The makings of a musical community
by Sam Clark (he/him)
Nico Rose Penny (she/her)
While enjoying a pastry at Daily Bread Ponsonby, among a crowd of dogs and cool kids, you’ll soon notice their great playlist over the speakers. However, what you may not know is: you were probably served coffee by one of two prominent Tāmaki musicians. Violet Hirst and Mitch Innes both play in The Violet Hirst Experience, who if you were lucky enough to see, just finished touring Violet’s new album, Donegal.
Aside from the typical Ponsonby crowd, the cafe has also become a hub for musicians, due to a popular rehearsal space nearby in Grey Lynn. So, bands often come through before practice for a coffee, or just to be in the space. Violet explains that this community formed very naturally – as people were attracted to the space, “You put something out there and it will come back.” This had led to a supportive community of creative people, centred on music. She says, “It’s created a wee hub. Since Mitch I work there together, all these musicians come in now… Sometimes you look around and there’s a whole musicians’ table waiting for coffee. It’s great!”
Mitch explains how Violet initiated things, “Violet’s definitely for the culture. She came in with all of her, and starting playing different music at the cafe.” They didn’t think they were allowed to, but their bosses don’t mind, as long as it’s not pop music. The pair actually met a couple of years prior – they played a show together in Pōneke. However, Mitch didn’t remember her when she came in for a job trial. It didn’t seem to matter though, as the pair have become close friends and collaborators. “Mitch got in my band because I was working with him. If it weren’t for that, then we wouldn’t be here.” At first, Violet wasn’t sure if people knew if people knew Mitch was a musician, so she just started telling people. “Then, there were two musicians in the room, then, there were three… It just spreads.”
It’s no secret that many musicians work hospo to support their art. But it’s rare, and quite special when co-workers foster a positive and supportive environment like this. Despite the hospitality industry’s often dubious reputation, they make it work at Daily Bread – striking a good balance. Mitch says, “Starting so early means there’s plenty of time in the afternoon for practicing… It’s very flexible. It didn’t used to be at Daily Bread, but it is now, we’ve figured it out.” Violet says there’s a great creative buzz going around which is inspiring to be around – it’s why she’s kept working there. They’ll often spend the day working together, then go to a show. Mitch says, “It gets a bit much sometimes… but it’s also not, because everyone’s so nice.”
Violet moved to Tāmaki last year, just after recording her debut album Donegal in Cromwell, near her hometown of Tāhuna, Queenstown. She says, “That’s where my music resonates with most – doing it in Cromwell seemed quite idyllic, and it was.” The album is named after the house they recorded it in, which they did over the course of a week. “We all stayed in the house… you’re living and breathing it every day.” Accompanying her was Reuben Scott, who played lead guitar on their tour, and De Stevens of Roundhead Studios, who also happens to be Mitch’s best friend from school. “I was with De the whole time. We would wake up, have breakfast together, start the recording, maybe have a lunch break, but constantly working from 9am until 10pm,” she says.
Like Violet, Mitch also keeps himself busy. Alongside drumming for Violet, he’s in two other bands – Office Dog and Salt Water Criminals. He explains how he keeps up this busy schedule, “I’m a bit scared because Vanessa Worm has just moved to Auckland… Two bands is really good, it’s the perfect amount. Three is fine, most of the time. But I think four is probably too much,” He says. This is all while managing the Ponsonby branch of Daily Bread, which usually has a line around the corner. “I am the manager… but I think some of the people that I’m supposed to manage don’t actually know that.” However, Mitch explains that it gets confusing at times, because music wouldn’t pay for a living right now, “Most weeks recently I’ve done four band practices, then there are sometimes weekends when there’s a show. But it’s fun. Just gotta remember that it’s fun.” Mitch also hires a studio in Avondale, which is why he works full time, he says “It’s only $50 a week, but with rent and everything else – I feel like I have to keep working.”
Musicians working hospo is tale as old as time, but no one does it better than the crew at Daily Bread Ponsonby. As Mitch says, “It’s a bit shit… playing a show on a Friday, then working the next day.” But they make it work. By creating this special community, they’re able to support each other at work, and on stage. Like Violet says, “It’s really important to be around people that inspire you and make you want to keep creating.”
Violet Hirst’s debut album, Donegal is out now on all streaming platforms. Office Dog’s Spiel is out on Friday September 15th, via Flying Nun.