No Violet have an itch. For five years they’ve been gurgling, stomping and shrieking their fuzzy alt-rock grunge around Bristol; now their four track debut EP Faces, finished back in January, is a honed capsule of their sound, teetering on the verge of release.
Bassist Kerry explains: ‘We wanted to take our time over it to refine our sound and put songs together that we’re really happy with. Tracks on the EP – America and She Goes Her Own Way – were written back in 2012 ‘before No Violet was No Violet, when [guitarist] Rhys and [singer] Ellie were just jamming together’ and the band were a mere ‘twinkle in their eye’. Since then No Violet have gained a reputation for their arresting live set, supporting the likes of Dream Wife and Yonaka; gained praise from BBC Radio 6; and critically, have caught the attention of local label Leisure Records – signing them last year and supporting their upcoming European tour, which stops into Crofters Rights on 22 September.
No Violet have gained a reputation for their arresting live set, supporting the likes of Dream Wife and Yonaka
Back last year, their menacing and wild Petty Child couldn’t have been released at a better time – with IDLES spurring the way for a flood of alt-rock bands from Bristol. No Violet together with the likes of Heavy Lungs, Spectres, Soeur and others, bolstered Bristol’s reputation for gnarly guitar music. This said, No Violet feel no pressure with the release, explaining: ‘It’s our first EP, establishing who we are rather than having to live up to who we’ve been for the last few years’. It’s an introduction and a neat reflection of their expansive sound – from prog to punk and hypnotic grunge, they’re keen to keep the mixture alive and stay genuine, following whatever feeling they have and using music to capture each phase along the way.
It’s an introduction and a neat reflection of their expansive sound – from prog to punk and hypnotic grunge
This free, punk attitude has been with them since inception. Kerry explains that their early desire was to just ‘get out and play lots of live shows, see what we liked and didn’t like and spend time getting used to each other’. The challenge now is to keep this living, breathing energy on the recording.
As we chat, Rhys describes their determination to keep it ‘raw…rough and ready’, his enthusiasm inspiring a loving snigger from Ellie, as he goes on to describe their recording process: ‘we recorded as a whole band, with minimal dubs and overlays. It sounds quite polished because our producer Benjamin Johnson did a great job, but musically it’s not more than what we do live. We’re not the kind of band that will bring along lots of backing tracks when we play, or set things off with a click of a Macbook…’ Drummer Pete disagrees: ‘Just you wait. Second EP, get ready for a new synth-pop direction’. To which Rhys retorts ‘Nah, keep it real’, inspiring another giggle from Ellie.
We’re not the kind of band that will bring along lots of backing tracks when we play, or set things off with a click with a Macbook
Even with the re-recorded song America, which was first released last year, the aim was to keep a natural live energy. With the help of producer Ben and a replenishing supply of coffee, the track was seen with fresh eyes. ‘We were aware it didn’t sound like it did when we released it last year’ says Rhys ‘but he made us play it incredibly fast, incredibly slow, and we moulded it into something better in the end.’ Kerry adds: ‘He made us detach from the old version, so we saw it as a new piece of work.’
Their approach to songwriting breeds from the same regard for immediacy – songs sometimes springing from a jam as they’re setting up for practice – with a jam version of America even becoming a proud B-side. This was played on BBC Radio Wales by Adam Walton, much to the surprise of everyone, including the self-confessed non-jam-fan himself, and with Ellie pointing out ‘it’s 6 minutes long – that’s not a radio song!’
you’re just watching it and thinking, why is this happening? It eats away at you a little bit
When it comes to the lyrics, Ellie is a lone writer, with some tracks vulnerable and self-reflective about insecurities, with Kerry picking up the sitar to sink into the more mesmeric sides of their sound on the acoustic version of She Goes Her Own Way, which Nitelife premiered earlier this month. Meanwhile, other tracks have a clear vexation that drives the songs as a kind of outcry. Ellie explains: ‘There are a lot of frustrating things in the world that you can’t do anything about and you’re just watching it and thinking, why is this happening? It eats away at you a little bit. Or it has been for me anyway, really eating away. So I have to just slam something out.’ This is the steer of Be My Friend, a social comment on the turmoil of modern politics, combined with social media’s ability to make us feel simultaneously self-righteous and isolated.
With Ellie explaining she’s better at singing than talking, self-appointed interpreter Kerry goes on to state jokingly ‘this is how Ellie feels’ and then perceptively explains the premise behind the song: ‘There are all sorts of outrage on Facebook, but is anyone actually doing anything? You like it on Facebook and share it, but “are you going to be my friend?” or “are you gonna stand up for me?”. I don’t want to demonise social media, it’s so easy to put the blame on something because its relatively new. There’s definitely a lot of power in social media and it’s helped a lot of movements, but it’s about starting those conversations and putting them in to action. Not just a like. To this, Pete responds: ‘If that was a Facebook status I would like it’. Ellie: ‘I would heart that, mate’ and Rhys: ‘And then keep scrolling…’
No Violet are clearly good friends; meeting at uni, they’ve come together in their joined desire to play with Ellie. Kerry messaged her with the nonchalant ‘anything that you do, can I play on it?’ Meanwhile Pete asserts that his desire to play with Ellie had nothing to with music, going on to explain the mess he’s found himself in: ‘Before I knew it I was in your band…and now I’m here’. Various digs of playing the seriously long game ensue, with Pete’s frank agreement that the game has indeed been ‘longer than expected’.
All this jovial jibbing should serve them well for their upcoming tour, hitting the road for three weeks with Bristol Math trio Chiyoda Ku, with four UK dates before launching off on a fully fledged European tour. Rolling on from this they’re creating and releasing new videos later in the year and even heading back in to the studio before Christmas. It’s an ambitious, whirlwind of a schedule and I ask if they’ve reached a kind of watershed with their career so far, gaining the confidence to just go for it. ‘We’ve been getting a good response, so it’s like…oh okay’ says Kerry. ‘We’ve got to the point where we’re like, let’s do this.’
Words by Megan India McGurk
Photos by Dominika Scheibinger