You have to keep people guessing, but you also have to keep yourselves guessing.
Writing about a subject as well-traveled as love can be tough for some songwriters, but such is not the case for Hey Violet’s Rena Lovelis. Her band’s sophomore EP Brand New Moves recently debuted at #1 artist album on iTunes in both the U.S. and the U.K., and features three distinctly different, yet equally engaging approaches to love. As Hey Violet’s fandom likes to say, it’s a bop.
Released August 2016 (via 5 Seconds of Summer’s Hi or Hey Records/Caroline Music), Brand New Moves shows significant sonic growth from Hey Violet’s debut EP I Can Feel It, released just one year ago. Their new songs are clean and tight, with fat drums and swirling synths that evoke ’80s new wave and post punk influences – a stark departure from the pop-punk and hard rock tones that colored their 2015 debut, as well as the members’ former band, Cherri Bomb.
This is who Hey Violet want to be. “It’s so the music that we want to be doing,” bassist/lead vocalist Rena Lovelis told me. “We’re constantly growing and changing as people and as a band, and so I think our music just kind of goes along with that.”
Consisting of sisters Rena and Nia Lovelis, Miranda Miller, and Casey Moreta, Hey Violet emerged in 2014 in the wake of Cherri Bomb’s dissolution. Miller, the Lovelis sisters, and former member Julia Pierce formed Cherri Bomb in 2008 and rode a wave of rock/punk success for five years before Pierce left over “creative differences.”
In other words, this isn’t Hey Violet’s first rodeo.
But true to its title, Brand New Moves is a notable change in sound for Hey Violet. Perhaps it’s a result of their on and off touring with rock band 5 Seconds of Summer over the past year, or their collaboration with One Direction producer/songwriter Julian Bunetta; perhaps this is the space the four wanted to occupy all along, and it took them a minute to get there.
When you walk into a studio with nothing and come out with something, that music captures a moment – an identifiable time and place – for its maker(s). It’s a moment that cannot be repeated, duplicated, or replaced: It happened, and the music exists as a representative marker of that timestamp. “We really like to take the fans on that journey with us,” Lovelis tells me.
Over the course of three original songs, an acoustic revamp and a stellar remix that would make Kygo proud, Hey Violet bring us up to speed, introducing listeners to their present world. Opening with a hypnotic dance beat, the title track is sultry and seductive, an invitation to get back in bed with the band. “Since the last time we danced I learned some brand new moves,” projects Lovelis. Slowly rolling out her words, the lead singer pays special care and attention to each syllable so as to extract as much intimacy and emotion as possible. She wants this moment to last, and in stressing those lyrics and drawing out her message, she succeeds: “Brand New Moves” becomes that much more special for both artist and listener. By the time Lovelis sings, “I wanna try them on you,” we’re beyond hooked: She can do whatever she likes.
Watch: “Brand New Moves” – Hey Violet
Alongside “Brand New Moves” comes the self-empowered, hard-hitting “Fuqboi” – a rejection of players everywhere – and the introspective, heart-in-hand anthem “Pure” – an open and honest admission of one’s shackles in love. Not only are they three distinctly different, yet equally engaging approaches to love, but also they show three unique musical identities living within Hey Violet’s artistry.
Artists who evolve their sound as they grow are by and large the ones we remember and praise. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Radiohead, Kanye West, (one could go on…) – though varying greatly, these musical acts welcomed reinvention. They are a sampling from a small, but ever-expanding list of celebrated, established artists whose discographies defy singular categorization. Hey Violet aren’t there yet, but their evolution on Brand New Moves suggests that one day, several years from now, they might be. Still a very young band, Hey Violet are full of promise.
Fresh, edgy and sharp, Brand New Moves is but the tip of the iceberg for Hey Violet, whose forthcoming debut album should be expected within the next year. Atwood Magazine spoke with Hey Violet’s Rena Lovelis in mid-August, just after the band’s EP had debuted at #1. It was the first day of Hey Violet’s tour with 5 Seconds of Summer. Chatting from her dressing room, Lovelis and I discussed the path to Brand New Moves, her love of love, social media, and more. Get to know Hey Violet through Atwood Magazine’s exclusive interview.
