The New Old Stylings of Violet Vector and the Lovely Lovelies
Posted April 19, 2008
Carrboro — When the fine people from WRAL asked me to blog about my favorite local band, my immediate response was that I don't have a favorite. There are a lot of good bands in the triangle area, and I have yet to see most of them. So I asked myself: what bands are happening NOW? Chapel Hill's Violet Vector and the Lovely Lovelies (MySpace) are most definitely the heppest of the hepcats and recently released their first self-titled EP, available here on iTunes or from their label, Holidays For Quince Records.
The standout hit single is "Can You Dig It", which was selected by music blog Idolator as song of the year!
To be sure, the EP has some rough edges, but what makes VVLL special is that lead instigator Amanda Brooks obviously has vision. You know from the start that if you see them live you are going to have a great time, groovin' to their infectious major key musical Prozac.
So I dialed up the band on the interwebs (using only vintage computer equipment of course) and invited them to do an email interview. How could we be so lucky?
David: How did the band get together and evolve?
Amanda Brooks: In fall 2005 I was determined to have a somewhat psychedelic, super happy pop band with a lot of organ and handclaps and tambourine. That's all I knew. I had always played keyboards in other bands and decided I needed to try something new so I learned guitar. I knew Karen because she was a stylist at Moshi Moshi, the hair salon where I was working as a receptionist. She told me she had played piano back in high school so I asked if maybe she would want to try playing in a rock band. We had our first practice at the salon after hours, just the two of us. She was super shy about it at first but by the end of practice was totally rocking out. I was so happy because I knew I had found the perfect person. I just knew it. She had all of this classical training but was in love with Led Zeppelin. I begged her to be in this band with me even though I hardly knew what I was doing on guitar and somehow she was convinced! After that, there were a bunch of lineup changes but Karen stuck with me through all of it. I met Cathleen at a birthday party and immediately knew she needed to be in my band too. She had never touched an instrument in her life but was so incredibly enthusiastic and hilarious and I knew she would be perfect. She started out just doing handclaps and tambourine but then ended up developing a bigger interest in music and learned glockenspiel and we got her these really cool rainbow handbells. After some other lineup changes and preliminary recording, we got Alex on bass. He knew everything about the 1960s, built our pedal boards, taught us about tons of stuff, and pretty much became our band hero! He also introduced us to Doug, after the abrupt departure of our previous drummer. We thought our band was falling apart but Doug jumped right in and saved the day. He and Alex knew all the songs before we even had our first practice together. I was so depressed because our old drummer had left. I thought it could never be the same. And the first time the five of us played together, it ended up sounding better than it ever had. I was (and still am) so happy that we all found each other. I love these people...they are my very best friends in the whole world.
D: What other bands have the VVLLs played in?
Amanda: I started my first band when I was 8. We were called Sassy and I played a sweet Casio keyboard. You may know us from hit singles like "Call me up baby when your down" and "I'm Your Lover." After that...Model Rocket, My Dear Ella, The Gondoliers.
Karen Blanco: South Mecklenburg High School Marching Band (Flute Section Leader 2 years in a row, baby!)
Alex Maiolo: The Absolute Beginners was my first real band, then about 20 others that nobody remembers. More recently I've played with Tim Sommer in Hi Fi Sky.
Doug Edmunds: The Seen, Cowabunga, Gladhands, Velvet, The Stars Explode.
Cathleen Keyser: Hall and Oates
D: You have some of the coolest vintage instruments! Tell us about them. Where do you find stuff like that?
Amanda: The coolest instrument we have is the Whitehall combo organ. It's bright red with rainbow lights and sounds a lot like a Farfisa. When Karen joined the band I was determined to make organ the lead instrument so we had to find the grooviest thing possible that no one else had. And then last year, Alex found her a Hohner Pianet...
Alex: The most common electric pianos are The Rhodes and the Wurlitzers. People fight about these things the way they fight about whether Paul or John was the better Beatle. We picked the third option; the George Harrison of the electric piano world, the Hohner Pianet T. Small, compact, effective... deadly. Well, not deadly, but it has a lovely sound.
The Zombies and The Beatles used an earlier version. Ours is ca. 1970. You can still find them on Ebay sometimes. I encourage people to buy them so ours will skyrocket in value overnight. Some of our gear is reissue. That way you get reliability with vintage vibe, at a cost that let's you buy two at half the cost of one original. I think I may have lost serious cool points by admitting that, but it's the truth! We grew up listening to bands that used Vox, Danelectro, Rickenbacker, Farfisa, and other vintage gear when it was still known as "this year's model," so we are just attracted to things that sound the right way, whether it's actually old or not.
