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Zaii Valdes of Violet Silhouette Discusses Musical Heritage

The Floridian and his band unleash a most unique sound for your enjoyment

Zaii Valdes of Violet Silhouette discusses new album and proud roots in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.

The sound of Violet Silhouette is unlike anything else you’re likely to hear. Their music blends rock and electronic with dance—with a great deal of mystery tossed in for good measure. But however it’s classified, their sound is rather unique.

Singer/guitarist/drummer Zaii Valdes is joined in the group by Dan Potvin and Justin Gianoutsos. The group’s latest EP, “FEVERBLUE,” drops October 20. In anticipation of the latest release, Valdes spoke with Alchemical Records about the new record and, in honor of his Cuban extraction, Hispanic Heritage Month—which kicked off September 15. Our conversation has been edited for clarity.

Violet Silhouette pose for a press photo at a dining room table that has a knife in the middle.
Violet Silhouette - Press Photo - Courtesy of Chris Valdes

How did you first get involved in music?

Being of Cuban heritage, music and dance were very much a part of [my] cultural and familial experience. Not to mention, there was a spiritual aspect to it—trance states and such that could be achieved from rhythm and beat.

Every weekend, my family would get together in festivity. There would be food, drink and percussion instruments being passed around for any and everyone to join in on the “cypher.” As a child, my favorite [instrument] was the bongos. It was such a direct connection: hand to canvas equals sound. This is what I needed in such a larval state of my musical development.

Your music seems to blend elements of traditional rock with electronica and various other styles. How do you go about fashioning such a unique mix?

Growing up, my parents were big fans of disco and New Wave. And, as a kid growing up in the ’90s, I loved playing video games. Many of them sampled interesting synthesizer sounds that I grew to love. This had an enormous influence on me—and, in a sense, prepared me to have an amphibious attitude towards music production.

Who were some of your influences on what your sound has become?

The Cure (“Disintegration” era), Depeche Mode, and early Skinny Puppy. I think these groups really exemplify the blending of different musical elements. Not to mention there is this really “cold” aspect to these bands I always appreciated.

Violet Silhouette pose for a black-and-white press photo in front of a moody backdrop that casts shadows.
Violet Silhouette - Press Photo - Courtesy of Chris Valdes.

Are you excited for the new EP “FEVERBLUE”?  What can people expect when they hear it?

Very [excited]. The writing process on this EP felt like something that shipped me off to the middle of the ocean. I felt so isolated and emotionally distant from everything. However, there were moments of pure joyful abandon, too. Maybe that’ll be picked up on by the listener.

**What is the story behind the new song “Strange Wind”?  If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn it came out sometime in the late-’80s or even early-’90s. It has quite a lot going on.  **

In having close proximity to the nightclub and music scene, it’s like being by a great body of water where we all go to swim and explore depths. While some can stay close to shore, some get pulled far. Some possess some instinctual urge to go deeper. Some get taken by what feels like invisible forces or currents.

Sometimes we lose people, we lose connections, and find ourselves far from that sense of home. The opening bass line [in “Strange Wind”] feels like water entering your lungs, and everything else comes crashing down to sink you deeper into this sort of lament.

I noticed on “Hierda Demoniaca” that the lyrics are somewhat difficult to parse among the overall soundscape. Was that done on purpose?

I’ve been using this “layered” vocal approach, which gives this large, sultry character to the recordings—combining baritone, tenor, and even quietly whispered vocals and other vocal artifacts. Then we apply various mixing techniques to achieve this sort of tapestry of sound.

The pronunciation of the lyrics isn’t what was important to us in this song, but more of getting the vocal to sound like it is slowly pouring into one’s ears. It’s always interesting when you can’t exactly make out the lyrics; your mind starts to almost make up its own. But of course, one could always reference the lyric sheet if they want to know what’s really being said.

We are highlighting you for Hispanic Heritage Month.

Thank you, I appreciate that!

What do you feel people maybe don’t understand about this annual celebration?

Being Hispanic is interesting in that it’s an amalgam of so many ethnicities and cultures. Whether it’s food, music, fashion—everything has been in some way or form influenced by another [culture]. What a beautiful thing.

How does your Cuban heritage influence you today, if at all?

My parents fled Cuba in a village fishing boat with me when I was just a year old. Granted, I remember nothing from being so young. It was perilous and the sea almost claimed our lives, as it has done to other refugees tragically.

We would settle in South Florida amongst the immigrant community. My family helped others who made the same voyage by providing them with housing, clothing, and whatever job opportunities were available until they got on their feet.

My father was a boatsman, and as early as I could remember, I was on/in water: swimming, floating, and at times confronted by the fear the ocean possessed. Oceanic elements often pervade my poetry and lyrics. It is a theme inextricably tied to me.

Violet Silhouette poses for a black-and-white press photo with the lead singer holding an umbrella and a knife.
Violet Silhouette - Press Photo - Courtesy of Chris Valdes.

What are your live shows like? We know DJs and we know bands, but because your sound is a hybrid, does that change how you perform live?

All of us came from some variant of a punk background, so that gets vented in our live shows with the way we flail about onstage. There’s a certain kind of restless energy that gets its way with us during our performances.

We employ live instrumentation via guitars, bass, analog synths, and vocals. The drums we like to keep electronic because they just really exemplify that sound we’re doing. However, I would love to overlay some acoustic percussion like Japanese taiko drums or steel drums through a series of multi-FX for live shows in the near future.

With the album coming out in October, what’s next for you and the group in the fall? Will you be coming up to the Washington, D.C. area at all to perform?

We have a couple of dates in South Florida, including Miami in October. Then we’re doing a couple of dates on the West Coast, which we’re really excited about. After that, we’re aiming for the Northeast. We’d love to hit the D.C. area.

What else would you like our readers here at Alchemical Records to know about you and Violet Silhouette?

This [EP] started when shit really sucked, both on a societal level and on a personal level. If there’s anyone out there who is “waiting for the right time” to start writing music, that time is now. Yes, while you have no money. Yes, while you’re having personal problems.

Creativity is, in some manner of speaking, an act of defiance—a personal plight and plunge into the very complexes that make you an individual. Celebrate it, with warts and all. And in the process, as Tim Leary famously put it, “…find the others.”

Visit www.violetsilhouette.com, www.instagram.com/violetsilhouetteofficial, and www.facebook.com/violetsilhouetteofficial to learn more.

Eric Althoff

A native of New Jersey, Eric Althoff has published articles in “The Washington Post,” “Los Angeles Times,” “Napa Valley Register,” “Black Belt,” DCist, ScreenComment.com and Luxe Getaways. He produced the Emmy-winning documentary, “The Town That Disappeared Overnight,” and has covered the Oscars live at the Dolby Theater. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with his wife, Victoria.

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