Demi Demitro, frontwoman for Boulder, Colorado-born rock band The Velveteers, has a unique voice on the guitar. She has a power with the instrument. It’s as if it becomes dancing fire in her hands when she wields it on the band’s new record, Nightmare Daydream.
The new 12-track album rattles and shakes, and was produced by none other than Dan Auerbach, frontman, of course, for the blues-rock band, The Black Keys. Lately, Auerbach has been discovering and producing a number of acclaimed acts from his Nashville studio, from Yola to Robert Finley to now The Velveteers.
We caught up with Demitro to ask her about her relationship to the six-string, developing her skills as a teen, and how she and her band began to collaborate with Auerbach in Music City.
When did you first find guitar as an instrument, or even as a concept, and once you got your first one, what did holding the instrument inspire in you?
“There were always guitars laying around my house growing up. I come from a very musical family. I always just looked at them; I would never pick them up. And then one day, I think I was probably 13 or 14, and I just picked it up and started strumming it. Then my dad taught me how to play E minor.
“So, he taught me how to do that and I started writing songs with literally just E minor. Tons and tons of songs. Then a couple years later, I picked up the electric guitar and I feel like that was when everything really clicked for me. Because all of a sudden, I was able to have my own voice. And it was the first time in my life where I genuinely felt it was my voice coming through.
“I think the first guitar I played that was an electric guitar was a Danelectro, or something, and I don’t know, just being able to have it be loud and have a fuzzy sound and being able to choose what effects I wanted, it was a really cool moment for me. And it’s what made me want to be in a band.”
Was that unique for you at the time? Did the guitar offer you a type of control that maybe you didn’t have elsewhere?
“Oh yeah, totally. I grew up doing musical theater stuff. And it wasn’t really something I wanted to do. It was just something that was there and I was like, 'Okay, I have to do this.' In musical theater, you have a director. And the director tells you how to act and how to play the part and all that.
“So, I think when I found guitar, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m the director of this.’ I get to choose how I want to sound, I get to choose how I want to present myself. So, it definitely felt like I was getting control in a way that I didn’t really feel like I had before.”
As a teenager, you spent hours and hours a day woodshedding. What were the biggest discoveries you made during this time?
“Whenever I would get a blister, I would feel really accomplished! Because I would be like, 'Oh, I’m practicing enough now.' When you first start playing, you don’t really have callouses, or anything. So, every time my fingers would hurt, I’d be like, 'Yeah, I’m doing something right!'
“But I would say one thing for me now looking back on it that helped me develop more of my style was playing on not-the-best-guitars and learning how to work with a guitar that, you know, only has two or three strings. Because oftentimes that would be what I was playing on and it would really force me to be creative.
“I was left with these [guitars] that didn’t have six strings, so I just had to figure out a way to make it work. I think that definitely helped me writing riffs and just learning how to be as creative as I could be.”
What instruments do you find yourself playing these days?
“I play an Eastwood Sidejack Baritone. That was the first guitar I ever got that was my own guitar. I decided really early on that I wanted – originally, I really wanted to be in a two-piece band and that’s what we started out as. So, I was like, maybe if I play a baritone guitar that will help me get a tone where it kind of sounds like guitar and bass.
“So, I started doing that and it was really hard to play at first because the baritone is such a big guitar. But I’ve been playing that guitar ever since. Recently, I just got a vintage baritone guitar, I forget what brand it is. It’s a Japanese brand and it was pretty cheap, but I do like cheaper guitars because I think they can be fun to play. Again, it’s that thing where not having everything be perfect forces you to work with what you have and be creative like that.”
How did you and Dan Auerbach meet? Did he show you different ideas on guitar, different techniques, pedals?
“Well, about a year and a half ago, I think it was February 2020, and we were just sitting on our couch. We got a call saying that Dan Auerbach had heard our music and wanted to bring us out to Nashville to meet. So, then a couple weeks later, we were headed out to Nashville. We headed to Dan’s studio and we all just talked about music and bands that we liked.
“A couple months down the line, we were getting ready to record an album with him. So, it was all very surreal for us. And a dream come true. But yeah, recording was super-cool. Dan just has so much gear and so many cool guitars and an insane amount of pedals. So, it definitely felt like heaven.
“I remember recording the album, Dan had this amp that I think he got specifically for the record. I might be wrong, but I think he did. I’m pretty sure it was called a ‘Vamp’ and he was telling me they’re pretty rare and that Marc Bolan used to play through them, which I thought was super cool because I’m a huge Marc Bolan fan.
“I forget what pedal it was, but he had this really, really cool fuzz pedal, a vintage fuzz pedal that I played through a lot [most likely a Tone Bender – Ed]. That was awesome.”
Did he a play a lot for you – was he like, “Check out this riff!”?
“Yeah, he would do that all the time. We did writing sessions together and he was always pulling out some crazy guitar that I was, like, 'What is this?' I’ve literally never seen a guitar that looks like this! He was always playing cool stuff and coming up with amazing ideas.”
The Velveteers recently opened for Guns N’ Roses. That band’s fans have some pretty high expectations. What did you use to make sure that was a big performance?
“It was a crazy experience. I used my typical setup, which is a Fender Twin. And I was playing through an Ampeg; I split the signals between my Fender and the bass amp to get a heavier sound. And then I was just using my typical pedal setup – I play through two octave pedals and a homemade fuzz pedal and a delay.”
Were there any big memories made from that show, now that you’re a little removed?
“It was very surreal getting to play to such a big audience. I think that’s the biggest crowd we had ever played for. Just being on a stage that big when you’ve never been on one before is just kind of crazy. If you move too far to one direction, you can’t really hear anything. You have to stay in front of the monitors. So, that was interesting.
“And just playing with Guns N’ Roses, obviously their fans are very demanding. So we were worried that maybe people wouldn’t dig it but I think it went over pretty well!”
Given that the guitar has, along with a lot of work on your end, helped you achieve such great things, what do you love most about the instrument and the music you make with it?
“I would say that I love music and playing the guitar because of the feeling it gives me when I’m able to create something that I’m excited about. It’s unlike any other feeling I’ve been able to experience before. I think it’s awesome when people are able to own their creativity and, for me, guitar gives me the space to do that.
“I think the 16-year-old me who was sitting in my room, playing my guitar on my bed, pretending that I was Kurt Cobain would only dream of getting to do some of the things I’ve gotten to do. So, I’ve very grateful for it.”
- The Velveteers' new album Nightmare Daydream is out now via Easy Eye Sound.