Interview with Holl(i)y, February 6th 2006 @ The Portland Arms
London's theatrical punk-delicate practitioners The
Violets are a band who've created a seamless and seductive image for
themselves, erecting a spiky borderline between their own monochrome,
starkly lit world and the fuzzy-edged sepia tones in which many bands
are all too content to portray themselves. When you marry this uncompromising,
stylised glamour to the surrealist imagery of their lyrics, you get
a musical style which is so divorced from the mainstream that it feels
somewhat otherworldly - is this escapist surrealism deliberate?
Alixus (singer) "Absolutely! I like the glam rock ethic which
says that music is a romantic glimpse of another world: our world. We
don't want to get stuck in this boring, snoring, realist world that
all the bands like Hard Fi are talking about. "My dayjob sucks"
- that is their statement! "My dayjob sucks
Joe (guitarist) "
And I use cash machines!" I like songs
which are about what could be, rather than about what is. I think the
last word on all that - for, me anyway - was The Jam."
Andrew (drummer) "They covered it all in 1982
and we've got to end it."
This escapist, otherworldly feeling is very much
in evidence in The Violets' lyrics. Full of strikingly evocative abstract
imagery, the words paint a series of snapshots in your mind but, like
looking at a scene through a keyhole, it never quite brings them together
or makes them explicit, providing a sense of atmosphere but leaving
gaps in perception for the listener to try and fill in. It's an atmospheric
and thought provoking technique for displaying ideas.
Alixus "Yeah - it's not intentional actually. I mean
like the idea of sitting round the pub and scrawling my lyrics on the
bar mats - I put more thought into it than that. But
out that way, part of the sum total of some stream of consciousness.
I do like to focus on individual ideas, on highlights: I like that you
can just say one word and people will get the idea of what you're trying
to say, just with that one word. You don't have to spell it out."
Andrew "I like songs you can have your own interpretation of, rather
than lyrics which tell you exactly what the song's about. I know the
writer has their own idea about what the song's about, but I want people
to have their own personal meaning for Descend and Carnival. To associate
that song with their own memory, or something that's going on in their
own minds. We're not going to tell you what it's about - it's up to
the listener to decide what it's about for them."
Alixus "Exactly. It's partially an accident, the ambiguity - but
then we thought, well, we'll leave it that way."
Sketchy, snap-shot lyrics; black and white clothes;
monochrome single covers; a stripped down, staccato sound
Violets have a very minimalist and rather stark aesthetic. How deliberate
was this uniform austerity in their image?
Andrew "I think it's important to try and have an
aesthetic - I think it shows that you've made an effort and have respect
for the audience."
Joe "I dunno why it's all black and white though
the music sounds quite monochrome - but it's like Alix was saying about
the lyrics sometimes there's a little bit which'll paint a picture or
create an image which suddenly brings a bit more colour into it - if
I'm going to use this metaphor! And then, in the same way, the music
has the bits which're slightly more avant garde, like the delay pedals,
that make the music more colourful and take it away from that rigid,
staccato and striking sound. That's what we do a lot of the time."
Alixus "We're also quite theatrical, and the aesthetic is a part
Andrew "My take on it is that the image always goes hand in hand
with the music. All of the best artists, like David Bowie, they all
had a really strong aesthetic."
Joe "I suppose a lot of other bands wear really colourful clothes
then say: "Oh, we don't have an image, we just go out there and
don't think about our clothes" - they do think about the clothes
And by having an aesthetic you're making it clear that you do think
about what you're trying to get across; making explicit the difference
between you and them.
Joe "Well, we're not the only ones - a lot of bands are like
Alixus "Yeah - I think we're seeing the small end of something
kicking off, and we're part of that."
So how would you define this thing you feel you're
part of - what reference points do you feel it has?
Joe "Not baggy jeans! It could be lots of things,
anything: photos, lots of other music - although that's always changing.
Things which are a bit kind of under the surface. Anything which sounds
like a slap in the face, really, is the music which I like."
Alixus "And I've always been attracted to an empowered voice -
an empowered, androgynous sounding voice like Nico or women who can
do something that's kind of grotesque. I guess our sound has that sense
of androgynous liberation."
Andrew "One of my major reference points is Dance of Days, Matt
Jenkins' history of the Washington punk scene. The message I got from
that book was that punk is like a lifestyle choice, a way you operate,
something you live with. And when I get up in the morning music is the
first thing I think about; it's the last thing I think about before
I got to bed; it's my everything. So that's my reference point."
Joe "I suppose that's what we're aiming for
we want people to be like "Ooh, yeah!"
And even though people interpret it to mean different things, we also
hope there's a sense of authenticity about it - that's where the punk
bit comes in. Something that really matters - a religion, a celebration!
We did a gig in Southend last night and everyone was completely up for
it. They didn't have the same attitude that we do, they were just really
enjoying themselves and getting really excited. That's what this single's
for - people hear it and relate to it and be inspired and react to it.
Seaside towns get it."
Joe "Yeah - it's for people in seaside towns!"
Andrew "It's for people who like looking out over the ocean and
being on the edge of the world."
Alixus "And we're bringing that to the heart of the city!"
If you live in a seaside town, would like to live
in a seaside town, love the sense of infinite horizons you get from
looking out over the sea or are simply in love with intelligent, important
rock'n'roll, then you may be interested to know that The Violets' new
single, Descend/Carnival, is out NOW on Angular records and can be found
in independent shops and online. Or you can order it from places like
HMV - y'know, the kinds of places which're always described as "All
Good Record Shops" despite the fact that they don't stock records
like this. Funny old world, isn't it?
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