Montreal traveling troubadour and world music producer, Chris Velan, has been crossing borders in music for over a decade with his brand of world-inflected pop-folk. A prolific songwriter and consummate performer, he has toured extensively throughout North America, with notable performances at The Lincoln Center, Sundance Festival, Montreal International Jazz Festival, Osheaga and the Virgin Festival.
As a globetrotting producer, he has worked with Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars for whom he produced their debut and latest albums, 'Living Like A Refugee' and 'Libation'. He most recently recorded and produced the soon-to-be-released debut album, 'Wa Di Yo', for Haitian music collective, Lakou Mizik, and Vermont songstress, Francesca Blanchard's, debut release, 'Deux Visions'.
Velan's sixth album, co produced by Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Basia Bulat), has him at the top of his game. Featuring members of Montreal band favourites, The Unicorns, Suuns, The Barr Brothers, AroarA and Dear Denizen, the album assembles a gathering of self-assured songs- with nods to afrobeat, disco-rock, folk pop and vintage rocksteady- under the tent of Velan's adroit song craftsmanship.
Learn more at www.chrisvelan.com
LET'S START WITH THE BASICS. DID YOU ALWAYS IMAGINE YOURSELF GOING TO LAW SCHOOL?
I would say that the idea entered my consciousness around the age of thirteen or so when one generally starts being expected to voice what they want to be/do in life. There were no lawyers in my family so I didn't have any trodden paths to follow. But my best friend's dad was a lawyer and someone I looked up to so maybe that played a role in my zeroing in on law as a profession. I came from a background where being a musician was not really considered a sensible option so I just remembered thinking that with my facility with words, law was something at which I could excel. As I got older through high school and college, my motivations developed into wanting to help people through international humanitarian law or protect the environment through non-profit environmental work.
WHAT MAKES YOUR CAREER LAWFULLY UNCOMMON?
Being a performing songwriter/producer might be more unlawfully uncommon than anything. Though there's some contract work from time to time, there's generally not a whole lot of law involved. Perhaps the uncommon part was the decision to leave a law career path for being a singer-songwriter.
AT WHAT MOMENT DID YOU REALIZE THAT YOU WANTED TO SWITCH GEARS?
The seeds were sown during my articling at a business law firm. I felt quite divided in myself with one part of me trying to do a good job and impress the partners and another part of me wanting to make music. I thought I was pulling it off well until I didn't get a hire-back offer, which, though it stung my professional pride at the time, ended being a bit of a relief. As often happens at these crossroads in life, another opportunity presented itself to me in the form of a documentary filmmaking trip to refugee camps in Guinea with two close friends from university. It was to be a film that told the story of the war in Sierra Leone and its resulting humanitarian crisis through the eyes and words of refugee musicians who had fled to a camp in neighbouring Guinea. I would be the musical director/producer and ambassador of our team. We were all first-time filmmakers and knew nothing of what we were getting into but we had the help of people within the U.N. High Commission For Refugees (UNHCR). It seemed like a crazy thing to do at the time. But I had no immediate employment prospects as a junior associate so I figured that at the very least, it would be a memorable experience from which I could return and start knocking on other firms' doors. In the end, the project ended up profoundly changing me and my life direction and put me on my own musical path.
WHAT GOT YOUR JUICES FLOWING OR TICKLED YOUR FANCY WHILE AT LAW SCHOOL?
Anything related to law as a force of constructive and positive change.
WHAT MADE YOUR BLOOD BOIL OR MADE YOU SNOOZE WHILE AT LAW SCHOOL?
Anything that was irreducibly dry and procedural made me drowsy.
DO YOU STILL SEE LAW ALL AROUND YOU?
Everywhere. It was singed into my brain and will always inform how I look at and interpret the world and its relationships.
YOU ARE AT A COFFEEHOUSE SPEAKING TO A FIRST-YEAR LAW STUDENT. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THEM? PLEASE PROVIDE YOUR ANSWER IN A TWEET. YES, THAT MEANS 140 CHARACTERS AND HASHTAGS.
Wow, that's a short coffee house speech. Here it goes.
"B honest w/yourself about what u want from law+why. Listen to what draws u. Soak up everything. Have fun"
WHAT DOES A DAY IN THE LIFE OF CHRIS LOOK LIKE?
Lots of laptop tapping for the requisite hustle and then time set aside for rehearsing, writing and generally staying connected to the creative.
IF YOU WERE GIVEN THE BLESSING AND CURSE OF AN EXTRA HOUR EVERY DAY TO DO WHATEVER YOU WANTED, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
ANY REGRETS? (YEAH, WE'RE RETROSPECTIVE LIKE THAT)
No. But if I could send a message to my younger self it would be to enjoy the ride and not worry so much. It all works out.