INTERVIEW: AMY GRIFFITH (ULTRAVIOLET)

Amy Griffith (UltraViolet)

Photo: CMG Photography*

I’ve interviewed the guys from Inertia (Buffalo tech death) several times since they released Teratoma in 2018. Most recently in August of this year, I chatted with Inertia’s drummer, Doug Griffith Jr, about the band, gear preferences, music, and life in general. However, I’m embarrassed to say that it wasn’t until that interview that I learned about Doug’s other band, UltraViolet (a cover band with an incredibly versatile setlist, covering an array of popular rock and hip-hop hits). Doug also recently got married to UltraViolet’s vocalist, Amy Griffith, all of which gave me the idea to include Amy in this issue and learn more about a side of the local music community I admittedly know nothing about. In fact, thinking back over the past 7 years I’ve been doing this publication, this might be the first time I’ve purposely interviewed someone in a cover band. I’m excited and eager to learn, so let’s get into it!

1. Talk about the beginnings of UltraViolet. How did you guys get started?

I formed UltraViolet (or UV as we affectionately call it) in late 2011 after leaving my previous band. I had been the lead vocalist in two cover bands prior to forming UV, and immediately prior was playing in a band that covered primarily rock songs from the 80s. While I had fun and made a lot of contacts in the Buffalo music scene in this project, this music was a bit before my time and I never really felt connected to these songs. I knew I wanted to do something different musically, but wasn’t sure how to go about it or how it would be received. Before UV, I had always been a member in someone else’s band, but never had my own project that I was leading. It was actually Buffalo music veteran Lana Hergert of Black Widow (who has since become a dear friend) that encouraged me to start my own project – she saw that I had the vision and the business capability to have a successful working cover band, and I am forever grateful for her friendship and encouragement. I knew I wanted to cover songs only as far back as the 90s, and place an emphasis on the hip hop and R&B music that I grew up loving (think 9th grade winter dance in the school gym). I always joked that our set list was like “your iPod on shuffle,” which gives you an idea of how long we’ve been around since nobody uses a separate device for listening to music anymore. At the time, the vast majority of cover bands in the area were doing tunes from the 80s and/or the “classic rock” genre. While I wasn’t sure how my ideas would be received, I knew at least I would enjoy it (and I was pretty sure that there was some kind of a market for this type of set list as my friends – and thus potentially the entire under 40 crowd – enjoy this type of music) (luckily my hunch was correct).

I had my (now) husband Doug on board as our drummer since the inception of the idea for UV. Doug and I actually met when he became the ‘sound guy’ for one of my previous bands years prior. Once I convinced Doug (an original metal drummer) that playing pop and hip hop tunes in a cover band would be a fun way to spend our weekends, we had to then find a guitarist and bassist as our plan was to perform as a 4 piece (guitar, bass, drums, vocals). I met our guitarist Mike Criscione when he ran sound for my previous band for a gig at the Buffalo Bills stadium. At the time I wasn’t even aware that he was a guitarist (let alone one of the most talented musicians in Buffalo), and meeting him was truly one of the best coincidences that I could have hoped for – a stroke of pure luck (that began with a few shared tailgate jello shots). We had some mutual friends, and on a whim I went out on a random Tuesday night to watch Mike play some acoustic tunes at an open mic near me. I remember watching Mike that night and seeing how talented a player and a vocalist he is. I then asked him what became a very fateful question: “How are you on the electric guitar?” Mike took a chance and joined UV; this was probably the single luckiest thing to ever happen to the band. We didn’t know each other very well yet, but he was on board for my vision from day one and has since made every request of mine happen, no matter how difficult. Mike, Doug, and I were then tasked with finding a bassist to complete our band. We found Joe Quader (JQ) and began learning songs and rehearsing (while I was already booking gigs and filling up our schedule for the spring and summer of 2012). Our first full show was on March 9th, 2012 at bar in Lockport, NY called Lock 34. The rest, as they say, is history. While we’ve had a few different bassists throughout our time as UV – first JQ, then Michael Schunk, then Mario Nobilio, and most recently Eric Richardson (who we lovingly nicknamed “Sexy Smooth” from the first time we jammed with him) – Mike, Doug, and I have been the core of UV since our formation. We really have a little unit that is like a family, and we are so close that it gets harder each time we’ve had to find a new bassist – we will always consider those guys, especially Mario & Eric (two talented musicians and amazing humans), part of the UV fam.

