Kiwi musical duo Purple Pilgrims tell eerie stories of folklore and forests

Sisters Clementine and Valentine Nixon, aka Purple Pilgrims, appear at first to be a fairy tale dreamed up by an acid-addled producer in an underground recording studio in the 1970s – all subtle, psychedelic tunes and ethereally long hair. Raised between Christchurch and Hong Kong, the musical pair now spend their time living on Karangahape Road and creating tunes in the bush. They’re stepping into the spotlight at St Jerome’s Laneway Festival in January 2017.

Paperboy: Tell us about recording your debut album, Eternal Delight.

Valentine: We recorded the album ourselves in a tiny shed-turned-studio at our family home deep in the Coromandel bush. It’s a very beautiful, isolated spot with no cell coverage and few distractions – the exact opposite of Hong Kong and some of the other cities we’d been spending time in before returning to New Zealand.

How did that environment affect your work?

Clementine: We were writing and recording simultaneously in this beautiful rural place, which was totally new to us, having always lived in very urban spaces all our lives… we wanted to make something that reflected that very earthy environment through synthetic electronic sounds, attempting to convey a kind of “synthesised nature”. A dream space, where the unreal meets reality.

What ideas do you explore in your songwriting?

Valentine: We’ve both always been really into mythology and folklore – themes along those lines often find their way onto our songs. We like to tell stories. Writing a song for us is often an opportunity to kinda take on another character, or try and look at something from a perspective other than our own.

Clementine: That’s an inherited thing, actually. A lot of our family on our mum’s side are gypsy travellers, and so much of the culture is based around aural storytelling and folk music. Our great-grandfather, Davie Stewart, was and is still today one of the most well-known traveller musicians. We like to think that in some ways we’re carrying on those traditions through our music – which is cool to us as, sadly, like so many other ethnic minorities in the 21st century, a lot of traditions are being lost.

So it really runs in the family?

Valentine: Growing up, we were around a lot of creativity and were encouraged to do our own thing. As children, we were home-schooled in Asia, and during the time spent in Christchurch we went to Tamariki School, the only “free school” in the country and one of only a handful in the world. A dream school, dreamed up by child psychologists and hippies in the mid-1960s. The mantra was “know thyself” and I think that phrase is really the most important thing to keep in mind when making music, or anything creative for that matter.

Any new releases to look out for?

Clementine: We have a single that’s almost ready for release that we’re really excited about. It’s new for us in the sense that we worked with friends on it, as opposed to being quite insular and doing everything ourselves. Our friend Nick Malkin from Los Angeles, who plays under the nom de plume Afterhours, plays drums on it; Jorge Elbrecht, another friend who we toured with around the US with Ariel Pink, mixed for us. We love self-producing our music and wouldn’t have it any other way – however, it was amazing to not be staring at a computer screen for hours on end! 

Purple Pilgrims play at St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, Albert Park, 30 Jan 2017

Photography: Clementine and Valentine Nixon

This article was first published in Paperboy magazine.
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