Sunday, December 15, 2013

An interview with The March Violets, Si Denbigh

It's been a long while in coming, but now we finally present to you the interview with March Violets front man Simon Denbigh.

JVS: After six years since the Trinity EP and something like 28 years since the Electric Shades album, how was it to be back in the studio again as a functioning band?

Si: Ha! More like a malfunctioning band. Not that we were fighting or throwing tantrums, but The Violets are very rarely conventional, and the recording of this first 'proper' album, which took well over 2 years was fraught with all sorts of tension and unforeseen happenings and just didn't happen in the normal way. We are spread out all over and all doing other stuff, so everyone getting together at the same time tends to be a rare occurrence. And of course you can plan as much as you like but unexpected shit happens and then you have to try to get back on track.

JVS: What made you all want to get back together and do it all again?

Si: I can't speak for the rest of the band. I think my motivation was solely to be able to make some of the music that never got made, and say some things that had been left unsaid. You have to understand that, certainly from my perspective, the Violets never fulfilled their potential back in the eighties. From my point of view, we imploded at the end of '84, due mainly to different aspirations. The Violets were a rare thing, with Tom's amazing guitar work, Rosie's fantastic voice, and my stumbling around in dark and twisted visions. There was something unique, and in my head we were always teetering on the cusp of becoming huge, or evaporating.

JVS: Was there an underlying philosophy to recording Made Glorious and how has your approach to making music changed since the 80s?

Si: Interesting. Yes, I'd like to think there is some kind of underlying philosophy at work, however haphazard. Yes, I specifically wanted to attempt to do a real Album, one that works as an entity, one you can listen through from start to finish and enjoy the journey. I have those albums that have meant something at various points in my life, that I love exactly as they are. I don't want bonus tracks or a different running order, they are exactly right. And that is the target to aim for, it's a high bar, you'll have to decide if "Made Glorious" does it for you...

JVS: A lot of other artists I’ve spoken to from the early scene took considerable umbrage at being referred to as “Goth”. Did The March Violets ever consider themselves to be a part of that scene, and why do you feel so many of the original artists were so keen to reject the Goth tag?

Si: Hindsight, it's a weird thing. And history is a moveable feast. It's very easy and only natural for people who weren't there at the time to get their information from what is currently available. And over the years the tale has changed, been rewritten both by people with new perspectives and those with self-promoting agendas. And labels that were once laughed at, like "Positive Punk", become historically accepted as though they had more relevance than they did. I was asked to sign a book on 'Goth' the other day, and yet the Violets had pretty much been ignored as a musical force. Yet if you look at the 'Goth' record compilations over the last 25 years the Violets are on well over 50 of them. So we were obviously important to some people and I would never deny that part in history. However I would probably be happier to go with Siouxsie and Peter Murphy et al and accept the term 'Gothic'. I think 'Goth' is more of a lifestyle choice, and, despite my mainly black wardrobe and being in the Sisters of Mercy for 16 years, it's a label I haven't earned. Of course, the rest of the Violets, who naturally all sleep in stereotypical coffins, might disagree. It's not a topic that ever comes up. I'd say it's all about enforced labelling. Imagine you had been happily and independently making your own style of music for a couple of years and then someone sticks a label on you… You are now "Blah" and being included in a 'Blah movement' that maybe includes a few bands you like, and a whole pile of bands you think are shit. Your natural urge, that which drove you to try and make different and unique music, is to rebel against being put in a box. Put it another way: Let's say some misguided but visible source declares your blog/magazine is now an "Emoid" publication, and linked with 'Orkus', 'Gothik', 'Emo Weekly', and 'Dark Fashion 4 US Teenz'. What would your initial reaction be? Denial? That might just feed the flames. There is another obvious reason, for an active band, the 'Goth' scene is actually quite small and restrictive. It is much better to be a 'Rock' band, simply on the number of stages/people you can play to. I sometimes see the shutters come down in people's eyes when the word Goth (a diminutive) is applied. They are applying some presupposed stereotype, probably missing most of the truth. That is mainly why many bands take umbrage I think, and shaking the label, once it has been applied, is very hard. But the bottom line is that I really don't care how people view the Violets, as long as they DO view us, and nothing I say is going to un-tag us… if we are a Goth band to you, so be it. Personally, I'd say the Violets are a pop band and have both dark and light going on.

