By Esther Sanchez
A couple of weekends ago, I left my heart at Joshua Tree Music and Arts Festival. No surprise to me. That happens every time I have the opportunity to attend and the feeling seems to intensify every time. As my buddy Ben Crowson, drummer from Right On! Right On! said to me recently, “JT Fest is a magical place.” Crowson knows what he is talking about. Low-landers like myself who don’t get up the hill very often might not comprehend the fact that it is not just the festival itself generating the vibes of innovation and open-minded creativity throughout the area. I think it’s quite the opposite. It’s a place where gifted, generous individuals have become inspired to work together to create and share this beautiful festival experience. The geographical place that is the high desert has, over past decade and a half (give or take a few years), become a magnet for some of the most creative, interesting and downright talented folks you could ever meet. It has become a haven…..a Mecca for painters, dancers, violinists, gurus, thespians and every other sort of artist you can imagine.
It is precisely that vibe that drew husband and wife team, Georg Altziebler and Heike Binder-Altziebler to migrate from their homeland in Austria to the So-Cal desert. I met up with SOTVR at JT Fest where they performed an afternoon set that sparked a lot of buzz throughout the attendees. I knew within minutes that, although super talented, cultured, well-traveled, physically attractive and impressively statuesque they seem, Georg and Heike are also sweet, personable, down-to-earth and cool like ice-cubes. I guess the most obvious question came first. I wanted to know why they decided to make the move from one continent to another. Why the desert? Georg glanced at me with a grin that said, “Look around you. Is it not obvious?”
Georg: “We knew about what was happening here with the music scene and we knew we had something to offer. The housing is affordable and it is beautiful here. So, that’s the way it went. People here have been really supportive and really nice to us. We are happy with our choice.” Here is where I say that they are not the only ones happy with their choice to relocate to our neck of the globe. I feel as though they have gifted us with their presence and their art. Son of the Velvet Rat may be new to locals but they certainly are not new to music. On the contrary, they are heavily seasoned performers who have under their belts somewhere around half a dozen albums and multiple tours that have crossed oceans.
The project originated with Georg. I have listened to at least 15 or 20 songs from their albums and videos; some several times. There is a deep and soulful purity to their music. Georg is not just a lyricist. He is a songwriter’s songwriter. There is a haunting beauty in each and every song that stimulates intrigue. I can’t help but to listen to the words. The orchestration is skillful, yet raw and without frills. They have found that masterful balance between low-quality and over-produced music. Simply put, Son of the Velvet Rat is a really good band on any level. Interestingly enough, the product that we see before us now is not what was originally conceived of in the mind of its creator.
Georg had been in the music business for some time before he met his wife who apparently never planned a life on stage. According to Heikie who also plays keyboard, she did not come from a particularly musical family or background and her only singing experience was in choirs during her adolescent years. She would accompany Georg on tours and contributed her beautiful artwork and organizational skills to the act, but the idea of her being an actual partner in performance was not really a thing. But, 10 years ago in a San Francisco club, whether she knew it at the moment or not, that all changed.
Georg: “We were together and I was already making music. She would travel with me on tours and she learned the music…..”
Heike playfully interjects: “I knew all the songs, every lyric. We were traveling a lot and we would sing in the car. I guess that’s how it started.”
There were a few seconds of silence as I stared at the both of them in bewilderment……they were smiling at each other and then at me and back at each other again. It was pretty freaking endearing. Meanwhile, I am thinking to myself….. “Ok, but how did it happen then? What part of the story am I missing?” After further inquiries, Heike explained: “I just decided that day to get on stage with him and sing.”
And that was it, I guess. They say there were no conscious or substantial plans or discussions that lead up to their becoming a musical duo. It was a spur of the moment impulse…..the willingness to go with the gut that changed their lives forever. I find that fantastically inspirational. It reminds me that pushing through our feelings of vulnerability and self-doubt can shake the foundations of your life in the most amazing ways. It reminds me that sometimes you need to just put yourself out there.
(Photos by Alex A. & Esther Sanchez)