Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

There's a riot (grrl) going on... on Long Island

by Rich Quinlan

As someone old enough to remember the emergence of the riot grrl movement in the early 90s, I distinctly recollect the energy, the fury, and the political savvy of bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Team Dresch, and eventually the majesty of Sleater-Kinney. The arrival of anything from the Kill Rock Stars label was met with bated breath and a sense of almost giddy excitement from every DJ in my tiny college station.

While riot grrl certainly never fully disappeared, almost twenty-five years after first changing the face of punk, that same energy is back in the form of Long Island, NY’s Sharp Violet. Lead vocalist and lyricist Liz Meehan was kind enough to answer a few questions for me, ranging from the origin of the band through rotating members and instruments, to the current state of gender politics in America.

Emerging as a soundtrack to the #MeToo Movement, Sharp Violet blends political acumen and musical strength into a dynamic mass of shrewd playing that makes people think as fiercely as it makes them move. I think it would be too myopic to label Sharp Violet as solely a “political” act, for they discuss an array of subjects within their songs, but it is equally faulty to not recognize them for tackling the reality of an unbalanced legal system and still lingering stigmas surrounding rape.

When asked about the impact of #TimesUp, Meehan’s response was measured and far more articulate than those running for the country’s highest office: “I think it's incredible what the Me Too and Times Up Movements have accomplished [for] it shed a light to what has been happening to women for years and we are finally giving a voice and justice to the survivors. Rape is the only crime where the victim is treated like a suspect and that needs to change. These movements, the Women's March, it's proof that there is power in numbers and that people can create change for a better world. We still have a long way to go but hopefully the next generation will know the meaning of "Me too" but no one will ever have to say those words again”. Sharp Violet channels this frustration tinged with a sense of hope into powerful and meaningful punk.

Meehan formed the nucleus of Sharp Violet in early 2016 with herself, guitarist Jessica Benenati and drummer Jasmine Fuentes as “the core members of the band”, and after a handful of players coming in and out of the ranks, including multiple drummers, the band added Alli Sondergard on bass and the band was officially a unit. Fluidity among the members’ musical abilities has allowed every member except Meehan to play bass at some point in Sharp Violet’s existence, and Fuentes and Benenati also lend their vociferous talents to hardcore band Senseless and singer/songwriter Emi Pellegrino, respectively. The band has been recording steadily since 2017, releasing a series of singles on bandcamp and Spotify, but their greatest area of growth has been performing live.

The members of Sharp Violet with Jersey Beat's Rich Quinlan

My first encounters with Sharp Violet allowed me to witness a burgeoning powerhouse of an act, but a group still gaining confidence on stage. Meehan, formally rather demure in front of a crowd, now effortlessly interacts and makes jokes with the audience, introducing songs “Boys and Candy” as “two of my favorite things” with a wry smile. The increased comfort on stage is a trait readily acknowledged by all the members, and as Meehan noted, “I think once you are comfortable playing together then the stage presence comes through and in a more natural way”. While Sharp Violet is committed to shining a light on serious and significant topics threatening contemporary America, they still know how to make punk rock fun, a trait desperately missing within the genre.

As the band’s sole songwriter, Meehan is both the vocal and poetic face of Sharp Violet. Her simmering anger and smoldering intelligence shines through most brightly on the social commentary of “These are the Rules, Boys” and “Domino Effect”, both tracks taking a direct shot on the rich and powerful figures of film, television, and politics who have watched their previously imperious worlds collapse, and Meehan’s words are usually punctuated with the pummeling force of Fuentes’ drumming. While the aforementioned efforts are celebratory and biting works inspired by the rise of the #MeToo movement, other ideas have been around for years, as Meehan explained that “some of the lyrics are from when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, fast forward fifteen years later it's nice that they are finally seeing the light of music”.

Surrounding Meehan are two highly adroit guitarists, Marie Tornetto (who has now switched to bass) and Benenati, whose ability to construct furious riffs, such as the blazing punk of “New York”, is equally matched by their propensity to alter tempo and branch outside traditional riot grrl structures. The moody “Black Widow”, driven by rugged bass, moves at a pace closer in nature to mid-90s grunge or indie than raucous riot grrl, a quality that makes Sharp Violet unique (And for future reference, or to keep your scorecard straight, Alli is now playing guitar).

This band is not simply doing a color by numbers imitation of female punk pioneers, for even their take on Blondie’s “Hangin’ on the Telephone” is played with a recklessness not heard on the original; instead, the five talented women from Lindenhurst, New York bring their own interpretations of the genre into the twenty-first century. The diversity of the band’s song structures is an outgrowth of Sharp Violet’s members, as “each member has different music tastes and that also inspires our writing and sound”, according to Meehan. There are the easily identifiable riot grrl influences such as Sleater Kinney, Bikini Kill, Blondie, and The Distillers, but No Doubt and Bad Cop Bad Cop are two other acts that are sprinkled into the Sharp Violet potion to create a band that celebrates the origins of the genre but does not live there.

As much as fans appreciate the string of singles Sharp Violet has delivered, the obvious question as to when a full-length release will finally emerge has to be asked. To that, Meehan offers an honest, but optomistic response, “Recording is a bit tough because of everyone's different schedules but we are looking do more recording. We're hoping to release an album, maybe by the end of the year.”

While Sharp Violet has formulated a sturdy and committed fan base throughout New York City’s largest suburb, often playing with their “brother band” from Lindenhurst, Steve and the Not Steves, the band is now beginning to venture outside the LIE. The upcoming weeks include a show in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on October 12th at Jason’s Woods before returning home for their own post-Halloween costume party on November 2nd in Bethpage, NY. My advice is to check the line up and make sure to arrive early to see one of the most discerning and important bands on the east coast.

Sharp Violet on Bandcamp

Sharp Violet on Facebook

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