Transviolet opens up about beginnings, writing, tours
Up-and-coming pop group Transviolet has a lot to say. The band’s debut EP received a great amount of buzz and its following tour is one that shouldn’t be missed. The group has a unique energy and is bringing its talents to Dallas on Nov. 12 at the House of Blues. Lead singer Sarah McTaggart took some time to speak to The Daily Campus about the group and its origins.
Daily Campus: How’s the tour been so far?
Sarah McTaggart: It’s been really awesome. We’ve been enjoying ourselves. It’s been really cool seeing the benefits of having toured before, now reaping the benefits and coming back and actually having fans there now, whereas before it was just like either playing to empty rooms or just playing to people that didn’t really care about us. Now seeing people in the crowd who are really singing with us is pretty cool.
DC: Is there anywhere you are looking forward to that you haven’t gone yet?
SM: I’m looking forward to going back to Texas, especially Austin, because we were there for South by Southwest but we were so busy that we didn’t get to explore the city so I am excited to actually check it out this time.
DC: Yeah, it’s a good time out there.
SM: Where are you again?
DC: I’m in Dallas.
SM: Oh right! How’s Dallas?
DC: Pretty great, a little rainy right now which is out of the norm, but pretty good otherwise.
SM: Nice; yeah, we are in Detroit right now and it’s raining as well.
DC: So on the topic of your concerts, how would you describe a Transviolet show to an average concertgoer?
SM: It’s very energetic. We are all flying around the stage and nothing is really planned as far as movements or anything else, so anything can happen, that’s for sure.
DC: Is improvisation a big part of your music?
SM: Definitely. I’ve played with the idea of having choreographed movement and that kind of stuff. I have a good background in dance and everything so I definitely considered it but at the end of the day I just think that it’s more organic and more present just to kind of live in the moment and be inspired. And it makes for a unique show every time.
DC: Do you think that translates to your records?
SM: Definitely. When we are recording we do use improvisation in the early stages of writing, like often the guys will start a new track and one of the methods we kind of use to get the ball rolling is all just to start improvising over the track. Just kind of singing gibberish and we’ve gotten some really cool results. That’s kind of how “Girls Your Age” came to be, it was just all improv. And a lot of the melodies on our record are just improved at first and then I will listen back to the recording and say, “Whoa, it kind of sounds like this word” or “It kind of sounds like this phrase,” and we will build from there. I think sometimes you just kind of have to get out of your way like when you’re writing. It’s like if you think about it too much, it’s like you will end up with something that feels kind of stagnant, whereas sometimes I think you just kind of have to turn off and be a medium for something bigger.
DC: Yeah, so the writing process is pretty important to you?
SM: Definitely, it’s probably my favorite part of the whole process more than touring or anything else, more than recording. I like writing because it’s like problem solving; it’s like a puzzle. It’s why I got into music in the first place and music has been an outlet for me — it’s cathartic.
DC: How did you originally get started?
SM: I was in a really dark place. My family moved around a lot and when I was 15 my family had moved to literally an island and we were kind of separated from everything else. And we were living in the Cayman Islands, which were really beautiful, but at the time I couldn’t feel the beauty just because I felt so alone. Just being a teenager and moving right before I started high school; that was just the most devastating thing at the time. Just to make things worse, my Dad had just suffered a stroke, which was why we had moved to the Cayman Islands. He was dealing with health issues and his personality had completely changed from someone who was really kind and gentle to someone who was really temperamental and angry and aggressive and it was just really hard on our whole family. So I loved music and was listening to a lot of music and turning to that in a big way and listening to my favorite bands like Radiohead and Nirvana and all that stuff and just finding solace in the music and I just connected with the lyrics so much. I wanted to see if I could make a connection with other people in the same way by writing my own lyrics so I just started writing. And that was my way of it feeling so alone.
DC: So how did Transviolet get started as a group?
