Violet Nox is an experimental-electronic band from Boston, Ma. They are comprised of Dez DeCarlo, (guitar, vocals, sonic effects, synth) Andrew Abrahamson, (synthesizers and clocked devices) Alexis Desjardins, (synthesizers) Fen Rotstein, (vocals and digital turntables) and Karen Zanes (ukulele – ‘moonshine’).
I saw Violet Nox play, most recently, over the summer at Trendy Shit Town. As I watched the band perform, I found myself to be caught in a dance trance. While I moved my body to the mesmerizing beats and sonic swirls, I felt outside of myself, if only for a brief period. While this could have been the copious amounts of drugs I imbibed over the course of the day, I believe this feeling was also attributed to the psychedelic stew Violet Nox served up that night.
Ever since, I have found myself coming back for more and diving deeply into their small, yet formidable back catalogue of releases. Over the course of their 4-5 year stint, Violet Nox has seen many incarnations and has taken on a few new members over the duration of their lifespan. Both Twin Flame and Nebula are unique records and serve to both diversify the bands sound as well as showcase their sonic versatility.
Now, they treat us with “Future Fast,” a record released January 13th, 2020 off the UK label, Sleep FUSE. This record sees the first appearance of local promoter, rapper, and musician Fen Rotstein in the mix, as well as a change in sonic direction and arrangement. Responding to these various lineup changes, Violet Nox has not only adapted to the many variations and adversity inherent in participating in the Boston music scene, but has, with the release of “Future Fast,” surpassed expectations and is thriving in the pressure cooker that is the GBA.
Listen to or purchase Violet Nox’ new album below and read my interview I held with the band at Andala Coffee House in Cambridge this past fall for more info on the band and their new release.
Also do not forget to catch Violet Nox playing around town.
They are playing 1/25 at The Chapstick Room (DM for Address) 3/14 at Studio 550 in Central Square, Cambridge and 4/17 at Q Division near Davis Sq, Somerville with Dyr Faser. It will surely be worth your while.
Dez DeCarlo: [Andala] is a very welcoming place. I like it because different cultures and people come together here. It has a very open vibe. The food, drinks and atmosphere are all wonderful.
Boston Hassle: How did you find this place?
DD: I think just walking by and then i checked it out. I would hang out at the cafe once a week and work on my art. I feel more productive and creative working in different spaces. It’s like when we rehearse, you just go there to practice and work on your music. There are no distractions and you can really focus on your art.
BH: How did you all meet as a band?
Andrew Abrahamson: I think Dez and I have been in Violet Nox the longest. Violet Nox was going on before I was in the band.
DD: 2015, I think that’s what the bio says.
AA: That sounds right. I saw Violet Nox play at the old Out of the Blue Venue on Mass Ave, and I really dug it. After that gig, their rhythm person didn’t have time anymore, I think he was in a degree program. So, Dez through a friend of ours contacted me because she knew that I did electronic rhythms for other bands and asked if I could fill in for a gig. So I inherited a drum machine and then came and played a couple of gigs. Originally I was just going to fill in and do a couple of gigs and so that was when it was Dez, myself, Karen Zanes and Kris Thompson.
DD: Erik Jackson was the original electronic drummer. He recorded one song with us which was on the first record “Nebula.” Karen played on that project. And then there was some transitioning, and then I met Andrew. I think as we have all connected, the energy has been amazing chemistry. Alexis was a friend and we kept seeing each other at shows. I had a good vibe about him so I asked him if he would jam with Violet Nox.
Alexis Desjardins: We played in other bands at the same venue. I think the first time I met you [Dez] was at the Middle East Upstairs. Let’s Wait did an instrumental show and I think you were playing with Anda Volley. And Erik was in that. So, similar circles over the years. When my previous band dissolved, they were looking for someone to sit in and that was when I joined in 2018.
AA: And then Fen, how did we meet Fen?
DD: At Totem’s show at Trendy Shit Town. It was another natural thing. We just connected, talked, and Fen was into experimental/electronic music. I asked her to come play with Violet Nox. Sparks flew and it’s still happening!
AA: So this record has a completely new lineup.
DD: Karen is still a member of Violet Nox. She recorded ukulele on the song “Moonshine” for the new record. She is also working on her record label and solo career. Karen maintains our social media pages, photos, and helped with releasing all our records. Violet Nox is an open collaborative project. It allows members to be creative and explore!
AA: Alexis goes to Switzerland, comes back. May go there eventually permanently.
DD: I introduced Alexis to a friend of mine — they fell in love. She lives in Switzerland. That was where, sort of, Fen stepped in. So sometimes if you see us with three people that might mean that Alexis is in Switzerland, or some other part of the world photographing beautiful nature.
