life out of that.

And when I, when I spent all this time with the refugee all-stars, and saw what music did for them and just how important music was as a force, like in their camp, in their lives and to everyone else involved in the project. I realized like what, what I've been fighting like, this is what it's all about. This is all I've ever wanted to do. And so, all that questioning sort of, it didn't make sense anymore. I was like, I gotta give this a go. You know, I got to listen to, if these guys can do it in a refugee camp, then I can certainly do it back home. You know.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

 It's interesting cause I remember, I don't know, it was around when you came back and you were editing the film or whatever, but that's when you worked at CloudRaker a little bit, possibly, what year we had like 2005 ish or so.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

And you were doing copywriting on website stuff, and I had this memory of us going for lunch in a diner. I don't know if you remember this. And we were having, like a club sandwich, which club sandwiches are weirdly expensive. I don't know why, but anyway, it was like a big, expensive lunch in a diner.

And I was like, trying to convince you to do the copywriting thing and you know, the music, you always keep as a hobby on the side aside or something like that. And I remember just your body languages. You didn't say no, or yes, you just were politely like, kind of just smiled a little. And I was like, no, this guy loves music. This is not.

And a couple of months later, like, Hey, I'm heading on the road, but I can write for you while I'm on the road.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah, I did. It's funny though. It did take me. There was a little transition time between coming back from west Africa and actually sort of jumping in with both feet.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

 A friend of mine that I grew up with got really into, like Highland and and Irish, Celtic music and all that. And his teacher, I forget his name, this guy down the Eastern townships, older guy who taught him the bagpipes, was his roommate was Leonard Cohen and Miguel way back. And Leonard Cohen actually came from a very well-off family in the schmatta industry or something like that. And then there was a lot of pressure for him to go into the family business.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

And apparently Leonard and this other guy, whose name I can't remember, who was my friend's teacher, was a musician, but more of this Celtic stuff. And he came from not a very well-off context and Leonard Cohen apparently said to him "you're so lucky, you can just play music. You don't need permission". And he's like, "yeah, fuck. Look who turned out well on that front".

So one of the things I love, I love your music by the way. And I liked that you have African influences. I'm going to call them African influences.

Was that happening before going to Africa, you were already sort of drawn to the sounds or you picked it up and discovered a lot more of the sounds?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Bit of both. I was already drawn to the sounds. I'd grown up listening a lot to reggae from Jamaica and loved that. So, I was very drawn towards groove, heavy music. And when I was in university, I was just, I was taking courses back in history and African culture and music. And the more I listened to them, I was like, Oh right, this is just taking it to a whole other level of well of like rhythm and because it follows different time signatures and it's got a completely different aesthetic to it than Western music.

You know, first of all, it was used in recent history too. I would say like Western music also had this history to it, but we've had so many centuries of getting away from that. But in African music, it's present every day in culture and it's used culturally and it's used spiritually, religiously, and it's very direct.

So. We don't have the distance between sort of pop music and what we would call, I don't know, traditional or ceremonial music it's like right there. And so that that's sort of immediacy to it. Uh, really, really interested me. It just, there's something. And I was like, I don't understand.

This is such a mystery. This. People can be playing such heavy, complicated, poly, rhythmic grooves for so long. Like I can't even sort of, I can't even count the time signature. It's sort of, their unknown. And so, I was drawn to that. I was like, what is this? I want to be able to play this.

And then also, I really love the guitar. A lot of African guitar innovator sounds like they actually came from traditional instruments. Like the Embera, once Western guitar, like in the sixties there was a lot of like Western music that made it over there. And you know, a lot of these countries were achieving independence and there was just a sort of a Renaissance and a blossoming.

So they were taking like electric guitars and trying to imitate embera lines and coming up with these really cool sounds and complicated patterns. I was like, I want to learn how to do that. That is insane. I've never heard that. So I was already going through that process of trying to figure that out for myself when, when the movie became a possibility.