Cathleen: I first started out with this very cheap glockenspiel, which I affectionately named a "crapenspiel" and then somehow my mother heard from someone that their kid was selling their glockenspiel from highschool band. so $50 bucks later, the rest is history.
D: It seems like a lot of bands are putting out EPs these days instead of full length CDs. You described your current EP as the first in a series. What's the plan?
Amanda: I am a very slow songwriter. I'd rather put out 5 songs every year that I really worked hard on than 12 songs every 2 or 3 years, mostly because I am too impatient to wait for myself to finish that many songs. We will be recording the next EP late this summer and it will come out in February 2009. Unless I become abnormally prolific, Violet Vector will probably always release EPs.
D: How do you write new material?
Amanda: I tend to obsess over one song for at least a month. I get one very specific idea going and then try 1,000 different things to express that idea until I get it right. A lot of trial and error. I try to imagine these magical worlds, put myself inside of them, and use the songs as a way to explain them to other people. They come out sounding happy because they are essentially what I do to make myself feel happy. It's not about expressing my version of reality as much as it is describing some kind of alternate reality. You know, where there is always a rainbow in the sky and the grass is made of purple velvet.
Alex: Amanda always starts with the main idea and the lyrics. She really does write the songs. Then she brings them to us and we do anything from toss in the odd idea, to adding in parts or even some arranging, depending on what the song needs. Ultimately she has veto power but she's never been precious about anything. We respect what she's trying to do and work hard to be sympathetic to her ideas, and in turn, she respects us.
Doug: It's been really cool working up arrangements as a band for some of Amanda's new material. She'll come in with a killer new tune, then everyone works together to contribute ideas and flesh out their individual parts.
D: What covers do you perform? I noticed you have one by Bonnie St. Claire. How do you pick them?
Amanda: Bonnie St. Claire is awesome! I heard "Tame me Tiger" on this great compilation of Dutch girl groups from the 1960s and fell in love with it. . The first cover Karen and I ever played together was "Imposters of Life's Magazine" by The Idle Race. We have also done "Arnold Layne" by Pink Floyd, "Bend me shape me" by the Models, "Big Sky" by the Kinks, "Little Red Book" by Love, and "Good in Everyone" by Sloan.
Alex: ..which I think is the best pop song ever written, by any band, even though I generally love the older pop tunes the most.
Karen: Since I'm not so great at witty stage banter, we decided to have some snippets of songs to play while Amanda tunes her guitar on stage. I recently rediscovered my undying love of Led Zeppelin, so I thought I'd force the band to play the riffs of some of my favorite songs, such as "Moby Dick" and "Dazed and Confused." So now Amanda can get perfectly in tune and I get to pretend I'm Jimmy Page with a combo organ.
Cathleen: I have been trying to convince them to play "Dr. Feelgood" for over a year but they just don't understand how rad it is.
D: Tell us about signing with Holidays For Quince Records.
Amanda: Originally we were just going to put it out ourselves but they came in at the last minute and wanted to do it. We really liked them and we went with it. The recording was already done because we did it ourselves with our first drummer Matt.
Doug: Heather and Jenks are really good people. They dug the VVLL sound based on some early shows and hearing the recordings before they'd been totally finished---and before Alex and I even joined the band. Last fall we all met with them over coffee one night and hashed out the basics of a very simple contract, for just this one record. HFQ agreed to handle manufacturing costs and distribution, while both parties would obviously pitch in on promotion.
Cathleen: Having backing from HFQ really gave us an opportunity to have an entirely locally produced EP. From the mixing (Brain Paulson) and mastering (Nick Petersen) to the cover design (Dan Warfield), every part of our EP came from the Paris of the Piedmont. Its like grass fed local beef for your ears.
D: You had cake and prizes at your last show?!?!? What did those lucky winners win?
Amanda: We love cake and prizes! We gave away little kaleidoscopes and magnifying glasses and magic wands. It was like a little kid's birthday party.
Cathleen: we also handed out prize bags filled with jewels, cash, and memorabilia from our trip to Graceland.
D: What should we do this Saturday, April 19th?
Amanda: Obviously, you should be getting ready for the greatest holiday ever, 4/20.
Alex: But before that, you should drop by the Cat's Cradle for the WCOM benefit. We are very lucky to have a Low Power FM station in our area, and people should support it. We go on at 11pm, but make sure to get there early because the line up is excellent.
Cathleen: Take that someone special to our show at the Cradle. Supporting local music will make them think you are the bees' knees!
Doug: The Cat's Cradle is definitely the place to be. Support local music, support community radio!