Artist Spotlight: Violet Night’s Connor Pohl talks new album, Death Cab for Cutie and writing music to inspire passion
Canadian alternative group Violet Night’s new album is a huge step forward for the band. The trio of singer Connor Pohl, keyboardist T.J. Rounthwaite and drummer Tay Ewart is pushing the boundaries of their sound, crafting an album bursting with a multitude of themes and genres. While the record won’t be out until September 25, the band has released a few preview singles, including their latest on August 14 with “hate me”. Atlas spoke with Pohl about the evolution of Violet Night’s sound, refusing to put music on hold this year and writing to ignite passion in people’s lives.
How did you get started in music and how did you go about finding your sound for Violet Night?
I wanted to be a drummer when I was 10 and my parents put my brother in drum lessons because he also wanted to be a drummer. So by default, I had to learn guitar and through that, my brother and I grew up playing a lot of cover songs- Metallica, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, all that kind of stuff. We progressed naturally into covers of Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins into Pantera and basically anything like that we grew up on and played a lot of.
I played in a few different alternative pop and punk bands. I really wanted to do music seriously and everyone else’s interest had kind of waned. So my best friend of forever, who is our keyboard player T.J., [had] never really wanted to be in a band and wanted to go to school to score film. I just had these songs written and I knew that the band I was in at the time was fizzling out and I was going to go to the studio and cut a solo EP. So initially we started out as a duo and there’s just a really strong chemistry there. Just last year we had Tay join our band, who’s our drummer.
You mentioned the music you were playing with your brother when you were younger. Who do you count among your main influences and inspirations?
I love bands like Bring Me the Horizon but I have just as much, if not more, of a passion for artists like David Bowie and The National. It really is a wide-ranging spectrum. I’m just passionate about a lot of different things and I try to pull on as many of those influences as I can. As far as bands that we love, the record Plans by Death Cab for Cutie was a pretty big staple for us. The Viva La Vida record by Coldplay was another big staple. In our formative years as a band, those are writers that we shared a pretty ardent passion for.
I’ve heard your new album and I can definitely hear that you’re pulling from a lot of those influences in the music.
It is, very much so. It’s kind of funny- there’s a song called “superbloom”- that was written the last week of recording and it’s just me and a guitar and we recorded it on my cell phone. And then there’s a song called “hate me” that is very much a hard rock song. I get bored- I think that a lot of artists will have one song that hits and then they’ll try to emulate that song 10 times. To me, that’s a very stale way to create a record, so I’ll try to pick the most diverse songs that I can and make an alternative record. That way, the listener is engaged as opposed to getting bored at song four.
What’s the story behind your single, “evergreen”?
I really wanted to write something dark and moody and sexy. I don’t know what it was, but the title of the film, The Place Beyond the Pines- I’ve never seen that movie, but when I heard the title is the film itself, for me, painted the mental imagery of like cars burning and late night and like there’s fire and there’s trees. My mind is a strange place, and I think that when I read that title, it just sparked this thing in my head and it lit a fire that became that song. Lyrically speaking, the song is kind of fleshed out into the narrative of the bittersweet and the in-between that you can sometimes find yourself in if you’re with a significant other or an insignificant other. Let’s say you’re in that position where you’re not really sure where the other person stands. I think that narrative played a strong role when I was [writing] the lyrics.
How would you say that your music has evolved from where you started to where you are now?
We had an EP in 2015 and then we had Colours of You and now we have Antiheroes. Night and day. I’m always trying to push myself as a songwriter and I’m always trying to outdo what we’ve done, and I definitely don’t ever want to be somebody that looks back and tries to redo the same thing. I’ve already gotten a lot of our next record written and it’s totally different from this one. I think that progressive artistic growth is definitely a key. As much as I love Colours of You, this record feels a lot more mature [and] the writing, to me, feels a lot better and I’m extremely confident in what we’ve done
I’m very fortunate to work with such a talented team- the producers and everybody else that was involved with this record- I think I’m very fortunate to surround myself with great people and a great record came out of it.
What are you hoping that people take away from your music?
When I was growing up, music was always a crutch for me. In a place of darkness, I think that music can be a light or a beacon of hope. That’s kind of always been, for me, what is the biggest driving and motivating factor.
You know when you’re in love with somebody and you’ll lay in bed all day and listen to music? Part of me wanted to write songs for those people and that’s kind of how, initially, we would write. Now there’s been a lot of different things that make me motivated to write. That is a motivating factor- the idea of people falling in love to the sound of our music or people experiencing the most exciting times of their life or times where they might feel like they need…more faith in [themselves].
I definitely digest a lot of music. It’s pretty nonstop. I would just love if people were as passionate in the music [and that] it would hold a special place in their hearts like other artists do for me- it’s kind of the goal for me always.
How are you staying creative and productive while the world is still mostly in lockdown?
I was living in Toronto and now I’m back in British Columbia in my hometown currently. For the most part, the town that I’m from has been completely unaffected and there’s no cases of COVID. I’ve been really fortunate that the gym here is open. There’s a mountain close to the center of town that we hike almost every day just to get outside. I’ve been able to keep a good fitness regimen and I’ve been reading a lot and watching a lot of films and that will usually inspire me to write. Just witnessing the state of the world- I think in the division that we’ve seen, there’s been such a unity to come out of it which is really inspiring to see given the social climate right now. It was kind of like a storm and it turned out this beautiful thing where people are now standing together and they’re not tolerating a lot of the stuff that I think people had been tolerating for too long.
