Rena Lovelis Talks Hey Violet’s Blistering LP ‘From The Outside’: Interview
Hey Violet made the leap from pop/punk to synth-driven alt-pop look easy with 2016 single, “Guys My Age.” The fiery anthem is equal parts Joan Jett and Blondie with a splash of something defiantly original and modern. It was a blast of fresh air on pop radio and promptly became the band’s first entry on the Billboard Hot 100. They backed it up with the equally-heady “Break My Heart” and relatable ballad “O.D.D.” The group’s debut LP as Hey Violet, From The Outside, dropped in June and it’s a riveting listen.
I recently grabbed lunch with lead singer Rena Lovelis to discuss the album and the band’s effortless change of direction. She explained that the sonic overhaul happened organically and is basically just a vehicle for them to tell different stories. The 19-year-old also gave some insight into the personal nature of the record (she literally handed over her journal to the group’s producer) and dissected some of her favorite tracks. Gain a deeper understanding of From The Outside in our Q&A below.
The band’s sound has evolved a lot over time. How did you settle on the new direction?
Just by experimenting with different sounds. It was a process of discovery. I think where it really came from is just deciding what we wanted to talk abut, what we wanted to sing about — and building our sound around that.
Were you scared to leave your pop/punk niche?
I think what was most scary about it is that it was something new, and I feel like everyone is always going to be afraid of change or everyone’s going to be afraid of something they don’t quite understand and we didn’t really understand pop music because our roots were guitars, drums and all of that. We still have that just in a different way and with more synths. It was scary just because we felt we might shock our fans a little too much, but they’ve been totally on board. We couldn’t ask for a better fan base.
Kids listen to everything these days.
Yes, everything. It’s this mishmash of different genres. Like when you say “pop” that could encompass a million different things. We’re alternative pop and that would mean 100,000 different things. I feel like it’s a lot less judgmental because there are so many ways to do different genres. It’s freeing.
I read that the original version of ‘Guys My Age’ was more rock.
The finished version sounds a little different than the demo, but the core of the song is there. You know what I’m saying? I wouldn’t say that we changed it to be more pop. It was already pop. I think the only thing that really changed was that the original lyrics were a lot dirtier. I might feel more comfortable saying those things later in life, but it’s not something I want to delve into right now. So we changed them and I love the song.
What were the original lyrics?
[Rena presses pause on my recorder and sings the blush-inducing lyrics]. And we’re back! At the time, I was like, “This is awesome, this is great.” Then when I thought about it, I was like, “You know what, I’m not that open about my sex life.” I’m just not and I’m comfortable not being open about it because I have my own private thing. If it sells the song, then I’m okay with it, but it didn’t sell the song. It wasn’t really necessary.
Did you have a feeling it was going to be a big song when you recorded it?
I had a feeling. I actually had a feeling right when we wrote it. I was like, “There’s something about this song that people are really latching on to, that I’m really latching on to as an artist.” There was just something special about it. So I did have a feeling, but there wasn’t talk of it being a single until later when we got to hear all the songs that came out of the writing sessions.
Why did you release an EP before the album with the same songs?
I think it was just a matter of, if we’re putting out this album — people still don’t really know us. I don’t think that I’m famous in any way shape or form and I’m not saying that to be annoyingly humble or modest, but we’re just not. We were like, “People don’t know us and maybe they haven’t heard the EP, so we should put those songs on the album.” So it’s like a refresher. That was basically our thinking — people should be able to hear our EP.
What inspired “O.D.D.”? It’s one of my favorite songs on the album.
Nia [Lovelis] was the main writer on that. Basically, the inspiration for that song was that she got bullied a lot at school. It’s just a little ballad-y anthem for our fans who feel like they’re alone and it kind of, I don’t know, it speaks to us in a way that you’re not going to be alone. There’s no reason that you harm yourself or hurt yourself in any way and do things that are bad for you just because you know we all feel alone sometimes.
How did you connect with [producer] Julian Bunetta?
You know, that aspect of it is a little foggy. I think our management actually found him. We were looking for an executive producer that was going to make all of our songs sound cohesive, help us shape our sound. So we met with a couple of people, Julian being one of them, and immediately Julian and I kind of clicked. He was weird and I was weird and our weirdness somehow mixed together and he was into what we were doing and I was into what he produced and so it just happened to work out perfectly.
Did you already have a batch of songs?
No. We started completely fresh. It was very scary and somehow like really comfortable. It’s like when you’re sitting in front of a blank canvas and you’re like, “I could paint anything.” It’s both scary because you could paint anything and also freeing because you could paint anything. I feel like that’s exactly kind of how it was.
I love that the album feels like a snapshot of adolescence.
I think that our music does capture the essence of being young, but it also has a nostalgic feel to it, but it has a very modern heart.
How much of the lyrics are based on personal experiences?
It’s mostly personal experience with a little fairy dust of story telling. You know what I’m saying?
Do you ever feel like you’re exposing too much of yourself?
I think all artists have the experience of being scared. It’s literally a straight out of my journal kind of thing. I think people can relate to it without us forcing it to be relatable. It’s really just this is what is going on in my life. Maybe people will understand it, maybe they won’t. I mean it’s funny that you say it’s like a snapshot of youth because literally within the first week of writing with Julian, I handed him my journal. I let him read it and you know when you give someone something and you’re watching their expression to see how they react to it? That was me the entire time. He learned about a lot of issues that I’m having and a lot of things that I was going through.
A song that feels really raw is “This Is Me Breaking Up With You.”
That song came about because we really just wanted a fun live song. We just wanted something that would be hard-hitting, really fast, just the essence of raw punk, you know? Just the essence of 1980s New York punk scene. I was like, “How is this going to fit in with everything?” And then we decided to put it in as the last song on the album. It’s cohesive even if it’s left of field. “Like Lover’s Do” is another completely strange song, you know? I think the common thread is that we are inspired by Joan Jett, Cyndi Lauper, Blondie, Madonna and Gwen Stefani.
I really want “Where Have You Been (All My Night)” to be a single. That’s my favorite.
Okay, that’s my favorite! After “Hoodie” I don’t think we know what the next single is going to be, but I love that song. I totally am on the same page as you. That song is really nostalgic and just with the synth sound and the vocals… there’s something really desperate about it in a lonely way and I love that.
Who are you listening to now?
What’s funny is that my playlist is completely ass backwards and it’s like completely different stuff. Like it will go from “be my, be my little baby” to hardcore punk to Blink 182 to Louis Armstrong and Lester Young, and so it’s kind of all over the place. I’m listening to a lot of The 1975, a lot of Mac DeMarco, a lot of new Paramore.