And then when I went there, it just, it just deepened, you know, because I got exposed to the Ghanaian musical tradition, which is different than the Sierra Leonian one, but the Ghanaian and the Sierra Leonean one, which a lot of it came from the West Indies. So, it's sort of this carnival music and reggae, but sort of an African take on it.

And then the Ghanaian music was all part of the Malenka empire, which is just this rich musical tradition with the Cora and the balafon, which is the sort of like, we call it a xylophone.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

I'm a huge fan of Ali Farka Toure and before I jump on my mojo podcasts, I do this thing. It's a tradition. I go for a run. It gets me in the mood and the tune, I'm so bad at names of songs, but I wrote it down because I just listen to them. But you're on your own now.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

I don't know what you're doing there, but you've droned some really cool sounds in there. It's pretty awesome. Now, I don't know where the inspirations come in in there, but it's just got a wicked and then you change it up near the end.

And it's got this. I don't know. It's like exotic as shit.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Thanks. Yeah. That's sort of an example of me trying to honor those, like those parts of me that want to bring that in, you know, like bring it into sort of songwriting. It's interesting because I'm a writer, you know? And so, there's always been this tension between trying to be poetic and literary while also trying to explore like a groove thing. And they're often at odds with each other, you know, like groove music. It's not about words. It's not about what you say. It's how you say it and you don't want to let the words get in the way of like the groove and word music.

You know, we were talking about Leonard Cohen and that kind of stuff. Leonard's got no like high tempo groove music. And there's a reason for that because he's just all poetry and words. Right? And you want to let those speak, but I'm trying to kind of do both and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but I just feel compelled to always try and do it.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

It's funny you say that. Cause I made a pack with my kids, you know, around music, which is when we're in the car, we take turns. Not every song, but sometimes on a road trip, it's their tune, sometimes my tunes. And it's just, you know, I think it's, I didn't want to be that dad. Who's like, eh, you know, new music sucks and there's only, you know, what I listen to.

And, it's been awesome cause they they've been exposed to your staff, to Bob Dylan, to the stones, to REM, whatever, you know, they've discovered a bit my tunes and I've discovered there's and it's interesting because when I listen to some of them, there are tunes that I've really grown fond, you know, their world is like juice world. Young boy never broke again. And da baby and Metro booming, but like juice world is interesting. Cause he died. He's like he was my kids Kurt Cobain moment. He, this guy just passed away. Young guy died too young, drugs, difficulties, but a very prolific writer, but great groove too. And when you're describing there, what's that balance between, you know, the, the lyrics and bringing that together, you know, cause some of, some of the contemporary hip hop and all that, you just feel a cool vibe, but you know, they're saying nothing, they're talking about the body parts and you know, their Lamborghini and shit like that. But some of them are actually very, some of the music is very prolific.

And so, I made my own pack because I like the African sounds. And I'm trying to contribute to my kids sort of hip-hop repertory, and maybe getting a little edge over their buddies. Maybe, you know, like, Hey, have you heard this? So, I've been checking out African hip hop sounds. And some of it is super cool.

There's a techno Burna Burna boy. And then coming out of Ghana, Juuls. And Medi-Cal have you heard of these guys, like it's awesome. Awesome sounds like.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Actually I go on Apple music and I go, they have an option to go on country to country, what the charts, the sort of the charts are per country.

So, you can go to countries like Nigeria, you can go to Ghana and see what's charting in Ghana, or ivory coast or whatever. And it's a lot of it crosses over because the sort of the mega stars are going to be charting on country playlist, but that's where I'm going to find a lot of stuff actually.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

We won't waste the podcast on how to teach me to do that, but I'm going to do that. Speaking of, since we were talking about Apple, let's do a little Apple deep dive here. Okay. You know, I do homework, you know, I don't just show up on my mojo podcasts. There's a lot of preparation here.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Right.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

You're feeling it. You're feeling very pro very pro. Assuming their algorithm is right. So you go on like songs, top songs.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Of Chris Velan. Yeah. And they put it in order, I assume. And you got Sweet Mary there.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah. Yeah. I should have, I could have just stopped right there.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Probably one of your oldest tunes, you wrote that a long time ago. No?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

