We need more bands like Transviolet. And if you haven’t heard their hauntingly compelling music yet, after this year, I guarantee you won’t be able to stop talking about them. LA-based, four-piece Transviolet are already tackling the world. After playing 9 shows at SXSW this year, having just finished a cycle of tours, supporting acts like Joywave and twenty one pilots, and a full-length LP to be released, it’s clear that the quartet have no plans of slowing down any time soon.
I met lead vocalist, Sarah McTaggart, at one of their gigs in Brooklyn a few months back and was instantly drawn, not only to the ethereal, electro-pop, violet experience that fans are pulled into, but also to the way she and the boys (Judah McCarthy, Michael Panek and Jon Garcia) connected on stage, and later, how she spoke about music. Of course, I wasn’t the only one to feel entranced. It took me a minute to remember that this band hasn’t been around as long as other bands have, even though they proved to everyone that night that they know exactly what it is they want to say.
In the midst of all the touring, I was able to chat with Sarah over the phone to get a better understanding of the way Transviolet thinks about music in an evolving, hyper-aware, Internet-obsessed and interconnected world.
Before becoming Transviolet, you and the guys had been communicating online and over social media. Was there anything that stopped you or made you hesitate at first to make that first move?
Sarah McTaggart: Definitely. I think everyone has a fear of failure that stops you from doing what you love. I had that before putting things online. I was always fearful, but sometimes you have to go for it. I knew what I wanted for myself and that outweighed the fear of failure.
Did you ever think that taking that risk would result in Transviolet as it exists today?
SM: I didn’t realize it would take me this far. I knew I wanted to start a band and that I wanted to make music. Where that took us, I didn’t have any specific idea. I wasn’t thinking that we’d end up in LA or be signed to a major label or anything. I was pretty certain we’d just keep it independent and that we’d put out music as we felt like it. But once we started writing together, we knew it was such a right fit and then things just started rolling.
You never really imagine the way things are going to go but that’s what’s beautiful about putting yourself out there.
Growing up, you lived a very nomadic life because of your father’s job. Do you think your constant vagabonding influenced the way you make and approach music?
SM: I think it definitely shaped my perspective of society as a whole. If I had just grown up in one place and around one set of people and a certain set of cultural norms, I probably would have been a different person. But being surrounded by so many different cultures, so many different ideas, and moving out when I was 15 exposed me to different mentors who pushed and shaped who I am as an individual. I don’t think I would be as curious or open to other ideas.
Sometimes I feel like people are so sure of themselves, but I think the good thing is that [moving around] made me a really open person and I don’t think I would have been that way if I stayed in one place.
It does get hard for people to travel a lot and never be in the same place, though. And having to constantly start over again especially at a young age.
SM: During my adolescence, I really hated it. I struggled with depression and not wanting to go to school and feeling like an outsider. I just didn’t fit in anywhere especially after moving around so many times. I had to make things work.
But the hardest move was from California to Grand Cayman, just because I was moving from a small town relative to a small island. California has very liberal, open ideas about the world and how people should live the way they want. I definitely felt alone with my own thoughts.
I was the only other white kid in the class and it was interesting to be a white person in the minority. That did give me an open mind to how people of color might feel in the States. And I’m not saying I have any insight about their experience but I do know what it’s like to feel ostracized.
And it goes without saying that you’ve channeled those experiences within your work because your band is socially aware and so conscious of what’s been happening in the world. What kind of role do you think being an artist has within that scope?
SM: Being an artist, you have a platform, and you get to choose what you want to do with that platform. For us, we want to voice our feelings about the world and our fears about the world. As an artist, you don’t have to take on that responsibility, but for me, it’s just a part of my consciousness. I do feel very tied to the world around me and I try not to be affected but I am a very empathetic person.
When things are going wrong in the world, when things are out of my control, it deeply affects me and it ends up in our music, our social media, all over the place. I feel like I have to reach out to some people and give them some kind of hope that we can make a change because I really believe change is possible.
It just takes people to believe that we can live in a world without violence, where everyone can have an education, where everyone can be taken care of. We don’t have to live like this. We can all have different opinions, but we have to really figure out how to all live together and not hurt each other.
And we feel like these things are constantly happening and we start the dialogue, but there’s not enough action following up. Music is a huge way to make people more aware.
SM: It’s sad that these things have become the new normal. I don’t know what actions we can always take. But our actions do eventually work, we just have to get off Facebook long enough to do something about it.
