Interview – The Violet May

It’s a slightly chilly day in September at the front side of the Showroom Cinema. There, Chris Mcclure and a friend of his are having a conversation about, well, life in general. The best type. I join in for a while and we talk about the current state of radio, not only in the UK, but also in Mexico. I drop the bombshell that there’s barely any radio stations playing rock in a city as big as Mexico City (with 20+ million people) and the response is an honest “wow”. Chris’ friend eventually bids farewell and we are joined by John (guitar, keyboard) and Jono (guitar).

We eventually go inside into a table where it’s less uncle willy. The instrumental music in the back sounds overbearing, almost like a Café del Mar compilation (not one of the good ones). John, Jono and Chris are three fifths of The Violet May, a very punchy quintet from Sheffield. Their pints bubble, sometimes in a mesmerising synchronized movement. I stop rambling and remember that I actually need to ask them a few questions…

So, what’s the origin of the name The Violet May?

Jono: The Violet May is the name of an old record shop. There was an old lady called Violet May who used to run record shops, from the seventies to the eighties, I think?

Chris: From the sixties to eighties, I think it was.

Jono: She had three different shops. It’s was the place where you could get kind of American Northern Soul type of music in Sheffield, some underground 60s stuff.

Chris: Any Sheffield guy would go there and get their records. She was a bit of a dodgy character, if you didn’t buy anything, she would tell you to fuck off. She’s some sort of urban myth. Sadly passed away, but we are named after that.

How did you meet?

John: We were in different bands and then we just started playing together, like a side-project, really. I finished my previous band and started doing side-projects. It ended up taking off, really. I was working with Chris in an office, I knew Jono from being in bands. Alan, the drummer, from years ago and Dan, the bassist, we knew he played, so he was alright, well “get in there!”.

Chris: We kinda met really, didn’t know what each other were doing, we got on together, but helps out, don’t it? It was a miracle, we get on like family members, just good, I like that, wanna keep it together, don’t ya?

Would you like to talk about your influences as musicians?

John: A lot of different ones, really. Our drummer’s into metal and electro stuff. I’m quite into dark American rock music sort of thing, Jono’s very much into his blues and punk, Black Flag and that stuff. I just bring what works, really. And Chris’ into old geezer’s music (laughs).

Chris: I’ll listen to…I just fell out of love with guitar music, really. Before I met this lot, I was into English pop and all that. When John played ideas for this new band, it brought back my love for guitar music, which is really my first love, really, so it made sense. I never thought about being in a band. I thought that if I wanted to be in a band, it had to smack me in the face and then I heard the demos from these guys (points at John and Jono). It was mental, I loved their guitar music.

How did the Italy tour come together?

Jono: A man, I think his name is Mario…

John, Chris: Demetrio!

Jono: Demetrio! He got in touch with James from the label we work with, Oh Inverted World in London. We had a single out with them. We do plan to go work with them [Oh Inverted World] in the future.

Chris: We are an unsigned band; we spend lots of time working and practicising and played in cities like Leeds, Manchester, Bradford and I loved playing there. Now, to get to go to Italy is a great payoff, really, for a band with no money. Four gigs there is just amazing. They love British bands there, they do. We’ll give them a good time.

Good luck! I think the Italian audience will like you.

Chris: We hope so! (laughs)

(Editors’ note: They did well! – Q&M)

You’ve released the double A-side ‘Bright or better’ and ‘This crowd is overcrowded’, do you know how well has the physical copy been received?

Chris: In terms of buying it, I don’t think anyone bought it, but it’s been noticed and downloads are doing well.

John: Yes, downloads!

Chris: Downloads been getting us press.

Jono: It’s more about getting our name out there, innit? It’s an experience we wanted. We got a lot of good feedback from it, which was what we wanted.

Chris: And to back it up, we’ve got Steve Lamacq, we got national press, so we got some attention now. It did its job. Physical didn’t do well, but if I wanted to listen to a band, I’d rather nick it than pay 15 quid! (laughs). At least now they are aware that we exist.

Now that you’ve tested the waters, would you go for an album?

John: We’d like to get one done, but I think we’d rather leave it for a little longer. Writing wise, we are all very busy, everyone’s working…

Jono: So maybe a couple of more singles before, then the album.

Chris: The album, you want to make it like “this is who we are”. It’s your piece of art, innit? Couple of little releases more, and then make an album.

Jono: Maybe an EP first.

Chris: An EP and build upon that. Début albums have to be absolute statements.

John: It needs enough time. It would mean driving down to London every weekend, and trying to squeeze it all in between day jobs. We all want to do that album but we need to concentrate in getting it done. Always try and do well what you do.