 Yeah, that was 98. And that was just to fill out equalizers one and only album, that band that I was with my brothers, we needed another chat and we were sort of like, Oh, let's just put this acoustic song at the end of it. Cause it was, it was otherwise a full band you know, like reggae.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

It was just like; you threw this on at the end.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Ya. I Had it floating around and let's just do it live. We did live in the studio and me and my brother Mike was singing the harmony on it. And then that was the song that seemed to travel the furthest and continues to.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Does it bug you that it does?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

No, no! Because it makes sense. I know how that works. It's just, it had its own journey ahead. Its own like path, you know, I wrote it at a time where I just wanted to be heard and then it sorta like it was an acoustic thing. So, it's more like a campfire song. So, like a lot of kids took it to camp with them and then that would spread.

You know, summer camps and I've had a lot of people say, like, who are now adults be like, that's, you know, that song represents sort of my whole camp experience, you know, at this such-and-such camp. And I think it just makes sense that that song had legs. It was just, it's a story that people can relate to about love and loss.

And it's sorta. I dunno, it just has this thing to it.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Well, I saw it with my eldest son this summer and I shouldn't say this he's gonna kill me if ever he hears this, but he had kind of his first girlfriend this summer, you know? Cause I don't listen to lyrics by the way. And I shouldn't tell you this, the guy who prides himself on lyrics, but I listen to the groove, but, but he, you know, I assume Sweet Mary captures a bit of that energy from that first summer love, I don't know, camp ground. I don't know what it is, but yeah, it's a feeling that it's funny. Cause you know, when you did your Sunday sessions there in early COVID and you could Instagram in like your requests, you know?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

 My wife likes Sweet Mary. And I was like, I kind of feel this responsibility to honor, like, to musicians. Like you got to celebrate their latest stuff too. And I was like, no, you can't ask him that. That's like, that's way back in the bag. And she says, yeah, but that's the one I love.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

eah. No, that's fine. I don't get annoyed. I mean, at all, I’m like proud of that song and if someone wants to hear it, I'll play it for sure. I find new ways to connect to it every time, but that's it, it's often the case that, you know, an artist, like one of their early songs that people really connect to and then some people can never really duplicate that.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

 So back in our little Apple deep dive since we're in there. So your second song then goes to the, almost the other end of the spectrum in terms of your musical creation to un-American Gothic is the second there.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Oh yeah.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Which is a totally different vibe. Like it's incredible.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah. It's a totally different vibe. Sort of got more of a political, historical, distopic sort of vetoed, but that's, again, that's like a real group tune with a lot of African music influences in it too. Yeah, it's funny. I don't know how the algorithm works, man.

Don't even get me started on it.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Okay. But do you look at it? Do you look at this data?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

I do. I do. And I see it's based in hard numbers and everything, but it's obviously not a neutral player in it. So, like this thing called algorithmic value and how things move up the ladder that whole game is, is curious, you know, and it often means that.

It often means that stuff that could get listened to and delight is lost. So I never go to listen to an artist. I never go to their sort of top songs. I sort of find them in an indirect way, by going onto the radio, listened to radio for a certain song that I like. So a certain style that, I love that song. I wonder what else it'll show me in that style and then I'll start to come across in artists now.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Let's go back to the whole music mojo story here. So, so I was saying earlier, you worked briefly at cloud. Okay. At Cloud Raker copywriting, tried to convince you to drop your musical career.

Not really, but I was just doing my job. I saw, I saw potential there and I realized it wasn't gonna happen, but you know, for your own mojo, like, what is it, you know, what does it give you?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

It's kind of the only thing that makes sense to me in life, like, and the greatest feeling I know is to have a song idea, some sort of inspirational ideas, some little thing and it's like to take that and to bring it to completion and then to play it for people it's just the greatest feeling in the world. And to know that there's something true and compelling in that. And then to be able to share that, it feels like you're sitting on a little, little treasure, you know, and that feeling of being in that, like the creative part of it, the creating part of it is one of the greatest feelings.