BH: Do you have any plans for the group for 2020?
DD: Definitely promoting the record, performing and playing some out of town shows. We will be recording again and releasing more music!
AA: Well we release the record in January and then usually things change a whole lot after the release of each record. So it’s kind of: playing, getting the sets together, and then after the record comes out, all the tracks change, the instrumentation can change. I’m kind of looking forward to January. We’ll play some shows based on the record and change things. It’s sort of cyclic that way. There have been some pretty radical changes from record to record and at least from a personal, selfish perspective, it means jettisoning gear that was used for other records so that I can try new things. Everyone likes to keep things changing.
DD: It’s a very open, experimental, free project. And also, the promotion of the record, that really takes a lot of time and energy. Our last record got a ton of great international exposure. I’ve already contacted many blogs that are excited to hear the new music and review us!
AA: In countries that are now in political turmoil, right?
BH: Which ones?
AA: Like Brazil.
DD: Argentina is another country in turmoil. But we’ve also sent it to Belgium, the UK, Italy, Finland, LA, Australia, North Carolina and more.
BH: How did you find your current label, ‘Sleep FUSE’?
DD: Karen actually, she helped us.
AA: It was sort of fortuitous that he was starting an electronic label as we were moving to more electronic music. It use to be a more guitar and vocal focused project. Now it is more electronic focused. Dez is still playing guitar but there is a lot more electronic elements and sequencing.
DD: My guitar style is very different now. We are all playing somewhat minimal, even though there are a lot of layers. We have to be sensitive to each other not to overplay and really listen. What I’m doing on guitar is dramatically different than what I played on the last record. I’m still using a lot of pedals, I’m just simplifying the guitar lines and adding texture.
AA: You also have a synthesizer now, you didn’t before. A synthesizer is like one hundred guitar pedals.
DD: I use the synth as a big guitar effect. I’m not really playing ’notes’ just more or less getting cool sounds out of it.
BH: Were the vocals always the same? Were you always talking through a voice effect or is that new?
AA: That is also new.
DD: I have a vocal reverb pedal I’ve been using. I wanted to start experimenting with more weird vocal effects. We tried to use the vocoder in the mini novation I play but it wasn’t exactly doing the trick. Andrew sent me a few pedal ideas and then I found the VT4 Roland that makes rad robotic sounds. It produces some really brilliant vocal effects and easy to use!
AD: It’s very, very physical.
DD: It has four slider’s, different effects. I was going to get a new reverb pedal because I didn’t like the reverb on the VT 4, It sounded too artificial, whereas the other reverb pedal I have is much more natural. So I run the microphone through the reverb into the VT 4. Together it produces a pretty awesome sound.
BH: Alexis, what do you feel you add?
AD: When I started sitting in, I wanted to take a complete minimalist approach. I came from a band where I was playing multiple instruments, multiple keyboards. So I started off with a basic setup. I’ve taken a sideways step. I’ve taken a synth that I was doing mono bass lines on and I had an old four track tape machine and found some old cassettes of some different tracks for a noise project I use to be a part of. I ran them through some effects, my first effect pedal ever was a Jim Dunlop Wah Wah pedal and I used it as a filter. It brought an interesting tone and a level of unpredictability. I had a bunch of cassettes in a gator case and was like ‘well, let’s see what is on this one.’ It was spoken word with voices playing backwards. It seemed a little gimmicking and the battery started to die. So I brought in another synthesizer and started doing drone type stuff. I like doing textural effects, where I can find a place.
My minimalist approach is that: I am only going to play in the area where I think I can fit something. I’m not going to play to clash. I find places where I can drone and I think the main thing was that there wasn’t really anyone who is dedicated towards specifically bass parts. As being someone who has played bass for a long time, bass guitar, bass synth, I thought that was an interesting place to just sit for a while and I like the context where we have a lot of sequenced elements that brings in drone parts in an interesting way. They build up in a very organic way and I wanted to have something that was a little bit of a counterpoint to that. Simulate the beat dragged a little bit, sped up a little bit. [When I am] Playing, I don’t sequence anything. When I play it is complete performance and this allows me to create rhythmic tension, which is rare in an electronic band.
I really keep it focused to a small range of notes, as small as I can so that everything in the main mix comes across that everyone is heard and layered in a pleasant way. I think Andrew’s sound engineer approach to everything really lays down an incredible palette of where to put things. We are very similar minded in terms of our particular mix aesthetics. So we can communicate in ways that are almost completely non-verbal. I can hear a part that is coming in. I know where it is going to be. I know where I need to be. It is instinctual.
