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March Violets - Interview

  by Helen Tipping

published: 18 / 5 / 2011

March Violets - Interview


Helen Tipping chats to Si Denbigh and Tom Ashton from reformed Leeds-based alternative rockers the March Violets about what the future holds for them, and their forthcoming debut album which will be released through Pledge Music.

With a mini tour, including performing at Leipzig Wave Goffik Treffen, an EP 'Love Will Kill you' out and an album due shortly, the March Violets have been very busy over the past few months. The Leeds-based group were once signed to the Sisters of Mercy's Merciful Release records. They got back together for a reformation gig in 2007 for the first time since the mid 1980s with original members Si Denbeigh (vocals), Rosie Garland (vocals) and Tom Ashton (guitar), and Mat Thorpe standing in for Loz Elliott (bass). They then reformed fully last year, after Rosie had recuperated from cancer, and with Jo Violet now taking over on bass. Si Denbigh and Tom Ashton spoke to Pennyblackmusic and responded to questions covering subjects as diverse as Pledging, electronic music, teaching for a Leeds charity and cats. They also spoke about lots more as well. Read on to find out what they’ve been up to and what the future holds for the March Violets. PB: Your EP is due out in June, and you've been taking pledges to finance the release of an album. Have you found the pledge system to work well, or is it rather stressful having to wait to see if you'll get enough money? SD: I would recommend it as a business model to replace the other ways of financing a record. You find out who your real fans are, and how many! And they have, for the Violets, been thoroughly wonderful and patient and understanding. Life kind of got in the way with things we couldn't predict, and we could not realistically finish the LP when we said we could. We have got round this by doing an EP and giving it to our fans as something on the way to the final LP. Everyone seems okay with this, and it is a tribute to the fans in every sense. But okay, the boring bit for any artists thinking of going this route...You must realise that you have to do all the stuff you promised to do. You have to figure how much work this will involve, what it will cost and when you are going to do it. Some things are easy, for instance giving someone a download, or even posting a CD, but if it's a guitar lesson, or a private gig, the logistics kick in. Also, with Pledge Music, they take 15% off the top. So they are even taking a cut of the postage costs. Then there is the charity percentage, so you may finally only be getting say 70% total of the money you are pledged. And they only give you 60% of your target when you hit it. Then you have to do all the recording and fulfil all your pledges before you get the remaining percent, and any extra past the target. So you need to make sure that you can definitely do all that with only 60% of your target. Another weird thing seems to be the way everything dies off a little after you have reached your target. I think that might be more to do with the attitude of our generation of fans. They kind of go, "Oh, you've reached your target... sorted. I'll wait for the LP and then buy it." I get the impression that the fans of younger bands might see it as a way to pre-order the record, hence more pledges for downloads. We also found that some people really didn't get the concept at all. It isn't actually an easy thing to explain. As a DIY method it, however, fits my desire to be independent, something fiercely held since the start of the Violets. PB: In what way do you feel the music has moved on from your beginnings in the 1980s? SD: Well, I think all our experiences come into play. For my part, I have been involved in lots of other styles of music, in particular hip hop, and electronic music and lots of live electronic jamming in Germany. But in some senses that isn't too far a departure from the early Violets. We were using drum machines. The beats and grooves then were the forerunners of hip hop and dance music. During the late 80s/early 90s I would hear Acid and House and Techno and just think ... Hmm that's just the rhythm track from a Violets song but before the guitars are put on. The electronics of the Linn Drum was the embryo for the AKAI MPC, which is the staple of hip hop, and of course the 808 and 909 Roland sounds are totally integral to dance music. So... in some ways it hasn't moved on, just become easier to record using computers. I can work with Tom who is based in the US by sending files back and forth. It's not totally ideal, being in the same room helps to make music, obviously. But I just treat it as a different way of working... and I think we are getting good results. I am pretty happy. They are not the same tracks they would be if we spent a few weeks all together, but that is kind of impossible at the moment. I also think that both I and Rosie have improved with age! Her voice is incredible, and I'm actually singing, as best I can. There is an unaccountable accessibilty occuring, a pop sensibility that I have always felt, though still with a slightly dark twist. Lyrically and musically, I have been writing some stuff that I'm really pleased with. I have had a great many ideas over the years, and some of them are finally being realised and revealed. It's very exciting to me. They are my babies and have been growing and developing inside, some for decades. I want to give birth and see what the world makes of them. Ha ha. It is also a great creative thing to be inspired by the other members of the band. I love it. When a fantastic thing is just plonked in front of you, and you totally get it, and can see what you can add to it and where you can take it. Creativity... better than crack. TA: I still have my old school guitar style which hasn't deserted me yet I'm happy to report Plus you can add in the ways that technology has moved things forward allowing us to write in both old and new styles as we develop and adapt the Violets sound to the 22nd Century. PB: What other music has helped to influence and develop you all from those