Cause you're just sitting on something that's gold to you and you have to wrestle with it and you don't know what the outcome is going to be, but you know, you have to do it anyway. And then if you come out on the other end, and you actually have a good song and you can share it with people. It's like. I can't imagine a better feeling.

It's such a high to do that, that you just keep chasing it in a sense. And that doesn't mean that you just want your song to be like a radio hit. It just means like you want to keep improving on giving something. It's like even more and more distilled down to something that's like honest, an honest expression of whatever that emotion is.

Like. Even if it's a love song, how can I express this feeling? The love I have in me at this moment in a way that no one's done before, and that will make someone else feel like, you know, a new way, like see it in a new way.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

So like when you replay your tunes, are you still tapping into that feeling?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yes, ideally. Yes. But what happens is the further you get away from creating a song and sharing it, it becomes something different. So, you kind of have to keep reconnecting with it and not hold on to what it was before. You have to be like, Oh, what is this song saying to me now? And sometimes it's often it's very different than when it was when you wrote it and why you wrote it, or you even start to understand even more what you were trying to say in the song 10 years later, you know, like songwriting is a strange mystical process where it's often your subconscious or your heart, something deep in you that sort of pre it's not mine.

It's it's here. It's speaking to you and it's coming out. Using your mind as a tool, but you only know what it means later when it's done. You know, so I guess you're talking about mojo, that's it it's that, that mystery of it. And it's, I always feel like a beginner when I write a song. So it's always something new and it's always, you're always learning something new about yourself and you're just chasing, chasing beauty and truth really, and trying to make that into something good that someone is going to connect with.

And I can't, I can't think of anything else to do. Like that's the only thing that makes sense to me. In life and it allows me to make sense of my life in the world. And, and it brings me joy. And I can't imagine doing anything else.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

What do you do? Like you, you gotta have ups and downs, right? So, what are you doing? You got the downs. Like, what are you like?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Well, I mean in relation to music and sort of, yeah.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Yeah. We're not getting into the deep, we can't get too personal. Keep it to the professional musicaly.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah. Well, I mean it's because what you do is, is like, is inextricably connected with sort of you and your voice that it's yeah.

You got to really write a lot of that in, and either channel it into the music or not, but when I'm down about music and I have a pretty strong sensor, self-sensor. So that's something I sort of, you know, I've been getting to know more and trying to like trying to just give less power to, you know, there's a perfectionist part of me and that can be a real killer for creativity.

So usually when I'm down about music, it's related to how I'm feeling about myself and like the meaningfulness of what I do. And if I'm feeling that way, I'm not going to create something that's pretty, that's not good. I'm going to create something good from that place. So I just kind of let myself go through it and sit through it and not try and force anything out.

And then wait until it passes until I'm inspired again. And then, and then I have the juice I need, but I've gotten better at listening to sort of my own rhythms and when is a good time to sit down and write. And when it's, when it's not a good time to do that. Cause it's tricky these days too, because like music has been in so many ways, like demonetized and devalued. Right? And by that, I mean, devalued like monetarily, but also sort of like it's been commodified. And so, when you're an artist and you're trying to create music, it's very easy to just be like, this doesn't make any sense. I mean, it never did as a career, but I'm not giving anything to society that's like useful right now.

Because like, even, even people who like what you do will listen to it. And then there's 30 other thousand songs. They're not going to necessarily follow you or even know what you do next, or they may not even hear more than just that one song. So, it's not like it was before you like put out an album and someone's going to listen to the you know that, and they're gonna appreciate it and you know, you create fans that way and they'll stick with you.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Yeah.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

 It's like you just got to go on faith and have no expectations now about anyone's connection with you. So, you have to just give music without any expectation of anything coming back to you, you know, and you gotta be okay with that. So, you have to give it the value of your music has to come from you basically.