A CONVERSATION WITH HEY VIOLET
Atwood Magazine: Hi Rena, it's great to meet you!
Rena: Hi, nice to meet you – sort of – over the phone! (laughs) Nice to meet you too!
Where are you right now?
Rena: I am in the dressing room in Tulsa, Oklahoma, just chilling backstage in our dressing room!
Not too long ago - not even a week ago, actually - your EP debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes artist albums charts in both the US and the UK. How do you feel about that? Has it sunk in, yet?
Rena: No, it has not sunk in yet, because it’s just kind of like… “How could it even have gotten up there?” It was just really surreal to like, even… We have a little groupchat between the band, and so on the band chat, we were like, We’re number one! We’re number three in blah-blah-blah, we’re number one in blah-blah-blah – so it was kind of like, “Oh my god!” All of these facts were coming in from all the charts and everything, we were just like, “Oh my god, how is this happening?” It’s really surreal.
That must mean that a lot of people who bought the first singles were also getting the whole EP. That's so many people!
Rena: Yeah, our first track that was out was “Brand New Moves,” and then before “Pure” came out we teased it out on Snapchat for the fans. We showed the verse, and the beginning of the chorus, and I think they really liked that.
Has social media allowed you to interact with fans more and more as the years go by?
Rena: Oh definitely! It’s something that we kind of rely on, because we love to connect with fans – we love to talk to them, and we love to see their different personalities and everything. You can use all of your social media pages to really dig deep and get to the bottom of like, who your fans are and why they even like listening to their music, and what they’re going through in their lives. It’s really humbling to be able to speak to them directly.
That's so special. What have some of the reactions to Brand New Moves been so far?
Rena: So far, it’s all been incredible. We’re just so grateful that there are so many people who tweet us and write messages to us that are like… There’s this phrase going on now that’s like, “It’s such a bop!” So everyone’s like, “Oh my god, Brand New Moves is such a bop!” (laughs) We constantly see that, and it’s really sweet! Like… how is this happening?!
This is your second EP as Hey Violet, but you've been making music for a lot longer. Do you consciously think about musical growth in between your releases?
Rena: I think it’s less like “we need to develop,” and more like we’re constantly growing and changing as people and as a band, and so I think our music just kind of goes along with that. We really like to take the fans on that journey with us, so it’s less like, “Our sound needs to be different!” and more like, “Where do we want to go, and what sounds do we want to have? What can we play around with?” Like, “What different synth sounds can we add to it?” It’s less like we have to, and more like we want to?
Where was your mindspace at the culmination of 2015's I Can Feel It EP?
Rena: From where we were before on I Can Feel It, our first EP, our sound was a lot heavier. I think when we started working on I Can Feel It, we kind of wanted to go into that more ‘pop’ direction, and you can kind of hear it on “Smash Into You” and everything, but… I think we really nailed it with this last EP. It’s just so… It’s so the music that we want to be doing. It’s different, and it’s kind of got this ’80s influence, this urban influence, and it’s very alt-pop and what we love to be doing.
It’s so the music that we want to be doing.
On “Brand New Moves” the song, I definitely feel like there's a Cure, post-punk influence going on.
Rena: Thank you so much! I love to hear that.
Who are some of your influences?
Rena: Writing all of the songs that are on the EP and all of the ones that are possibly going to be on the album, there’s a lot of influence. I remember we were in the studio, and our producer that we’re working with and collaborating with would constantly bring up Spotify, and we’d constantly bring up different artists and different bands. It’s funny – we’ve all been listening to Whitesnake a lot? This one song that I can’t remember the name of right now, but I have it on my Spotify playlist… The bridge is just so intense and we were like, “Oh my god, how do we emulate that?!” We have it in the big fat drum sounds and the ’80s synth sounds and everything. We were really inspired by all of those things.
