The Los Angeles Odyssey of Miss Velvet and Her Debut ‘Traveler’

After a lifetime on the East Coast, the New York-born Miss Velvet made her way out West in 2021. Coping with the aftermath breakup of her band and being a new mother right in the thick of the pandemic, she traveled right along the Pacific Coast Highway and into her new life. Sure, in retrospect, her time in New York was poignant. The death of her father more than a decade earlier pushed her into a long journey to find herself and her voice and ultimately led her to become Miss Velvet—a pseudonym for boundless artistic expression.

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Connecting with producer and songwriter Esjay Jones shortly after her move to Los Angeles helped shift her entire landscape of what rock could become. “In the midst of raising my infant daughter and building my new life out west, we wrote and recorded the album ‘Traveler,'” said Miss Velvet in a previous statement, “a musical diary that will forever represent those days of new love, new life, and new horizons.”

Prior to becoming her own artist, Miss Velvet already had a weighty track record traveling with her previous band The Blue Wolf. Together, they picked some top 20 hits on the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts and praise from one of her heroes—whom she toured with along with Parliament Funkadelic—George Clinton, who called her “the definition of rock and roll.

Produced and co-written with Jones, the 10-track Traveler is custom-fitted around a soul full of funk and harder rock chronicling everything from sex, rock and roll, motherhood, and new beginnings, from the heavier opening of “Mother” and “High Like an Aeroplane” along with previous singles “Long Way Home,” and “Zumirez.”

The title track moves through more Americana byways and was the song that helped Miss Velvet own her new persona, and find her “true north” in music. “‘Traveler’ is a song about finding the courage to move beyond loss, limitation, and life’s disappointments to find a new path where freedom and possibility lie, and then having the faith to follow it,” said Miss Velvet. “I’m a traveler of possibilities.'”

Miss Velvet spoke to American Songwriter about her journey to Traveler, her deep connection to George Clinton, and all the endless possibilities that lie ahead.

American Songwriter: As its title insinuates, Traveler documents a journey, both physically and emotionally. How have your many transitions throughout the past few years informed your music now?
Miss Velvet: Before and during the making of this album Traveler, my life was unfolding with some pretty meaningful life changes. For the first time, my songs are stories of exactly what is happening in my life in real-time. I think one of the biggest life shifts for me was entering into motherhood. I could feel a maturing shift happening in my body, voice, and mind. The lyrics seemed to cut deeper. There was a loss of innocence happening at the same time, but not a loss of wonder and curiosity of the evolution of my alter-ego Miss Velvet.

There were times when it felt unnerving or scary to step into this new persona of Miss Velvet. I asked the question to myself many times “What is my rock and roll spirit now? How is that going to shift and come through?” I felt at one point I didn’t know how I was going to slide into this next chapter of Miss Velvet as a rock artist and a mother. When the title track “Traveler” came through one day—or as I like [to] say, the muse came through—its music and its lyrical story propelled me into the next iteration of Miss Velvet. It became my true north.

AS: It’s Miss Velvet now. Obviously, the dynamic has shifted when writing from your earlier days with the band to now working alongside Jones. How do songs come together for you now?
MV: I was incredibly lucky to meet my songwriting partner Esjay Jones. She’s an extraordinarily talented South African-born producer, songwriter, and engineer known as the “Charlize Theron of rock” in her homeland who now lives in California. When we initially met we both said it was like an electrical current ricocheting back and forth between us. I knew at that moment this is my person: this is my person to tell my story musically. For the making of this record, she came and lived at my house for two months. I wanted to write a record that captured the actual living and feelings in the world around us. I wanted her to live with my family and feel our energy in real-time.

There have been a couple of ways we take a song from seed. Sometimes it’s my story or one line spoken that sparks an idea for a top-line melody and the lyrics build like a poem. Other times Esjay grabs the guitar and jams on a riff she feels is right for me. It’s this symbiotic dance we have. Once we have the foundation of the track, we will demo a version in my in-home studio. Esjay will track all the instrument parts and I will lay the vocals. We marinate for a week or so or more on the demo, listening to it in the car, on our phones, seeing if there are any changes we want or parts we want to add. Once locked in, we head to a recording studio and begin the live magic. On this record, everything was played live and the musicians who played on this record are absolute masters in their own right. When it came time to record the record we reached out to Kemble Walters guitarist for Juliette and the Licks and Chevelle. For keys, we were joined by Nick Milo who played with Joe Cocker, and Blair Sinta, who was touring and studio drummer for Stevie Nicks, Annie Lennox, and Alanis Morissette.