And if you're not tight with that, it's hard to create. Like it's hard to be in this environment, in this market, in this landscape and have that be your thing. There’re so many ways in which you can just sort of say, I don't know, like why would I even do this? Like, there are 40,000 of the people who do what I do in the same sort of way. I mean, not the same way, because only I can do what I do, but like, it’s like music is like fungible, like a singer songwriter now can throw a rock on the street and hit one, you know? And so it's all going to come from you. It's all got to come from you, you know? And that's my biggest challenge, I guess, to, to stay creative and to stay in the flow and to keep creating and growing it's just to be like, all right, like, this is why you do it and no one's making you do it and be real with that and know, know what this is about for you. Cause there's really no guarantee.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Yeah, it's not a bad theory, you could do it dishonestly, but that's the thing. It means something different for each person. So, you gotta, you gotta be honest with yourself.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah, it's not a bad theory, you could do it dishonestly, but that's the thing. It means something different for each person. So, you gotta, you gotta be honest with yourself.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

I'm sure you have a lot of musicians who inspire you. I'm guessing, but have you ever had a musician, a conversation with a musician that's inspired you and helped you through.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

I wouldn't say there's, there's one that sort of, I carry around as my sort of my main wisdom because I never really had a mentor in this. I think I get my inspiration and sort of healing from just in general, speaking with other musicians, colleagues, or whatever, peers who I respect and just being able to talk about music and creating, and it sort of normalizes it. And I love being able to talk that language with other people and see how they do their thing.

And I love listening to other people's songs and seeing them play, which is a hard thing now, but not being able to see shows because I get very inspired by watching other people do what they do. It sort of, it sort of refills my well, you know, it'd be like, Oh, that's awesome. Right. They're giving there, they're saying it in this way and I find that very inspiring, you know. So no, I've never had that sort of one piece of like wisdom, but I've certainly had connections, musical connections with artists, who's music. I like, and just connect with them, you know, on, from time to time listening to their music, sometimes it'll just hit me and I'll just hear a song, someone I know and like, you know, just be like, Oh yeah.

And that'll just like, send me right off. To my guitar.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

It gives you, it inspires you or it gives you a moment.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah. Cause it's just like, oh look, he's doing it. Like, and I feel this way to hear that and so I can do that. That's what I do. So, you know what I mean? It seems like it should be something that, you know, maybe someone listening to this be like, well, yeah, don't you know that, no, I don't know it. I really don't. And I have to be reminded of it constantly because it's not always there for me anyway. And when it's, when it is there, it's their strong and it's very moving, but it's not like a constant thing, you know?

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

So, you know, the whole birth of the Mojo Moments podcast came from, well, obviously my team assed kicking me and us having great conversations. Like if we were to do a podcast, what should we do it on? And we ended up landing on Mojo Moments, but yeah, was actually a bit born in 2019. I was just having a little more of a lull in my career, not a down, but just a little and I start talking to people of different, you know, different entrepreneurs, different strengths, some writers, different types of people, or just, I find inspired and I was like, that's giving me mojo. It's a little different, but it gave me a little thing to grab onto or go, Oh, that's cool. And I don't necessarily need to do them more, but they gave me just little, it's almost like, you know, I don't know, my kids, when they were younger, we would blow up a balloon and play like tap the balloon and just keep it up in the air.

You know, it's a bit that, you know, the conversation gives that, taps the balloon and gets it back up in the air. You know.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

I like that analogy. Yeah. It is very similar. It's whatever you need to do to stay in that stream, you know? Doesn't take a lot. Like it's very easy to be pulled out of it, but if you are sort of aware of that, and if you're connected with that feeling that you want to maintain of being excited and creative and just whatever, happy and inspired, like jazz, non-life, there are things you can do, you know, that that connects you to that every day and that's important. It's a practice, you know, it doesn't just happen. I guess there are those people out there who are always in that zone, but I'm not one of them. So I have to really like, stay on top of it.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

A musician I know has been, I won't name him because he's super successful. Uh, it's weird. He doesn't like listening to other musicians.

