AfterDark’s Dean Hodge talks to one of the Horizons/Gorwelion 2015 artists Violet Skies about her Horizons year and recording at BBC Maida Vale.
The searing voice of South Wales singer-songwriter Violet Skies is one that fails to leave you the minute your ears are exposed to her breathless tone, and the hairs on your neck brought to standing point. Such is the emotional pull of it that she could even sing the phone dictionary and it would still sound like a hymn. Those gold-dusted lungs are aligned with an ear for a lingering melody and a curiosity for the more leftfield musical realms.
You may hear her name roll off the tongue of many pundits picking their tips for the musical success stories of 2016. I spoke to the rising singer shortly after her sessions for Horizons 2015 at the legendary BBC Maida Vale studio. She explains her unlikely choice to cover Justin Bieber‘s number one hit Sorry, her highlights with Horizons, and what we can expect from her in 2016.
DEAN: First of all, what did you make of the experience of recording at BBC Maida Vale?
VIOLET: It was an amazing feeling being there, but it took a while to really comprehend the fact that I was actually recording there along with my backing band and friends. When we began recording, we had quite a few setbacks. We had a couple of technical problems so it took us a long time to soundcheck.
By the third or fourth take, it only really sank in the realisation I was recording at Maida Vale. You look over to the wall and see the pictures on the wall of all the big names that have recorded here, and that’s when it fully hits you. I think it will be even more surreal for me when the videos from the day are released, and I see myself and all the band recording at Maida Vale.
DEAN: Did you feel a hint of frustration though that the experience was slightly beset by the technical issues you had?
VIOLET: It wasn’t frustrating because the team were so professional and they have so much experience among them. To us, this was a magical experience but in their eyes, we were probably just like any other artist or band coming in. The main issues we had initially mainly consisted of just buzzing feedback and problems with microphones, but it wasn’t anything that was super-stressful. It’s not often you get to record there so we wanted to ensure the sound was as flawless as it could be.
Because this was a rare opportunity for us, we wanted to ensure that the three tracks we recorded were the best they could possibly be. Because the team were so calm about the situation, I didn’t feel stressed at all, and just the experience of being in Maida Vale let alone playing there far overshadowed any setbacks we had. When everything finally came good for us and we laid down the tracks, it was an overwhelmingly great feeling.
DEAN: Because you had such a wait until you could finally record your three chosen tracks, did that build up any nerves or sense of pressure at all?
VIOLET: Because we spent days rehearsing beforehand and I knew the songs really well, I actually wasn’t nervous. To me, it just felt like another live show. The whole band were there too, as opposed to just me recording in a studio by myself.
Normally, I much prefer performing live than being in a studio. When you’re in a studio there’s actually more pressure because you’re recording something that will then be released to the wider world, so you have to get it right and it is a very particular process. But when we recorded at Maida Vale, it felt more laid-back and like just another live show really.
DEAN: Do you feel that you’ve become more natural and confident at playing in either a live or studio environment as a result of Horizons?
VIOLET: Prior to Horizons, I already played at a lot of festivals including Glastonbury. But with Horizons, I was playing live more regularly that I usually would. It was literally one show a month, and they were all important shows. You had The Great Escape, Festival Number 6, Swn Festival and for me, it will be Eurosonic next year. We were also told everything we’d do is going to be recorded and filmed. So it constantly pushed you to do better and to make your live show better. So when we came to Maida Vale, a couple of the tracks we played had already been rehearsed and performed hundreds of times already, so it didn’t feel as daunting as it initially would have.
DEAN: One of the three tracks you performed at Maida Vale, and your choice of cover, was Justin Bieber’s Sorry – a song which could be judged as a stark contrast to your usual sound and style. What inspired the choice of song?
VIOLET: I wanted to choose something that was totally different to ‘me’ and sound-wise was outside my comfort zone – so my natural choice was to choose a song by a male singer performing super-pop music. When choosing covers, my natural instinct is to look beyond what the songs sound like on the surface and where the underlying songwriting is actually good. As long as the song possesses a strong melody, it will translate well into whatever style no matter how you choose to do it.
Because Sorry by Justin Bieber has had such success in the single chart lately, it’s a song that people know really well and would instantly recognise. It’s a genuinely well-written song as well as really catchy so there’s lots of scope to play with it.
DEAN: I remember watching you all record the track on the day and having since heard the original by Justin Bieber for the first time, the version you did couldn’t be more different!
VIOLET: When doing a cover, you have to make it as far away from the original as possible and be able to adapt it to your own style. Otherwise, it’s more of a copy than a cover. Also, I find it hard to sing songs in the style of someone else. If you are constantly writing and performing your own songs, you naturally do it in your own style regardless.
“Horizons has pushed me to do things I’d never be able to do or think I’d be capable of achieving as an independent artist.”
DEAN: As well as Sorry, what were your other two tracks you recorded?
VIOLET: Patience is a track from my recent EP and one of my favourite songs I’ve written. Joel Grainger, who I wrote it with and who plays strings on the original version, was actually free at the time we recorded at Maida Vale. So that was a fitting way to be able to record the track with the person who I originally wrote it with. Then we did One Day, Three Autumns which will be the next single.
DEAN: What have been the highlights of the past year with Horizons for you?
VIOLET: For me, one of the highlights has definitely been going to The Great Escape. It was something I always wanted to do so it ticked a massive bucket list for me. I just saw playing there as an important thing I had to do as an emerging artist, and with the kind of music that I’m making. You have to approach this type of event with an open mind, but I’m really pleased with how it turned out.
I also enjoyed the first weekend with all the Horizons artists together. I still keep in touch with Hannah Grace all the time, as well as Peasant’s King and Dan Bettridge. It was good particularly to see that there is such a supportive network among Welsh artists.
DEAN: Where do you think Horizons has helped you progress as an artist?
VIOLET: I think myself and the majority of the artists, at the start of Horizons in April, were already at the stage where we already had some experience in various bits and bobs of the music industry. But Horizons has been a crash course in every possible area of the industry, and it’s helped in just being able to organise our year. For instance, it’s beneficial to know that you have a live show coming up on this date, and you have a recording session coming up on that date.
As an artist, you can be tied up all the time, and especially so when you’re having to balance music around other responsibilities. Horizons has felt like a one-stop-shop platform – part label, part live agent, part promoter and part everything else. These are things we’d never realistically be able to do fully as unsigned artists, so Horizons has provided a vital first step to all of that. I’ve enjoyed so many opportunities this year that I wouldn’t otherwise have had if it hadn’t been for Horizons.”
DEAN: So what are the plans for 2016?
VIOLET: I’m doing Eurosonic Festival in January with BBC Radio 1, representing the Horizons scheme. I will also be playing South By Southwest Festival. When I found out, I was a bit shocked as being picked to play there is a massive deal to me. It was Bethan Elfyn from BBC Radio Wales (project manager for Horizons) who pushed me to apply for it, and gave me the confidence that I could do it.
New music will also follow very soon around March at the earliest, and I’m looking forward to putting out there all the stuff I’ve working on for the past year. The new single, as I mentioned will be One Day, Three Autumns. I’ve been sitting on that track for a couple of months and started writing it around the time I was performing at Swn Festival in Cardiff. It feels like the perfect way to start the new year.
DEAN: To round things off, how would you sum up your time with Horizons in one line?
VIOLET: Horizons has pushed me to do things I’d never be able to do or think I’d be capable of achieving as an independent artist, and is a reminder of the great talent and support within the Welsh scene.
Watch Violet Skies‘ new single One Day, Three Autumns (released last Wednesday) below and see her perform the track for Horizons at BBC Maida Vale here.
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