Listing inspirations as diverse as Jameson whiskey and Saladworks entrées, Joe Sheairs admits that he is inspired by much more than other band’s music. Sheairs is joined by Andre Comfort to form Voletta, an electronic shoegaze band formed in 2004 and based in Philadelphia. Voletta seems to reside in a dreamy nebulous area, where emotions take precedence over the details of reality.
The duo’s releases comprise of one album and several EPs, the latest of which is titled, ‘A Big Mess,’ a three-track collection of B-sides and live recordings. Here’s a brief description of each.
‘The Collapse’ (2004): Hear a bit of powerpop in “Snap Bracelet”, a tinge of psychedelia in “Hypoglycemia”, and a nice dreampop ambience in “Pocket Full of Empty Film Canisters.”
‘Sign Language’ (2006): If Smashing Pumpkins were to do something more along acoustic lines, at least without the multi-layered guitars, it would sound something like this.
‘Voletta’ EP (2010): This is an amazing mix of 80s artrock with 90s powerpop, and layered shoegaze guitar fuzz.
‘Soft Focus’ (2011): Smooth and compelling, this EP features electronic beats, layered with fuzz guitar behind breathy vocals. Groovy industrial vibes alternate with explosive shoegaze soundscapes to create a pervasively powerful sound.
Voletta singer/songwriter Joe Sheairs spoke with Resonance about inspiration, clarification, and reworking songs.
Your music includes elements of several genres, from artrock and powerpop, to electronica and shoegaze. Name some bands that have been influential to your music.
I’ve been influenced by a number of artists over the years. I think as a songwriter, you’re always taking bits and pieces of things and making them your own.
I think the things that impacted me the most were the saturation of Smashing Pumpkins, the layering and guitar tones of Placebo, and the lyrics of Morrissey.
It’s worth noting that these days, I pretty much only listen to the 40s music station on XM Radio. I think I reached a point where I’m not directly influenced by other music – there are way more interesting things to be inspired by.
~Good point. Daily happenings offer their own influences for those who are perceptive enough to receive and process them, be altered just a bit by them in the gradual journey of life. Too often though we stagnate. Music, and the arts in general, have a way of catalyzing that reception and consideration.
On the ‘Soft Focus’ EP I commented that I loved the music but only wished I could decipher the words. The vocals sound much clearer on your live performance video of “Soft Focus.” Have you been working on that or did it just turn out that way?
Well, the way you hear my voice on “Soft Focus” is pretty much exactly how my voice sounds in the room. I think you may perceive the live version a certain way because now you know what I’m saying.
At one point, I had the same thought, that maybe I should try to sing in a way that’s more intelligible. So I did a demo of a song (I think “Unfold”) and tried to sing that way. Andre and I both hated it, so I went back to singing in the usual way.
~Ah, so it’s all in my head? Well, that could be true. In any case, I think the video presented a little more clarity in the lyrics. Well done.
You have one album and three EPs. The last (‘Soft Focus’) is my favorite since it has a more enveloping atmospheric quality to it, and I like the present day shoegaze fuzz rather than the sort of art-rock / powerpop sound of the previous releases. Describe your earlier work compared to your recent productions.
I agree, the records do sound quite different from each other. It’s a result of growing as a musician (and person), but also a result of having different band-mates and different gear over the years.
I think it’s important that each release gets better, both in terms of sound quality of the recording, but also songwriting. So in that way, I’m glad to hear that you prefer the newer record.
Your lyrics are very personal and poetic. One example would be from “Nervous with a Reason”: Your elusive smiles leave me pinned against the floor. For all it’s worth I’ll endure. That’s a really beautiful line. Do you typically fit the music to the words or vice versa?
I wrote the lyrics to that song in about five minutes. I still have the piece of paper with them scribbled down.
I always write the lyrics last. I’ll come up with vocal melodies for each section of a song, and write lyrics, and then we’ll arrange the song and make everything fit.
~I just love the imagery there and the sense of willingness to suffer the pains of being enamored.
You recently made Voletta’s first full-length album, ‘Collapse’ available to download. How do you feel when looking back on that original release, particularly with the original versions of “Nervous” and “Eye Makeup” which you reworked on later releases?
When I listen to that record, I feel proud. It basically took about two years to create, six months of writing and a year and a half of recording.
Prior to Voletta, we had only been in typical rock bands – and all of the sudden we’re working with drum machines and synthesizers, and I’m writing lyrics about some deep personal stuff. It was a pretty exciting time, and we had a ton of song ideas – we actually wrote most of the riffs on the record in one day.
As for the songs, I think I prefer the original “Nervous” because I love the synth layer on that version, but I might prefer the newer “Eye Makeup” because I love the guitar feedback intro and how the new version seems to flow a little easier.
I like a lot of the Voletta refrains. You have many very memorable, relatable, quotable lyrics to ponder. My favorite song though has got to be “Fingers to Your Arms” with its confession: I’m always waiting in the car, swimming in my wants, wondering, ‘How come?’ Would you share some of the inspiration behind that?
Thank you very much. I take a lot of pride in my lyrics. Which may be a bit ironic, since as I said earlier, it’s apparent that nobody can understand a word I’m saying.
“Fingers to Your Arms” is another song where I literally wrote the lyrics in five minutes. That particular line is an analogy – the feeling of going to pick someone up, and you’re waiting outside of a building, but they aren’t coming out.
~It’s the clinging to hope with an air of encroaching despair that gets me. Again, you do well to put that into imagery. I think I’m jealous as a writer, hehe.
What are your future plans for Voletta?
We’re in the middle of writing another record. We’re hoping to get into the recording studio next spring.
Check out Voletta’s free downloads at bandcamp.