Emily Schoonover (18), Danielle Cusack (21) and Bella Dawson (18) have been involved in the Minneapolis punk scene since they were ages 14, 17, and 14 respectively. These three dynamic women are the members of Bruise Violet, a progressive-minded and unabashedly feminist local band. Read on to learn how they feel about the closing of the Triple Rock Social Club, how they discovered their sound and how they inspire young girls at their shows.
What’s the story of how you came together as a band?
Danielle: Me and Emily were in a different band that was a SKA band. And it was 3 girls and 3 boys. And, when the band first started, we were like coming up with band names and I said “Bruise Violet,” because I was really into Babes in Toyland at the time. But, everyone else said “No.” Then the three girls in the room were sitting in a room and talking about periods and the boys were like “Ugh gross I can’t listen to this!” And so then we were like “We should start a band!” So, we took the name Bruise Violet. And, we were a band for like a year, until we got Bella, because our other bassist quit.
Emily: It was like six months, maybe.
D: Bella got us to get our stuff together.
E: Yeah, we didn’t have written lyrics before that or anything.
D: Emily had written lyrics, but me and the other singer would literally just make stuff up as we went. Then, Bella was like “So, what are the lyrics?” and I was like “Uh, good question…”
How did you come up with the name Bruise Violet? Why is it significant?
D: It’s a song by the band Babes in Toyland that I really loved when I was 18. I thought it was a cool juxtaposition between something bruised, which is like violent, and something pretty like a violet.
Bella: Which is just us in a nutshell.
How did you each individually discover your instruments?
E: I guess when I was like eight or nine, my parents were like “You need a hobby.” And, I wasn’t good at sports so… they were like, “Let’s try music.” So, then I picked up guitar and my parents signed me up for School of Rock, which is when I learned how to play.
D: I played every instrument known to man and I sucked at them all. So, I thought, “Maybe I’m just bad at music?” The next best thing I could think of was Music Business. When I was fourteen, I was at McNally [Smith College of Music] in their Music Business section, but then one day I had to sound-check a drum set. Sean McPherson, who is highly respected and ran the program went up to my mom and was like “You need to get her behind a drum set,” and my mom was like “Hell no! She’s tried so many instruments and she quits them all! No way in hell am I buying her a drum set.” So, then he was like “Show her to this place…” And, it was School of Rock, where we all met! Then I started taking lessons and drums clicked right away.
B: I would say for me that it was more of an outlet for me. My family doesn’t believe in therapy or things like that so bass playing… I picked it up from my dad who had a shitty practice bass guitar in our basement. And, one day I picked it up and it seemed like a really good way for me to process certain things that I was going through. My mom ended up getting me into School of Rock to be able to further my skills. I met Danielle first, and I think we really vibed especially through music because bass and drums are like the meat and potatoes of the band.
D: You were also the only person nice to me at school of Rock.
B: Literally, I went up to her and was like “You’re going to be my best friend. No questions asked.”
What music groups have inspired you?
B: I say this every time, but I had nothing to do with Riot Grrrl or anything like that. I was raised on R&B like Erykah Badu and India.Arie… and then extremely heavy metal.
E: That’s the combination of a dream, honestly.
D: Well, it shows, because we have pretty melodies and then a harsher aspect.
B: I didn’t get into more female fronted punk-rock music until I got involved with Bruised Violet.
D: I call my three favorite bands “The Holy Trinity.” So, it’s Bikini Kill, Sleater Kinney and Babes in Toyland are my three main influences. I just love punk, and a lot of hardcore punk, too. As far as local bands, I’ve loved Kitten Forever from the moment I saw them.
E: I started out with more classic punk, like The Ramones. Then, I graduated to Emo music—as one does—and then I graduated to more modern punk. And then also Riot Grrrl. I feel like you can see all of them come into play. I write some Emo shit. I like all of the angst.
D: We straight up had a song that sounded like a My Chemical Romance. It goes like [singing] “I don’t wanna be here any moooore.”
How would you describe the type of music that you make?
B: It’s kind of weird, when you think about it.
D: We’ve been put on metal shows. We’ve been put on pop-punk shows… grunge shows. When we first were playing on the scene we were pretty much thrown around to whichever scene would take us. But, somehow we fit with everything.
