Interview: Annapolis, Maryland Hard Rockers Veer Talk Vodka, NASA, and ‘Soft Machines’

Veer, out of Annapolis, Maryland, are making a name for themselves with their music and … their vodka? They operate a little differently than other bands, eschewing traditional management in favor of doing everything themselves and finding creative new ways to market the band. They’ve won awards like Best Rock Band at the Maryland Music Awards and Best Song for their song “Come Clean” by the World Songwriting Awards.

They’ve had the pleasure of opening for such legendary rock acts as Sponge, Puddle of Mudd, Buckcherry, and Fuel, and they recently followed up on their 2018 album Apocalyptic, Baby with their latest record Soft Machines which is available now. With the brother Ron (vocals) and Jon (drums) Malfi and their long-time friends Ryan Fowler (lead guitar) and Christian Mathis (bass), you get the sense that Veer are all a band of brothers, and just four best friends that enjoy making music together.

New Noise took some time to sit down with the full band to talk about Soft Machines and the band’s unique style of promoting themselves.

I always like to start out by asking bands about what their main influences are, especially on this latest album, Soft Machines. What was it that that really inspired you?

Ron Malfi: Two years trapped in a in my basement during COVID, I guess. We had started recording three of these songs back in like early 2020 as the first three for the for the record, and then the world shut down. So some of the songs we were working on at that point, I readdressed by myself in the house, (and) wrote a bunch of other material.

And then when the band finally got together to start practicing again, it was just a garbage dump of all this stuff. Here’s where my head’s been during quarantine. But we all went through the songs; some didn’t make the cut some the band liked, and we fleshed out as a four piece. And, ultimately, what made it to the record were the ones that we felt had the same tonal kinship, musically, because we did want this to kind of be, arguably, a concept album. So the melodies are all complimentary of each other. I think everything fit together. So that’s how we picked from that disgusting array of all the songs I brought to them.

Jon Malfi: We’ve all been friends for like 20 some years. So we’ve played music together for a very long time. And we all have totally different musical influences, a lot of the same but different. So we get in the room, Ron will do a lot of writing, writing what we call the money shot, the beautiful parts of the songs. And then I’m a metalhead, so I like to put in that and then Fowler is very blues oriented and he’s in the alternative fields. So everyone kind of puts in these parts and we pull it but we do a lot of arguing and back and forth to get the sauce

Ryan Fowler: No, we don’t! We’ve never argued we’ve never argued! (laughs)

I noticed on the website–because this links into what you’re saying about it being kind of a concept down–you had this little intro. Is there a story to this album then? Or is it just thematic?

JM: There is a little bit of a story, but it’s a story up for interpretation for the listener.

RM: Our first album was called Apocalyptic Baby; it was a really strong, guitar-driven rock record. And once that came out, we actually had an apocalypse. So, the second album was actually going to be the antidote to the apocalypse album. But things changed as we were working on this material. And I focused on a line from our song “Red Tide” where I talked about people as soft machines, where they’re these organic matter, but we have a certain functionality in the world.

And that became the guide light to what this record turned into where the songs are about faith vs. science, the repetitive nature of humanity, all these things that make the weaknesses and foibles in mankind set against the backdrop of the perfection of machines is how I saw it. So there’s a lot of machine symbolism on the record. There’s a lot of science vs. faith on the on the record. There’s a lot of space atmosphere because—not so much that it’s a space type record—but because I see space as the dreamy quality of mankind reaching for the stars, hitting the clouds.

Since Ron and Jon are brothers, what is it like working with your brother in your band?

RM: Jon and I have been playing music for years; this is the first band we’ve ever actually been in together if you don’t count all the times when we were kids in our basement. I used to beat him up when he played a wrong drumbeat.

RF: We would leave the basement when Ron and I had another band. So we would have band practice with a third Malfi brother. And I can remember vividly, Jon’s only a couple years younger than us, but because I was in the band with the older brother, it was like an older brother vibe. So we’d leave the basement, I remember, we would always be like, Jon, if you touch the drums, we’re beating you up. We’d always tell him, don’t touch any of our stuff. And then ironically, Jon ended up being the one that put it all together for us all these years later. That was 20-some years ago. We were basically almost in high school when Ron and I were doing that band.

RM: A lot of the stuff that we work on now, I’ll come up with a riff or chord progression or chorus, and even before we get to the stage where we introduce it to the band, Jon and I live close enough where I can hop over to his house where our studio is; we we flesh things out, work things out, and he’ll say, “Yes, this sounds good.” Or he says, “Hey, don’t embarrass yourself and bring it to the other guys; get rid of it.” So he’s a good sounding board for me.

You have this really trippy video for “Science” that came out last year and it says that Jon directed that. Is that correct?

