Superstition and the supernatural are deeply woven into rock & roll lore. Robert Johnson did bidness with Ol’ Scratch, Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler had demonic visitations, Stevie Ray Vaughan had a haunted amp. And then there are the myriad burnt offerings and blood sacrifices by Limp Bizkit (how else could they sell so many records?). It’s no surprise, then, that Salt Lake dark rockers Violet Run would be subject to the wrath of an Ouija board with magic marker flames. Or protected by a mint condition 1984 Playboy.
“We blame [the Ouija board] for all our ills,” says drummer Rebecca Vernon, who, for full disclosure, also happens to be a staff writer and copy editor for this very newspaper. “It hangs in our practice space. If we displease it, it will punish us. We also have a couch that we found deserted in the hall that had a 1984 Playboy in mint condition, still in the original brown paper bag that the owner bought it in, wedged in the cushions. That was quite a find. We still keep it under there for good luck.”
Both work for and against the band. Their first night practicing at a downtown rehearsal space, singer-guitarist Randal Blandon’s guitar was stolen from his friend’s car. Two months later, its $800 replacement was broken clean through the neck. The band’s first all-ages show—at SLUG magazine’s Sabbathon, where so many local bands have debuted—was plagued by rampant technical difficulties. A show at venerable goth-industrial club Sanctuary was cancelled when headliner Second Skin’s van was T-boned by a drunk driver. It’s a laundry list of lamentables, but the Playboy seems to counteract some of the evil.
Since forming in 2000, Violet Run (Vernon, Blandon, guitarist Joe Dolan and bassist Sean Rohead) has forged a definite, deliberate groove in the local music scene with its brooding, literate, original blend of imagery and sonics. Notable local music peers such as Erosion, Red Bennies and Alchemy have come out in support, allowing the band to open shows and giving plugs and assistance. In fact, Alchemy singer-guitarist Jeremy Smith signed the band to his label, Red Triangle Records, and produced their newly minted debut, East of the Sun, West of the Moon.
The disc is, by Violet Run’s own admission, a complex soup, but it’s nonetheless accessible, appealing to a diverse cross-section of camps. Goths will dig the Cure/Smashing Pumpkins darkness and gloom. Zeppelin fans will appreciate the musicianship. Shoegazers and Pink Floyd aficionados will pick out a soothing vibe, which is offset by PJ Harvey urgency. Says Vernon, “We aren’t garage rock, we aren’t indie rock darlings, we aren’t sugary, bland pop … [but] we’re not inaccessible, our hybrid is just different from almost everything going on right now, both in Salt Lake and nationally.”
“Our blueprint is based around an emotion or mood,” says Blandon. Lyrically, adds Dolan, “We’re not about escaping or escapism, though. It’s about dealing with the shit you’re faced with.”
But then, there’s the album art. East of the Sun, West of the Moon comes with a 12-page booklet adorned with skeletal warriors, serpents and wolves and chicks with horns and chicks with … sticks. If it’s not about escapism, how does all this fit in?
“Good art can back up music, give it a three-dimensional aspect,” says Vernon. “We’re really into making artistic, interesting flyers. The same goes for our sleeve. I hate it when bands skimp on CD sleeves. They’re missing out on a huge outlet for expression.”
Adds Dolan, “The reason we picked old fairy tale etchings and lithographs from the 19th and early 20th centuries for the CD sleeve is because they portray a mixture of innocence and violence and a bizarre trace of sexuality.”
“Fairy tales were meant to teach a story,” explains Blandon, “and those extreme elements were part of the stories back then, and with those elements removed in modern versions, the ideas are dulled as well as the intensity.”
(Author’s note: On his last word, the word count hits 666. Coincidence? Who knows? But does anybody have a skin mag handy? No? I’m outta here.)