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"We're the most insecure band in Denver," says Heather Dalton, vocalist for the Shrinking Violets. Adds Alex Slagg, the group's guitarist: "I think one of our strengths is that we're our own worst critics as far as stage performance, writing and practicing."
That's saying something in light of the reviews other musicians have given this young group, which also includes bassist Elie Kimura and drummer Dave Farley. The bandmembers, for instance, are quick to acknowledge their admiration for peers such as Jux County, the Psychodelic Zombiez and Cavity, but Kimura notes, "All those bands would hate us." Indeed, even Dalton's current beau, Babihed guitarist Michael Elkerton, describes the Violets' music--which favors tasteful textures and pure-pop sensibilities over the aggressive posturing utilized by many Denver contemporaries--as "pussy rock."
The same phrase might be used pejoratively by those local girl rockers who have been critical of Dalton's overt, onstage displays of sensuality. When asked about this camp's disdain for the vocalist's more-than-occasional reliance on her considerable sex appeal, Kimura suggests that the complainers are simply jealous because "they don't have any."
Dalton, too, defends her actions but concedes that a stern lecture from Billy Corgan--the lead singer of the Smashing Pumpkins as well as one of Dalton's favorite performers--gave her pause. The Violets had met Corgan and company after the Pumpkins' 1993 Ogden Theatre performance. When the Pumpkins returned to Denver as part of the recent Lollapalooza festival, Corgan turned up at the Lion's Lair and renewed contact with Dalton. "He sat and talked to me for about an hour and a half, giving me advice on the band and stuff," she says. When the subject of her sex-kitten persona came up, she recalls, "He completely chastised me. He told me, `Don't do that--that's bad.'" After the exchange, Dalton admits, "I had to second-guess myself. But I decided I'm going to do what I'm going to do whether Billy Corgan tells me to do it or not."
Appropriately, Dalton's sex life is a prominent part of the songs she pens for the Violets. But she insists that her performance antics are primarily a form of audience manipulation to which she resorts only when she feels a crowd's attention drifting. And if doing what comes naturally during a tune entitled "Masturbation" draws a little more attention to her than she might otherwise have gotten, she continues, "That's not all bad."
Slagg agrees. Although he sometimes fears that Dalton's approach may cause the band to be perceived purely as a novelty act, he says that's fine by him "as long as you have something to back it up." Namely, talent.
Dalton and her fellow Violets are no slouches in that department. At a recent show, the musicians exhibited an impressive command of dynamics and an anthemic playing style reminiscent of pre-Achtung Baby U2. Dalton's lyrics, too, reveal a more-than-passing acquaintance with such subjects as depression, twentysomething angst and romantic dysfunction.
The band's aspirations toward the emotive depth of influences such as REM and Pasty Cline have not yet been achieved, however. In spite of Dalton's vocal consistency and her sonic resemblance to Madonna and Natalie Merchant, she presently seems to be limited to the type of syncopated, two-note melodies favored by Michael Stipe before he could sing a lick. Likewise, Kimura and Slagg remain self-conscious during performances; they spend less time looking at audiences than at their own hands. Nonetheless, Kimura believes that he's not as apprehensive during gigs than he was previously, thanks in part to the secret weapon he uses to neutralize preshow jitters. "I just drink more," he says.
Clearly, the act has plenty of room to grow--which is appropriate given the youth of its members (Farley, at 26, is the Violets' senior citizen) and the short time they've been playing together. The band was formed just six months ago from the ashes of several local groups the Violets prefer not to name. Their reticence is understandable: Would you brag about a stint with a combo called Blisterhand?
To speed up their musical development and build a larger local following, the Violets plan to perform at a pace of about one show a week--they next appear Friday, August 5, at the Ogden, alongside Skull Flux, Sister Anne, Specialized Crew, and Lord of Word and the Disciples of Bass. The players also are recording their first eight-track demos at the Dog House, a studio owned by Capitol Hillbilly Jerry Jerome.
Slagg believes that all of these endeavors have a common theme. "We're not pretentious," he says. "We just like to go out and have fun." In a tone suggesting that he's fully aware how hokey his words may sound, he adds, "I feel like we're an honest band.