JM: Well, yeah, kind of. The live shots of the band were actually shot and directed by Kevin Kangas, who’s a good friend of ours who does a lot of like B-horror movies and stuff like that. He’s a really good friend of Ron’s. He shot that. The other footage, I did all the editing, and the digital work with all the Veer logos and all that stuff coming through it and space and time stuff. So I built like the digital stuff, because I do all of our graphic design work and marketing work. So I did those on that. But it was a group effort from the band, that input from the band, our friend Kevin Kangas, who shot the live shots of us.

RM: The group effort is that he did it, he said, What do you guys think? We’re like, that’s good. That was that was our input.

JM: So this band, we know that there’s a lot of stuff that needs to get done, and then we delegate things. And when those don’t get done, then everyone’s like, Jon, finish this. So then we get it done that way.

Another thing I noticed on your website, you have your own brand of vodka. How did that come about? And what’s the connection between between music and vodka?

RF: Hold on, I want to answer this, Jon, because I feel like I tell it better than you do. Okay, so, in our band, Jon is the idea guy. I’m not saying that the rest of us don’t have ideas. But whenever there’s a crazy idea, Jon is almost always the catalyst for it. So one day, at band practice, on top of all the other things that we’ve talked about that may or may not ever be a reality, Jon says, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we had our own alcohol?” And we were like, “Of course, that would be great. But we’re not Metallica so I don’t know exactly how we’re going to pull something like that off.”

And basically what happened is John took like, two or three meetings, and one of them fit almost immediately. And we ended up doing a licensing deal with a distiller that’s from Baltimore called old line distillery. And it was a wild thing because really, once we realized that we had an inroad with these guys, it turned out to be a nice summer project for us last year because we knew our album wasn’t gonna be ready. And so, as a band like ours, when we when we play fairly infrequently, sometimes it can be a challenge to keep people’s eyeballs on it, keep people excited for something that’s getting ready to come out. And so we were able to do this whole summer-long promo tour with this vodka, where we got to meet a bunch of people; we got into clubs; we had all kinds of signature drinks; we were doing it (at) shows; we had a lot of fun with it.

We did a couple shows at the distillery because they have a really nice event space there. And so it basically just turned into, Hey, we’ve got our own vodka now and, and there’s probably some people that come to see us that the only reason they even know who we are is because they bought a bottle at a local liquor store somewhere. And it’s actually worked out really cool. And all of us like to drink a little and so why not.

RM: And the bottle, Jon designed the label for it, too. And it’s got our faces and stuff on the back a quick bio of us. It’s got our Spotify and streaming scans.

JM: So you can scan the bottle and listen to our music while you drink it.

That’s a clever idea!

JM: It was a promotional concept and idea that we collectively wanted to do after I brought (up the idea). I’m always trying to do one-up and wild things that make us stand out. And we’re old school, so yes, we still like CDs, and we like tapes, and we like vinyl. And the cool thing was, with the bottle promo when it was in the liquor stores and at these places, if they bought that they got a free CD, which was a sample. The songs were listed in the order of how to mix drinks that we like.

RM: Yeah, we did basically a best-of that corresponded with each drink. So it was it was a really neat push. And especially in our local areas here, every liquor store was carrying this thing. All the bars had it. People would put our band stickers on the cups that people would carry around the neighborhood. We became more famous for the booze than for the music at first.

JM: So yeah, so that’s pretty much how that jumped off. But we’re always into some good marketing and licensing deals.

RF: There’s always something. Jon’s next crazy idea is that we want to do a video—because we’ve got this kind of space theme with a new record—where we’ve been trying to push to get some people at NASA to let us film a video. And it’s still a little up in the air. But that’s the next wild idea that we have.

JM: We’re probably going to start the ball rolling forward on that in November, which we will be shooting at one of their breakout space stations in Laurel.

RM: And you always said a Veer concert should be like a party, it should be unique; it should be fun, even if you don’t if you don’t know who we are. When you come, you should have a good time. And one of those aspects is we’re not a bar band, we’re not playing like three days a week where people could just come and go and see us whenever. If we play once a month at a big venue, people know they got to get in there and see us otherwise they got to wait another month, or whatever it is. And it’s always an event. It’s not just playing music.

RF: You know, you’ll hear this recurring theme that a lot of these things were Jon being the catalyst for some of them. But what’s kind of been funny is that, when we first started playing together like five or six years ago, we made some quick inroads with a couple of clubs, and we got to get in front of some big audiences, opening for bands like Puddle of Mudd and Sponge. And there (were) a few other national ones that we opened for back then. And so we did that for a while, and that allowed us to gain a little bit of an audience.

But then the next thing we started doing almost immediately is, we started promoting our own shows. So when our first album came out, instead of doing it in a club with a bunch of bands where you’re working on a contract with a promoter, we’re like, we can just be our own promoter. And so about half the shows that you see Veer play, we’re pulling all the strings. And as we’ve gotten further along with that, we’ve come up with all sorts of ideas to make it–just like what those (Ron and Jon) are saying—a little bit more of a party and something that’s a little bit more unique.