Going back to social media and the way music is released. There was such a buzz about the cassette tapes you sent out to release the band’s first set of singles. Why do you think people were so curious about that tangibility of music. What sparked the interest?
SM: I think it does freak people out, because we are so digital and so distant. I think that’s why there are all these extreme views of the world as well, because people feel comfortable saying things from the protection of their computer screens.
We’re so flooded by information, by music, by opinions, through these screens and it becomes so far away. We become voyeurs about it and we can choose to look at it or not look at it. And with music, there’s just so much of it. On every corner, as a sponsored ad on Facebook or on the Spotify ‘New Music’ pages, but for us, the cassette tape idea was just a way for us to reach out and to be able to touch somebody with our music without having to literally come to their door.
And now we can, our music became a physical thing that people could touch with their hands. [Parts of the cassette were] hand-written, too and something that made them think, “‘we can’t ignore this.’” We liked the idea of putting something in people’s hands.
And it worked, because the transfer of information spread across to other countries. You sell out shows in England and Scotland, too. Did you ever think it would happen as fast as it did, having fans all over the world?
SM: It’s definitely surreal to be on a stage in a city that I’ve never even stepped foot in, surrounded by a group of people singing our lyrics back to us. It’s incredible and very moving.
It really shows you how connected we can be if we choose to utilize the Internet responsibly. It’s the sharing of ideas within the medium of music. It can be done easier now than ever before. We can have these really big ideas and show them to so many people.
I think it’s a testament to the fact that you can get really big ideas to a big group of people in a short amount of time if you just stick to it!
Do you think those crowds are more receptive? Is there a difference between the ones abroad and the ones at home?
SM: It’s definitely the smaller towns where there are not as many concerts that are more receptive, more excited and emotive. Salt Lake City, Utah was the loudest crowd we had played to and there were only 150 people there that were screaming. Or in Glasgow, Scotland, that struck us in being so excited and eager for music. And even if they don’t know the words, they really do want to sing them with you and they want to meet you.
Places like New York or LA are the worst with things like that because people sometimes think they’re a little too cool. We take it for granted because we see music all the time and we have a tendency to let it wash over us. And as a performer, I do have to get out of that mindset myself because even though someone isn’t screaming or jumping up and down, they’re still taking it in and enjoying the music. People are just staring at you from the crowd, they’re all very attentive, but not really moving or screaming.
But after the show is when people come up to you and flood you to tell you how great the set was and how much they enjoyed the music. So it goes to show that everyone has their own way of enjoying and partaking in that shared experience.
One of your new singles from the summer, L.A Love, touches on your love/hate relationship with Los Angeles, and cities like this, something that LANY, who you’re touring with, also wrote about in their single “Where The Hell Are My Friends?” What do you think it is about LA that makes musicians feel that way?
SM: I don’t think it’s just musicians, but anyone who comes here that notices it. What’s magical about LA is that everyone has a big dream and everyone’s trying to make it happen. Everyone is hustling. But because of that, a lot of people have a one track mind and when they meet you, they’re not thinking that they’re going to meet a new friend, but it’s more like, “there’s a person, what can they do for me?”
I was coming from San Diego where everyone was a lot more low-key and laid back, where people don’t really give a fuck about who you are and what you do. But [it felt] different in LA. I know that’s not true for everybody. It’s usually the most extreme versions of people that are the loudest. But in saying that, LA is a big city and you can find amazing people in any big city.
Now, I love Los Angeles. I have so many great friends that surround us that are genuine, kind, and generous even though the city did give us the wrong impression at first.
But you wouldn’t see yourself being anywhere else or doing anything else?
SM: I will always be an artist. I don’t know what shape that will always take form in. But if I wasn’t a musician, I know I’d be doing something else creative. I’ll always be creating.
Right now, music is the medium I’m favoring, but I would never limit myself to say that I’m only a musician. I’m a person with ideas and a need to express those ideas. The medium might change, but I’ll always be an artist.
How are you preparing for the massive scale of what’s about to happen within the next coming months? With more tours this fall and a debut album in the works?
SM: We’ll just do what we always do. We’ll rehearse. You can’t really try to do anything differently all of a sudden. It’s about making sure you know your music, making sure you know your gear and going out there and putting on a show like we always do.
Whether we’re playing to 100 people or 1,000 people, we’re always going to try and put out the same energy.