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The Overdue Return of Indie-Rock Greats Velocity Girl

The DC legends speak about their planned reunion this fall to celebrate the Black Cat's 30th anniversary.

Velocity Girl in 2023. From left, Brian Nelson, Jim Spellman, Sarah Shannon, Kelly Young, and Archie Moore. Photograph courtesy Jim Spellman.

The Washington, DC, band Velocity Girl will reunite to headline the second night of the Black Cat’s 30th anniversary celebration this coming September. The appearance will mark the first time that the band has played together in more than two decades. The group was inspired by the noisy yet lovely C86 indie pop music of the ’80s and the swirling, powerful sound of shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. That combination was potent, and Velocity Girl become one of the best and most popular bands to emerge from DC’s indie-rock scene in the 1990s. They signed to Sub Pop and landed a song on the Clueless soundtrack. Spike Jonze even directed one of their videos.

The group broke up in 1996, feeling that things had run their course. Despite offers over the years (including one from a Silicon Valley type they won’t name who invited them to play a private event) they reunited just once, in 2002.

Washingtonian got guitarist Archie Moore and drummer Jim Spellman on the phone to discuss their upcoming reunion, and how they explain noisy pop music to their Taylor Swift-loving children. This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed.

Washingtonian: How did this reunion come together?

Jim Spellman: Opportunities popped up to play shows from time to time. And I don’t think any of us really were into it for a variety of reasons. We got offered to play something this summer here in DC that we weren’t able to do for logistical reasons. But in our discussions about it, it seems that we had a collective openness to it that we had not had before. Simultaneously, we started talking about maybe doing like a B-sides compilation. And then we got the call from [Black Cat owner] Dante [Ferrando], to ask us to re-form to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Black Cat. And it just seemed like there was a lot of positive energy going in that direction. [Velocity Girl singer] Sarah [Shannon, who lives in Seattle] happened to be in town a few days after we heard from Dante, and we all met here at my house, which I think is maybe the first time we’ve all been together since I don’t know somebody’s wedding a long, long time ago.

Archie Moore: For me, personally, and I think for a lot of people, it was the idea that for the first and probably last time we would be able to play in front of our kids. They’re all at an age where we can do that. And we’re not quite too old yet.

The band back in the day. Photograph via Sub Pop.

When I’ve gone to see bands from our era playing recently, there have at times been a surprising number of younger people in attendance. Do you have any sense of how Velocity Girl’s music translates to younger people who may not have had the same reference points we did?

Moore: My kid’s a Swiftie and she has never even really been particularly curious about Velocity Girl until recently. Another band I was in, Black Tambourine, had sort of a resurgence with millennials, because of garage-y indiepop bands with noise like the Dum Dum Girls and the Vivian Girls. So I think there’s maybe a context for that kind of thing. I don’t know what any of the terms mean anymore–when NPR describes something as indie pop, I really don’t know what to expect at all.

Spellman: My daughter is also a Swiftie. But probably the biggest bands that she’s into are the Smiths and the Pixies. In our time and place, and by our own choosing, we divided things up a lot into camps, and you couldn’t be in one camp without another, and you would look down on someone who was into the other thing. Now because of Spotify and TikTok, kids maybe are a little more open to just seeing all sorts of things together.

Moore: I think another kind of other way to contextualize it for them is a lot of people know like, [the Canadian pop band] Alvvays and stuff like that now.

Spellman: They have that Archie song, right?

Moore: It’s nice to have an Archie song in the world!

Is it about you?

Moore: No, I think it’s about a friend of theirs. I had to fact check this, because a lot of people started emailing me when they heard it.

You mentioned a B-sides compilation. Any chances Velocity Girl might record some new music or play more than one show?

Moore: I think new music is extremely unlikely. Back when we were all making music, you might mix down to quarter-inch analog tape and DAT at the same time. And of course, it’d be the DAT that would get sent off to the plant. We found a bunch of our quarter-inch analog mixdown tapes. So we’re going to try to get those baked and listen to them. I think I’m going to have fun with archival research and figuring out if any of this stuff sounds better than what might be on streaming. I’ve been really having a fun time listening to Spatial Audio on Apple Music. So I was thinking, “Well, we could try that.”

How special is it for you to play this show at the Black Cat?

Spellman: You know, the show in September, it’ll be great to play. But I just really want to say how great it is to have Dante and [co-owner] Catherine [Ferrando] and all of the people that facilitate music here in Washington over the years. Thirty years of that club is insane and amazing. And these spaces don’t happen without people like them. When it’s Dante calling to mark something like that, it’s significant.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.