In my recent chats with Swahili Blonde and Miranda Lee Richards I disclosed my first favorite tracks of 2016 to PHILTHY readers, but Los Angeles-based singer/songstress Cassandra Violet is officially my favorite emerging artist (whatever the fuck that means) of 2016. Cassandra Violet has been making music professionally since 2014 and had some notable media placements (The Mindy Project and The Fosters) and critical acclaim, including comparisons to Regina Spektor and Civil Wars, yet her debut full-length is yet to drop. However, her second EP, Body&Mind, is set to be released on January 29th. The five-song collection could be described as an elegantly sassy and charmingly brassy brand of ethereal folk pop. I recently got a chance to get to know Ms. Violet, who would seem to be just as admirably enchanting as the music she makes.
Izzy Cihak: So not to start with a huge question, but your musical career still seems to be relatively new, so I’m curious: What have been some of the highlights for you so far?
Cassandra Violet: I think this EP is the highlight of my musical career so far. It’s my second EP, but I think it’s my first fully realized collection. I think it expresses the sounds in my head that I wasn’t equipped to convey when I was younger. I also feel like I have more to say now. My friends Shaughn and John took the cover photo in a moment where my hair was suspended in the air, and I think it makes me look kind of witchy. I wanted the cover to hint at the magical power of the female voice. It takes a while to embrace your own voice. It’s so easy to give away your power without even realizing it.
Izzy: And is there anything you think is especially important for fans and potential fans to know about your aim as an artist or your process of creating art?
Cassandra: I think it took me a while to find my confidence as an artist, and I don’t think it’s ever something that stops evolving. I want to make as much art as possible while I’m on this planet. My own creative process is that I write music for myself, because I like dancing around my apartment with a tambourine. If other people happen to find enjoyment in my music, then I think that’s absolutely fantastic.
Izzy: What or who would you consider to be your most significant influences, whether relating to music or just certain aspects of life and the culture in which we live?
Cassandra: I wrote this EP at a time in my life when I felt completely alone, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I felt free to do whatever I wanted. My biggest influences have always been women who are smart and funny and honest. Like Jill Soloway, who created the show Transparent, which is so honest and sad and funny at the same time. I love how Amy Schumer points out the ridiculous pressure that women have to deal with. A lot of my songs are about the pressure of expectation. When I was in high school, I listened to a lot of jazz singers, and also lots of Joni Mitchell. I wanted to sing jazz, but my own, emotional version. I wanted to be completely transparent about what I felt. I feel like writing songs gives me a free pass to say whatever I want, and instead of pissing off the people I write about, they think it’s great. It’s like a messed up magic trick. So, I think it’s pretty awesome.
Izzy: How would you characterize the collection of songs on Body & Mind? It reminds me of a lot of things that I love, but that I can’t quite place my finger on (which I guess is a good thing), like some combo of worldbeat, 90’s alt folk pop, and probably something else that isn’t quite coming to mind [laughs].
Cassandra: 90’s alt folk pop is definitely a huge inspiration of mine! I came into writing music in a backwards way- my parents only listened to classical music, and I was a classically trained clarinet player way before I wrote any songs. I also awkwardly came of age in the 90’s, and I really identified with the whole Lilith Fair movement. At one point I was going to burn Fiona Apple’s first CD and give it to my middle school ex-boyfriend after he broke my heart, because it so clearly expressed my feelings. (Thankfully something stopped me from doing this.) Also, my mom was always really into meditation and yoga. The sound of Tibetan chanting and singing bowls was always really evocative for me, and I love the sound of big drums. At the same time, I love really produced, shimmering, mainstream pop music. I love to dance and move. I love Paul Simon and Fela Kuti and Chaka Khan. So I think my sound is a combination of all of these things- a sort of worldbeat folkpop.
Izzy: So not to sort of detract from your music, but I really like your personal style, so I’m curious: What is it that inspires your visual elements? Do you have any particular favorite visual artists or style icons?
Cassandra: Thank you! I love the 1960’s and 70’s, I’m kind of obsessed with Sharon Tate, the look of eyes ringed with sad mascara, and with Bridgette Bardot. I love the idea of singing about really dark themes while wearing bright colors. Also, bangs.
Izzy: Don’t you have a number of upcoming live dates at The Lost Room? What can be expected of the live experience?
Cassandra: I actually only have one date at the Lost Room, my free EP release show there on February 13! I’m playing some subsequent dates around Southern California after that. I do lots of live looping. I create songs using my voice as a live loop when I perform, and I also play with a band, and sometimes I do both at the same time!
Izzy: Finally, how are you hoping and planning to spend 2016 after your new EP drops? Any chance of some touring and possibly some East Coast dates? We’d definitely love to see you out here.
Cassandra: I would absolutely love to play the East Coast! I want to tour and play some shows. I’m also working on some poppier tunes- I want to see what happens when I go full pop!