By day, John Velsor, a 30-year-old Molloy College graduate, works as a freelance music teacher on Long Island. But by night, he’s the frontman of Astronauto, a Valley Stream pop-rock band with a strong psychedelic presence.
“I’ve always been intensely into the music and art,” Velsor said. “But about two or three years ago, I decided to throw my whole self into it, you know? Treat it more than just a nine to five.”
Astronauto’s vibe is similar to experimental pop band “Of Montreal,” which creates a throwback sound akin to acts of the late sixties. Velsor’s music is inspired by Captain Beefheart and Tim Buckley. Both acts sport a more lo-fi, gritty texture to their music, taking influence from counterculture as well as the blues.
“I get pretty weird,” Velsor said. “If I’m able to, I like to take some time alone. Where I live now, there’s a basement, so there’s space. I like to dive into it and obsess over the songs. I put myself into the music and the art like a monk is to the religion.”
Velsor is spiritually connected to the process; it’s like meditation for him. He talks about a natural high that comes through in the writing process, leading to a zen state that allows him to have an out of body experience when performing. Often, his meditation/rehearsal sessions end up lasting over two hours.
“I almost like to prepare,” Velsor says. “I make sure I drink enough water or drink enough coffee.”
Some experience nostalgia when listening to the band, due to their throwback sound. For others, the music creates an atmosphere of personal struggle and self-improvement, which is found in the song “Nothing Left To Say,” off the latest album, “Astronauto III.”
“So this is the situation that we’re all gonna have to live with/ I’m sorry for the complications, well I’ll think twice before I speak my mind again
When it breaks / Who’s the one who has to fix it? / This give and take / Is becoming more and more one sided”
Everything from the echoey, animated vocal stylings to the eerie yet warm synth loops creates a sense of raw emotion.
“I try to keep it impressionistic,” Velsor said. “Almost talk about the feeling. It’s more about that than the actual experience. I stopped being shy about being real and being honest. I almost started writing about the things that I was embarrassed to share. I was really excited though because more people started coming up to me and telling me that they felt the lyrics in a real way.”
Velsor teaches music theory to younger students in his free time as a source of income.
“You learn harmony from music theory,” he said. “It’s the math and the art of it, and the fact that there are things like a major third. I’m aware of the voices… between the notes when I’m performing. With classic, you can apply that to any song you write. You can be the biggest fan of Led Zeppelin, but then you realize that John Paul Jones was classically trained, man.”
The sentiment makes sense. Classical music is where it all started. The structure and organization of notes and harmonies, as we know them now, started with Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, etc. Chuck Berry didn’t learn about music from other rock musicians growing up. He was classically trained. It’s the same way that painters and artists learn from the classic artists of the Renaissance era, or from the Victorian era.
“One side of me wishes I hadn’t gone to school and dove into the adventure side earlier on,” Velsor said. “The other side of me is very happy I went, and started teaching. Learned how to break the rules in the right ways. With teaching, it’s a hassle driving around and dealing with kids, but it’s very rewarding all the same. Plus, since I’m playing every day, it also keeps my fingers warmed up.”
With Astronauto, Velsor hopes to inspire and influence other people by getting their creative juices flowing. With music in general, he’d like there to be enough interest in music for aspiring artists to sustain themselves.
In the meantime, you can check Astronauto out on Bandcamp.