There’s always been a desolate, desert quality to his music, says Son of the Velvet Rat singer Georg Altziebler — even before he and Heike Binder, his wife and musical partner, decided to live in what’s considered to be North America’s driest desert.
Formed in 2004, Son of the Velvet Rat released several albums in the band’s native Austria before Altziebler says he and Binder “had reached the point where we couldn’t go any further.”
“Austria is a small country, so it’s limited,” he explains. “We wanted to go to L.A. because we knew people there and had some contacts and some friends and fans. But then we found it was too much expensive.”
Altziebler and Binder searched for an alternative location in Southern California, and after a few weeks, the Mojave Desert — in particular, Joshua Tree — “came up as the only place that we could afford,” he says. “And then we found out about the music scene, which has lots of connections to L.A.”
Those Los Angeles connections extend to the Culver City studio Stampede Origin, where the bulk of Dorado, the new Son of the Velvet Rat album, was recorded. Produced by Joe Henry and mixed by Ryan Freeland, Dorado (released Feb. 17) features guitarist Adam Levy (whose previous session credits include Norah Jones and Amos Lee), bassist David Piltch (Don Henley, Willie Nelson) and drummer Jay Bellerose (John Fogerty, Elton John), as well as singer and Joshua Tree resident Victoria Williams, among others.
“They knew the material already and had their charts and everything [when we began the sessions],” Altziebler says. “But what helped them most was when I played them the songs before we recorded them.”
Altziebler would run through each song on acoustic guitar in the control room, then the musicians would record the basic track live as a group.
“I also told everybody to play as few notes as possible and have it be sparse and dark,” he adds.
Altziebler doesn’t take full credit for whatever desert-like characteristics exist on his band’s albums.
“It all depends on the musicians you work with,” he says. “They make the sound more than the environment the songs were created in. Of course, the desert, the landscape and the people influence the music and the songs I’ve written, but maybe not so much the sound of the record.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Photo by Dieter Sajovic