When it comes to brewing deliciously wistful pop songs that are simultaneously beautiful and grandiose, yet also intimate, DC’s Teething Veils is a mastercrafter.
Led by DC-based singer-songwriter Greg Svitil, Teething Veils has long distinguished itself as a one-of-a-kind music collective that defies easy categorization. Clearly, there are elements of folk and traditional singer-songwriting at play (Leonard Cohen is a key influence), but there’s also something decidedly cinematic and strange. “To Have and to Hold,” Teething Veils” latest opus, feels like an epic soundtrack to an obscure art film that revels in fever dreams, distant memories and the surreal.
A key factor behind Teething Veils’ creative flourishing is its growing array of talented contributors. Initially, the band essentially acted as a one-man side project for Svitil. Today, Teething Veils is a five-piece ensemble featuring Kevin Shrew on percussion, Craig on bass, Hester on cello and Adrina on violin. The result is a richer, fuller sound that amplifies the emotional stakes of Svitil’s gorgeous songs.
While there’s no mistaking the melancholic nature of Svitil’s songs, there’s also an uplifting, dare I say – life-affirming aspect to the band. Washington Post music critic Chris Richards said it best when he observed that Teething Veils transforms songs that feel “funereal” into cathartic experiences, allowing “emotions to be purged and smothered, making time feel stranger than slow.”
I am delighted that Teething Veils is back to play We Fought the Big One at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant again. For the September 9, 2022 show, Teething Veils will be performing a stripped back set with Greg, Hester and Adrina. To add to the atmosphere, the show will be performed at midnight by candlelight.
In the interview below, I asked Greg about this special show. Our conversation also covered topics such as the creative process behind the new album, the evolution of Greg’s approach to songwriting, and drawing inspiration from real people and places to write songs. Read on…
1) Congratulations on your new album To Have and To Hold. It’s gorgeous. How closely does the finished album compare to what you envisioned when you started writing these songs?
Greg: Thank you, Rick. There are details that surprise me when I listen back, but as a whole To Have and to Hold sounds similar to how I thought it would prior to recording. I didn’t really imagine the recordings until I’d written all the songs, so it’s hard to say what I would have envisioned at that stage. I am really pleased with how we found the essence of the songs together as a band by playing in the rehearsal room, and also through playing live before recording. Playing the songs with other people in the room affected how they took shape. There are nuances that call attention to themselves differently with an audience. Playing the songs live as a way of leading up to recording has been a helpful part of that process. We tracked the core of the album live as a band, more or less in the same sequence of the finished album. What you hear is similar to how we sound when we were rehearsing. We benefited from recording these last two records with Don Godwin. He knows what we’re after and how to facilitate it. He has an easy, gentle way of setting the right mood and coaxing the clearest performances from people.
2) To what extent has Teething Veils’ approach to songwriting evolved to reflect the fact you work with more musicians and have a richer, fuller sound?
Greg: My way of writing songs has remained fairly simple, though over time and with experience, songs seem to have come out steadily truer to my intentions. I believe that comes from having a lighter hand throughout the writing process. We all learn the songs together and teach them to each other while we’re getting to know them.
3) Let’s talk about lyrics. How much of what you write about is based on personal experience versus your imagination? I’m dying to know is there a “Baltimore Broommaker” in real life? Is “Ruby’s Restaurant” an actual place?
Greg: These songs are all either autobiographical or about people I’ve known. The broommaker is any number of characters who give us a hand in sweeping our dilemmas under the rug. Ruby’s is really called Ruby’s Kitchen, though I misremembered the name of the place as Ruby’s Restaurant. It’s across the road from where the events in that song, The Poor Clare Monastery, and Christmas in Virginia all take place, and there is a fortune teller next door.
4) The cover of “To Have and To Hold” features a striking sunset over an ocean with red clouds courtesy of longtime collaborator Adam de Boer. What can you tell us about how this cover came about?
Greg: It’s a painting called Windchop no. 5. Adam noticed a recurrence of bodies of water—rivers, lakes, and the sea—in the songs, and traces of optimism, and volunteered the painting as cover art for To Have and to Hold. I don’t have much of a tendency to self-evaluate while writing, and since I share sketches of the songs with Adam ahead of recording so that he can make the artwork, he’s the first person who hears our albums in sequence, and his impressions are some of the first ones that I hear. To Have and to Hold has some overt threads that tie it together: the curiosity of what it means to have or to hold anything, and what comforts we find along the way when experiences and life itself are ephemeral. There’s serenity and aching at the same time. The water in the painting is choppy and you can tell that there’s a storm that’s passed and is calming down. The strings of clouds and the horizon encourage awe and optimism. Adam has made every one of our album covers and I consider him to be a member of the band.
5) For Friday’s show, Teething Veils is going to be playing a stripped back set with just Greg, Hester, and Adrina by candlelight. How do you feel about presenting Teething Veils songs in this way?
Greg: I’m curious about how the songs will present themselves with those arrangements, and at that hour. I’m glad that we’re doing this. Thank you for having us.
Listen to and purchase “To Have and To Hold” and more Teething Veils music on Bandcamp. Be sure to catch Teething Veils at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW) on Friday, September 9, 2022 for a special midnight show by candlelight. Celebrity Meg and John Howard (The Plums, Jowe Head and the Fleeting Glimpses) will be joining us behind the turntables. Join us at 10pm for the fun!