AA: And so when Alexis isn’t with us, when we’re doing shows when Alexis isn’t here, I am now sampling his lines and I’ll play them at length so it captures what he’s doing in variations opposed to simple loops. So if we are playing without him there, it is still his parts.
DD: It’s not the same. (laughter) There’s been times the lines are a little off, but no one notices except us.
BH: Do you have any main acts that influence you all as a band?
DD: Dyr Faser, Anda Volley.
AA: Personally, a lot of the musical influences I take in are not all that musical. They don’t have particular aesthetic value. I like the direct effect of sound on the brain. I am into things like binaural beats, extended drones, extremely long and repeated rhythmic patterns that change what your thought patterns do. And that is not really musical, it just has to do with the way the physical body responds to sound. So I think about things more in those terms than in musical terms. So I couldn’t name bands that influence me in that way. I could name lab experiments that were influences.
AD: There is a lot of people that I have been playing with that I respect. But then there are those rare moments where you see something and go ‘what the hell is this?’ and we might not understand what is going on but there is definitely some value. The stuff that Victoria Shen does is pretty incredible. Performance piece, aesthetic. Who did we play with at DAP? Banging saws?
DD: Steph Germaine.
AD: Her stuff was really, really incredible. So minimalist. Just little, little toys. She has that way kind of, to manipulate those things into something. There’s tons of bands that are loyal friends of mine that I go out and see and I think there is a thriving, vibrant music scene. Every once in a while you kind of have this moment where you’re like ‘wow, I did not expect this to happen.’ Playing a lot of off the cuff, underground, literally underground shows that we do, you stumble on things that and people that don’t have a larger audience. They are just in it to purely express themselves with no pretension whatsoever and I think that authenticity is really incredible. It’s the basement shows, the smaller venues that I am just blown away by the performances that can change the rulebook of how I think about composing music.
DD: I totally agree. I really dig experimental artists Victoria Shen and also Noell Dorsey and Lani Asuncion. Anda Volley is a friend of all of ours, I really love her music!
AD: I’d have to throw her [Anda’s] name in their as well, what she does is all over the place, she even released a couple pop songs recently.
AA: She is a unique talent, unbelievable .
AD: Her sensibility is just incredible. The fact that she can represent an entirely different part of her personality into a completely different way of making music is incredible. On a good day, I attempt to do that but she executes it consistently.
AA: There is no waste in anything that she does. I’m astounded at her compositions.
DD: She spends a lot of time working on her music and gear.
AA: Yeah, I’ve talked to her about it and sometimes she doesn’t spend a lot of time and it’s still amazing.
AD: She has a very intense ear.
AA: She has a very intense ear and an extremely keen mind.
BH: Dez, do you organize the shows?
DD: I do all of it, it is like another art form to me. I love it. I get an intuitive idea and then find a venue and then create an event!
BH: How long have you been doing this?
DD: For a long time, I really enjoy producing shows and supporting the art community, which is super important.
BH: Andrew do you want to talk about your gear set up?
AA: How much time do you got? (laughter) I have a lot of ambivalence about what gear means culturally. It is really pretty simple. When I started playing with Violet Nox I inherited this drum machine, an Akai Rhythm Wolf that had patterns on it that I used for the first couple of records. It has a lot of cool sounds on it but it was very limited in terms of what it could do and the number of patterns it could store because it was basically full already. There wasn’t room to do new things on it. Well there was for about two new things and then that was full. So I started using an external sampler/ sequencer to augment that. I had run other drum voices around that but really the center of it is an Octatrack sampler/ sequencer. Then there are varying things that I add on around the outside of that depending on what we are doing. Really the octatrack is the central thing and then there are delay, effects, and synth things but those pieces all change. It would probably be fine playing a show with just one box. It would probably be wiser…
BH: Fen, how did you land on digital turntables for your instrument?
FR: Oh man, that is a long story. I’ll try to keep it short. I’m using a Tractor and the Control S4 as a kind of, first, like a Dj-ing solution, using it as it was originally intended. Slowly but surely, I discovered that the Tractor is really easy to just break. There are so many things on it that you can mess up and you can make really great sounds and be a little bit more generative for Dj-ing specifically. Turntables are rad, it’s a fun time. When Dez reached out to me to come to the first rehearsal, I mean you [Dez] were literally just like ‘bring whatever you want.’ It also lets me do more with vocals and that let’s me feel more comfortable in my improvisation.
BH: What would you say makes Future Fast different from your previous releases?
AA: It is much more electronic. There is differen’t membership. I think it is a little more, not that it is more free-form, the last releases had traditional song structure, more verse chorus. Now it is more organic, it is still structure, but the development of the tracks is more organic.
DD: The songs never end the same way. There is some form of structure for the song but it gives space to allow it to move in different directions.