I'm sure as a bassist, you especially find inspiration that way.
Rena: Oh definitely – I think that being a bassist, you have to have that low end, that ugh that feels so good on the bottom. It’s kind of imperative.
I feel like you go off the traditional path. You're not playing the 1-3-5.
Rena: Right, yeah you have to have those kind of weird chords that make you not so weird that it’s like, “Whoa! Where did that come from?” but like, definitely you have to keep people guessing, but you also have to keep yourselves guessing. If it’s just a normal pop song that’s just four typical chords that you’ve heard a million times, then you’re just trying to recycle something. It might be great, but usually it’s just like, “Oh, that sounds like a million other songs,” so what we really wanted to do on this EP, and hopefully for our album, is just to find different ways of saying stuff and different ways of playing things… It’s like, in the twenty one pilots song, he goes, “I wish I found some chords in an order that is new,” and I loved hearing that lyrics because it was so relatable. All of these chords have been used in the same way, but you have to find a new spin to them, you know?
What we really wanted to do on this EP… was to find different ways of saying stuff and different ways of playing things.
Speaking of twenty one pilots, they just played Madison Square Garden recently! I never thought that would happen.
Rena: I know, good for them! That’s incredible – I wish I was there to see it. We actually just played Madison Square Garden – we opened up for 5 Seconds of Summer there – and it was just… I mean, Miranda, Nia and I were on the stage basically crying because we were just so emotional about actually being there. It was just so real, and… God, it was just mind-blowing to us! Hopefully we’ll be headlining there someday, too.
You toured arenas with 5 Seconds of Summer, as well as clubs, in the past year, right? How did your experience differ between the two types of venues?
Rena: Yeah. I think clubs are a lot more intimate; you really get to be with the fans in that moment, and arenas are really nice too because you get to speak to a lot more people, and you get to see everybody there. I feel like you also have more space to just go wild with arenas. You have more room to just go wild, and in clubs you’re packed tight, and it’s really intimate, and you get a lot more sweaty quickly, which is fun! Both have their advantages, both have their pros and cons, but honestly I don’t know which I would choose because I just love being onstage. I’m happy being onstage wherever I am, and I’ll make the most of whatever stage I’m on.
Did playing Hey Violet songs in both the huge arenas and the smallest of clubs affect how you approached this new batch of songs?
Rena: I think playing in arenas and playing the bigger stages, I felt like my movements had to be bigger. On smaller stages, if my movements were big, I’d be smacking my bandmates in the face and kicking people and stuff – so I will try not to do that! – but definitely in arenas, you have to think that if the people in the back are trying to see, you have to make yourself be seen. I guess that’s kind of something that’s in my head sometimes, but I don’t let it control me because I kind of just like to do my thing.
When did these three songs on Brand New Moves come about?
Rena: They came about, about… I’m trying to think… Just a few months ago! We were in the studio with our producer, Julian Bunetta, and we were writing with him. I think “Brand New Moves” and “Fuqboi” were the first ones that we wrote. We’d been tampering and tinkering with “Fuqboi” for quite awhile – maybe a couple months? – and finally we got that version that’s on the EP. That was the one that just felt good… “Pure” came about a little later; it’s the youngest of them all. We were in Palm Springs writing it, and I remember… It actually started out as a crazy party song! Oh my god, I wish I could show you the recording – it was really funny, because there’s this bubble pop synth and this huge drop, and it was like, “It’s the weekend! blah-blah-blah!” Like, completely different lyrics, and then we took the instrumentation from that and really vibed it out, and changed all the lyrics, and it became “Pure” and we knew that was the version that was perfect.
Watch: “Fuqboi” (live) – Hey Violet
That’s amazing – how did you go about it? “Pure” has such intimate lyrics; how did you go about turning it from a party song to something that really speaks to the soul?