2. How did you come up with the name of the band?

I spent quite a while trying to think of a name for this band. My criteria were these: A. It had to sound cool, B. It had to be easy to remember, C. It had to have the right vibe for the type of music we’re going to do, and D. It had to be able to be shortened into a nickname. I love the idea of people that are friends of the band simply calling us UV instead of UltraViolet – it gives it a casual feel that makes people feel more connected to us. I don’t really think of anyone as a “fan” of the band per se, I think of those that come to see us as people that like the music we play and like us as individuals – and thus are really more like friends than fans. This was why having a nickname felt important to me. As for how I thought of “UltraViolet,” I had been racking my brain for a few weeks trying to land on something I liked, and then one Saturday morning it just came to me. I had been making a mental shopping list and remembered that I needed to buy some purple shampoo (anyone that is blonde knows this is a critical step to prevent your hair from being brassy). When I thought ‘purple’ my mind jumped to ‘violet’ and then the name of the band hit me – UltraViolet. It met all my criteria above. It could be shortened to UV. Mike & Doug liked it. It was perfect.

3. Since I’m completely unfamiliar, what is the cover band scene in this city like?

The cover band scene in Buffalo is, sadly, not what it once was. Just before we formed UV in 2012 the scene was going strong – there were plenty of venues to play, plenty of crowds filling these venues, and a real demand for cover bands (at the time, two of the biggest cover bands in the area that I recall were Black Widow and Suckerpunch – both great bands with great people that played to packed houses seemingly every weekend). When we first started UV, we had a full schedule almost immediately (and it stayed that way for years). We played from as far north of Buffalo as Olcott, NY, and as far south as Fredonia, NY. In 2013 we got a regular summer gig as the house band for Sunday Funday at Mickey Rats beach club in Angola, NY – and did that for several years until the club changed ownership a few years ago (we still play this venue, just not as the weekly house band). For most of the timeline of the band (and until 2020), we played around 6–12 shows a month (with the heaviest schedule during the summer months). While the number of venues and the size of the crowds was already dwindling in the past few years, the covid-19 pandemic also had a detrimental effect on the Buffalo cover band scene. Venues closed, others don’t remain open late any longer, some have stopped doing live music, and some places that still do live music just don’t draw the number of people they once did. There are some places and venues still thriving and doing well – but the pandemic, coupled with the generational change in the past 10 years has changed the scene quite a bit. The people that were out in bars 10 years ago are not entirely the people that are seeking to go out today, and I haven’t quite gotten a handle on this new generation’s attitudes towards cover bands (or live music in general). Due to these changes, we’ve actually switched our format recently and are hoping to get into some different types of places from what we’ve done previously (more on this below).

4. Who are your biggest influences as a vocalist? (Go with your gut)

I guess my earliest influence was Whitney Houston. As a 4-year-old I had a mix tape of her songs and thought her voice was just the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard. In high school, I was obsessed with the vocal abilities of Christina Aguilera (I mean, who wasn’t). I’ve been very influenced by female artists from the 90s and 2000s like Alanis Morissette, Gwen Stefani, and Nelly Furtado (it’s always been a secret ambition of mine to front an Alanis Morissette tribute band – even for a one night only event, and I did get to perform a tribute to No Doubt – complete with costumes – a few times). As far as newer artists that I’m inspired by, my top two played artists on Spotify are Anderson .Paak and the Weeknd (although you’ll still find all the early 2000s hip hop on my playlist – I can never get enough T-Pain and I don’t care who knows it).

5. Does UltraViolet have any plans to write and perform any originals? Forgive me if you’re already doing this and I’m just oblivious. 

We haven’t written original music, and we don’t currently have plans to, although let me take this time to plug the amazing original work that Doug and Mike are continually doing. Doug writes, records, and performs original music with his experimental technical death metal band Inertia (featured in Wretched Sound previously). Mike is a phenomenal songwriter that records original solo work – his previous albums, as well as his latest single “Is Justice Coming” (2022) can be found on Spotify.

6. When and where did you guys face the largest crowd you’ve played to date? 

I would say that our largest crowds have been at the some of larger events we play: Buffalo on Tap, the Taste of Buffalo, the Erie County Fair, the Witches Ball, and various other events. We’ve also played some extremely packed shows at Mickey Rats Beach Club (especially on the 4th of July) over the years!

7. Talk about UltraViolet’s future plans (shows, etc.), as in anything you’re at liberty to discuss.

We have recently transitioned from a 4-piece electric band to a 3-piece acoustic band (guitar, vocals, cajon). We found out earlier this year that our bassist Eric was moving to the west coast this summer and thought this would be the perfect time to try out a new format. Eric is pretty much irreplaceable, and that coupled with the state of the post-pandemic music scene in Buffalo prompted us to try something a little more low key – still the fun UV that people know and love, but with a funky new acoustic vibe. We’re hoping to book some venues that are new to us – potentially places where the space required or volume output of our previous electric format precluded us from playing. This is our plan for the fall and winter. As for the future of UV into the spring and summer of next year and beyond – we’ve got some ideas we’re considering, so stay tuned!

