Purple Pilgrims

Purple Pilgrims

By Danielle Street

Monday 14th April, 2014 2:03PM

Sisters Clementine and Valentine Nixon started creating music together under the name Purple Pilgrims a few years ago while based in Christchurch, but following the 2011 earthquake the pair relocated to Hong Kong where they experienced an underground music scene that influenced their undeniably avant-garde sound. The two went on to tour the world extensively, including a US tour with Ariel Pink, but despite this exposure the Pilgrims are still relatively unknown in their homeland. We caught up with the siblings (who are currently recording an EP in a converted out-house in the Coromandel) ahead of their performance with New York-based abstract artist Gary War and local act Kraus this week. Read the interview below and see bottom for gig details…

Hi Purple Pilgrims, can you please introduce yourselves?

Hi! We're Valentine / Clementine - triple Leo / twice Aquarius.

People often say bands are like families, in your case it’s quite literal... how did it come about that you made music together? Are you from a musical family?

We started playing music together in 2011, it wasn't really something we planned or talked about, it began really naturally. Yes, music is kinda genetic for us. We come from a super long line of folk musicians. Our grandmother is a gypsy, her father Davie Stewart was quite a famous ethnic recording artist (recorded by Alan Lomax). Art and music have always been really present within our collective consciousness.

How do you work together as musicians... do you have creative differences?

Lucky, we have an almost telepathic understanding of each others ideas - being sisters our point of reference is as alike as it's possible to be. We've always been close. When we were children our parents moved around a lot, we grew up between Asia and New Zealand. We explored China, Borneo, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand... all over. We were free-schooled at home, so during the day we were the only kids around. Not always being able to communicate (through language at least) with people around us, we sort of created our own illusionary world - we kind of still dwell in that world when it comes to making music together. 

I understand you guys grew up in Christchurch, tell me a little bit about growing up there and the music scene you experienced...

During our teens we lived about 50 per cent of the time in Hong Kong, the rest in Christchurch. There was a period (shortly before we moved full-time) when HSP gallery was really thriving and quite a distinct landscape was built up around it. Nearly every week something exciting was happening. We were exposed to a lot of avant-garde music, which had a significant impact on us. That's where we played our first ever show!

In 2011 you guys based yourselves in Hong Kong, why the move?

We were in Christchurch when the earthquake hit and decided to relocate full-time soon after. Hong Kong was the natural place to go for us at that time.

What is the music scene like in Hong Kong?

The scene in Hong Kong is relatively small, supportive and super inspiring. It's completely subterranean. I mean, you'll be in the middle of nowhere, in a completely abandoned industrial estate with no idea how to find this gig... then you'll see some kid with a crate of beer and follow them up a scary elevator until a wall of smoke hits you and your in some amazing, illegal venue. These venues are often raided and shut down. It's kind of like going back in time.

Cool... Did you meet any like-minded musicians there??

Yeah, we met and performed with all sorts of beautiful freaks! We take so much for granted in western cultures - to be an artist in Hong Kong is hard (truly rebellious), to think outside of the norm is not accepted. One thing that's quite interesting is that there aren't really defined sub-cultures in China - not like here where people will say "oh, those are goth kids, hardcore, art school" etc. It's more individualistic, which is really freeing.

How did experiencing Hong Kong influence your music?

Hong Kong is the most overstimulating place we've ever experienced! It's electric, there's always movement, noise, energy - be that human or electronic. I think it's most present in the sense that our songs are often hyper chaotic and layered to the point of claustrophobia, or, as a reaction to that, very minimal.

What defines the Purple Pilgrims sound?

We do I guess. Purple Pilgrims exist as a more romantic, darker and distorted hybrid of both our worlds.

You have come back to record your LP in the Coromandel... why?

It seemed like an interesting place to record after China - it's another planet. We wanted somewhere mellow, with few distractions, where we could make a transition from more of a live act to something with greater scope. Waking up every morning to this stunning natural environment is so different to what we've been used to recently. It feels like health.

Sounds very different to the hustle of Hong Kong... Is it a permanent move to New Zealand?

It's crazy different! I dunno, moving is deeply ingrained in both of us, it's hard to say how long we'll be in one place or another. Right now though, it's pretty idyllic.

What’s your recording set-up like?

We turned an old out-house into the perfect little studio, a lil’ piece of the city in the stix! It's surrounded by native palms and an endless chorus of birds and cicadas. Cicadas are so loud here! They'll definitely be on the record. Cosmic collaborations.

Is creating music an organic process, or are songs developed and worked out over time before recording?

A mixture. Often one of us will usually have a melody, a lyric, some idea - we'll sit down, play through together and see where it takes us from there. Sometimes it's more impromptu, born out of us messing around with instruments until something we like appears. We both sing, both play guitar, synthesizer and anything else available to us. We do a lot of field-recording, collecting sound where we can.

Listening to some of your music it ranges from the extremely fuzzed-out stuff like the Pseudo Arcana 8”, to the ethereal, like the stuff on the split you did with Gary War… what direction is the LP going to take?

I think we've grown up a bit since we first started making music together. I was 18 when our 8" was released in 2011, Clementine was 22. We've toured endlessly since, you learn so much about yourself and your music through performance. Our tastes and ideas have broadened, I think the split exhibited that and our next release will further it. We're more interested in post-production then we've been in the past, building on an idea after it's been captured is intriguing us at the moment.

While on the subject of Gary War, how did that hook up happen?

We found him in the Joshua Tree desert, had our first ever Thanksgiving together with The Renderers - we've been best friends ever since!

I read some good reviews of that split, what did that project mean for you guys?

We were beyond pleased to be in such good company, Gary's side is magic. We recorded our songs over a few days in Massachusetts, after a six-week tour of the US. The tracks fell into place so naturally after playing them live every night - I don't think we ever did a take a second time! Essentially it's a live recording.

You have toured the world extensively, yet it seems your profile in New Zealand is relatively small… why do you think that is?

Right, well we left New Zealand just as we began the project (I think we'd played just one show before moving abroad). Although we were always somewhat involved with the music scene in Christchurch we only really started playing ourselves in Hong Kong. People get confused by that at times, it's often presumed we're Chinese.

We've got quite a few shows lined up in Auckland, and are planning our first New Zealand tour later in the year with some friends (and fabulous musicians) from the US.

You have a show in Auckland this week with Gary and Kraus, what are you looking forward to most??

We're both really excited to hear Kraus play, his recent LP was beautiful! G War has ceaseless energy, he's an electrifying performer. We're looking forward to playing in our native land, it's been a while.

Here's Purple Pilgrims performing live in London in November 2013...

Gary War (NYC), Purple Pilgrims (HK) and Kraus (AKL)
Thursday 17th April, The Audio Foundation, Auckland, $5 on the door
Head over here for more details...

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Seven Quick Questions... Madison Van StadenLove your lyrics and sounds! ...Seven Quick Questions... Madison Van Staden

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