Rena: I think it was really the instrumentation that helped that along. Even the instrumentation was a lot heavier at the time, but it had this weird, dark, intimate kind of feel in the verses. I remember there was a first version where it was a little heavier, and it still had the instrumentation from the first one, so it had the bubble popping synths and the big drop, and we decided it should all just stay down, and it should just have the really light vocal in the verse. It just kind of came about by process of elimination: What works and what doesn’t, trying different things and throwing different vocals down. It was really fun!
Puppet on a string, I can’t control myself, can’t control myself with you
I crawl out of my skin, things I’ll tell no one else, things I’ll show no one else but you
Every door is open but my toy box
And now I’ve started I cannot stop
Puppet on a string, like I don’t know myself, I only know myself with you
I love the metaphor that you use in your songwriting. “Puppet on a string,” thinking about love as something that commands and controls you. Is that your experience?
Rena: I think it has been in the past; I think everybody has that kind of experience in their love life where it’s like, “I can’t help myself around this person; I’m a slave to love,” and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think sometimes it can go too far, but I definitely think that there’s nothing wrong with just loving love, and feeling like love… rules… all, in a way. You know?
There’s nothing wrong with just loving love, and feeling like love rules all.
I'm a total sap for love, personally. When I hear these songs, I'm just thinking to myself, goddamn - this comes from somebody who takes relationships, and thinks about them as much, if not more than I do.
Rena: Yeah no, I’m a total sap, too… My first idea to write about is usually about love, so I have endless amounts of poetry and random writings about love and the different perspectives and aspects of it – like the longing, loving someone and not being loved back, or being happy in love, being sad in love – everything! You can take that and you can make a million different songs out of all of those things! They could be the same relationship, and you just find different ways to talk about it and different emotions from it, and I think that’s a very beautiful thing.
I had a songwriting coach once tell me to try to never write about love - the challenge was to really stay away from it.
Rena: Ugh. Well I understand that because it’s like, the go-to thing, but honestly? I don’t see a problem with it – everyone loves love! What’s wrong with that?
And it's so easy to talk about something that someone is so familiar with.
Rena: Yeah, definitely.
Talk to me about “Fuqboi” for a sec. How did that song come about? It’s got such a great story to it.
Rena: Okay, well we all know like, every girl’s had the problem where they’re like, “What was I thinking when I was in that relationship?” or “Thank god I didn’t get involved with that guy.” So it’s kind of about that guy who thinks he’s really suave, but really isn’t, and kind of messes with girls emotions. He might be texting one girl, but you know that he’s texting twenty other girls at the same time – so it’s kind of about that kind of dude.
What about “Brand New Moves”?
Rena: “Brand New Moves” is kind of about when you’re in a relationship with somebody, and you guys end up splitting up for whatever reason, and then – whether it’s weeks later, or months later, or years later – you come back and you’re like, “Oh! We’re actually perfect for each other. We just needed more experience – go out and live life a little more – but we’re actually incredible with each other.” And so you’re like, “Let me show you some brand new moves, because I learned them while I was away.”
For somebody who's been on the road so much over the past year, do you feel like that speaks to you or any of the members of the band?
Rena: You mean the song? Oh definitely! When we get up on stage and we’re playing it, we can all feel all of the lyrics, and we feel the emotion of having to be away from somebody – like, if you try and have a relationship on the road, it’s really difficult! You get the longing of wanting to be with someone, and you come back and you’re like, “Hey. Let’s try this again.” Let’s start over. Because, you know, things can get tense, things can get really… You get really, almost – not resentful – but you miss someone so much that you get angry that they’re not there. Like my parents, they are so dependent on each other, and it’s really sweet, but it’s really hard! If my mom’s out on the road with me – like when I was underage and I needed a guardian with me, it was such a hard time! They had such a difficult time being away from one another, so I can totally understand “Brand New Moves” and where it’s coming from, and I’ve had my own experiences with this stuff – being away from each other. But you have to have that new experience to come back and learn something new.
