For alumna Tara Velarde, 23, music has been a part of life since her formative years. As such, she’s not at all surprised she has managed to keep in such close proximity to her passion.
“Proximity” is the first track off of “The Tara Novellas,” the recently released Extended Play, or EP, by her band of the same name. It is also one of the tracks that has recently been featured on the Portland radio station KMUZ, during the rotation of their “local roots” show.
“The first time they played us, they played ‘Proximity,’” said Velarde. “It’s just surreal to hear yourself on the radio.”
The Tara Novellas feature Velarde on lead vocals, keyboards and guitar. As the primary songwriter of the band, she brought in a lyrically-inlined style shaped by singer-songwriters like Ingrid Michaelson. As she gained confidence and experience, her style evolved and became more uniquely her own.
“As the years went on, I’ve gotten into some people who are a little more energetic and have hard-hitting styles,” she said. “We say that we’re indie folk, folk rock, singer-songwriter, acoustic types of genres, just kind of a mix, because I like to have that intimacy with people at the same time.”
Both Velarde and her band’s drummer Joseph Deardorff graduated from Pacific University in 2013, having met their freshman year. While Velarde studied music education, Deardorff, 23, majored in environmental studies and sustainable design. In fact, their first performance together was at an Earth Day concert held in 2012.
“That was the first time we played together, but it wasn’t in The Tara Novellas,” Deardorff commented.
Velarde started performing at open mics during high School, a tradition she continued into college. While at Pacific University, she immersed herself in the music program, including taking a leadership role in Pacific’s all-female a capella group Voce Femme. She also performed both by herself and with various incarnations of her band at local events like MENSCH Fest.
The Tara Novellas formed officially in Fall 2012 when Velarde brought in Deardorff and her younger brother Jamos Velarde. Jamos, 20, provides lead guitar and backing vocals, skills he has honed since his childhood. His own musical background even helped provide an impetus for Tara Novellas’ songwriting.
“Me and my older brother, Tara’s older brother, we were writing songs just previously,” Jamos said. “We started writing songs and Tara thought ‘Oh, that’s really cool!’”
The band’s newest member, backing vocalist Cally, 19, is another Velarde sibling. The family bond between the siblings was strengthened by their grandfather, a long-time professional musician who exposed them to a variety of music from a young age. Their mother also prepared them for a musical life as well.
“There are six of us kids total, so she would have us all singing songs and we would sing together and jump in on harmonies together, you know, when we were in the car,” Tara said. “We grew up singing together as a group of six kids, and then the tradition stuck.”
After around nine months of work at local studios, The Tara Novellas held a limited release party for their EP on Sept. 12 at Cornerstone Coffee Roasters in McMinnville, a place Tara holds close to her heart.
“It’s actually the first place that both Jamos and I ever played an open mic,” she recalled. “It was where we started learning how to perform in front of people.”
A wider release date is tentatively scheduled for sometime in January at Mississippi Pizza in Portland. Until then, The Tara Novellas are busy expanding their audience both in Portland and throughout Oregon, having just finished a short tour through Ashland and Cottage Grove on Nov. 16.
The EP is currently being sold through website Bandcamp, at thetaranovellas.bandcamp.com, where copies are currently going for $5. The Tara Novellas are also on Facebook, and are looking to expand their online media presence further.
Meanwhile, the band has continuously booked well-received gigs across the greater Portland area, improving their sound and learning new things.
“I think something that we love about ourselves is that we don’t have to sacrifice intimacy for energy,” said Velarde. “We can have a really intimate moment with our audience and connect with them on emotional level, and the next minute blow them away.”