The unlikely bedfellows of garage rock, grunge, country, reggae, and hip-hop genres are not just labels used to impress a wide audience of fans and prick up the ears of critics. Hanna Brewer and fellow founding member guitarist/vocalist Taylor Busby, and bass player Joe "Prankster" Cannariato harness a party rock sound that cannot be conveniently classified. And more specifically for Brewer, it is a sound borne out of vengeance aimed at the religious zealotry, racial bigotry, and small-town mentality that pervaded the Jefferson County seat in which she was raised — Vidor, Texas.
Whether it's the hippy-hoppy jive-talking/machine gun drumming of "Wall Flower," the funky, tempo-changing "Leche Loco," or the catchy, hook-laden Strokes-meets-Pixies "Beach Buddy," there is not a weak cut here, despite a few songs in which the band's youthful exuberance goes over the top.
While Busby holds his own as a hybrid of Julian Casablanca/Pelle Almqvist, he plays a versatile ax. Brewer emerges, however, as a beat-keeper who plays with reckless abandon and at others with a precision of a metronome. Her vocals range from the power-pop street smarts of Gwen Stefani to the primal screams of Rob Zombie. She is part Pebbles and part Bam-Bam.
It was just a short time after a risky self-funded European tour that Purple was discovered by PIAS UK parent label A&R director Pip Newby at SXSW in March 2014. Between him and managing director Peter Thompson, who signed the band three months later, the label jumped right into promoting the band and sponsored a European tour this past spring that encompassed Copenhagen, Milan, Warsaw, Zurich, Vienna, and Paris.
New Times recently caught up with Brewer, who is embarking on yet another tour, this one stopping Sunday, June 7, at the Rebel Lounge in Phoenix and sharing the stage with July Talk, Motobunny, and Sunshower.
New Times: So here you are — 23, your own band, a few European tours under your belt, two albums in the can, fans on two continents, a renowned international label. Was this the grand plan when you began this journey back in 2009?
Hanna Brewer: I always hoped I would find a level of success, but I never saw it going this far. Now, I want to show the whole world how awesome this band is. We don't hold anything back.
In addition to wanting to break away from the heated religious and racist atmosphere of your hometown, where did the musical inspiration first hit?
My parents; My dad used to be in a band. They were always jamming, and we had a jam room in the back of the house. He and my mom (Kelly and Debbie Brewer) used to stay up all night writing songs. Music was played really loud in our house, and me and my sister Madeline used to dance and run wild through the house. I guess that is where it all started, and I was born and raised around really loud music all day. We lived out in the country, and it was just really free."
So how did you deal with the issues of racism?
That seemed to happen when I was 15 and trying to get my own ideas out. I was really around some hardcore, fucked-up racism. I had to go to an all-black school because a hurricane damaged our school. I made all these friends, and then I came back. I don't know, everything was different for me. I wanted to fight back against those people, and I was just really alone at the time. I just now let it all out through music.
You list as your main female vocalists influences Gwen Stefani and Karen O. Why those two specifically?
Karen O and Gwen Stefani influenced me a lot. Gwen Stefani has this real tough, dominating attitude, and when she's on stage, she runs the whole show and yet she's feminine and girly and always looks fresh, and that's hard to do. Karen O is the same way, and she takes so many insane risk with her vocals. And that's how I try to be, screaming and being as psycho as possible.
I can hear both, but what of this primal guttural scream that only a handful of vocalists can pull off and even fewer who can do long term?
I am not really worried about it. The way I do it, I really don't hurt my voice at all. I think there is just a certain way you can scream without messing up your voice. It's natural for me, and my voice has never gone out.
So on one hand, you are a feminist and the other this bra-and-shorts-wearing punk drummer and bandleader?
It gets really hot on stage, and that's why I take my shirt off in the first place. I randomly pick [which bra to wear] as I go along. For a show I know is not going to be that intense, where there's gonna be maybe 20 people, I don't want to go over the top, walking around with this crazy-ass shit on. If it's gonna be a kick-ass show, I'm gonna wear maybe a spiked one or a neon one.
It is quite clear by the reaction you seem to be getting at shows that you are a modern-day alt sex symbol. How do you deal with that?
I'm cool with it. I always have been cool with sexuality and being feminine and being a woman. I never had a problem showing off my body. I think it inspires other woman to be comfortable with their bodies. I mean even sometimes, if I have a fat stomach, fuck it; be real. Everybody should be real.
And of the balance of music and feminist statements?
The biggest piece of that pie [feminist, drummer, tomboy clothing designer] is just being a musician, because that is what I do all the time. I am mostly a tomboy cuz I feel I can hang with dudes and other chicks. And that can be pretty hard, man. But as far as feminism, I just like to treat everybody equal.
You sing in "13" "Give me the love and not the disease." Is this your response to those religious zealots and holier-than-thou population you ran up against growing up?
All religion that has this man-made stuff — I just don't trust it. I am always saying, "Get all that man-made religious shit out of my face." I believe in God, and I pray to him, and that is as far as it goes.
Do you remember being signed by the label folks at Play It Again Sam?
I was so drunk I don't even remember it happening. It all happened so fast. I didn't even really know what was going on; it was crazy.
The dregs of the touring road can really test band members' tolerance for one another especially when you are young. How do you make it work with two guys and a woman?
Girls are more emotional than dudes. You can't be pissed off all day because you can ruin everybody's vibe. It's not about y'all, and you gotta keep each other's spirits up.
I nearly forgot, the band name, is that paying homage in some small way to Mitch Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix?
Naw, Purple is just my favorite color and there are so many things purple that are bad-ass.