The on-campus artist talks how he got started with music, his new EP and where he plans to go from here.
In the wake of the release of his first EP, I spoke with Johannes Stahl a.k.a. Velgas, an on-campus experimental dance/electronic music artist about how he got started with music, the EP and where he plans to go from here.
So to start, tell us about yourself, anything you want people to know about you.
Anything I want people to know? About myself in general? Well, my name is Johannes Stahl, my artist name is Velgas, I’m 22 years old and I am a German and history major at UNCC. I just released an EP called “Onset”; it’s on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Google Play, Amazon, whatever you use. Listen to it [Laughs].
Where did the name Velgas come from?
Well my physical therapist for my knee surgery here at UNCC was Ed Regner. He went to Berkeley college of music, so we would talk about music all the time. But he would always tell me, “don’t valgus,” which is when your knee bends inward, but he would say it all the time, and I didn’t know how it was spelled, so it was “Velgas” in my mind. But when I found out that was a whole different word then I was like hey, I might just use this as a name, because Ed is pretty inspirational to me, and he let me have some of his old equipment too.
What first got you into music?
I mean, I’ve always, since I was young, enjoyed listening to music. When I was in middle school, I joined the band and started playing the clarinet and then saxophone, and I really enjoyed playing saxophone; I played the tenor sax. I continued taking lessons; I was in the jazz band, and I tried out for all-state, and you know, the regional band. So I really liked saxophone; I liked jazz, and when I was younger, I liked classical music too. I loved improvising, but it was one of those things; I remember I got to high school, and I didn’t like the band teacher at our high school, but I kept on taking lessons, and then, you know, it fades away slowly. But even throughout that time I’d still listen to music like crazy. The saxophone kept collecting dust, and a few years ago I sold it to buy a car. I know, right? Classic. But I definitely regret it now that I’m really back into music again and kind of creating work. By the end of this year, I’ll try to get a used saxophone, or a cheap one or something.
But recently, with me starting to produce music: In August I had a big knee surgery; it was my third time tearing my ACL, so I was like Thomas Davis status, and it was really tough, and I didn’t have anything to do because you’re in bed for a week, more like a month, and you can’t really do anything, so I decided to take it on myself to learn how to produce music. It’s such a meticulous thing, and there’s so much to learn, but luckily I had a period where I had nothing to do and could just get into it. Once I made something that I kinda liked, I was like, “Oh wow, what a feeling.” I felt so accomplished. It’s a piece of work that I enjoy and made myself, so I was really excited about it. I remember I sent it to my sister. Me and all my sisters played instruments, so we always used to talk about music together, and she called me right after and said, “That was really good; you should try and continue.” Since then, it’s been a hobby to do whenever I have any free time. That’s just what I love spending my time doing.
You mentioned liking jazz and classical. Are there any composers, or artists in general, who you would say inspire and influence you?
There’s a lot. I guess, in terms of classical, Bach has always been one of my favorites. He’s amazing. There’s times I’ll listen to Bach and –I’m not super religious—but you think “Dang, this is really made for the glory of God. This is so glorious.” Even now, I’m working on an album, and I always think Bach wrote “Passacaglia and Fugue” when he was 23, and I’m about to turn 23, so I was like “Man, Johannes, you gotta get some shit out there [Laughs].”
That’s classical music, but I really love electronic music; you can probably hear that, but some of my favorite artists are Daft Punk for sure. That’s from an earlier age. “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger has been heard around the world, and it kinda blows your mind. But aside from that, more recently, Grimes is hugely inspirational; I love her. She made her first two albums on GarageBand, and I’m like Damn, I’m gonna come out with one on GarageBand. *laughs*. But then I like Röyksopp a lot –I love their style—Todd Terje, he’s Norwegian. Space Disco is great; I like that genre, that fusion of electronic with other things. So any electronic artist like Chrome Sparks or Toro y Moi or Porter Robinson’s latest work. I mean, I listen to a crap-ton of music, so I could probably talk for forever about who I Daft Punk, Grimes, Shpongle too—I think my life would be different if I never listened to Shpongle. I think we can end it there; there’s probably going to be somebody I think of later, though.
Where do you hope to go with music from here? Is that something you want to pursue in the future or just keep it as a hobby?