It sounds like your family's put a lot of effort into helping support you and your sister.
Rena: Definitely – they’re super supportive. All of our familiar are!
All three of these EP songs approach the idea of ‘love,’ or a significant other of interest, in a different way. “Brand New Moves” says I’m confident, let’s do this, “Fuqboi” says stay away, I’m not going to be lost in you, and then “Pure” is kind of submissive – I’m under your spell, like the Police song – “I’ll be wrapped around your finger.”
Rena: Oh shoot, that’s such a good song. They’re so good! Yeah, and that’s kind of like what I’ve said before, is that you can have so many different perspectives of love, and I think that’s the beautiful thing of writing about it. You can have “Fuqboi,” where it’s stay the hell away from me, I don’t want to have anything to do with you, or you can have “Pure,” where it’s I want nothing but to be under your spell.
This EP... Does it have any special significance to you?
Rena: Definitely, all the songs have huge significance to me. It’s kind of like songs become your babies, where you’re trying to protect them in any way – like, if someone doesn’t like them, you’re like, “No! No! They’re my children, you can’t say that!” They have so much significance to me, and when I’m onstage, there’s nothing but emotions happening. There’s not like, overthinking – there’s nothing about it, because all the lyrics speak for themselves, and you express them in a way that you want to express them. I think another special thing about the EP is that the two different versions of “Brand New Moves,” I think, is really different. You don’t often see that on EPs, where it has two or three different versions of one song, so I thought that was really cool.
I caught that - it's amazing to see what your baby can become!
Rena: I know! (laughs)
In terms of where Hey Violet has been and where you've come, what's the goal for the rest of the year?
Rena: The goal for the rest of the year is hopefully to play many, many, many more shows and reach many more people. We really love meeting all of the fans and all of the people who are either here for the journey, or just hopping on – we’d love to meet them! Another goal is to definitely get an album out soon! I seriously think we have enough songs for about three or four albums right now – we just kind of have to go through them and see which ones are like, “That’s the one – that’s what makes us feel the most.”
How would you say you've changed the most in the past year?
Rena: I think I’ve grown a lot, and you can kind of hear it in the music; it’s a lot more mature than what we did on our first EP, so I think that speaks for itself!
Congratulations Rena and Hey Violet!
:: Hey Violet :: Tour 2016 ::
supporting 5 Seconds of Summer’s Sounds Live Feels Live Tour
08/18: Tulsa, OK @ BOK Center
08/19: Maryland Heights, MO @ Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
08/20: Kansas City, MO @ Sprint Center
08/22: Omaha, NE @ CenturyLink Center
08/24: Denver, CO @ Pepsi Center
08/26: Salt Lake City, UT @ USANA Amphitheatre
08/27: Boise, ID @ Taco Bell Arena
08/28: Auburn, WA @ White River Amphitheatre
08/30: Spokane, WA @ Spokane Arena`
08/31: Ridgefield, WA @ Sunlight Supply Amphitheatre
09/02: Mountain View, CA @ Shoreline Amphitheatre
09/03: Wheatland, CA @ Toyota Amphitheatre
09/04: Irvine, CA @ Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre
09/07: Inglewood, CA @ The Forum
09/09: Chula Vista, CA @ Sleep Train Amphitheatre
09/10: Phoenix, AZ @ Ak-Chin Pavilion
09/11: Albuquerque, NM @ Isleta Amphitheater
09/14: San Antonio, TX @ AT&T Center
09/16: New Orleans, LA @ Smoothie King Center
09/17: Dallas, TX @ Gexa Energy Pavilion
09/18: The Woodlands, TX @ Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
09/29: Melbourne, Australia @ Margaret Court Arena
10/02: Brisbane, Australia @ The Riverstage
10/04: Sydney, Australia @ Hordern Pavilion
10/05: Sydney, Australia @ Hordern Pavilion