So if, like last weekend, we played with Ayron Jones. And if you catch us on something like that, you’re just gonna see a solid rock show from a band that fits right in with all the other bands more than likely. But if you come to see something where we’re headlining, usually we’ve got all kinds of tricks up our sleeves. We had a DJ to keep parties going at the last one. We do all kinds of stuff, drink stuff, just all kinds of things and we’re not really against any of it because we feel like being a band and playing the show is part of a greater experience that we can put together.

You talked a little bit about this, and I wanted to touch on it: You’ve opened for a lot of big name bands, like Buckcherry, Fuel, Sponge, etc. Which one has been your favorite band open for?

JM: I have to say recently, we just played on Sunday at Baltimore Soundstage with Ayron Jones. He is (an) awesome blues/hard rock artist who’s climbing the charts right now.

RF: And he’s got a number one right now.

JM: Yeah, as we speak, and he’s actually heading to Paris, and he’s going out on a North American tour with Guns and Roses. And they were really cool. I mean, a lot of these bands, it’s fun to play with, but we’re working; we’re playing; we’re opening the show. They’ve all been fun in different ways. The guys from Sponge are really cool.

RM: I love Sponge. I loved their music even before we had this band, so it was kind of cool. That was an early show for us to just show up, meet those guys, and watch them rehearse while we’re sitting there. When you start playing with bands that you’ve listened to when you were younger, and now all of a sudden you’re sharing a green room with them and you could root through their luggage when they’re not looking. (laughs) But it’s neat, and we’ve been fortunate also to have played with bands whose music we like to so it’s not just work all the time. We can take a breath, step back, (and say) Alright, this is a fun night.

RF: I’m sure the other guys have favorites too but, for me, it was probably Buckcherry. The Buckcherry, Fuel, and Puddle of Mudd (shows) were all really good shows. In terms of my personal taste, I was into Fuel back in the 90s, so that was a lot of fun to hear those guys live, just hanging out with some of the guys in that band who were in other bands that we were big fans out of. Like the bass player was in Nine Inch Nails and Filter, so we got to talk about that kind of stuff. So that that was a fun one.

The Puddle of Mudd show was fun just because the crowd was crazy. It was like a it was probably 800 people in the club that holds 400 people. And so that was a wild and crazy show just for the audience. And then Buckcherry was the same thing, and that was at a much bigger venue, but it was sold out. That’s a band that’s been doing this thing at a really high level for a long time. And they’re another one of those bands that maybe isn’t my personal taste musically, but they’re undeniable in terms of what they’ve accomplished. The audience that they have follows them around and all that kind of stuff.

JM: And I think the cool thing about all these bands, too, is we started this band in 2016 and, from then till now, when these bands that fit the genre that we play come through town, either their management or these club promoters specifically reach out to us to be direct support for them. And I think that is a cool pat on the back to say, we’ve spread our name that much and have done this stuff that these management companies and these promoters or talent buyers are specifically asking for us to come and open this show, or be direct support for these bands. And they’ve all treated us really well, sharing green rooms, or you want to use our equipment or have a beer hanging out. And it’s been a cool experience for us. Because, like I said, I was getting yelled at to touch drums back 20-some years ago, and now we’re playing these big venues and clubs in the green room with these bands that we used to have posters on the wall for. So it’s cool.

RF: Christian, what’s your favorite show we’ve ever done? I never asked you,

CM: All of them, honestly, Fuel, Puddle of Mudd, Ayron Jones, I mean, just the opportunity to play with these acts that we’ve grown up listening to and hearing on the radio, it’s just been an awesome experience. And, I’m really gracious of the opportunities that we’ve had so far.

Is there anything coming up next that you want to plug? What’s coming up next for the band.

JM: We we are going to be shooting a couple music videos to follow up on singles from the new album, Soft Machines, that just dropped. So I believe we’re going to start shooting beginning in November. We’re going to scout a couple locations, we got to do the NASA shoot and then this other shoot for “Figure it Out.” And then we’re demoing some songs, we were going to try and get a Halloween release out, but that’s not going to happen now. But doing stuff like that. Really just building on the momentum of this album. We want to get a vinyl now put out of this album as well, because of the demand of that.

RF: We’ve got quite a few shows in the works, too. There’s nothing really that we can announce publicly just yet. But the Ayron Jones show we did was with Live Nation, which everybody knows who they are in the industry. And so we’re working with a couple of folks there to try and see if there’s some more opportunities for a band like us. There’s a couple of really big ones that we’re working on to that I don’t even want to talk about, because I feel like we’ll jinx it. But yeah, we’ve got some fun ones that are coming up. We just don’t have anything quite ready to announce, but there’ll be a few more shows your over the next probably several months.

JM: And we’re always working on something. There’s always things going on.

Soft Machines is available directly from the band here, and you can learn more about their vodka here. Follow Veer on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for future updates.

Photo courtesy of Veer

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