A band’s first gig is usually a nerve-racking experience. Bouncing ideas around in basements and rehearsal spaces is one thing, but presenting those same musical concepts to a paying audience is something else entirely. Usually those early performances are at local dives, opening for better-known acts. Less pressure, get the jitters out of the way. Velvet’s first gig was at SXSW.

That’s an unusual situation; bands will work for years before being offered their SXSW debut. However, singer Emily Gold had already put in the work as a solo artist, and she decided that the festival gave her a perfect opportunity to start working under a band name. She could barely have picked a higher-profile event to showcase her new direction.

“It was an evolution from a solo project that I had,” Gold says. “I was performing under my name, and it kind of turned into something else, where we were all collaborating more and creating a different sound. We changed the name and made it more of a band dynamic. The original lineup was me and Salvatore Romano, our drummer. Since then, we brought on Peter Maffei on guitar and our new bass player, Stephen Burns. We’ve had the current lineup now for about five months. It’s pretty new.”

In those five months, Velvet have already managed to stir up some excitement. With a sound that leans heavily on 1990s alt-rock while retaining a contemporary indie-rock vibe, the two singles released so far — “How Do You Know” (on Play Like a Girl) and the self-released “Even If I Tried” — saw them get a decent amount of positive press, and Gold was able to bring the fans of her previous solo career along for the ride.

“The first couple of singles and the first songs we were writing together were a little more inspired by ’90s grunge and alternative rock,” she says. “I think now we’re pulling from a lot of different influences. We’re really into classic rock, new, contemporary and alternative rock, and also ’90s music. We’re just combining everything that we like together and creating something unique. It’s not just me anymore — everyone is contributing.”

The collaborative process is working beautifully. Velvet’s sound is equal parts Veruca Salt and Rilo Kiley — tough, crunchy rock & roll with super-sweet melodies. The band fits in comfortably with the current alt-rock scene in L.A., and beyond. This is a group tailor-made for summer festivals but equally at home in spit ’n’ sawdust dive bars.

“I think what happens in a city like L.A., because everyone is kind of creating music, it becomes, not competition with other people, but competition with yourself to create better and better music, because everyone is very ambitious,” Gold says. “That creates a standard that is really high for music. There are a lot of bands that are so, so talented.”

Velvet is one of those bands. Gold and her bandmates are openly ambitious when talking, obsessed with their art. Even the name, a simple enough word on the surface, reflects that drive.

“When I was a kid, I never had a stuffed animal,” Gold says. “I made my parents take me to the fabric store and get rolls of velvet. When I was thinking of band names, I like the juxtaposition of a soft-sounding name with a heavier sound. There’s something about the music we make — a lot of the lyrics are biting but a lot of it is tongue-in-cheek. So ‘velvet’ seemed like the perfect word for that. It’s just a word that has been circulating my ether for my whole life.”

This week, Velvet perform at the Prospector in Long Beach; on June 2, they perform at the Bootleg in Echo Park Gold says that we can expect both shows to be loud.

“We’re playing pretty much all new songs,” she says. “We’ve been hunkering down for the past five months working on an entirely new set. We’ll play one or two old songs but mostly the songs that we’ve all written together. We’ve been focusing on creating an overarching experience. We like to think of the set not just as an amalgamation of songs but as a performance. Really thinking of the arc of the set and taking people on a journey.”

When those shows are done, Velvet will keep booking shows, with a U.S. tour planned in the fall. At the same time, they’re working on an EP. Their debut SXSW show might be out of the way, but this is a band at the very beginning of what could well be an exciting journey.

Velvet plays with Nope and Big Slumber at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 26, at the Prospector in Long Beach; then with The Lonely Biscuits and Cigarette Barbies at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 2, at the Bootleg Theater.

LA Weekly