He gets competitive. It's like, I'm always like, I try not to judge him on it, but it's always kind of like, I'm always like, that's weird.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah. I can understand that. I mean, I would say that's probably not uncommon in a lot of ways, like. I think people who are super successful probably have that thing, driving them where they always want to be up there, up there, you know, and sort of, but not in the sense of like beat that guy.

It's more on a creative professional level of like come up with a new sound or really sort of come out with something that's gonna have more of a critical angle to it. You know, where you're, you sort of, you're always pushing yourself to sort of, to express yourself differently, you know? And I'm not always like, you know, love and peace.

Sometimes I hear stuff and I'm like, that's good, but it'll be like, Oh, that I won't be like, Oh, that guy or that person doesn't know what they're doing, or they don't deserve to be where they are, it's more just like, I'll be on myself, God, like I can do that. Like, why didn't I do that?

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Come on, dude. What the fuck? I'm sleeping at the wheel here.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah. Yeah. So, I get the competitiveness. Sure.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

I picture a guy like M&M's like that, kind of always like I got to push the edge and then gets really like hard on himself.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Hip hop and stuff is just very much a lot of machismo. Kind of seems driven by that. It's funny to be competitive sort of in my genre, which is this introspective confessional singer songwriter.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

He's like, fuck him.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

 Like, ahh, that guy's more sensitive than me or he said something more sensitively.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

He's made it more. I don't know. Soft and happy.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

People are gonna want to cry more to his music.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

 That's such a fun thought and competitive with the crying he's generating.

So look, we're at the stage in our podcasts here, we do this thing called the rabbit hole five.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Oh, wow. What does that mean?

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Started as a rapid five. It never ends up being rapid. So we call it the rabbit hole. Okay. First question, my friend.

Do you have a favorite song that you've created?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

No.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Oh, so you're like, they're my children. I treat them all equally.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

 No it changes all the time and it's a roving sort of place. Like, I'll hear a song that I haven't heard in a long time that I didn't necessarily use to love and then I'll love it.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Oh yeah, Okay.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

So usually it's the most recent song just because like, that's the one you're in, but that soon fades and you're like, Oh, okay. Yeah. That's not as good as I thought it was, but no, I don't have a favorite song. I really don't. I'm not just saying that. It's just, I guess I would have a, maybe a top 10, but even that, see I forget a lot of songs that I've written. So sometimes if I go back when I was doing those Sunday shows or those online shows, I would go deeper back in my catalog and try and play songs I haven't played in a while. And through that, I was like, Oh my God, that's actually. Oh, I love that song. Like I didn't give that song enough credit, you know.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

That's wild again. Cause I remember actually during the pandemic, when you were doing your sunny session, I think that happened and you even spoke about it and then same time, there was a guy from Coldplay. I'm so bad at names. The lead singer dude.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Chris Martin?

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

 Chris Martin, what a good name. Chris Martin. So, he was doing his, like from his fancy house, doing a little piano show and people start. He couldn't remember any of the lyrics of his tunes. He'd be like dah, dah, dahhhh uh, you're kind of like, what the, he doesn't know his song.

What? Does he rewrite those things? What's going on there? Does he got like a teleprompter on there.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah. Yeah. I know. Well, to make space for new songs, you have to forget other ones, but it often happens. You have one of your albums, you kind of like more, I will say one of the albums I'm sort of most proud of is the one called the Long Goodbye and it's probably the most sort of raw somber minimalist albums that I've done. And, it was just in response to something I was going through at a time, like a heartbreak and what I'm very proud of is just the fact that I did it and it was extremely honest, you know, the honesty of that album. There's no sort of potention, there's no layers that I put there in the writing of the song or in the production of the song. It's all just right out front.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

And you feel it, you feel the honesty in that.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah. Yeah. So, I'm very proud of that because it's hard to do that and you can sort of hide a little and deek out a bit and I didn't give myself any of that for that album and so I'm proud of that one.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Second question. Do you have a freedom 55 plan?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

No.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Like, do you ever think of retirement or whatever that.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

No. No. I'm like reverse. Now I'm sort of. I'm more excited than ever about music and writing music. So I actually want to work more in this regard and tour more.

