(Editor's note: MP Cavalier is the co-host of the DoItIndy Radio Hour on Radio Free Indy, which broadcasts live from Grove Haus on Monday evenings at 8 p.m. Tonight's show, hosted by Cavalier and Scott Tolin, features an appearance by Veseria to preview their fifth anniversary show, which happens later this week at Fountain Square Brewing Company.)
When I first met Veseria, it was quite literally a dark and stormy night.
That was September of 2013, outside of Radio Radio during the usual between-set-mass-exodus smoke break. People huddled together in the shallow doorway sharing American Spirits, singularly hunched to stave off the rain.
I was a shadow on the music scene, posting hardly viewed YouTube videos, trying to drum up audiences for the shows I thought would appeal to Indy’s need for its own musical voice. These two well-dressed guys greeted me at the door and introduced themselves nice-as-you-please.
“Hi, we’re from Veseria. We just released a new single and we were wondering if you’d consider playing it on your radio show.”
What’s extraordinary about their approach was not its forwardness, or their assumption that I was even who they thought I was. It’s that they knew there was a radio show. At that point, the show too was a shadow – a series of infrequent Facebook posts about something that I wasn’t sure would really happen. It’s a testament to their faith in a music scene that some claim doesn’t really exist, that they would be so quick to support a radio show that didn’t actually exist.
Since then, I have had the pleasure of watching this band flower, sometimes as a witness to private moments and often as an observer of their public celebrations. Veseria has shown me parts of Indianapolis you spend a lifetime searching for, unaware they existed until you stumble across them. Most importantly, Veseria has made me understand how a town like Indianapolis, for all of our socio-political missteps, is indeed a town where even the most jaded out-of-towner can not only find a purpose but also fulfill that purpose. And for some who had to relocate to meet their life objectives, Veseria provides an umbilical cord to home. One example: Jason Appel, who considers himself Veseria’s biggest fan. And although Appel resides in Atlanta these days, he still considers the Indianapolis quintet to be “my band. They symbolize finding myself.”
The band is marking their fifth anniversary with a mega-music and art show at the Fountain Square Brewing Company on June 19. With a new EP (Songs of War) and their first tour looming, the band is re-visiting not just its history but its place in the current Indianapolis landscape.
“This city runs through our blood and we understand it,” guitarist and vocalist Patrick Roberts says.“It’s a part of us and we’re a part of it.”
Roberts and wife Jen started the band with bassist Corey Lusk and pianist/organist Jake Strakis five years ago at the Roberts' wedding reception.
“She was in her gown, I was in my suit, and we played three songs,” he says.
Flash forward to March 2014 and the band played to a packed Irving Theater to herald the release of their second album Voyager. In between, Veseria has been about moments. And as they open up about the significant points on the timeline, the threads between the band and their city weave into a thick and unbreakable braid.
Lusk recalls a barroom gig at which he first felt “like I was part of something bigger than me, bigger than the band.” For Strakis, it was that Irving gig.
“It was so impressive to see everyone singing along,” he says.
Remembering their final show before a three-month hiatus in December 2013, Patrick recalls the audience response to the new songs.
“It assured me that we were doing the right thing at the right time,” he says. “It was the first time I felt like the city had my back.”
The band doesn’t take that kind of grassroots support lightly, either. Veseria takes part in the annual Great Indy Clean-Up, and they played for free to raise funds to light up Fountain Square’s “You Are Beautiful” sign. It is the band’s almost religious belief in their city which drives much of their music. “She Called Me H**sier,” a non-album single from the Voyager sessions, is an emotional love letter to Indianapolis.
“When they played the ‘This city loves me more than I love myself’ bridge to that song [at the Irving Theater],” Appel says, “I knew Veseria was my band. That resonated with me on another level.”
The members of Veseria view their band's short history in a sort of parallel with Indianapolis’ recent strides to national respectability. Both have gone through upgrades, courted a little controversy, and rebranded themselves for a larger audience. With Voyager, Veseria was no longer a folk-rock band from Hendricks County. They were a louder and more confident rock and roll band with a very clear message.
To the band, Voyager was another in an ongoing string of what Patrick describes as “small goals.” “Our expectations have always been very low,” he says The band agrees that the short term goals keep up the enthusiasm as they prepare for the long game. They hired a manager — Benjamin Cannon from Shine Indy – and initiated a Kickstarter this spring to raise money for their upcoming tour. The regular problems arise: They need a van, they all have full-time jobs, Patrick and Jen have two kids. Their personal realities are not lost in their collective dream.
But their progression has been an organic and natural one, with many small steps forward and few steps back. From dive bars in Brownsburg to the Irving, The Vogue, and the ONC, Veseria’s path mirrors that of many a local band, perhaps a path that leads out of the city to what some perceive as more music and art-friendly towns.
Veseria doesn’t exactly see it that way.
“This city needs people that are gonna fight for it,” Patrick says. “You fight for your family, you stick with the family, and we feel that way about the city. So leaving is not an option.”
Drummer Kyle Perkon cites the small, pocket organizations within the music and arts community as keys to the city’s potential. “They’re supporting each other, the way they go about presenting people that they legitimately care about. If your van breaks down on the way to a gig, I’m coming to get you!”
Jen Roberts says that for the short time her and Patrick lived in Bloomington, “it was painful. That distance is what made us realize how much we loved Indianapolis. Coming back, we realized that if we’re going to be part of this community why not make it the best that we can. If that’s what we’re here to do than how do we do that? We want to be a place where artists and our fellow musicians can flourish. We want the good artists to stay here, not to reach a certain plateau and leave.”
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A 2013 edition of Barfly extolled Veseria's virtues.
One of the band's calling cards is its relentless support of other local musicians. Von Strantz and The Breakes both played their first large scale local gigs on a bill with Veseria.
As Veseria reflects on its latest milestone, they are following their usual process by concentrating on that event, that moment. Songs of War is also very much in that moment.
“It’s what we were compelled to record at this point in the journey. It’s just rock and roll,” Patrick says.
The planned autumn tour will take them to different cities every weekend, another first for the band. Veseria, as a group not just from Indianapolis, but also of Indianapolis – wants to be more than a local band on the road. They want to be ambassadors for the city, and get their out-of-town billmates enthusiastic about coming here to play.
“I love connecting with new people that have at least music in common,” Jen says. “The fact that I can sit down with a new person I’ve never played a show with and they’ve played in A, B, and C city, and talk about my city and the experiences I’ve had here…they get excited about it.”
One of the pleasures of Veseria’s music is its instant likeability. I remember the night my wife first heard them. It was March of 2014, the night of their Voyager release show at the Irving. It was her birthday and we were heading back to Indy after a dinner out of town. I was careful about making too big of a deal about what was going down at the Irving because, after all, it was her birthday. Driving down another desolate Indiana back road, I popped my press copy of Voyager into the CD player. As “Children of Houdini” reached its apex, my wife said “I like this band.” Sensing the opportunity, I asked, “Do you want to love this band?” Then I set the controls for the heart of Irvington.
For another five years and beyond, I hope Veseria continues to stand their ground at that spot where our city and our music meet the rest of the world, at the crossroads, where they’ve always been.