Punk rock is the blood of Bruise Violet. All of the band members grew up with parents who spun the good stuff — vocalist Danielle Cusack’s parents were part of the New York City scene in the ’70s and ’80s, spending their nights at CBGB. Cusack’s mother told her she once turned down Joey Ramone when he made a pass at her after a show.
“He apparently thought she was cute, and her friends were like, ‘Sue, hop on that,’” Cusack said. “She’s like, ‘I can’t. He has long fingernails.’”
The group’s immediate success shocked the trio, named after the 1992 Babes in Toyland anthem. Two-thirds of the band isn’t old enough to vote — at 16, Emily Schoonover and Bella Dawson attend high school and balance the punk rock life with classes and play practice. Nineteen-year-old Cusack is the mother and businessperson of the group, but it’s evident the three members possess maturity and drive well beyond their years.
Recent recognition from local media and upcoming high-profile gigs cements the band’s status in the local music pantheon. They’re playing an eight-song set for local radio station the Current’s “A Tribute to the Replacements” (their first show at the First Avenue’s Mainroom) on Friday and are on the bill for the next edition of Girl Germs at the Turf Club in December.
Their debut EP, “Survival of the Prettiest,” is brash and short at five tracks. The polish and command the band exhibits without losing punk’s raw power is an anomaly. Take one listen to their track, “Wasted,” and it’s clear the band has taken cues from their namesake. Twinges of Bikini Kill come through as well, and this portmanteau creates a raucous sound reminiscent of Young Marble Giants, had it gone electric.
Bruise Violet improvised the lyrics to its early songs on the spot, contributing to a flagrant punk ethos that manifests in its frenetic melodies.
“We were just angry, and we wanted to write songs,” Cusack said of Bruise Violet’s beginning days. “We’re teenagers; we gotta get that angst out, and we made all these songs that were really angry and rehearsed so much. We looked back [at] when we played those songs, and we’re like, ‘Why did we do that?’”
In the past year, the group’s discipline and songwriting ability made leaps and bounds as they spent more and more time practicing the craft.
“I have a notebook by my bed and a pencil, so in the dark — half asleep — I’ll jot something down. Then I’ll read it the next morning, and I can never ever read what it says, and when I can, it usually doesn’t make sense. Once in a while, there’s something cool in there,” Schoonover said.
The grit behind Bruise Violet’s songwriting and sound comes from its tenacious persistence. Schoonover, the most reserved of the trio, made the connection that catapulted Bruise Violet into the local punk scene on a whim. The power of that one show drew the band out of obscurity and introduced them to a new crowd.
“We played a cover show called, ‘You’re Pretty Good for a…’ at Seward Cafe. We covered Sleater-Kinney, and Laura [Larson] from Kitten Forever was there,” Cusack said. “Emily just ran up to her and said, ‘We want to play a show with you.’ And she was like, ‘OK.’ We organized the show at Memory Lanes, and they were super supportive. … Just from there, we started getting more into the punk scene than the ‘young scene’ we were in before.”
Much like former classmates Hippo Campus, Bruise Violet hit the scene with a bang. Both bands placed second in City Pages’ Picked to Click poll —Hippo Campus in 2014, Bruise Violet this year — and were featured on the Current’s Local Show during their early days. While drawing conclusions from these parallels is presumptuous, the band’s pedigree is one in a line of success.
“[Hippo Campus vocalist Jake Luppen] worked with us at School of Rock, so he was kind of like a mentor to us,” Dawson said of her high school classmate. “We were watching Hippo Campus at Grand Old Days, and now they’re on freaking Conan.”
“Jake messaged me a week ago being like, ‘I’m super proud of Bruise Violet.’ I worked with him at camp, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m in this band now. Here, watch a video.’”
Bruise Violet played the Local Show near the end of host David Campbell’s run. The trio’s quick ditties, can-do attitude and love of dogs endeared them to the host and the station, as did their lack of an off-putting smell.
“David Campbell is awesome; [he’s] a super nice guy,” Cusack said. “We love dogs, so he sent us a picture of a pug after we were done. … He even told us, ‘We like you guys. You smell good.’”
“‘You don’t smell like cigarettes’ is what he said,” Schoonover added.