8. Most of our readers are Buffalo-Rochester metalheads, so without further ado, list the “heaviest” songs you guys cover!

Although we cover our fair share of pop, hip hop, and R&B tunes, one of my favorite things to do as a vocalist is mimic voices – especially that of Zack de la Rocha. We cover three Rage Against the Machine songs (I’d say these are the heaviest songs we cover). We generally save these for the end of the show (you’ve got to tame the beast before you let it out of the cage), usually finishing with one of them. If we get encored by an enthusiastic crowd, we play a second Rage song. And in the event the crowd is super hyped, we bestow upon them what we’ve termed “the trifecta” – three back-to-back Rage songs!

9. Talk about some of your most memorable performances, both locally and on the road (if applicable). What made these shows so special?

I could go on and on about all the fun and memorable times we’ve had as a band – from meeting great people to seeing some interesting characters out in the world, making great friends and being treated kindly by the owners and staff of so many places, playing really killer gigs, to a never-ending slew of mishaps (bound to happen when you’ve played as many gigs for as many years as we have). I think the most memorable performances are when we connect with each other and have stories and memories we can reminisce about – like the time I chewed a guy in the audience out in front of an entire crowd for yelling “Free Bird” in between every song, or the time Mike, Doug, and I fashioned an impromptu 3AM Fredonia engine repair for Doug’s box truck using items we found at Walmart (mostly zip ties) so we could get the gear back to Buffalo, or the times we’ve had to stick up for ourselves (and each other) when we haven’t been treated great by a venue we’ve played. Honestly those challenging times are the most memorable, because those are the times that make it clear that we will always support each other (plus they make great and often hilarious stories and inside jokes to retell).

10. What’s the best advice you can give someone who is joining or starting a band for the first time? 

The advice I would give someone joining or starting a band for the first time would be:

– Have confidence. Because you’re up in front of everyone they automatically already think you’re “cool,” so just own it.

– Ignore negativity. The music scene can be a dramatic and sometimes negative place. Just do your own thing and ignore anyone that tries to tear you down.

– Have fun. Life is too short to not have fun, especially if you’re doing something you’re passionate about. It shouldn’t be a drag (unless you’re a queen).

– Be respectful. Everyone’s time and money are valuable – from the owners and staff of the venues you play to the people that spend their time listening to you. Your own time and money, however, are equally valuable. Don’t tolerate being disrespected by others because it is so not worth it.

– Be organized. I personally do all the behind the scenes work for UV – from keeping our schedule organized, to booking all our shows, to managing our social media pages, to doing our taxes each year. Well meaning as most people are, unfortunately not everyone is as organized as I am. By keeping things organized and keeping records of all communications, it saves from having potential uncomfortable conversations, disputes about pay, double bookings, etc.

– Go with your gut. When I started UV, there weren’t really bands doing the type of music we did. I didn’t know it would work out. But I had a feeling that people were looking for something new and refreshing and I ended up being correct. We never know how things will turn out, but that’s no reason not to try.

11. Unrelated to music: I noticed a “PhD” in your email address. If you’re up for it, give us a brief rundown on your great accomplishments outside of music! 

Good catch on the “PhD” in my email address! I have a doctorate in molecular biology from the University at Buffalo. This is actually relevant because I first started doing music in graduate school while completing my doctoral research. Prior to graduate school (in my early twenties), I had actually never sang in front of people. I was not in musicals in high school, and I was not in any bands prior to that; I never even sang in front of my own friends and family. But when I turned 21 (and thus could legally enter a bar), I went out to see a cover band my uncle was performing with. At the time, I knew nothing about music (I didn’t even know the difference between a “cover band” and an “original band”), but I saw what they did, was aware they got paid to do it, and (being the poor grad student I was) thought that I was a competent enough singer to make some extra money on the weekends doing that. (I mean I sang when I was alone in the car. That certainly had to count for something, right?) I told my parents I was going to audition for a band (their response was: “Can you even sing?”), I was hired in my first band (there were a few prior to UV), and I’ve been doing it ever since.

So, all while gigging every weekend, I completed my doctorate in molecular biology in 2016. In 2017 I began my current career as a professor of biology and chemistry at Trocaire College in Buffalo. (Yes, my students know I’m in a band and yes, they sometimes come to gigs to see me. I just absolutely won’t let them call me “Dr. G.” in a bar, it makes me sound far too old!) In addition to my role as a professor, I also serve as the lab coordinator for all our science labs, vice president for our faculty senate, and vice president for our union. I chair or serve on several administrative committees at the college, am involved currently in a couple different grant projects, and was honored to be given the Trocaire Patricia A. Lavender Distinguished Educator teaching award in 2021. I also have a side hustle teaching group fitness classes at Catalyst Fitness – shout out to my gym fam who always encourage me to sing along into the mic while I’m kicking their butts (and my own)!

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