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Bruise Violet's Danielle Cusack on creepers, consent, and critical dudes

Bruise Violet: Don't tell them how many chords to play

Bruise Violet: Don't tell them how many chords to play

They can’t yet legally drink, but Bruise Violet know how to have a good time.

The grunge-punk threesome of Danielle Cusack, Bella Dawson, and Emily Schoonover raged onto the scene in 2015 with their EP, Survival of the Prettiest, nabbed a second place spot in that year’s Picked to Click, and scored a Best New Band nod from City Pages the following year.

Formally trained musicians, the ferocious trio can harmonize in addition to screaming their heads off about age-appropriate topics like consent, creepers, toxic relationships, and that friend who never answers her phone. Though Dawson and Schoonover (both 17) are still finishing high school and Cusack (20) is majoring in anthropology, they’ve managed to churn out another EP, Trophy Wife.

We spoke to Cusack ahead of Bruise Violet’s release show at the Entry on Friday.

City Pages: Where does the title of the band’s new EP Trophy Wife come from?

Danielle Cusack: Emily and I had a song that had a lyric “You look at me like I’m your trophy wife.” We thought that it was encompassing of the feminine [aesthetic] we want to portray most of the time. On the cover we have a trophy wife looking woman with whacked-out eyes to sort of look like a demon. It parallels how we like to do the contrast of really rough and scary with the uber-feminine.

CP: It’s an interesting contradiction. On the one hand, you’re breaking stereotypes with the kind of music you play, yet on the other hand you’re confirming stereotypes with the band’s “girly-girl” appearance.

DC: I go to a lot of shows in the Twin Cities and I’ve found that when it comes to shows with harder music, everyone tends to present themselves as more masculine to portray “I’m meant to be here.” A question I had was, “Why can’t you be feminine and also scary and tough?” That’s what we went in with as a band and we had the idea of always wearing dresses and makeup but making this rough-and-tumble music to portray that yeah, we’re girls, but we can do this.

CP: Do you three identify as feminists?

DC: Yeah, absolutely.

CP: Tell me about one or two of the songs from the new EP and the stories behind them.

DC: Our single is called “Nightmare” and I wrote the basis of it after a situation where this person just wasn’t taking “no” for an answer from me and was being really creepy and I was really fed up with it. It’s a minute and a half of pummeling punk. I brought it to the girls and I was like, “I think we should make this one of our songs.” They loved it right away and we finished it in a day. Every time we play it live we tend to preface it with, “This song is about consent. You need to take no for an answer, and if not, that’s not cool.”

There’s this one song that Emily wrote called “Talk Shit Get Hit” about an unhealthy friendship that she had where she felt that this person was using her. The opening line is “You feed me lies and I can’t keep them down, so I spit them right back out at your feet.” I really loved that visual. When she first said that to us, I was like, “Oh, wow. That’s really powerful.” And that’s sort of the hook in the song.

CP: You mentioned a creeper. Have you figured out a good way to respond when you inevitably get cat-called or hit on when you’re hanging out, making music, or doing a show?

DC: We tend to go in with “That’s not cool,” and be like, “It’s not cool because of x, y, z.” If they continue the behavior, that’s when we tend to do, “All right, cut the nonsense. You’re out.” We tend to have really powerful people around us who really support who we are as women, especially older people on the scene, like Kitten Forever. We really admire them and they’ve really been helpful mentors. They’ve helped us get our voices to deal with people who are creepy or awful towards us.

CP: The band members’ ages are listed on Bruise Violet’s Facebook page. Why is that?

DC: I think it was more a thing when we were younger; people either thought that we were really, really young or much older, so I think we wanted to say, “This is how old we are.” People didn’t believe that we were young with the music that we were making and we were like, “Yeah, we are. Two-thirds of the band is still in high school.” Even me, as a college person, I have people come up to me being like, “You’re in the band with the high school kids, right?” Yeah, but that doesn’t explain the music we make.

CP: Emily and Bella will be graduating high school this year. Will they stay in Minnesota? Will the band continue?

DC: We’re still figuring that out. They’re at the point where they’re still looking at colleges. I support them either way. If they do leave the state, we’ll probably just do stuff when they’re back. If not, we’ll just see where the wind takes us.

CP: Is Bruise Violet something that you’re just enjoying for as long as it lasts rather than a dream you’re pinning all your hopes on?

DC: I feel like Bruise Violet has always been like that. We really did start this band more for fun. Me and Emily were in a ska band and there were three boys and three girls and then the three girls were messing around and like, “We should start a band!” Then the original bassist left the band and we got Bella. But it’s always been more like we’re writing for ourselves, not for anyone else. We’ve been lucky enough to have a following that have supported us through this time of really feeling like we can be ourselves.

CP: What do you all like to do for fun when you’re not playing music?

DC: The other two girls really are involved in theater, especially Bella. She’s in a community black box theater. Since she’s a girl who’s of mixed race, she likes to focus on her black power side and it’s really empowering to see. Emily is also very involved in politics. The two of them are very involved in activism outside of their schoolwork. I also work for a company called She Rock She Rock, which is teaching young girls and women how to play music and getting them out there and feeling comfortable to do that. I’m also in a bunch of other bands around the city. I think I’m the only other one in the band who, outside of the band, still does music.

CP: What is the best advice you impart to the women and girls you work with about being a woman in the music industry?

DC: I tend to tell them, “Don’t try and conform to what dudes want you to. There’s this thing where they’ll always find something that’s a fault. They’ll say, ‘Oh, they don’t have a complicated song. They only write four-chord or one-chord songs.’ And then you’ll attempt to write more complicated songs and they’re like, ‘Ugh, it seems like they’re trying so hard!’ So you’re always going to get criticized. Just do what you want.”

My mom tends to always tell me, “If you’re doing what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I think that that applies to music as well. Practically, yeah, Bruise Violet is a job. We make music and we get paid for it, but we love what we do, so it never ever feels like a job. And we do what we want, and it’s really empowering to constantly do what you want.

Bruise Violet
With: Catbath, Sass, and Joe Davis and the Poetic Diaspora
Where: 7th St. Entry
When: 8 p.m. Friday, April 7
Tickets: 18+ $5; more info here