With all these forces together, we start to breathe life into the tracks. Little human elements come to life and the special nuances appear. It’s an absolute blissful moment when you hear your track bloom.

AS: Is there a particular track on Traveler that connects with you more deeply?
MV: Honestly feels like choosing kids. So hard. I think the two tracks that stand out for me on this record because of the shift I had with them musically and aesthetically are “Zumirez” and “Traveler.”
“Zumirez” is quite literally about my calling to go west, so to speak, and since then, the freedom of expression and sense of home the environment gives me every day is a gift for which I’m truly grateful. There’s a book by Barney Hoskyns titled Hotel California. He uses a quote by the Eagles—
“There is no new frontier, we have to make it here.”

The California music scene of the ’60s-’70s where David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and so many others gave birth to their now iconic works, fascinated me and I had heard much through my parent’s generation. I imagined the scene, the culture, the rebel vibes, the motorcycles on the PCH [Pacific Coast Highway], spectacular nature. It all seemed to meld into a magic place of wild musical expression to this city girl. When I made the exodus from the NYC canyons of steel to the actual canyons where all this rock history was made, I felt the spirit immediately. It was like the myths in my mind, came alive.

“Traveler,” the title track is the core essence of my evolution—who I am now and moving forward.

AS: The video for “Traveler” (directed by Gus Black) is very nature-driven—and even features a falcon cameo. What was the concept behind the shoot, and how does it all tie into the track?
MV: I absolutely love the director Gus Black and his work on the new Greta Van Fleet music video. I felt his cinematic eye would match the vision I had for this video. This was my first video doing the creative direction and the styling. I had this super clear vision of the colors, the out west grand landscape moment, and my spirit animal, the eagle. When speaking to Gus, he suggested this reserve in the Santa Monica Mountains and it was so vast and boundless, it seemed like a dreamscape. The day felt almost timeless, kind of mystical—definitely high vibrations. The epitome of California euphoria.

The team really understood my vision and the message of this song. When the professional falconer arrived on set, he revealed the most majestic East African bird of prey—an eagle-like hawk of which he told us there are only 20 in the US. We did our first practice fly with the spectacular bird named Kanoni landing on my arm. When she landed, her head turned and we made eye contact. Tears were streaming down my face. Gus, my mom, the crew, and Esjay all stood there in total silence, suspended. It was such a culmination for me of all the travels and experiences I had been through to arrive at this moment. It was an almost surreal dream moment, where this world-traveled creature, so calm and powerful, like those I had already seen soaring above me countless times since I arrived in California. I would look at the birds telling myself-you got this, you can start over, just fly. Fly free. One of them was now sitting on my arm in this video and I was surrounded by people I love and admire, just being me, and singing my song.

AS: How have the relationships you’ve cultivated with artists like George Clinton, Jones, and many others impacted you as an artist?
MV: George Clinton will forever hold such a dear spot in my heart as he gave me my big break on the stage touring for over two years with him and over 100 shows. I always aim high to surround myself with authentic musicians and then be a sponge, always learn, and have no ego. Having Esjay as my songwriting partner and producer believing in my story and my authentic voice is really special to me. I found someone in this industry that really gets me and is unafraid to be a non-conformist. It’s challenging at times when you feel like you’re out to sea solo but having a great collaborative team especially one made up of top musicians with stellar musical knowledge helps the process of navigating the journey.

AS: Where are you pulling inspiration from these days?
I pull inspiration from so many different forms. Some are artists such as painter Georgia O’Keeffe. My children. My mother. My husband. Fashion designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Yves Saint Laurent, and Uma Wang. For this record, one of my biggest influences was the nature here in California colors and the textures of a land where the mountains meet the sea.

AS: What’s next for Miss Velvet, and what do you hope to leave listeners with when they sit with Traveler?

I’m back in the studio working on the next record and we are gearing up for a tour in 2024. I hope to leave my listeners with faith and hope that we are all travelers of possibilities.

Photo: Chris Quinn / Courtesy of Tell All Your Friends PR

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