BH: You would say it was more predictable on your first few albums?
DD: Not Predictable.
AA: There was more of a song structure. But it was really traditional at least for the set up. Now there are parts for the song but there is no verse-chorus. I’ve had people ask me recently ‘Are you guys are doing this improvisational thing now?’ I’d say it’s not improvisational, it sounds like it is.
DD: I remember on Nebula some of the tunes weren’t even finished yet. We were in the recording studio with Gary War and my guitar parts weren’t complete. I was thinking wow, what am I playing? Much of the music was improvised and the end result of the record was fantastic!
BH: How did you come up with the title Future Fast?
DD: It was very intuitive. “Future Fast” is about transition, change, moving forward. I thought it was appropriate for 2020.
AA: And the present sucks pretty hard so Future fast wouldn’t be so bad. (laughter)
BH: How did you come up with the name Violet Nox?
DD: It was around the Fall Equinox and that represented a lot of powerful change for me. I had the color Violet in mind and connected with Nox from Equinox forming the band name “ Violet Nox.”
BH: If you had to choose a genre label, would you say electronic? Would you say something else?
FR: Oh free jazz all the way. (laughter) More jazz than free.
DD: I say electronic, I say experimental.
FR: Electronic, experimental I think is fair to say. There is a lot of psychedelic elements as well….
AA: I have a lot of trouble with the experimental label in general because, it is rare that people’s intention is experimental. There are things labeled as experimental. Ten percent of those are trying things to see what they sound like. The rest of them are doing things that don’t fit other categories but would have particular emotional content and intentions which aren’t captured by that label. So I shy away from the experimental thing because there are intentions there that are about a particular kind of head space that don’t fall into other categories. I stay away from meditative trance or any of those words because they have particular meanings. What the music is about to me is getting your mind on a particular track. It is not about trying things and seeing what they sound like. It is about getting your head to a place. And so that gets called psychedelic and other things. To me it is more functional.
FR: Like free-electronic. Because I do think the free jazz approach is relevant in discussing what we are doing insofar as the relationship to form.
AA: Free jazz is some of the most psychedelic music. Once you start to listen to it, your head just goes to weird places.
AD: I don’t spend much time thinking about categories. I do a lot of noise music, I don’t really listen to noise music. I listen to free jazz. The noise music I make is inspired by Albert Haylor, by Sun Ra, that’s the music I listen to. In my mind, the musicianship doesn’t work in that way, but the aesthetic and how I process that, free jazz is probably the most influential to the aesthetic I attempt to paint with. Music structure, just creating kinds of textures, that is the music I take it from.
AA: It’s funny I didn’t realize we had that in common.
BH: Jazz is interesting. Dez, you’ve mentioned John Coltrane in a few interviews in the past. I think I saw also the post-punk label attributed to your style somewhere along the way. I was listening to Bauhuas. They have this one song called Dive, and it’s about going to a dive bar with your friends and getting really drunk. But it is a very social. Jazz is a very social thing. Perhaps the function of your music is embedded in the social fabric of Boston.
Would you say that that is true? And would you say that that is reflected in your songwriting process?
AA: I would say that is probably fair. As a complete aside from the relation to Bauhaus, ‘Bela Lugosi is Dead’ has to be one of the funniest songs I’ve ever heard in my life and every time I hear that I laugh out loud through the entire thing. So not relevant to the question but I think the social aspect is a big part of it because any kind of live music has a critical social aspect. Because unless people are comfortable in certain social situations, they can’t listen to the music. So, even if the music is fantastic, if the surrounding environment is terrible, it doesn’t matter. The environmental aspect is critical to music.
You see it when people take their music outside of their own environment and sometimes you see somebody on stage and you can see them going through the experience of realizing that this isn’t what it’s like when they are doing it at home alone. You see that all the time. (laughter) That is not grasping the central concept of how the environment effects the music. Because the environments are different and sometimes people can’t prepare for that.
FR: Going off the social aspect, I think all of our interpersonal relationships contribute a lot to the music. We are all very communicative through our own offerings to the project. I hope that that is felt through the audience.
DD: Violet Nox has a positive vibe and we want people to feel that energy. I’m really honored to work with these folks. Lots of love!
AA: It’s very good that way and the way we are able to interact with each other through performance. I’ve always felt that if you want insight into the mechanics of band, watch what happens on stage when there is a technical difficulty. You’ll see all the dynamics will play out there. It is a whole secondary show, sometimes it is beautiful, sometimes it is ugly.
Chris Hues (they/them) is a jewish, queer, human & writer from Boston, Ma & Arts & Extra Editor of bostonhassle.com. //// They can be reached at [email protected] or @crsjh_ via instagram & twitter.