Chris: You want to set time to make it. It would be nice to quit our jobs and fully concentrate in making that one absolute banger of an album.

Yes, it’s you calling card, you want to make a good effort.

Chris: Yeah, yeah. You have to put the effort ‘cause nothing comes for free, isn’t it? We all are doing our best.

John: I think that when you are a band in the North and you’ve got no industry up here and the only thing you can get signed is like, coffee table albums, non offensive to anyone, which isn’t what people want. People want rock music and metal music and electro music. They don’t need this jingly jangly sort of music. There’s always this sort of fan based music that they want rock music, really. It’s just seems that everything is basically orientated to boy bands with guitars at the moment, singing about going with girls to the toilet and being sick. Or how suitably it would be to meet someone’s mum or summink like that. I don’t like it! My friends don’t like it! We just go for old stuff.

Chris: A lot of people tell me “guitar music is dead” and that’s bullshit to me! There’s bands in every city, from Scotland to England to Wales to Ireland doing stuff. But they don’t get the time of day to express themselves, you know what I mean?

John: The problem with the industry in England is that even if we have the proudest history of Rock, going on for years, but the industry is not doing a showcase of what we have at the moment.

Chris: It’s on its arse, really! Money is only given to Pop. Everyone’s thinking “there’s a recession”, so they want a short-term answer to the problem. They don’t see further into other pockets, and remember what we were talking about Mexico City? There’s pockets of people who are dying to listen something that means something to them, not production-line bullshit. Everyone knows what it’s like…

John: Way I see it, if I had someone from America coming up to me and saying “oh, we have all these brilliant bands, what have you got?” I prety much would be stuck. I’d really be pushing to do an inventory of what’s coming up here. There is stuff there, but you don’t get to hear it. It’s not being pushed by a label. They don’t want to spend money, that’s okay, but they need to ask “how much money is being given to a football star” and think how much they could do with a rock band. They need a little more foresight. I don’t work in the record industry, I don’t know how it is, but I’m trying to see why they can’t see that people need to hear rock.

Chris: I think if you see at any point in history of music that bands that made a dent were the ones that took a risk. If you tell me something’s not gonna happen, I’m gonna make it happen.

John: Punk records…

Chris: Yeah! A creation that puts a belief in. You can sell people all the bullshit that you want, but eventually they are gonna realise it IS bullshit. Someone who takes a risk and believes in what they do will ultimately get the grand reward. Now it’s the time, definitely. Someone needs to take a risk and put the money into something that is real.

John: You get these talent shows on tv. People get fed all this crap, all this manufactured stuff done by money-grubbing companies, it’s rubbish.

Chris: It’s like gigs. Say where, when and how many and that’s it. Not make people pay for play. That bad is the music industry at this moment. It has to come from people, like Punk did in 1977, not from a CEO. How long can they draw water from the same well? Something’s gotta give.

(To Jono) Something else?

Jono: That’ll do (laughs)

Chris: What’s a 16 year old kid growing up in Hartlepool or Carlyle or Manchester gotta believe in nowadays? There’s nothing to inspire them into “I want to do that! I want to sound like that!”

John: They are never gonna do anything, so they’ll be neutered…

Chris: Like Ken from Ken and Barbie!

John: Mercury Rev is one of my favourite bands , they do great guitar music.

Jono: Fucking great guitar music, makes everything bassy, makes you wake up in the morning.

Chris: If you are talking about guitar music, our stuff desperately needs someone to believe in it. We are something real. This is just us, this is our songs, we made this music.

Jono: Yeah, no fancy haircuts, just a real deal. Good songs and…good people!

Yeah, and image won’t last forever. Riffs can last forever.

John: Yeah, there’s really nothing going on. I’ve been to gigs in town, you watch them and you want to go “nooo…”

Chris: That’s rubbish! You just want to say “where the fuck’s me popcorn?” Something’s gotta give, I don’t know what it is…

John: People are not going to take it always.

Chris: You go around and see how people look all tensed up. Pissed off.

John : I got friends from Spain that come here and say everyone looks stressed and blunt.

Chris: Everyone is down and we need a band that just go and say “fuck it!”. I know it’s cliché, but “forget about your job, forget about all that bullshit you have in your head and come out and just be happy, enjoy yourselves, man”. Everyone needs a moment. The moment is ripe. Someone’s gotta do it.

Jono: Even if it’s a random band in a night, you just turn up in your fucking local haunt and ‘ave it! Love it, it changes the way it is.

Sometimes you need someone who’s playing live instead of pressing keyboards. Nothing against keyboards, though!

