Teen punks Bruise Violet are 'Broadway meets Bikini Kill'

Bella Dawson, left, and Emily Schoonover of Bruise Violet in their Minneapolis practice space

Bella Dawson, left, and Emily Schoonover of Bruise Violet in their Minneapolis practice space

I can hear screams coming from the Schoonover house from four blocks away.

Inside the mud-colored south Minneapolis stucco home, 16-year-old Emily Schoonover, Bella Dawson (15), and Danielle Cusack (18) sit in a screened-in porch swigging Dr Pepper and losing their shit over Halli Galli, a reflex-intensive German card game. When I arrive, the family's wiry whippet, Eugene, interrupts with an uproar of barks, Emily's father calming the din with a patient grin and a serving of molten brownies.

It's in the basements of jovial, warm households like this where young bands retreat to make punk rock. Bruise Violet might be archetypal in that regard, but nothing else about the trio of teenagers is average. After finishing the entire pan of brownies, we descend to the basement, and Schoonover, Dawson, and Cusack strap on their instruments and proceed to shred their Norman Rockwell pedigree to tinsel.

The rehearsal leads with "Sketchy Jeff," the first track from the band's debut EP, Survival of the Prettiest, which they'll celebrate at the 7th St. Entry this Saturday. The song is a virulent screed against male privilege, as punctuated by Cusack's shriek of, "You think you rule the world/But I'll show you what it's like to get your ass kicked by a girl."

Named after a single by Twin Cities hellraisers Babes in Toyland, Bruise Violet bill themselves as "sugar, spice, and a kick in the teeth." With thick chord jumps and thumpy bass right out of early-'90s Bay Area hardcore and lyrics that could've been sourced from emotional Tumblr subculture, the grads of St. Paul's School of Rock program are an exercise in juxtaposition. Cusack likes to call Bruise Violet's sound "angry harmonic punk," using the tagline "Broadway meets Bikini Kill" to reconcile their theatrical three-pronged vocals and choleric feminist ideals.

"I don't want people to be like, 'Wow, look at this girl band' or 'Look at these teenage girls!'" Cusack says, noting that reviewers often harp on reductive terms like riot grrrl. "I love riot grrrl, but we don't call ourselves that. We worked hard on these songs. They're nicely technical songs; we put a lot of thought into them."


Count Babes in Toyland drummer Lori Barbero as a fan. She was won over after catching Bruise Violet perform at the Triple Rock in April. "They're really great," Barbero told City Pages in June. "They're the age where they all could be my children. It's very flattering, and it's really sweet."

Garbed in sundresses and marked with red lipstick, Bruise Violet are at work in the family basement creating false expectations. In the middle of their practice session, the three pause for a vocal exercise. "Asshooooole..." starts Cusack. Schoonover and Dawson join in. "Asshooooole, aaasshoooooole, AAAAASSHOOOOOOLEEEE." It's like an irreverent variant of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," and the girls can't help reveling in the fun. They smile in a way that reveals how much they enjoy chiding those who dare to take them less than absolutely seriously.

"I can't count the amount of times people came up to me and asked me whose girlfriend I was or if I needed help turning on my amp," Schoonover says with a sneer. "I've been playing guitar for eight years — I think I know how to turn on my own amp."

In the throes of the rehearsal, Schoonover's mountainous yawp bewitches in vague, cathartic platitudes like "don't you ever say I told you so" ("Sketchy Jeff") and "oh, don't come any closer" ("Hella Rad Hella Sad Hella Angsty"). Cusack is a bulldog behind the kit, pummeling canvas and brass artillery and channeling Babes singer Kat Bjelland in her screams. Meanwhile, Dawson, the group's soft-spoken bassist, contorts her lips around her braces as she fills the low end of the harmony and plucks out sinister, heavy metal-inspired basslines.

People don't expect the kind of girls who delight in board games and sodas to be capable of making caustic, technically brilliant punk music, and that's the exact presupposition Bruise Violet are out to subvert. Cusack borrowed the EP's title from Hamline University classmate Blythe Baird and her viral poem, "Girl Code 101," to position her band as the aggressors — and not the casualties — in the American gender war.

"One of the lines was like, 'This is not female privilege, this is survival of the prettiest,'" Cusack says. "I think it captures us well. We like to say that we're a juxtaposition of really tough and angry and light and pretty."

Recorded over a three-day period at Blank Wall Recording in Minneapolis, Survival of the Prettiest is as much about cementing the band's material as it is broadcasting this ethos.

"This is the first thing I've ever had out that's literally my band," Schoonover says. "I'm excited because, whenever I tell people I'm in a band, they're like, 'What do you have out?' I'm like, 'Well, I have a live album, and one song that has Pepe the Frog on the cover so....'"

Survival is not only Bruise Violet's first professional statement, it's the first recording where they've managed to bottle the synchronicity of their live show. This is partly because Survival is the first recording to feature Dawson on bass.

"Musically, we're all really in tune with each other," Dawson says, "which is really hard to find in a band." Dawson's is a grounding presence, and this is evident on later-penned songs "Wasted" and "Maybe You're the Problem." With an anchor found in their new bassist, the three finally felt compelled to lay their harmony to wax. "We're like a three-person choir," Schoonover adds.

Shaking the tinnitus of another solid go-around, the girls pack up their instruments and head back upstairs. Schoonover's dad, who left the basement after doling out earplugs, has ordered three pies from Pizza Luce, and he guilts me into staying for dinner. Around the table, the spent banshees scarf Hawaiian slices and discuss what Eugene should wear for Halloween. The angst, isolation, and upheaval of the previous hour is completely absorbed by PG-13 politicking and marinara sauce. 0x00E7

Bruise Violet will celebrate the release of Survival of the Prettiest on August 29 at 7th St. Entry. Click here for tickets and more info.