By Matt Zeidel
We had a chance to catch up with one of Brooklyn's many up-and-coming bands, The Violets. They're a five-person mixed-sex band with influences ranging from Duran Duran to The Doors to Beethoven to Danny Elfman. They play emotive 80s-inspired licks with a free-spirited, gender-bending stage presence. And they’ll be hitting the rest of the country this August as part of the Red Bull Summer 2007 U.S. tour. So we sat down at Vox Pop, a café and bookstore in Flatbush where The Violets are the house band. We spoke with front man and guitarist Alexander Nixon (who works at the place booking other acts), whose stage name is “Mr. Magenta.” 24/7: The names of the band members — “Mr. Magenta,” “Lady Purple,” “Lord Crimson,” “Mr. Yellow,” “Ms. Night Blue” — what’s that about? What are you guys about? Mr. Magenta: We’re just about positive feeling and free expression. At our shows you're in a group that says, “Do whatever you want, express yourself, express your joy.” “Joy” is the key word here. Our music is like [Beethoven’s] Ninth Symphony — there's sometimes a dark edge, but you're looking at the darkness with a smile on your face. Primarily, having a real strong vocal sound is real important, one where you can hear all the words. It’s a rich, leathery sound Colors are very important to what we do. Colors are tied into the name … it's a great nonverbal way of treating music. That's how I hear music: it's like hearing a color, experiencing a color. Like Picasso said, “If I could say it, I wouldn't paint it.” The more you have projections, video documenting … the more light and sound are connected, the more you can get away from the idea of “story” and “content,” propaganda and commercialism, and see how video and music go together. 24/7: So how did the band come to be the way it is now? What is the band now? MM: It's gone through three versions. [In 2000] it started out as a trio … called The Violet Hour, based on the poem “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot. I saw it in a list of the best poetry of the 20th century. My mom is a professor, and had a copy of “The Waste Land.” “The violet hour” is a great way to talk about the creative moment. The Violets have gone through two versions, [the latest of which is only a few months old]. The Violet Hour was guys, but for The Violets a gender-ambiguous sound is important. The guitarist is kind of tough; sometimes I'll don a skirt. There's a sexual element about it, but more importantly there's a playful element. Everyone can dress however they want, and go crazy. 24/7: You all wear (somewhat) coordinated outfits. There seems to some Rocky Horror influence there, with the costumes and cross-dressing. MM: Yeah, there's a bit of bit of Rocky Horror going on, especially in the gender bending. But there's an archetype at work here: it's bohemian. Not too many bands do that … they'll say “We're a metal band,” or “We're a rock band.” But I like the idea of bohemians. They're people who aren't compatible with society, making their own rules. They're kind of funky and they don't fit in … It's gratifying fitting in sometimes, but not all the time. 24/7: You’re originally from Florida and went to college in California. Now, three of the band members live in Flatbush and two live in Williamsburg. What's it like growing as a band in Brooklyn? And how is it different from the West Coast? MM: I really enjoy having Brooklyn as my home. Manhattan is over commercialized. … It's becoming too superficial — even the East Village, where I used to live. We're playing in Brooklyn a lot, getting exposure. New York is definitely kind of the muse. I'm writing about being in the City, writing about facing the adversarial realities of city life, relationships, all that stuff. [California is] a great place to evolve, but not to take action, because you're too cozy. … Brooklyn is fun. I’m content. 24/7: You seem to be fitting right in, especially with a new show on Brooklyn Community Access Television. What’s that going to be like? MM: It's going to be called “The Violet Hour,” and it's going to be 28 minutes long. The premise is that the violets saved this monkey from … a zoo, and in exchange he volunteered to be the host of the show. It’ll go all around the city, showcasing our music. We're calling the episodes “show dates.” It'll have little short segments done by our friends. But thee main character is the monkey host. 24/7: So what’s the greatest thing about walking around the city with a monkey hand puppet? MM: Aside from seeing people smile, it’s the monkey perspective. You can't have the monkey on your hand standing up and shooting. You have to be down at the perspective of monkey, seeing this perspective which is different from everyone else's. You're down on the ground, kind of breaking the rules by being down below people's knees. 24/7: Is anyone ever hostile to the monkey? MM: No one's ever been hostile to the monkey. 24/7: Where does the monkey come from? MM: The original monkey was lost at a Duran Duran concert around two years ago … It was replaced by an arduous consensus among the band members. He's definitely a cute monkey, but a monkey with possibly a sordid past. We're leaving that open for episode two. Between the cross dressing, the hue-based pseudonyms and the meandering primate, The Violets have a sound all their own and a stage show that’s a tough act to follow. The Violets' next show in Brooklyn will be Feb. 24 at 8 p.m. at Freddy's Bar and Backroom, 485 Dean Street. The price has yet to be announced. For more information, visit www.freddysbackroom.com or call (718) 622-7035. For more information on The Violets, including upcoming shows in Manhattan and the Red Bull Summer 2007 U.S. tour, visit www.myspace.com/theviolets.