Beaumont, East Texas is an oil town. The black gold was first struck in 1901 and the population tripled within a year. It sits over near the Louisiana state line, a half hour inland from the Gulf Coast with its vast stretches of golden sands. Notable Beaumont alumni include plenty of modern day JR Ewing’s, plus slap-bass originator Larry Graham, bluesman Blind Willie Johnson, ill-fated 50s singer The Big Bopper – and now party rockers Purple.
Don’t be put off by that tag: this is a party you want to be at, Purple the three sardonic outsider school kids who grew up to become the coolest gang in a town that drains cultural ambitions like it sucks up the Texas tea. Half their friends ended up in their refineries. Some couldn’t take it; some ended their lives. Were our young charges going to let their lives follow the same path? Hell no. Because Purple chose something else. Purple chose to party.
“Beaumont’s small,” says drummer / singer Hanna Brewer, who cites Mitch Mitchell and Dave Grohl as initial influences. “It’s a bible town with a church on every corner. There’s a lot of really mean Christians and cows and the only rock ‘n roll music that people seem to like is Stevie Ray Vaughan. It’s very Southern, man. The only people I really had to jam with was this family of Mormons and we read sheet music. They never judged me though. I grew up in nearby Vidor, Texas and everyone’s really prejudiced there. Racism is big. Even in school amongst the teachers the attitude was: ‘if it ain’t white, it ain’t right’. Seriously. It’s messed up! And when I challenged them they would just say ‘Shut up you little hippy’. So I was the kid who everyone’s parents told them to avoid. I smoked weed but it might as well have been crack the way I was treated...”
The band began when guitarist Busby’s then-reggae band shared a stage in spring 2009 with a band that Hanna Brewer was playing bass in. They decided they could do better. Much better. Hanna switched to drums and vocals, and lifelong friend Smitty Smith joined on bass a year later. The trio quickly bonded over a love of The Pixies, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, country, rap, reggae, beer, weed, the beach and a shared sense of adventure. Purple were born.
“I held so much anger in me for so many years until I finally graduated from high school, started partying a lot more and raging on the music,” says Hanna. “And that is what Purple is all about. You don’t know how many times I’ve heard ‘Hey, you drum pretty good...for a girl’. It’s that phrase: ‘for a girl’. It doesn’t make me mad though; it’s funny. It just makes me want to be more bad-ass than the boys. Anger can be extremely inspiring that way.”
Purple play pop music. Messy, dirty, raucous, grit-spitting, tequila-glugging pop music. They do not apologise for this. They have a big streak of it running skunk-like up their backs and through urgent tunes full of indie-punk snarl and piss and vinegar, but driven by grooves deep enough to rival any hop-hop classics. They are wrestling pop away from the world of vocoders, slick dance routines and coquettish airheads and bringing back to where it belongs: to the beach, to the house party, dancing on the table in that bar you need a fake ID to get into. They like to bare flesh and play until they bleed. Good things followed: a huge local following, two managers and endless touring.
‘(409)’ is the name of the area code for their East Texas neighbour and the name of Purple’s debut album produced by Chris ‘Frenchie’ Smith (...Trail Of Dead, Jet ). Recorded in El Paso, ‘(409)’ is an album that’s borne out of endless jams and no shortage of live shows where Purple offer a combination of the explosive and the celebratory. Instruments are abused and crowds are surfed; their shows are somewhere between the wild, fleshy abandonment of early White Stripes. “We’re positive people,” shrugs Busby. “We’re always looking for the party somewhere. Or maybe we are the party.”
Pop is there in the 60s garage-influenced brilliance of ‘Beach Buddy’, a song propelled by a dual girl/boy vocal and the same endless summer joie de vivre of Ramones, Black Lips and Weezer . The chorus is an earworm that burrows deep. It’s there too in ‘Wallflower’, a joyously uplifting song that flips the usual script and sees a girl ardently – some might say aggressively - pursuing an admirer through the upended bottles, overflowing ashtrays and tangled limbs of a party: “I’m a girl – you’re supposed to be chasing me!” With definite shades of Bikini Kill and No Doubt it’s the best femme-punk song we’ve heard in an aeon. ‘Head On The Floor’ meanwhile is a proto-grunge song that swings like early Hole and has a whole of soul.
‘(409)’ is certainly an album with sand in its shoes and a rocket up its ass. It transports you to a better place. Listening to Purple quickens your pulse. Gives you the sweats. Has you reaching for a cold one. And then another. And then ten more. They make you feel alive. They are good for you. -Ben Myers / April 2014