E: Melodic punk.
What’s your favorite venue in Minneapolis to play and why?
E: Right now my heart’s saying the Triple Rock because it’s closing, and it’s so sad. But, normally I would say The 7th Street Entry.
D: Do you remember that one show when I took pink nail polish and wrote “Fuck Men” on the wall [at the Triple Rock]?
E: I literally was thinking about that the other day!
D: And it’s still there! We played our first big show at Triple Rock with Upset and Colleen Green and Kitten Forever. I was like 18 which means you guys were like 15.
B: That was a lit show!
D: There’s just like a lot of memories are there… We like grew up there as a band!
E: It’s true! It’s true… I grew up there and I grew up going to shows there.
What inspires your lyrics?
D: It depends on who originally writes the song.
B: It’s usually somebody writes out the main lyrics for the song and then we come in and just edit it.
D: Your songs [to Bella] tend to be more dynamic, while mine are really straight forward.
E: All the super super short songs are usually Danielle’s. The ones that are just like “blublublublublublub!!!”
D: Yeah, just like really loud, obnoxious, screaming punk, that’s me.
E: If it’s like “I’m so sad… I’m just ehh,” then that’s me.
What do you do on stage to amp up your fans?
E: My best. [everyone laughs]
B: The head-banging! I find that people actually watch.
E: [to Bella] People are so fucking into your stage presence and it’s grown over the years.
D: Your head-bang where–you have so much hair–and it just goes all the way down and flips up.
B: We played a show over at Indie Brewing not too long ago and I had my fro out for the first time and I just went ham with the head-banging. People were doing it with me and I was like, “Damn! Okay!” It took at least 24 hour for that–the pain–to go away.
E: Oh my god, yeah, I get headaches after it!
How has the Riot Grrrl movement influenced your music and stage presence?
D: It was a thing in the Riot Grrrl movement to wear dresses. We wanted to do this think where we would present super, super feminine… which sucks to do sometimes because you’re like I don’t want to put on all this makeup. But, we had this problem towards the beginning of the band where people wouldn’t talk to us–like, the other bands–because we looked so girly. Then, after we’d play they’d say, “You were so sick!” But, ya know, why couldn’t they have said that before? It really does show though that you can be feminine and you can be powerful. The music is influenced in the regard where we feel like we are free to talk about bad people and not feel ashamed. And the cursing… that’s not very lady like. But, we’re just like whatever.
E: I think towards the beginning we were actively trying to be more “Riot Grrrl,” and now we just write about whatever we want to write about. The Riot Grrrl movement was a great start, but I always say that it’s not always inclusive to people of color and to queer people. So, we don’t want to completely replicate that.
Who is the target audience for your music? Who are you mainly making music for?
D: Teenage girls.
E: That’s our goal audience. But our realistic audience is like “beer dads.”
D: Middle-age men like us a lot. Yeah, dads who come with their craft beer and look really unimpressed while watching us but then they’ll be like “You’re so sick!”
E: And then they’ll buy like $40 or $50 dollars worth of merch afterwards.
E: But my favorite are the teenage or younger girls or just younger people in general.
D: Yeah, the younger girls! They’ll come up to us and be like, “You’re the reason I started my band.” There was this little girl at Rock the Garden who caught my drumstick and she had these huge eyes and was holding onto it. I was like, wow, that’s honestly why I do this… If I’m going to help little girls want to play music. Because, honestly, that’s what Riot Grrrl was to me.
How do you inspire young girls?
B: Well, we met this young girl at the Pizza Lucé Block Party and it was really impactful for me because I’m in the punk scene–like there’s not a lot of POC. And, her seeing me on stage then was… we had a sort of connection based on that because we’re not often represented. That’s what I want to do for other young, black girls. It’s really nice being able to make an impact on them.
D: It’s also just such an unspoken connection between young girls and bands.
E: It’s like you get each other.
B: I love that unspoken understanding because I have to fight everyone all the time because, you know, all of us are into social justice and we’re very much advocates for many spectrums of it. Going out and having to constantly be on your guard and then finally finding someone who is a kindred spirit. You don’t have to talk or anything to understand each other. It’s healing.