Jono: Keyboard’s fine! But just what you said about Mexico. If it’s not a place for it, it’s happening in little garages and if people want it, people want it to happen!

John: People will go on and play air guitar and then go and practice…

Chris: That comes from the band, then from the music industry. People who are watching it also need to get involved. It comes from the promoters; it has to be a collective push! And a certain amount of luck, I think.

John: If people want musicians to make brilliant music like in other countries, then they need to get involved too!

Jono: People need to support their local venues, support their local bands, not just the major national acts. The local venues and bands are the people that need you the most. Get involved and make a difference.

I used to go to a lot of concerts in Mexico, but it was always big arenas or gig halls like the academy, never small places. So you see someone perform in a big place and you think “yeah, cool”. But when you have somebody in front of you, interacting…

Chris: Of course man!

you remember that. You connect with that.

Jono: That or have someone with you next to the bar and listen to a band. That’s what it should be about.

Chris: I love it! Two of my best gigs I’ve seen have been in stadiums, it’s not stuff that’s born out of anything, it’s been travelling around, from little venues and they earned their place in a festival.

They’ve done their homework.

Chris: They’ve done their homework, done the graph.

John: It’s not an easy thing to do today. The lack of industry, it costs a lot to travel around. You need someone so organised for it.

Chris: A lot of venues now are doing, ‘cause everyone’s skint and all, I don’t understand the logic, but they say “right, you can play at this venue but you gotta sell 30 tickets”. And it’s like “What? Do I have to beg all?” We play a gig to get fans, we don’t get fans to play a gig. It’s the opposite now, what the hell are the promoters doing then? Support the band that sells the more tickets! Then he just sits by the bar and get drunk. I think that you need a DIY attitude, cut all the bullshit and put it all yourself.

John: Some of the best nights you can go out to are DIY, aren’t they? Some people go absolutely mental. We get bands that we like, not bands that bring people.

Chris: We need a bit of cash; all of us do, of course. But we’d rather do lose money or make no money and have a good gig. I think we are going to start doing that.

(Editors’ note : this was said before the band’s gig at The Office Pub, a gig organised by the band and their friends – Q&M)

What you just mentioned about paying to play and hoops that you need to jump around, is that why on Facebook you said that you were stopping gigs at city centre?

Chris: Yes. I read an interview with another band called Dead Sons, and they played in a theatre in town, and I can understand that. Everyone is bored of seeing the same: all the plastic drinks, the same bands, the same places, where if you go mental and start moshing, they chuck you out! You can’t crowd surf, you gotta watch the lights. I’m not saying: go into a venue and absolutely trash it. That’s not what I’m saying. But when you allow people to have a good time, do what you want, you let people be themselves and have a good time. In the city centre, some wine bars are putting gigs in and you are not allowed to stand! “Be all rigid!” Where they in line in CBGBs in New York? It’s all upside down. The wrong people are in charge of the wrong things.

John: If people go mental, you know the band is getting at something.

Chris: That just happens with live music. It comes with it. If you don’t want it…

It’s a rock concert, not a recital…

Chris: Exactly!

Last one, for Jono and John, do you have any particular effect that you like?

John: (laughs)

Jono: Do I have one? Wow, no. The really important thing is the tone of the guitar and the amp. That’s it for me. Effects are for fun. Guitar alone sounds good without them? Good, then everything else is layers. It’s about the amp too, that’s what we do.

John: It’s generally not too much pedals for us, we use some, but not that proggy (!).

Jono: Buy the biggest box amp that you can, man!

Big enough to snap one of your discs?

Jono: Yes!

John: The more in pain you are in, the better your amp is!

Jono: I trashed up my guitar last time that we played in London. It was all my fault. Probably played a machine head with a Les Paul that was lent to me by the kind people of Gibson, thank you to them…

Say, what was that you were saying about doing music on one take?

Chris: Oh, yeah. We were having a conversation about recording and doing demos and stuff. It’s wicked, it’s like playing in a pub live. We try to do a live recording on this weekend. Sometimes the imperfections in music are being lost with all that digital stuff.

John: You know the 80s production where they could control everything…Play Pantera for that, no scratches.

Chris: It’s nice to have that back. Play it as it is, no bullshit in between. This is the microphone, this is the band and do it. I don’t say don’t use technology, you have to move with times, of course, but it would be nicer to bring it back to its bare bones, you know what I mean?

We continue talking about live music, mentioning a few genres of electronic music that sounds good live. Chris mentions Dubstep, Jono and John mention Electro. They make an emphasis that they are not snobby about genres, but they enjoy playing rock band and their fans (specially the ones in Italy) seem to agree.

Words: Sam J. Valdés López


The Violet May

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