The Violet Nines’ lead vocalist Hayley Lewis laughs when asked how one trades an Edina High School choir robe for a set of tattoos, purple hair and a nose piercing. “I think it’s … just a rebellious streak,” Lewis says.
In any event, Lewis suspects that the change is related to going away to school at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, after graduating from Edina High School in 2015.
“Actually, Fort Collins isn’t much different than Edina,” Lewis says. “Its Old Town reminds me a lot of 50th & France.”
When circling back to the choir robe, the singer mentions the irony of her current career as a professional musician. “I wasn’t ever thinking about a singing career,” she says. “But I was surrounded by choir students who were not only highly motivated, but were thinking in terms of making music a part of their own careers. I guess that’s how you rise
to the occasion.”
Beyond choir, Lewis grew up with a mother who played cello for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. “Her music was [an] influence at an early age,” Lewis says. Consequently, Lewis started her musical journey early on—though she says she was never one for practice. “I started with piano lessons, and then the trumpet and then the flugelhorn,” Lewis says. “If I hadn’t stopped playing the flugelhorn, I am sure I would have been asked to,” she says, laughing. Lewis says singing is different, however. She says, “It’s the practice I like.”
Lewis released her first solo EP in 2019 under the name Corzine, and her song Summer Fling got picked up by local alternative radio station The Current. Eventually, the single became a track on her first full-length album, Look What We Made, released in early 2020.
No longer a solo act, Lewis currently performs with a Minneapolis-based band called The Violet Nines. The band’s self-described style is “groove pop,” which they say is a mix of alternative groove-centric pop, fused with funk, rock and R&B.
The Violet Nines’ band members—guitarist and vocalist Nick Eagon, vocalist Lewis, saxophone player and keyboardist Ben Cline, bass guitarist Delon Smith and drummer Austin Kurtz—all hail from the Twin Cities. The band got its start in 2018 as an extension of Eagon’s solo act.
But how did Lewis go from solo artist to lead vocals in the band? Eagon recalls that it all started with a lunch chat he had with Lewis’ father, who he works with at his day job. “We met for coffee so he could pick my brain and maybe help his daughter,” Eagon. says.
But Eagon helping Lewis quickly turned into Lewis helping Eagon and the band. When the band’s lead vocalist couldn’t make a performance, Lewis was asked if she could step in at the last minute. The concert was in three short days at the Seventh Street Entry—a venue nothing like a high school performance center or the farmers markets she had performed at as a solo artist.
“I said she could bring a stand on stage in case she needed to see the words,” Eagon says. “But she had it all down.
She knew them all. When I look back at it, it was one of our best vocal shows ever.” When the band’s previous lead vocalist left in early 2020, Eagon created a permanent opening for Lewis.
Performing, and even practicing as a full band, can be a challenge, as Lewis still lives in Fort Collins. But she can work remotely at times, so she’s able to come to Minnesota for performances, while continuing to work. Like remote work, she can also attend remote practices. Eagon says the band Facetimes weekly, and, in late 2021, they all got together in-person for a writing retreat.
The Violet Nines has big performance aspirations for 2022—including the possibility of playing in Colorado this summer. “A chance to expand our fan base,” Lewis says. Coincidentally, it’s a chance for Lewis to perform near her current home.