JVS:  In between the original March Violets and their current incarnation, you fronted a band called Batfish Boys. Along with Bomb Party, Gaye Bikers on Acid, Crazyhead and (arguably) Zodiac Mindwarp, this became an alternative genre known as “Grebo” which seemed to disappear as swiftly as it began. What was the basic vibe of that scene and why do you think was it such a “flash in the pan”?

Si: Once again, we are talking about 'scenes' created by journalists. I had many chances with Batfish to jump on that bandwagon, ride it to death, and become the featured 'grebo' band in whatever publication. And once again, I immediately rebelled against assuming that mantle. I hate being labelled. It's like someone who doesn't understand you telling you what you are. If I was going to put a label on myself it would be Punk.

JVS: Like yourselves, a lot of the early bands from the darker side of the post-punk scene seem to have recently reformed – Danse Society, Skeletal Family and Actifed all come immediately to mind; Why do you think this is suddenly happening now?

Si: Is it suddenly happening? Every Century has its Reformation Period, seems that there has been a gradual movement amongst old bands to get back together. Might be some kind of musical mid-life crisis. I'm all for it if they are: 1. any good, and: 2. doing something new and original and not just rehashing a formula. I will say that the difference live between experienced bands and new ones is obvious. The years of stagecraft tend to show. Of course you have to put up with old-looking artists, so if you can't get past that stay at home and listen to records.

JVS: The March Violets have of course been doing a number of live gigs recently and are booked as one of the major headlining acts for Alt-Fest in 2014, which sounds especially exciting. How has the general reception been, especially with younger followers of the dark-alt genre? Years ago you commented to Mick Mercer about later Goth bands in the 80s “…but as regards all this imagery, what do people think they’re doing? It’s hideous!!!” In the light of that remark, how do you feel about the Goth scene in the new millennium?

Si: We don't play very often, again, it's due to being individually busy with other stuff, and several thousand miles apart. But we do occasionally manage to come together to do some rare purple performances. They will no doubt get rarer as we get older. And having just done a little UK tour I have no real urge to do another anytime soon. Yes Alt-Fest is an exciting new thing and I thought it was important to support it from the start. I think we are down as playing on the 'Goth' stage on the Saturday, not headlining the Main stage, though if the Album takes off you never know. Should be a great festival, loads of stuff as well as some fab music. My remarks to Mick Mercer, hmmm, I said a lot of things back then. But I'll stand by my attitude… I'm not impressed by copies, rip-offs, or unoriginal style, 'Goth' or otherwise. You can still refer to classic images and yet paint new pictures, both visual and audio. And you might like to make a noise like the bands you like, but you need to push it further. I'm lucky in that I made my noise back at the start so I have the excuse that this IS MY style, but I still don't want to keep repeating the same old stuff, I don't want to be a copy of me. Evolve or die.

JVS: What contemporary bands on the dark-alt scene particularly excite you?

Si: I like Berlin Black, The Witch Hunt, Partly Faithful, Cold In Berlin, and a few other non 'Goth' bands.

JVS: When can the public expect to be able to lay their eager little paws on a copy of Made Glorious?

Si: Well, we haven't done any deals with labels yet. We are selling a few directly by mail order. The Limited First Edition double CD is nearly all gone now. We might well press up another run without the bonus remix disc… dunno, depends on whether we find a label… but I am in talks over doing a double vinyl LP, which is kind of what the album was designed to be in my head. We'll see, just think of all that lovely visual real estate!

JVS: What do you see lying in the future for The March Violets and the dark-alt scene more generally?

Si: Not sure really, for the Violets I want to start playing some other continents, South America would be lovely. We haven't done that much in Europe, though I just confirmed we will be headlining Resurrection 2014 a little do in Kaiserslautern in April. The 12th I think. And there is a lot of material that didn't make the album, maybe some of that might slip out. As to the dark-alt scene… well that's the problem isn't it, what do you actually call it? Tricky. We need a brand new, all inclusive term, that sounds old, and isn't hyphenated or a diminutive with stereotyped connotations. It's a job for you. "Goth is dead, long live…..". Sort it out please.

JVS: Have you any final words to say in your defence?

Si: Yes. And No.

Another fine reason to pledge money to crowd sourced efforts of bands 
you like - not only do you get to hear new music from them, 
but a t-shirt and and autographed copy of the Love Will Kill You EP.
 What more could you possibly want?