Days away from starting a UK tour, Velvet Starlings, like so many other bands, are making up for lost time. The group released their ten-track debut Technicolour Shakedown in August of 2021 and has now set a ton of upcoming live dates and festival performances. Still a very young act, this trio has accomplished an enormous amount for three men who aren’t yet even of legal drinking age. Hailing from Los Angeles and Southern California, the band has already released a few EPs, a bunch more singles, and now this debut record, Technicolour Shakedown.
It’s been a remarkably productive period for the threesome who are committed to their craft and ensuring that their talents do not go unnoticed. Velvet Starlings was founded by frontman and guitarist Christian Gisborne, who also tracked, engineered, mixed, and produce the album entirely on his own. Their first real break came back in the summer of 2019 when they won the “Emerging Stage” competition at Milwaukee’s Summerfest. By 2021, they were playing Summerfest again, only this time they were one of the big acts on the main stage, along with Pixies, Cold War Kids, Black Pumas, and The Struts.
We recently spoke with Gisborne; in this instance, our little Q&A was all about gear, specifically his Nord Electro 5D keyboard, which has become his instrument of choice.
What one piece of gear do you use to obtain your signature sound?
Christian Gisborne: “My Nord Electro 5D (73 Key) is probably the most ‘Velvet Starlings’ item I use. Sorry to let all of you down who think we get all sorts of vintage organs and real pianos on the records, but I’ve only ever used the Nord for the majority of the sounds on our albums/live shows. It’s got Mellotron samples, six organs, as well as FX and EQ settings that can be saved for every song on the set.”
How did you come to possess the Nord Electro 5D keyboard? Vintage shop, regular shop, borrowed money, gifted. Give us the details…
“My dad had it lying around and I adopted it and then later got my own!”
What made you choose the Nord Electro and were there any close seconds or alternates?
“It was the only keyboard in my house other than a small Casio that my grandfather owned that sounds awful (laughs).”
What about this keyboard makes it so important to you?
“Well, it’s not only the most expensive piece of equipment I own, but it’s the most versatile in sound and ability.”
Did you use this keyboard during the recording of Technicolour Shakedown? If so, please elaborate on how and for what parts.
“We use it all over everything we’ve ever done! Most recently, we recorded Technicolour Shakedown and I had not just organs all over it but all sorts of layering with small piano lines playing the root notes in the background droning over the choruses, I have Mellotron flutes, strings, and soft horn instruments playing counterpoints and doubling vocal melodies/guitar lines. And then some ambience from electric pianos with reverbs and delays making everything slightly more psychedelic than it ever needed to be.”
Do you have a special way that you recreate your album tones in a live setting, or is it more just plug-and-play?
“Yes! While recording our next album, we’ve been under the wing of LA native Joel Jerome (Cherry Glazerr, L.A. Witch, Sloppy Jane) and he had two pedals he used with his guitar amps that made for his amazing tone. The Dunlop Echoplex echorec preamp pedal, which essentially emulates the natural preamp distortion of an echoplex delay (but without the delay). And the MXR Dyna Comp (famously used by Kevin Parker from Tame Impala) which squashes the guitar so much to the point that I essentially have all of my distortion running, with my amp volume extremely high, but the sensitivity (compression) almost full but the output volume super low, which gives me the option of super clean guitar to amp is on fire and about to explode with the move of a knob.”
We know you love this keyboard, but are there any major cons? (Ok, now you can also list the pros.)
“Cons are, it’s not vintage or analog so you get everyone making fun of you for not being legit. Pros, you get to sound like 90 different bands with the switch of a button and the convenience of not having to own 90 keyboards.”
If you could, or wanted to (maybe you don’t at all, and that’s cool), what would you tweak or mod on this keyboard?
“I would add more samples to it. And that’s just it, I don’t exactly know what I want, I’m looking for sounds that I’ve never heard nor did I know existed. The Nord Electro 5 gives me all the building blocks to manufacture those sounds and that’s precisely why it’s my favourite piece of gear.”
How easy is it for you to tweak the device and get the tone/sounds you need?
“It’s so easy. Now, at least. When I first started it felt like I was being asked to pilot the Millennium Falcon, but now I am very comfortable with it and can do my best to recreate ANY sound someone needs.”
How does this keyboard hold up with regular touring and gigging?
“Well it’s the same one I got in 2015 so I’d say pretty good (although we played the Cavern Club in Liverpool and I blew the fuse).”
Do you have a backup for it? If so, what?
“Yes! I have a duplicate of the exact same keyboard!”
Time for some fun. Give us your best “gear goes wrong” story.
“Ooh, I already spoiled it, but we played at the Cavern Club in Liverpool and I blew up the Nord and my pedals, so we didn’t have anything but a pedal, a 9V battery, and a guitar the rest of the UK tour and it was awful.”
Any final thoughts or comments on the Nord Electro 5D keyboard?
“Most bands’ approach to recording and playing live is to record stuff that’s cool, worry about replicating later, and that’s why they all resort to using tracks. Whereas in the 1960s people owned gear, miked that gear, and then played that same gear live so it sounded identical to the recording. I love recording with the gear I own because it cements all of the nuances and intricacies of my tones and sounds into the subconscious minds of the people who listen to our music, and then they have a major release when they pick up on all those little details.
“And I only know this because I have had those little moments when I’ve seen my favourite bands live with that approach. It happens too when people run tracks, but it really isn’t the same. A better way to explain would be if you heard a song you liked where someone used a weird pedal. And then you bought that pedal yourself and played the riff with it. It’s that feeling!”