I think if it wasn’t for COVID, if COVID and the whole pandemic was absent from this current period, I don’t think that would have changed because people would have been too focused on their daily lives. But with people being at home with nothing to do but pay attention to the internet, I think it was the perfect storm. People are saying, ‘when is the world going to go back to normal’ and I think that we’re not. I think that we’re transitioning to a better place for everybody and I think it’s a really good thing to come out of such a negative with the pandemic.
What do you guys have planned around the release of the new album and what else are you hoping happens this year?
I think we’ll probably play a hometown show around the time of release. Those generally are well-attended and I think people will be surprised because a lot of people don’t know we’re back in our hometown. They are very good to us here and they’re very supportive so we’re thankful for our hometown.
At the time of release, unfortunately I don’t think that the music industry will be in this place where it’s smart for us to go on tour. In America, things are quite crazy still and the pandemic seems to be reaching new heights every day. I definitely would feel irresponsible trying to tour, let alone venues probably aren’t booking. It’s not even a thought that’s crossed our minds. As far as that goes, we’ll be livestreaming and things of that nature. I would love to get on some livestreams and do some Q&As about the record.
Next year, we want to tour hard- we want to do America and Europe and really just give it everything we have. As far as the time of release, we’re doing everything we can with social media and everything we can to engage.
It’s definitely been hard for musicians releasing new music during quarantine because they can’t tour on it right now. Livestreaming has been huge while this is going on.
Yeah, absolutely. Initially our previous manager and I had discussed [postponing the record release]. I’ve almost gotten the next record written and I just can’t sit on this record. [In] 2018 our last record came out- I don’t really want to put this record out next year.
People are digesting a lot of media right now. As far as streaming and engagement and all that goes, our numbers have actually went drastically up. To me, it makes sense to release now and I think it’ll be something good for people to have that they can enjoy. Hopefully it can inspire people through the times we’re going through. I think that by September, things will hopefully settle down a little bit. We had previously planned to postpone and I just want to keep moving forward. I’m very much a momentum-based person and I really don’t like stagnation so any sort of sitting still doesn’t really sit well with us. We’re doing one thing we know how to do and that is move forward!
I think it’s definitely important to keep releasing new things for people to hear while we’re all stuck inside- it gets pretty boring otherwise.
Yeah I know a lot of artists that have postponed records and we initially were like, ‘yeah we’re postponing it’. Then the more I thought about it, I was like, I can’t. These are now songs and it just feels like they need to be out now and that’s the way it has to be. So we’re just doing it.
When it’s time to head out on tour, who are you hoping that you get to be on the road with?
Who would be a good fit for us? You know what- throw us on a couple of those My Chem reunion shows next year. Those will be well-attended, I have a feeling.
Honestly, if we could tour with Coldplay or Death Cab or The National or any of those acts, my mind would explode. It would just be too incredible.
You would fit so well on a Death Cab lineup!
We played a show in San Diego and I had somebody come up and be like, ‘you guys are like if Death Cab was new and modern’. I was like, ‘that is a really big compliment’. We actually spoke with Chris Walla- he was in Death Cab until 2013 so he was on pretty much every record except for their latest. He was really interested in producing this record, which is a fun fact, but we didn’t end up going with him. Going forward, he’s definitely somebody that we would love to work with for us- he’s definitely a bucket list producer for us.
Every artist has a different relationship with music. What does that mean for your life and what about this relationship drives your desire to create?
When you say that, my gut response is I think about records like X&Y by Coldplay- records that I feel are timeless like early Smashing Pumpkins stuff or early David Bowie.I think about those kinds of records and how my relationship with them is…I think it’s about the escape for me. My relationship with music is a lot about the escape [and] the inspiration and the emotions that it makes me feel listening to certain artists. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s just like a veil of comfort is placed over your entire being.
Is there anything else that you want people to know about this project or is there anything you wish you got to talk about more that you may not get asked?
I think that these are the most important songs I’ve ever written. And I really hope that certain tracks reach people that I think may need them.
I’ve got a story about a song in particular. This song is called “superbloom” and what I find particularly inspired about it is I had a friend going through some very trying times in life. I’ve always been somebody who second-guesses myself and sometimes it’ll affect my writing process. So he was seeing a therapist to deal with some stuff in his life and he reiterated to me what they had said to him. Basically the gist of it was just be yourself, be honest, commit to the authenticity and don’t second guess anything. Love yourself, love what you’re doing and have confidence and faith in that.
He told me that and it changed my writing perspective moving forward and it has ever since. When I wrote “superbloom” on that record, the lyrics and everything that came out went straight into my phone and are literally just a stream of my subconscious- based on a topic that’s very personal to me that I’m not going to dive too deep into. I think that it was really, really cool and I hope that anybody who’s exposed to this interview can follow that advice as well and apply it to whatever facet of their life that they may need to. I hope it helps them move forward in a more positive effort like it did for me.
Antiheroes is out September 25!
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Story by Olivia Khiel
Photo courtesy of Violet Night