early days? SD: A massive and varied selection. All sorts, and with music you have to put the time in. I've had lots of different enthusiasms and gone for various styles at various times.... you know, you have a Dubstep phase, or get into SpeedBrass for a while, but always take the best bits and keep on moving. It helps to actually try and make that type of music too... and I will do. I draw the line at crap Country and Western and really stupid Death Metal... though actually, they might mash up really well... Hmmmmm. No, best not. TA: Massive Attack, Chemical Brothers, Future Sound Of London and Death in Vegas on the techno side...Radiohead have been a big influence, Nine Inch Nails, Ladytron...the list goes on...Also going back and finding all the earlier punky influences like the Stranglers, Buzzcocks, Magazine, Banshees Bauhaus, Crass and Joy Division....all the stuff I loved in the couple of years just before the Violets formed. PB: Can you tell us some more about the new album? Who has been the main driving force behind it? SD: Well it is coming together, and is very diverse. As it should be. The Violets have never really been restrictive in styl. We always did whatever we wanted. In fact I think that conforming to what the Music Business 'experts' dictated was what killed the band back in the eighties, certainly for me. There are all sorts of tracks, from very traditional recognisable Violets Classics to more experimental stuff, even a kind of sea shanty and some opera! And that's what is great about this and doing a proper album. We can follow all the stuff that attracts us, chase the interesting shiny lights and not have to conform. There should be some ugly stuff as well as the beautiful, and not everything will sit easy with you. Driving Force...I think I am. The Fat Controller! And though I have a large ego (constantly under control, of course) it's mainly because I've been able to concentrate all my time on it for the last few months. Everyone else has a life! I just seem to have been constantly doing this for fucking ages. 24/7. And the amount of admin is ridiculous, what with setting up the Pledge thing, arranging gigs, videos, doing the artwork for posters flyers, covers etc, dealing with people, oh god, that's the hardest for me.. never mind writing an album! PB: You've all been involved with solo projects. In fact I've seen Rosie as Rosie Lugosi a few times. How have your solo/other group experiences contributed to the Violets sound now? SD: I think I've covered that.... Though teaching music techology (mainly for Leeds Charity Cloth Cat... check it out and support them) has helped from a technical side. (PB note: link to the charity page is http://www.clothcatleeds.org.uk/ ) PB: Si, you are also writing for the 'Alternative Community' online magazine and have just published your first article there. I really liked the article your experiences that you described in it in the early 1980s were very similar to my own then. Is writing prose rather than lyrics something you likely to continue with? SD: I have a few unfinished books on the go: a couple of novels and a guide to stagecraft from my experience of actually making a living from all aspects of the shitty music industry... for 30 years. Fuck, it really is that long! I've been on stage in various guises since before many of your readers will have been born! So yes, I do like writing, and someday will get to it properly. The Sinzine thing (A Cat With Thumbs) is my first blog, I'll see where it goes, should be interesting. And I think words are words and it's all grist to the mill, anything with words can be fun. Oh, I am glad you had the similar experience. It was good, wasn't it? :) PB: You now have Jo from SBA on bass with you. Are you going to make use of her violin skills as well? SD: We already have. You can hear it echoing all over the 'We Are All Gods' track on the 'Love Will Kill You' EP. And that was mad. It's one of those tracks I've had brewing for years. In fact I actually did a t-shirt at our 2007 reunion gig because I thought we would recording it and putting it on the 'Trinity' EP. That must be a first, the T-shirt before the song! But back to Jo Violet, yes, violin, yes! More. Maybe live too someday. I don't have any problem with programmed bass lines, if they work. Though Jo is a great bass player too. She's probably the most musical amongst us. She thinks in music. I think in shapes. It's great to be able to ask her musical questions. And she is very pretty and likes cats. PB: You've got a few festivals coming up during the year and other gigs, what are you plans for later in the year? SD: I am not sure yet, I have a lot of stuff with the Sisters of Mercy, Rosie is pretty busy writing a one woman show she has being commissioned for, as well as all the other stuff she does. And Jo and Tom have really busy lives too. So... the idea is to finish the LP, and maybe do a launch party, which probably means a couple of gigs round it, or should I say events? That is what I see Violets shows as... rare and interesting events. I can't see us ever doing the long tours... I've done that and I'm not really interested. It is very gruelling. So, if you can make a show, please come along... don't be expecting us to be coming round to your neck of the woods automatically. We are not a jobbing band and really are not doing the major tour thing. PB: And finally, now you are back together and working well together, do you see the band continuing in its current form? TA: Absolutely...it's great fun working together on the newer material as the album pulls together for release later this year...we are all really excited about how the latest songs are coming together. SD: Be nice, wouldn't it? PB: Thank you. The photographs that accompmnaybthis article were taken exclusively for Pennyblackmusic by Neil Bailey,

March Violets - Interview

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Cockpit, Leeds, 4/6/2011
At a show in their hometown of Leeds, Helen Tipping watches 1980's Gothic-band the March Violets play a show which incorporates newer influences including dance music

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