IF a musician gets the opportunity to perform internationally…
they should grab it with both hands. A lot of new artists do not get the chance to do so: Violet Skies is an exception. I talk to her about her recent shows which have included Shanghai and Beijing – she tells me about The Great Wall of China and vivid memories during that time. Back in the country – a bit of a come-down, for sure – I was keen to know about her new single, Burn. It is emotional and, to me, appeared quite personal and relevant. Violet Skies explains the origins behind it and how that song forms part of a ‘seven-day cycle’ of songs – this would be ‘Tuesday’, as it were. I ask about what will follow it and if there are any E.P./album plans. Keen to know whether there will be any more gigs; Violet Skies offers suggestions of what the next few months hold.
Being a successful and established artist from South Wales; I ask whether this part of the U.K. deserves more attention and the kind of great local artists emerging. She talks about a recent performance/Q&A at Facebook H.Q. and the artists/sounds that inspired her own music.
Hi, Violet Skies, how are you? How has your week been?
Tiring. Amazing. In two countries. We went to The Great Wall of China on Monday. It was our day off. After our shows in Shanghai and Beijing, we flew home. I then had a rehearsal for my music video and shot it on Thursday (in London).
I’ve been recovering and catching up with real life this weekend in Wales – ready for shows and studio next week. It’s a bit weird sitting here writing this now. A few days ago I was tobogganing down The Great Wall.
For those new to your music, can you introduce yourself, please?
I write big, dark Electronic-Pop songs that sound a bit (like if) James Blake and Adele had a (less-talented) child.
Burn is your latest single. Can you reveal a bit about the origin of the song? How autobiographical is it? It seems like the performance is quite cathartic. Were you wrestling with some challenging and hard emotions when conceiving it?
All the songs are entirely autobiographical. I struggle to write songs from (at least) a little grain of truth or experience.
Burn, I wrote in Berlin on a day off between shows with Charlie McClean and Felix Duczek. I had laryngitis, was really run down and had received a text message that morning that I really, really didn’t want to receive.
So the song was born from a lot of emotion and it’s a song about the beginning of the end: when you reach a point in a relationship where there’s such a mess you don’t know how to fix it.
Listening to the song, I get elements of modern Electronica pioneers and the soulful silkiness of the 1990s’ smoothest Soul and R&B. Was it quite a conscious decision to unify those, perhaps disparate, avenues for Burn?
Not at all. I think it was the melody and feeling that lead the production, and honestly, I’ve not written a song like this before. It was just how I felt that day without that much thought.
Burn is song two-of-seven – the ‘Tuesday’ of your music week, let’s say. What does ‘Wednesday’ hold? Can you unveil any details about your next single, perhaps?
‘Wednesday’ is my favourite song and perhaps the only happy, albeit bittersweet song on the E.P. I’ve performed it live and, also, on my Facebook Live performance at F.B. H.Q.; so it’s been heard. I’m excited for everyone to hear it properly. I wrote it on a vocoder in L.A. at my friend David Burris’ studio – and he helped produce it with me.
It seems like imagery and aesthetics are quite important to you – not in a shallow way but creating a definite musical identity.
I think it’s all linked.
I see music and production in colour. I’ll often describe how I want a song to feel – more blues or deep greens, for example, over oranges or yellows.
When you listen to a song, it gives you a feeling that, sometimes, words can’t describe – but images can. All art is the same: it’s just a means of expression, and so, I want people to feel everything together with my imagery and music.
Recently, you were at Facebook H.Q. and performed three songs from the E.P. Was it quite exciting being at Facebook H.Q. and what was it like interacting with the fans in that way?
I loved it! It was so cool to answer questions from people watching. They always have such a different approach than journalists or friends so I got some really interesting ones – including “Bionic arm or bionic leg?’”. (I chose arm, F.Y.I.).
I mention ‘the E.P.’. Does it have a name and how close to completion is it? For fans of your earlier work/singles; will it be a sonic and thematic continuation or have you embraced new sounds and genre ideas?
I think it’s been announced already, with the first single, but it’s called This Was Us. It’s a fresh start but still me: still very personal and autobiographical. Many songs are a blow-by-blow account of events. It really helped me sort my head out. It’s all about one person, one relationship. Sonically, it’s much like the lyrical content: light and dark. No relationship, even if it ends, was ever all awful or entirely perfect.
It is rare seeing a young artist getting gigs internationally – especially at such an early point in their career. You have come back from some dates in China. What are the crowds like there and it is a huge culture-shock compared to the U.K.?
It still surprises me that I get invited to play all these shows in amazing places for amazing crowds. I often catch myself mid-song looking around like ‘whaaaaaat?!’.
China was insane. It was, mostly, a shock to arrive and find out people were already listening to my music on Chinese music platforms.
The crowd in Shanghai was so much bigger than I was expecting. It was a culture-shock in some ways but you find that where music is concerned everyone’s the same – you’re there to get lost and have a good time.
Looking at your tour dates from the last couple of months; you have been in Asia, Europe and the U.S. Is there a particular continent (outside Britain) you hold dear? Has it been quite an enlightening experience seeing so contrasting nations/areas in such a short space?
Ooooh… good question! The U.S. is pretty special for me. They’ve just been little showcases so far similar to SXSW but I’ve got so many friends there now that I go and visit and write songs with that I’m a bit in love with it. However, China was so special and Berlin is where I made the record – and my production team and agents are over in Germany. I enjoy being a nomad. It makes coming home so sweet and travelling is such a privilege. I never get tired of it.
You hail from South Wales. I think it is a fantastic area for music but often gets overlooked by the mainstream media. Do you think Wales has to shout loudest to get its voice heard? Is there quite a vibrant scene in South Wales?
Wales has always had to shout: we’re little but we’ve got this heritage of music that we’re all really aware of and very proud of.
There’s a scene, for sure, and it’s really helped by the fact that at home is just so peaceful and beautiful – it’s hard not to be inspired by all the green and that feeling of home – as cliché and Tom Jones as that is!
You’re not someone who wears your idols like a tattoo but, in Burn at least, I hear a blend of Etta James and, oddly, Massive Attack. It is quite an unconventional and brave blend. Do you think too many new artists are too safe and commercial when it comes to their sound?
I’ve mentioned Massive Attack and Etta as influences before so that’s not odd, don’t worry! I love them both. It’s traditional songwriting: songs that tell a story and let me really enjoy the feeling of singing. But, I love challenging production and producing whilst trying to be innovative – without losing the song. I don’t think people are safe! I’m inspired by so many new artists: Wafia, CHINAH; Hazey Eyes, Zealyn and LVR – they’re all writing amazing ‘commercial’ songs without being safe.
Away from the itinerant demands and energy, what would an ideal day off for you consist?
Seeing my lovely family and friends… maybe writing a song in my pyjamas…! Ooooh, I also do enjoy cooking: I could cook all day – it’s really relaxing. (Also as a by-product: eating).
Are there any new/upcoming artists you advise we keep an eye out for this year at all?
What advice would you give to any new artists starting out right now?
Don’t rush anything. No one’s waiting on you: there’s no ticking clock.
Put it out when it feels good; when you’re happy. Make honest music and when you’ve got lots of songs in the bank. You’re never going to be ready but almost ready is good enough.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that)
It’s not brand-new but I’m obsessed with Alex Vargas’ live version of Shackled Up (from The Distillery).
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