The first thing that stands out about the band, Chinese Purple, is their unusual name. Purple is a color that is featured in band and song titles throughout rock history (i.e. “Purple Haze,” “Deep Purple,” “Purple Rain”). But what exactly is Chinese Purple? It’s a very specific shade of purple with an interesting history of origin, and its invocation speaks to the uniqueness of the band that bears its name.
“Everytime you name a band you go through dozens of names before you land one,” Steven J. Athanas, vocalist/acoustic guitarist for the band said. “My brother, who is usually a quiet guy, came up one day during rehearsal and said ‘Chinese Purple’. Then we all said, “What the hell is that?”
Dave Athanas, Steven’s brother, read a news story about a Chinese emperor who asked to be buried with his soldiers when he died. Instead of burying the emperor with actual soldiers, terracotta soldiers were made to accompany him in the grave. Hundreds of years passed, and they were found and dug up. The paint on them was faded and revealed a shade of purple that was hard to duplicate. They called this unique color Chinese Purple.
Chinese Purple, the band, is Mike Peters (dobro, pedal steel, guitar, vocals), Joel Hazard (keyboards, bass, vocals), Steven J. Athanas (acoustic guitar, vocals), Dave Athanas (mandolin, guitar, vocals), and Chuck Caswell (drum kit, percussion, vocals).
Athanas defines the band’s sound as “acoustic/electric eclectic.” “The band is kind of schizophrenic, in a positive way,” Athanas said.
For live shows, the band usually opens up with an acoustic set, then takes a break and switches to electric. They pull from many styles of music and try not to stick with any one genre. Their acoustic sets are markedly different than when they plug in, giving listeners a diverse musical experience. They do both original material and reimagined covers of songs across genres, from The Beatles to Joni Mitchell. They recently did an innovative rocking take on Mitchell’s song, “Raised on Robbery.”
“We make it manlier,” Athanas joked.
A Long Musical History
Steven J. Athanas has played music most of his life. In the 8th grade, with his brother Dave, he started a band called Jello. They played covers of bands more obscure at the time, rather than bigger bands like The Doors. Another member of the band was Walt Churchill of Churchill’s Market.
In the 80s, Athanas was in a band called The Best. In 2014, for Record Store Day, Pat O’Connor of Culture Clash Records released a compilation on vinyl called Breaking Glass: Garage Rock from Toledo, Ohio. The Best was featured on that compilation. That release of previous work and a show at Culture Clash on Record Store Day, inspired the Athanas brothers to start up Chinese Purple.
Most recently, the band recorded a video of an original song, “When Da Cold Winds Blowed” as an NPR Tiny Desk Concert Submission. It’s an acoustic song that incorporates multiple instuments and blends both blues and folk elements.
Chinese Purple’s genre bending and their mixing of both acoustic and electric, original songs, and reworked covers, all point to an approach that challenges musical boundaries.
“You have to make it your own or what’s the sense in doing it?” Anthanas said.
Check out Chinese Purple when they play live at Treo in Sylvania on Friday, October 2nd
Nov. 14 @ Village Inn, in Sylvania, from 8-11, no cover charge