When L.A. electro-pop band Hey Violet was operating under the name Cherri Bomb, an altogether more rock ’n’ roll-sounding incarnation, the members of the group were 11 years old. So while their classmates were fawning over celebrities on Instagram, the original four girls were on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins, the Foo Fighters, and Bush.
“We’ve always been around people who have believed in us,” Hey Violet singer Rena Lovelis, who had been the bassist for Cherri Bomb, says. “It was all incredible. To have that level of success was kind of surreal because we were so young, and it didn’t quite hit us how big the bands we were opening for actually were. Now, thinking back, we’re like, ‘Holy shit.’ We never took it for granted, but I just don’t think we saw the scope of things.”
And how could they? They were pre-teens, simultaneously building music careers while making sure they turned in their algebra homework on time. And it’s not like the Smashing Pumpkins, Bush, and the Foo Fighters are current bands. Those acts were big more than a decade before any of the girls were even born. Then everything changed in 2013 when singer Julia Pierce left the band, citing “creative differences” as the reason.
“There was a time where we thought Cherri Bomb was going to last forever, but no, things grow, things change, things evolve,” Lovelis says, displaying startling pragmatism for someone who is only 18 years old. “So if something does die or move on, there’s a whole other door waiting to be opened.”
With Pierce out, the remaining three scrambled to rebuild the band, eventually hiring male lead guitarist Casey Moreta and renaming themselves Hey Violet. In 2016, another dude, Iain Shipp, came in on bass, allowing Lovelis to put down the instrument and focus on singing instead.
With an electro-tinged sound that drops the heaviness of hard rock in favor of the levity and outright catchiness of pop, Hey Violet is a very different beast compared to Cherri Bomb, even though it has two-thirds of the same people. While Lovelis feels that the new project had a bit of a head start, the journey to find their new sound wasn’t easy.
“It was this whole open-ended thing where we knew we wanted to do pop music but what we knew was guitars, real drums,” Lovelis says. “We didn’t really know about pads, synths, and everything. We definitely had a mid-band crisis, where we didn’t really know what we were doing, and I went into really crazy theatrics live, dancing in ballet shows. It was crazy. But it was fun, and you have to go through it in those transition phases.”
And transition, they have. Instead of going to school like regular kids, the girls, who are now all in their late teens, attended online classes from the comfort of their tour bus, before taking (and passing) the required tests to graduate. They’ve had to face the fact that, as minors in Cherri Bomb, they once shared a tour bus with LostProphets, the Welsh band fronted by now-incarcerated child molester and all-around monster Ian Watkins. Thank-fucking-God that episode passed without any sickening occurrences, but it’s certainly enough to make you think.
Fortunately, Hey Violet marks a new chapter in their musical careers, one where they’ll be more cognizant of what’s going on and less prone to implicitly trusting adults and going with the flow. Lovelis has also had to go through a lot herself, especially during her transition from bassist to lead singer.
“It was really weird and a little bit nerve-wracking at first,” Lovelis says. “Think about it like this: You’re on stage. You have the bass on. Where are you gonna rest your hands if you just need to sing? On the bass. Then the bass gets taken away and you’re like, ‘Oh, crap. What do I even do with these?’ On the other hand, there was a whole new plethora of things that I could do. I could move around more. I could clap, I could dance, I could do whatever — I wasn’t stuck. Now, I would take just being a lead singer over playing bass and singing any day.”
Hey Violet put out its second EP Brand New Moves, in August of last year, featuring the single of the same name, and the pulsing, EDM-influenced contemporary pop of “Guys My Age.” Due to the sonic differences, Hey Violet, which recently went on tour with 5 Seconds of Summer, doesn’t play any Cherri Bomb songs live.
“It’s time to have our own music and put out the music that we love rather than covering ourselves,” Lovelis says.
Still, that hasn’t stopped former Cherri Bomb fans from embracing the new act.
“A lot of the fans are new, but there are still quite a few that have been with us since day one,” Lovelis says.
Hey Violet plays with Jessarae at 8 p.m., Tuesday, March 7, at The Chapel. More info here.