Honestly, I really do want to use it in my future. I guess a lot of my life I’ve been searching for what I want to do. There’s a lot of things I feel like I’m good at, a lot of things where people say, “Oh, you should continue with that,” but a lot of those things aren’t as fulfilling to me, and when I’m making music I really do enjoy it. The way things have gone, I feel like it’s the right direction for me. The flow or whatever is pushing me in that direction, so I’m going to pursue it as hard as I can. I’d like to get famous or at least have a good following and be able to release enough work and tour that I can live off of doing music. That would be amazing, and that’s the goal. Obviously now I’m working other jobs, surviving and using my free time to do music, but I’d like to take it to the next level, go on tour. That’d be awesome.
Are there any places you would want to tour in particular?
Everywhere. I mean nowhere in particular. I guess it’d be cool to tour Europe, but I haven’t thought that far ahead.
That would give you the chance to use that German major. Let’s talk a little bit about your EP. It came out on February 20. How long did it take you to create that?
I guess a couple of months. I started the songs in about January. There’d been work I’d been doing before that, but yeah, the beginning of January—that’s when I started “Onset,” the first song from the EP. Then “Woods” I started a little later, and then “Midnight Tension,” the middle song, that’s the one that was most recently done.
“Onset” actually took really quick to make because it just flowed really easily, and I got into the zone. And honestly, I think I started it at work. I took out GarageBand on my phone during my break and played it out really quick, and that whole beginning section I think I did in one take. You go back to work, and you’re kind of thinking about it in the back of your mind, and you go home and tweak it into the right way.
But “Woods” isn’t exactly the same; I came up with three notes and really liked how the last note hit really hard, and I got it to repeat over and over again. So there was a little more tweaking involved with that one. I wanted to get the drums, the beat right. I had to change the sub-bass a couple times and do tweaky things like that. That’s always the hardest part.
Would you say “Woods” is your favorite then?
Hmm, no. It’s like when you ask your parent which kid is their favorite. They’re all pretty different. I like “Onset” because it flows really well; it’s very groovy. I think the transitions happen where you would want them to happen. I like “Midnight Tension” because it’s really dynamic; I feel like I tried to push myself on that one. I tried to add a little Daft Punk element in there, but then “Woods” is pretty cool too. “Woods” was kinda inspired by SBTRKT or whatever he calls himself, but he’s also an artist I really like; he does a lot of things I really like and try to replicate or do.
I noticed that your EP was pretty versatile. Is that something that’s important to you, versatility in music?
Yeah, yeah. I’m working on an album now, and there’s going to be a range of different tracks. They’re going to be sort of cohesive, but you can tell they’re me. I think it reflects me that there’s so many different ways they can come out. There’s so many things that I want to express. And I think that it’s important for an artist to have diversity in their work, not just stick to one style.
So when is this album supposed to come out?
I want it to come out right before my birthday. My birthday is June 16, so expect it in June. I’m working pretty feverishly on it. I’m really excited for it; there’s a lot of good tracks. Some of the tracks from the EP might make it on there. I might add a little extra and make an album version of “Woods.” A lot of them, maybe half of them, will have vocals on them because I do sing a little bit, which is odd for me. I never thought I’d be singing. I remember the first song I sang on: I recorded it and thought it needed some vocals and I just sang them and thought it sounded pretty good, so I just kept going.
But yeah, the album, I’m pretty excited about it. I think I have maybe 15 songs on it, and I’m planning out that arc; I always feel like good albums tell a story or have an arc, and I want to replicate the greats on how albums are done. I don’t think you’ll hear a big Pink Floyd influence, but I love Pink Floyd, and maybe some of the ways their tracks move right into the next one or start off silent will make it on mine.
Would you ever consider having featured artists or work with other people?
Yeah, yeah! For sure. Some of my friends rap, especially my roommate; he’s really good. So yeah, if I can get something in time that we really click over, and it sounds good, but I don’t know; for this album, if I can get a feature or two, I would do it. But for the most part I’m planning on doing it myself. I just want it to be as me as possible. I don’t know if that sounds egotistical or anything, but I really want it to be my vision and for my sound to come out. I think music is really an expression of a person. And sometimes I think I’m just channeling it and it comes out in my shape. That’s kind of what I want to happen.
I’m also working on a music video in a film production class here, and I’m doing it for one of my songs. It’s going to be pretty conceptual and a psychedelic kind of video. That’ll be done by the end of the semester, so maybe late April or May, which I think works out perfectly as a build up to the album.
I’m looking forward to seeing that and listening to the album. Thanks for talking with me today.