Today, we have the pleasure of interviewing Javier Velez, a.k.a. Versal, a Houston-based composer, CG artist, and programmer.
Hi Javier, Great to have you with us today! Please tell us something about yourself.
First, thank you for having me. I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where music and art are heavily promoted everywhere you go. Stop at a traffic light, and there is a statue or mural. Drive through a bridge or tunnel, and there is more art; it's ubiquitous everywhere. Same with music, go to any venue, and there is live music playing, being, Salsa, Latin Jazz, pop, etc. Board a ferry boat, and there will be a live band there. There is the Casals festival on the orchestral side, where great talent from the world over gathers to pay tribute to this great conductor, composer, and cellist. I feel very fortunate to have grown up on the island surrounded by art and music. I bear witness to some of the greatest musical talents of that time, such as Itzhak Pearlman, Gary Karr, Alicia de Larrocha, Daniel Barenboim, Julian Bream, Narciso Yepes. The list is long.
What first got you into music? Who or what inspired you to make music?
I have been drawn to music ever since my earliest memories. I really had a fascination for it through my early childhood. I remember grabbing kitchen utensils, bowls, and pots and clanking to Tijuana Brass and Salsa music when I was about four years old; those are my earliest recollections. My family was very musical as well. My grandfather played trumpet and trombone, my uncles played guitar and timbales, and my father had a great voice and could sing in tune. On Christmas, we had a tradition of visiting friends and family with an entire ensemble formed by family members, playing and singing traditional Christmas tunes throughout the entire season. Those were great memories that I still cherish to this day. Orchestral music really got a hold of me at an early age, so I started listening to Vivaldi and Bach and moved on from that to Beethoven and all the greats from the Classical period. The Romantic period made a huge impression on me, and finally, getting to the Modern period of orchestral music, I realized how those possibilities were pretty much limitless. I draw a lot of inspiration from those last two and, of course, popular music.
How would you describe the music that you typically create? What is your creative process like?
My creative process usually starts away from the piano, away from anything musical. It's a strange thing because performing mundane daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning or doing laundry will trigger what I call the music hose. I have digital recorders all over the house, and even my phone, where I record just so I can remember it. After that, I will go to the piano and develop the structure with basic four-part harmony, using paper and pencil the old fashion way. It is somehow more accessible and presents less of a barrier than to sit at the computer to enter what I'm writing, even if I'm playing and recording it. Once that structure is done on paper, I finally move to the computer, where I record and produce depending on the genre. I enjoy writing in multiple genres, but I would say that orchestral is my favorite by far. I think it has something to do with the limited number of techniques and articulations per instrument or section, albeit when I first started writing orchestral at the age of 16, it all seemed overwhelming. Electronic music is a different world. There I can lose myself trying to develop a specific sound and still not arrive at what I am looking for until hours later, especially if I want to sculpt a sound from a simple wave.
Can you tell us more about your new project, ‘Versal Volume 2?' What is it all about?
The concept behind Project Versal is to develop music that defies genre classification, combining orchestral, electric, and electronic instruments in purely instrumental compositions. This allows for higher musical expression unrestricted by form, genre, or even lyrics. I draw inspiration from many genres of music, including orchestral from the Romantic and Modern periods, new-age, jazz, and modern electronica, combining all of them in the pursuit of a unique sound and style. The name Versal refers to the universality of music and how it transcends languages, borders, cultures, ages, and races. The logo concept of a serpent coiled in the cosmic egg of creation was developed in 2018, before the first album's release; it represents the conjunction of infinity and creation, hinting at infinite creativity.
If you could go open a show for any artist, who would it be and why?
That's a tough question because there are so many great composers and musicians out there. If I had the opportunity to open for someone considering the genre, I would say Dave Arkenstone without a doubt; his music has been with me for a very long time, it is someone I admire very much as a composer. Olafur Arnalds is right there at the top of my list as well, really subtle and beautiful music, and a great show from what I have seen online.
What would you be doing right now if it wasn't for your music career?
Well, I actually do several things right now, not just music. I enjoy working on computer graphics, particularly 3D modeling and 3D scenes. I hold a master's in computers, and I enjoy programming as well, so I use that to this day, including the procedural generation on my artwork. I have an undergrad in finance as well, but I find money and business so boring! I have also worked in the film industry in various capacities, as director, director of photography, editor, colorist, CG artist, etc. Those are all great jobs to have. Music, though, is the one thing that I will always enjoy the most because, imagination-wise, there is no limit to what can be achieved, and you can spend a lifetime learning and never be done with it.
If you could change anything about the music industry, what would it be?
The great thing about music is that it evolves very quickly, more so in this day and age with the accessibility afforded by computers. Anyone can have access to a plethora of sounds, both electronic and orchestral. Genre-wise the lines have been blurred to the point where you can combine anything and everything to find a unique voice and develop a particular style. There is a flip side to that, where there is a lot of musical content pieced together from canned loops, leaving little room for actual inspiration to take place, and a lot of it has made it into mainstream popular music. I have no idea how that will influence future generations of both producers/composers and listeners. We hear the same chord progressions from hundreds of years ago being recycled over and over again, and it makes for very dull, unimaginative music. Some of it contains no melodies at all, like a story missing a plot that never gets anywhere. Having said that, there is a lot of great and innovative music being produced every day by some very talented artists. My hope is that some of the aspiring talents out there will take the time to learn both music theory and its history, as I found that to be extremely beneficial in music creation. We live under a new paradigm, what I call the age of the single. Anyone can listen to almost anything for free on the internet. Some of the catalogs out there have over 10 million works, and I think that is great. It's one of the reasons why I started Project Versal, anyone can listen to the tracks they like out of an album, and it's all for free, a win-win situation for both producers and listeners. I do disagree vehemently with the statement that great music is disappearing or that real music is dead. There is an ocean of content to navigate, but It's out there if you look for it. A great example is Brian Field, who was recently featured in your publication. This is inspiring music, masterfully developed by an accomplished composer; it will shake anyone to the core of their soul. Of course, there has always been uninteresting music and art being produced; it just doesn't survive the test of time, so we know little or nothing about it. What we have left is everything that has stood the test of time, what I call timeless art.
What is one message you would give to your fans/followers?
I experiment quite a bit, so the music I write is diverse; it's hard to ascribe a particular genre to it. This goes back to what I was talking about, the accessibility of music through the internet. This new Volume 2 has everything from subtle piano pieces to calm meditative pieces to some pretty abrasive sounding tracks. I would say pick what you like out of the album for a particular mood and enjoy them!
What's next for you?
I am working on Versal Volume 3, and once again, it will be a combination of orchestral and electronic. I am exploring more on the side of Electronica as well, always trying to emphasize melodic and harmonic content throughout. I am also in the process of writing my first symphony. I'm still on the first movement, so it is long-term work that I don't see releasing in the near future.
How can people find out more about you or connect with you?
I'm on Facebook @VersalComposer, in case anyone wants to find what I'm up to and interact directly. You can also visit my website and check out my Youtube channel.
Thank you so much, Javier, for giving us your precious time. We wish you all the best in your future endeavors.