I want to get a tour bus and hopefully by then I'll have a family.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

So there'll be sleeping on the bus with you. They'll go on the road with you.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah. I want to be Willy Nelson.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

When it comes time when you get your bus, let me in because as my team knows as a CloudRaker, I had this obsession with buses. Okay. And I've, I've dreamed of being involved with designing the bus. If you could include, just remember this moment. Okay.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

I'm going to need you to see your skills.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Yeah. Cause it's just like, oh look, he's doing it. Like, and I feel this way to hear that and so I can do that. That's what I do. So, you know what I mean? It seems like it should be something that, you know, maybe someone listening to this be like, well, yeah, don't you know that, no, I don't know it. I really don't. And I have to be reminded of it constantly because it's not always there for me anyway. And when it's, when it is there, it's their strong and it's very moving, but it's not like a constant thing, you know?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

I cannot speak for other singer songwriters, I can say in my own experience, no, I've never had that sort of decadent, rock star, glamorous moment.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

That's not so glamorous. You've never had that fuck gotta get out of that town.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Never, never. I've never had it ever. I've never had it ever. I've had very little, little, tiny, little versions of it that are very distant, but nothing that was ever what you would imagine it.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Damn I was hoping to drag up that story that no one's ever heard.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

I know, I know, I wish, I wish. I mean, that's not to say I haven't had a lot of beautiful, sublime, serene moments in music that involved, you know, cool, scenarios and people, but it was just, there was nothing sort of like rockstar, nothing like that.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Not like Almost Famous-y. Messy. Okay. This is the cheesy question. Number four, that I got to ask. You’re stock on the Island. You can only take one album with you, not one of your own, someone else's and it's the only tune you're going to be able to play.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah, uh, how will I answer that? Well, can I give you sort of, I'll give you two albums that I've always had in my mind. Sorry, three albums that I've always had in my mind.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Okay, I'll let you go with it, you can do whatever you want.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

 One of them would be a Graceland. One of them would be an album by Van Morrison called Astral Weeks. And then, I would take, an album called Funky Kingston, by Toots and the Maytals, Toots recently passed away. Those three, I think I'd be happy. I mean, I'd get sick of them all for sure.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

But that speaks a bit to your musical mojo. Sort of that singer song writer. You got the, you know, Paul Simon was criticized for, what do they call, cultural appropriation, but I don't understand that because all music is cultural appropriation, I think.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah. What isn't.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

And then, yeah, that says a lot to me. I get that. That makes sense. Yeah. I'd bring your albums, bro. All the musicians I have on the show. You're the first one, bro. Uh, yeah, look you did. You made the music. There you go. Okay. Last question of our rabbit hole five is the one, the advice that you give to yourself when you were 16 that you could give now, you're like, Chris you're 16. Listen to this advice.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

 Yeah. Uh, don't hold back. Don't hold yourself back at all. Go fully without fear go fully without restraint. Just go for it fully. Yeah. that's it, simple.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

I do this question because I have a son, my eldest child 16, and I'm like, shortcutting advice to the world this way.

So that was awesome. Do you have your guitar handy by chance? Can we cheat? Cause normally, you know we then edit in your tune at the end and we say, thanks, Chris.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Do you want an acoustic version of it?

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Can you do it? Like, does it work? You know which tune it is, right?

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Yeah.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Okay.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Okay. So, do you want me to just leap into it right now?

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

 Yeah. And if you like this podcast, definitely share it around and give it a high review in the review section. If you have 6 stars do that. That would be awesome. Thank you, Chris. And play us out, man.

Chris Velan
Chris Velan

Thanks Thane. Here we go.

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Mojo Moments Cheat Sheet #2 | Bite-Sized Moments from Season 1

If you’re looking for a taste of what you missed from season one, stick this in your ear buds.
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