Good things, they say, come to those who wait. So Jay Manley and Jane Francis have to be expecting one helluva greeting for the new Velvet album. It's been nearly three years and a couple of lineup changes since they released their debut, Where Are the People?, on Wilmington's Eskimo Kiss Records. During that time they've morphed from a trio to a four-piece and back, going through almost a dozen drummers. "It's completely insane. We were caught in a strange vortex. We were trying to fund it by ourselves, first of all. So the project took a while," singer/bassist Francis says. "We've had some fits and starts getting our shit together and putting together a band, so that took a lot of effort and time which got sucked away from the recording part."
It was worth it though to end up with Hungarian skinsman Zsolt David, who they met through Lynn Blakey (Glory Fountain, Tres Chicas).
"We've tried to keep him around by going online and discovering some old-fashioned Hungarian dishes. We cook for him all the time, we sew his clothes, we do his laundry," says Francis with a laugh. "Yeah, we're keeping this one."
With the lineup in place, the trio's spent most of this year working on the album, or, more accurately, the mixes. Most of the album's 13 songs were recorded two years ago, during the period when the band was a quartet. Ten of the songs were recorded with Mitch Easter at his studio, The Fidelitorium, under auspicious circumstances.
"When we got in we saw Mitch and he said, 'I don't know how to tell you this, I have a really bad toothache.' I thought, When are we going to get our schedules open again?" Francis recalls. "Mitch says, 'Nothing's open and so I'm just going to go for it.'"
"What it does for the record is to make it extremely fluid and listenable because that's what we did that day, it was how we were feeling. But it was our Achilles' heel, because it went so well, after that--it was like, 'And that's all you get,'" she says. "The weirdest thing about it--the good and the bad are so present in this Velvet record. It's the yin and yang of it all, like how you can be having a perfectly good morning and by night you're mad as hell."
Though three of the tracks were subsequently scotched in favor of three newer ones, there's a remarkably consistent tone across the album, according to Francis.
Velvet isn't all they've been doing. Francis has put together (with recording help from hubby Manley) a brand new solo album. The 10-track CD collects songs Francis wrote this summer and began to play around town the last four months.
"I went 'Okay, I have these songs, why don't I put them down as a document?'" Francis says.
There is one track with just straight guitar and vocals, and the others are very lightly seasoned with a Lowery Leslie organ coming in at spots and going away, bass, electric guitar and accordion courtesy Jill Christensen (who has worked with Daniel Hart).
Francis claimed not to know how to bill the album, which is entitled Skeleton for Tea, before relenting and offering the epithet "the more peculiar, weirder side of folk."
Both projects are looking for labels. Francis says she'd like the solo album to find "someplace that can just let it kind of form a nice layer of dust," in contrast to the Velvet album, which they're actively shopping around for a spring release. The as yet untitled album is finished and about to be mastered in what the band hopes will be a brief, painless effort--unlike most of what preceded it.