Hey Violet bends genres and breaks hearts in their debut album, From the Outside
“Break my heart!” dares Hey Violet lead singer Rena Lovelis, she of pale pink hair and glossy, pouty lips, her voice echoing as she walks through the halls of a deserted high school in the band’s music video of the same name.
“Tell me you’ve never loved me,
Tell me that it wasn’t real.
I wanna know the way it feels.”
“We’ve been writing for two years and I’ve really found out a lot about myself just by writing straight from my heart and straight from my mind and taking what I’ve learned and twisting it into a story,” says Lovelis.
The previous incarnation of the band is almost unrecognizable. Hey Violet’s Rena Lovelis, drummer and sister Nia Lovelis, and guitarist/keyboardist Miranda Miller started in hard rock quartet Cherri Bomb with vocalist at the time Julia Pierce. As Cherri Bomb, they opened for the likes of Smashing Pumpkins and Foo Fighters. In 2013, though, Pierce parted from the group over desires to move in different musical directions. Rena, Nina, and Miranda stayed, bringing on current guitarist Casey Moreta. “I think towards the end I was like, ‘I wanna do something that feels more authentic to us,’ and that’s where Hey Violet came in,” Lovelis says. Where Cherri Bomb’s songs were written by other people, mostly by older men, the writing process for Hey Violet now is collaborative amongst the members and it’s a change that feels true to them. “We just went a different direction and I feel like it was really the right choice,” Lovelis continues.
“What really helped me know what felt authentic to me was that I learned what my values were as a human being,” Lovelis says. “Then I know how far I can go, I can go past that boundary if I want to, I can not go as far as the boundary as I want to…it gives you so much more freedom to know who you are as a person.”
Showing an unedited side of herself and of people in general in this way, inhabiting a persona for 3-4 minutes on each song, has made Lovelis recognize her own humanity and thereby that of others, something she says she forgot from time to time when getting stressed out on tour. “I realized that nobody is above being human,” she says. “A beautiful thing about songwriting is that you almost accentuate that a little bit.”
Hey Violet became official in February 2015, and one month later were signed to Hi or Hey Records, a partnership between Australian pop band 5 Seconds of Summer and Capitol Records. They released their first EP, I Can Feel It, in July of that year, becoming 5SOS’s opening act and eventually going on a headlining tour of their own. Iain Shipp, the band’s bassist now, joined the band officially in September 2016. The band released their second EP, Brand New Moves and their single “Guys My Age” (which cracked the Billboard Top 100, peaking at No. 68) in August and September of last year respectively, showing the reinvented sound that would eventually appear on From the Outside.
I Can Feel It sounds far away in comparison to From the Outside, the former’s rock roots heavier, electronic influences absent, its speed faster to the point of impatience, its vocals more petulant. From the Outside, on the other hand, is more emotional, nuanced and deep. Rena’s rich, goosebump-inducing vocals beguile and intrigue, Iain Shipp’s basslines take on funk-inspired patterns, Miranda Miller’s keyboards add a modern electronic squeal, Nia Lovelis’s drums have calmed in maturity, and Casey Moreta’s guitar stays true to an edgy, alternative sensibility. From the Outside has blood and muscle and tissue where I Can Feel Itonly had bones.
With this in mind, From the Outside becomes an album that’s decidedly now not just in message, but sound. Produced by Julian Bunetta, the mastermind behind One Direction’s transition from teeny-bopper pop to more adult refinement, From the Outside was grown from a space where young millennials like those in Hey Violet can stream a bunch of different musical experiences at once from their phones, never concerned with what label is placed on a song, only with whether they like it or not. “You can try so many different things and they can all be considered pop. Our entire album probably has three different genres on it,” says Lovelis. “It’s all different sounds but they sound cohesive because it’s in such broad terms. I think it’s really freeing when you’re trying to write a song.”
And for Hey Violet, this freedom has thus far translated into success. From the Outside hit number one on the iTunes pop chart, followed by praise from The New York Times, Stereogum, and Nylon. Prior to that, they were also named a band to watch by V Magazine and Billboard, among others, sold out a North American tour, and appeared on both The Late Late Show with James Corden and Late Night with Seth Meyers.
From the Outside’s songs run past the surface and cut to the core, like the heart-wrenching devastation on “Hoodie,” on which Rena’s plaintive vocals offer a deep-seated understanding of unrequited love that lives in anyone who was ever 17:
“I kept the broken zipper
And cigarette burns,
Still rocking your hoodie,
Baby, even though it hurts.”
The band offers a similar nostalgia on From the Outside’s hot mess party anthem, “All We Ever Wanted,” evoking the embrace of evening where everything spins or feels awkward or magically out of control. Lovelis purrs:
“We got no money left
But we’re not going home yet.
We’re all emotional wrecks,
But it don’t matter ‘cause
All we ever wanted was to feel like this.”
After being teen rock sensations and then becoming rising alternative pop heroes, what Hey Violet end up doing so well is acknowledging that through all of the angst and absurdity and confusion of being a young person, it’s worth having your heart broken, it’s worth keeping that hoodie, it’s worth being totally broke. There’s still something meaningful and beautifully human about it.
Purchase Hey Violet’s new album, From the Outside, here.