SM: Actually it’s kind of a funny story. I was living in the Cayman Islands and I had been doing these events for a while, at open mic nights and stuff like that, and decided I wanted to start collaborating with other musicians. So I put up a profile on a musician networking site and to be honest, nothing ever came of that site except for Mike Panek, and he contacted me with a track and said, “Hey I really like your voice and it seems like you are really good at writing songs and I have this track. Maybe if you are into it we can work together.” Also, kind of important fact I left out: I lied on the networking site and said I was living in San Diego because I desperately wanted to get off the island. So I just pretended I was. And Mike who actually was in San Diego was searching for musicians in his area and when he typed in his zip code I popped up. So I quickly admitted I lied and was like, “I’m not really in San Diego yet, but I am planning on getting there at some point. I’m not really sure how I don’t have any money or any means of actually getting to San Diego, but I am trying.” So we started writing by sending files back and forth and about two or three songs in, Mike got Jon Garcia involved and they had worked together before. So yeah, we just started with the three of us writing together, actually we had about six songs that we really liked where it was going and so I got myself down to San Diego. I think I had like $40 in my bank account after getting the flight and everything. So yeah we just started playing shows and kept writing and then we got the attention of this label and then once we did that we realized we needed a fourth person to kind of round out our live sound. We needed more instruments. So we hit up Judah McCarthy, who had just graduated from high school, and was kind of in the same circle and music community, so he started playing with us.
DC: That’s a good story. So how did you end up with the name Transviolet?
SM: Yeah, it was just kind of like if you have ever tried to start a band in the 21st century you will quickly realize that there are thousands of other bands out there and all of them have band names that are taken. So we went through this trying to find a band name and couldn’t find anything. So eventually Judas and I sat down in his living room and were like we are going to come up with a band name. We had all of these mythology and poetry books in front of us and we were just going through them and Judah found this poem by Charles Bukowski called “When the Violets Roar at the Sun” that really spoke to us. It was kind of about how people in this day and age just kind of wander around aimlessly with their head in their phone and are, you know, stumbling around with no purpose. We knew that that was something we wanted to inspire people to want more; we wanted people to be more aware and to appreciate the world how it was. So that is where we got the word “violet” and then the “trans” is short for transcendence. So, in short, Transviolet is just a word we made up and it means transcendence into a new violet awareness.
DC: Very cool. So you released your first EP last fall, right?
DC: What was it like kind of putting out that first finished piece of music like that, or group of music?
SM: It is pretty terrifying actually. We really took our time writing and we put a lot of effort and time and money into the songs. So it was just kind of like, “OK, now we are releasing it and it could totally just flop or not go well and then what do we do you know?” So I remember when we first released “Girls Your Age,” it was like we were just so nervous, but it was pretty crazy because the day we released it, Katy Perry retweeted the song as her song of the day. And that was completely nuts, like our Twitter blew up and just from then on we’ve always been asked about the whole thing, and two weeks later Harry Styles tweeted our lyrics as well. So it was pretty insane, it was a whirlwind experience for sure.
DC: Do you have a personal favorite song off of that list?
SM: “Girls Your Age” is probably closest to my heart, but I love all of them because they are like my children and I love them all equally, but I would have to say performing “Girls Your Age” and “Night Vision” are probably my favorites to perform live. “Girls Your Age” is really just one that resonates with me. Just my whole coming-of-age story and I think I did a good job, not to brag or anything, but I think I did a good job of describing what it’s like to grow up as a girl in the 21st century and to kind of straddle that line between exploring your own sexuality and also being stifled by your own society and not being allowed to fully explore or express that. I think that is why a lot of people have connected with that song. Coming of age is this tough thing that no one really tells you how to navigate and we are often told how we are supposed to feel or act and what we are supposed to want or are supposed to be. It’s hard to hear your own voice up in that white noise.
DC: If you have any tips for any aspiring musicians out there, what would they be?
SM: I think, don’t be afraid to fail. You’re going to suck at first, like with everything. You know when you first start playing the guitar, it’s going to be terrible and when you first start writing songs, it’s going to be awful, but you just have to keep doing it. There’s no book you can read. There’s no class you can take that’s going to suddenly make you an amazing songwriter and musician. You just kind of have to be it and eventually you will figure it out. Just go for it, just go do it.