VIOLET HIRST & HER BAND — PHOTO BY ISABELLE CULPAN
I have always said that V is a lonely letter of the Alphabet, so as far as I was concerned, Violet Hirst was a comrade by default. Though, as we bonded over Joni Mitchell and an unyielding struggle to find our voice as songwriters, it was clear there was something distinctive about Violet. It only really takes one listen of her latest record Donegal to observe that…
Vera: I don't know about this word but I feel like I just want to say, the record is world-class in terms of just the level of songwriting. If you could describe Donegal in three words for anyone who hasn't maybe listened to you before, what would you say…
Violet: Homely. Playful maybe? Can we come back to this?
Vera: Sure. It's been out for just over 3 months now which is crazy. What do you feel like you've learnt about the record after its release? Has your relationship changed with the album now in terms of how you perceive or even enjoy it?
Violet: I used to listen to it a lot in transit like on the bus or walking around, as you do when you're imagining what it would be like for anyone else to hear it. But as soon as it came out, that stopped. I haven't listened to the whole album since. It’s nice to not feel attached to it, that means I don’t feel so revealed, it’s only revealing of a past self.
PHOTO BY CARLA CAMILLERI
"The day it came out I felt quite numb. I listened to it on a streaming service and then just cried. I think there is a loss of not being as attached to that emotion as you once were. And I think all good change encounters some grief."
Vera: I know that emotion. How do you relate to that in terms of when you're doing live performance? In a new way? Or do you try to take yourself back into that headspace?
Violet: I think both. On tour it's a musical performance for me, like I’m acting. I performed those songs for a long time before I released them, so I really got a good habit of knowing how.. But I always like to allow that new space to come through to see if you can hear a line differently as you're singing it. That’s always fun, do you ever get that?
Vera: If I’m performing a song for more than 6 months or something, I start hearing all these alternate melodies. But it’s funny as an audience member, when you have spent time with the record and you take it in a certain way, and then you hear it live and the performer has changed it.
Violet: I love that though. That’s my favorite thing, when the performer is showing up real, who they are at that time and when there's new things to pick up on. I actually really hate when I go to a gig and it's like it's just listening to the album… I could just listen to the album.
PHOTO BY ISABELLE CULPAN
What does the album represent to you in terms of the progression of your songwriting?
Violet: My last release was recorded with a jazz band when I was living in Pōneke. It has a lot of their influence on it. But I was really clear with this album that I wanted to do most of it myself and just work with De Stevens. It was really pulling it back for this one and making sure it was all my voice.
Vera: I saw that you had a lot of creative control and input both with the instrumentation and all the song writing. Is there another reason why that felt really important for you to do?
Violet: I just wasn't happy with the music I was making. That's always hard when you love the people who you're playing with. But it didn't actually feel like the music that I wanted to make or that actually sounded like me. Like the more alternative/singer-songwriter music that I grew up with that I find beautiful. It wasn't striking enough points of beauty for me. I thought if I just took more time and everything was a lot more considered my voice could shine through really clearly. Because maybe I felt like my voice was getting lost.
Vera: It's sort of this weird dissonance you get when you feel like you're performing or doing music that doesn't fully align with what's inside. It's really hard to figure out how to get back to that voice. I can fully relate as someone who loves working with other musicians and loves collaboration and then also is trying to find my own voice.
What is a track on the album that feels important to you right now?
Violet: I would say 'please write home' right now.
Vera: I love that song.
Violet: I’m glad you like it. It has always been one of my favourites. Maybe even because we're coming into summer now. I wrote it after a festival at my friend's dads house and he had this honky piano. Actually that’s why the song is in A Flat and not A because the Piano was detuned. I wrote it then and then I drove back to Wellington from Hawkes Bay for like three hours and I wrote it in the car trying to keep myself entertained.
Then Reuben and I got together to demo it. It was one of those sunny days, just the mic in the room, you can hear the kids outside on the beach and the wind coming in through the window and our voices just whispering. So when we recorded it I just tried to recreate that as much as possible. That's why I put in wind chimes that I got from around the neighborhood.
Vera: Yeah I was going to ask about all that ambient sound, that’s cool. You just released a gorgeous video for Descending Song. Your performance in the video is so passionate and present.
Violet: The video is just trying to create a portrait of how I usually perform the song live. I quite often end up crawling and rolling on the floor when moving to my songs, as if crawling out of something. So it’s nice to have that in a video. I’m huge fans of Oli, Jess and Sharvon as dancers and artist - and collaborated with them each in the past (a live performance at the Old Folks ASS of Brave Me, and also a piece at Performance Arcade) so I couldn’t wait to have them in a video. Movement is a huge part of my process.
Vera: To return to my first question… Do you have a third word to describe Donegal?
You can listen to Violet's debut album Donegal via Bandcamp HERE, or preview it below via Spotify.
Violet is also hosting a special Christmas Spectacular concert in collaboration with Kane Strang this weekend at Maggies, Ōtepoti. Tickets available HERE via Undertheradar.