Wake Magazine: Are you talking specifically about younger fans?
B: Honestly, just like women in general. Any femme-identifying person. It’s an innate “I get you, you get me” situation.
What’s the craziest thing a fan has ever done at one of your shows?
D: Good or bad?
B: They’re usually bad. Because, let me tell you… I don’t know how many times I’ve had to pull some motherfucker off of Emily.
D: A lot of guys try to grab at us.
E: … The amount of times I’ve had to pull out my mace. Grabbing it out of my back-pocket, like “You know that if you try anything there will be a song written about you.”
B: Bitch, you ain’t slick.
What is it like being successful local musicians and balancing life… school, work, etc.?
E: [singing] “You get the best of both worlds.”
D: I like to say I’m like Hannah Montana. I like the contrast of going to shows and signing autographs and taking pictures and then I go to class the next day and no one knows who I am. I’m one of the very few people that can say like ‘my job is my band.’ Being able to do what I love and not sacrificing it is cool.
B: For me, I’ve been so used to making comprehension out of chaos. My schedule… Oh my god. I feel that being in this band while in high school set me up for success.
E: It taught me time management more than my time management class did!
B: For real. It really taught me how to be able to handle a hectic schedule.
Who would your dream music collaboration be with?
B: Cardi B!!! [singing] “Said little bitch, you can’t fuck with me, if you wanted to…” I love her so much.
E: Can you imagine what our song would sound like together though?
B: Oh, it’d be heaven. What are you talking about? That’d be lit!
D: Dude, that’s so hard. I have so many! I have to think… If we’re staying with like punk roots I’d love to work with Sleater Kinney. And also David Byrne, from Talking Heads, is amazing. I’d love to see what we’d come up with.
B: It’d be cool to collab with Kitten Forever.
E: Or… Screaming Females.
D: Ah, I’m overwhelmed.
What is your favorite experience so far that you’ve had with the band?
D: Playing with Babes in Toyland was really cool. And like such an honor. I couldn’t get over it the whole time. They’re a band that I’ve looked up to.
B: For me it would be the “Strange Girls Never Die” Show. I mean they had artwork everywhere. They had this cool banshee slash mermaid woman. I loved that.
D: That was I think the first show where we saw that people were singing to our lyrics!
B: It was just all really good vibes. The people that were there were really chill.
E: I love those eclectic shows that are just themed just as “femme” shows. Because you’ve got those singer-songwriters, you’ve got us, you’ve got a DJ, a rapper. I like that because it gets people into genres that they wouldn’t normally hear. In some ways I like that way better than playing with just other punk bands.
D: Yeah, it’s just such a positive environment.
B: Just vibin’!
How has your band changed since you started out?
E: We’ve gotten older.
D: We’ve gotten not as obnoxious.
B: More tight.
D: The dynamic has just been understood because it’s been like four years, which is nuts. Playing bigger shows… But, I mean, we were just talking about this. We’ll play the [First Avenue] Main Room one minute and then our next show will be at the Hex.
E: You can play the Main Room a thousand times but you’re never too good for the Hex.
D: Hmm… Any other changes? Better fashion.
E: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
B: Well… Emily did have that little slip-up with her Chacos.
D: Oh my god… At Rock the Garden she turns around to me, second song, and says, “I forgot to change into my boots and I’m wearing Chacos right now!”
E: I have really bad Chaco tan-lines now, too.
What is the future of Bruise Violet?
D: We’re going to be rocking when we’re in our 80s.
E: We’re gonna be doing whatever the heck we want whenever we want.
D: I guess the music will change… I’d like to see us five years from now and see what has happened. How much older do we look? Do we have stable jobs?
B: The goal is to be on Nina Simone’s level of no chill in my life. Did y’all see that story about her? So, basically what happened was that back in the day, this record company in Switzerland had tried to take some of her albums without paying her, and she went and she took a gun and she shot at this man…
E: No… no! That stresses me out.
B: And she said, “I’m sorry I didn’t get ‘em.” Oh my god… She takes no shit from anybody.
D: You know what would be nice? A record label.
Bruise Violet is playing at The Hex on November 10th and at The 7th Street Entry on November 12th.