TRANSVIOLET: "Seeing the World Not As It Is, But How It Could Be"

Among a wave of young artists writing songs which not only represent entertainment, but also a defiant statement that their generation is as aspirational and determined as any other previously, US electropop quartet Transviolet stand out not only for their brilliant music but also the message behind it. Sarah McTaggart (vocals), Judah McCarthy (guitar), Michael Panek (bass) and Jon Garcia (drums) were in the midst of their first headline tour of the UK when Insanity Radio caught up with them. At the Boston Music Rooms in London, we met to talk about their music, “millenials”, and their plans for the summer festival season and beyond.

Insanity Radio: How has your tour been going so far?

Sarah: Amazing! It’s our first headline run in the UK, so we didn’t know what to expect, but a lot of the kids we met on the Twenty One Pilots tour have been coming to these shows and it’s been fun.

Insanity: So far, what have you found are the main differences between touring in America and here in Europe and the UK?

Sarah: You guys have a lot of stairs.

Mike: The drives are much shorter.

Judah: Yeah, it’s easier to get from venue to venue. Also, most venues and clubs here allow younger kids in, which we’re very appreciative of as a large number of our fans are younger. We prefer having younger kids in the room ‘cause they’re crazier, louder and get the older cool kids to get into it too.

Insanity: How have you found the difference between playing as a support, as with Twenty One Pilots, and stepping up to play your own headline shows?

Sarah: I think as a support act, the people there are usually there for the headliner, which is great ‘cause you’re making new fans, but the pro of being a headliner is that the crowd are there for you and are singing your songs back to you.

Judah: When the people in the room are singing at the same volume as the music coming from the stage, that’s awesome.

Insanity: You’ve got a four-track EP out right now, what is your favourite song on it to perform live?

Sarah, Jon and Judah together: “Night Vision”.

Mike: For me, “Bloodstream”’s pretty fun.

Judah: Yeah, we’ve been opening our set with “Bloodstream” and it’s a cool dark, heavy way to start the set.

Sarah: And we’ve added a new intro to it, which is pretty awesome.

Insanity: Nice! So when you write songs, do you think about how you’re going to play them live?

 Mike: I hadn’t, but now I’m starting to.

Judah: On our record, and with all the songs we’ve written, I record as much guitar as possible so it’s impossible to play live.

Sarah: There are normally about seven layers.

Judah: I can’t recreate it, so I have to write something new to play live!

Insanity: When you’re writing songs, do you tend to start with one musical idea, or a lyric; how does your songwriting process work, in effect?

Sarah: I think it’s different every time, sometimes I’ll come in with vocals over piano chords, ask the guys what they think about it and start adding things. But sometimes it’s the opposite, one of the guys, who all produce now, will come in with a track and ask what we think about it, so then I start writing vocals over that. It’s different every time.

Insanity: The lyrics to Girls Your Age” struck me as very emotional and interesting, did that come from a personal story?

Sarah: Definitely, it’s my personal coming of age story, talking about the first time I was in love, or thought I was. It’s about being young and a bit naïve, and being in love with somebody older, and looking back trying to understand those feelings now that I’m older. It’s kind of a cliché, the younger girl falls for the older guy and she’s manipulated, but I don’t know if I was manipulated or who was manipulating whom. I couldn’t work out fully what the story was, so I wrote the song to try and figure it out myself.

Insanity: The other standout song on the EP is “New Bohemia”. It’s a very positive way of presenting young people which is rare in the media, was that a conscious decision?

Sarah: Yeah, I was looking for a way to describe our generation as I saw it, because there is a stigma about our generation that everybody’s entitled and lazy, and we have no game plan for the future, but I don’t think that’s the case – I think there are a lot of young people who are intelligent and resourceful and want to change the world for the better.

Insanity: British media right now seems to have an obsession with the term “millenials”…

Sarah: Yeah it’s the same in the States. It has a really negative connotation attached to it. I feel like we’ve been handed a timebomb, told to suck it up and stopped whining.

Insanity: What’s cool about “New Bohemia” is that it expresses that everybody is individual, in contrast to the idea of “millenials” putting a blanket term on people with real differences.

Sarah: It labels everyone in the same way, as if we’re all just sitting here chanting Drake lyrics and drinking or something. Not all millenials are the same.

Insanity: In summer you’re coming back for Reading & Leeds Festivals, have you done any big festivals in Europe before?

Jon: We just played our first festival, but we didn’t know it was going to be a festival.

Judah: Until we got there we had no idea what it was!

Sarah: When we got there it was fun. It was called “Les Nuits”.

Judah: (Struggling with French pronunciation). It was “The Nights”, anyway, in… French? Anyway, it was awesome, a great country to play in.

Insanity: Do you know much about Reading & Leeds, or the lineup?

Judah: We’ve been asking around since we got here.

Sarah: Everyone tells us to wear shoes we don’t mind getting messed up.

Judah: We’re playing quite a few festivals this summer, and I don’t want to know too much about the lineup ahead of time ‘cause at any festival we do play, there’s so many bands that we want to see but there’s no time. You show up, play your set, do promo and press and then you leave.

Jon: I know we’re playing the same day as Red Hot Chili Peppers so I’m looking forward to that.

Sarah: Isn’t Die Antwoord playing? I want to see them if there’s any way, they put on quite a show.

Judah: I know the lineup’s incredible, I remember looking through it and thinking “oh my god!”… it’s stacked.

Insanity: Are you planning on putting out any new music before then?

Sarah: Probably not… it’s not up to us, we have music finished and ready to go, we’re ready to put it out when everyone else is.

Judah: We’re sitting on a trigger just waiting for the word.

Insanity: If there were any festival or venue in the world you haven’t played yet that you could, what would you pick?

Mike: Red Rocks is what Judah would say.

Judah: Well that’s a venue, but Glastonbury is the top of my bucket list. We’re also playing Governor’s Ball in the States this year, which is a big one for me. There’s so many…

Sarah: Coachella!

Jon: Coachella would be cool ‘cause it’s so close to all our friends in California; it’s where they all go.

Mike: I know which one I want to play, it’s one in Alabama called Hangout Festival, it’s on the beach and every stage is literally right on the water.

Judah: I’d like to do a tour like Lollapalooza, I know they have one in South America now, and I think they have one in Germany as well. All the festivals!

Insanity: You’ve toured America and you’ve been over here in Europe and the UK, where else in the world would you like to head to next?

Judah: Asia, Japan…

Sarah: I’d like to do Asia because it’s so culturally different to us.

Jon: Australia as well…

Mike: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Kuwait… all the good ones!

Judah: Mike’s on tour by himself there! (jokingly) North Korea?

Insanity: So one final question: for someone unfamiliar with Transviolet, how would you sum up what your band represents?

Laura: Seeing the world not how it is, but how it could be.

Judah: Yeah, that’s good.

Mike: That’s the headline.

(Interview conducted by Michael Bird.)

Check out our gig review of Transviolet at the Boston Music Rooms. The band’s self-titled EP is out now.

GIG REVIEW: Transviolet @ Boston Music Rooms, 18/05/16

2016 has been a ludicrously exciting year for new music, and one of the bands at the very forefront of that are Transviolet. Having only released four songs to the world so far, they’ve already attracted an ever-expanding hardcore fanbase, many of whom were won over on their recent tour with Twenty One Pilots. As brilliant as their debut self-titled EP was, there’s no acid test quite like your first UK headline tour. Insanity caught Transviolet at a sold out show at London’s Boston Music Rooms, and they certainly did not disappoint.

Before that, though, the capacity crowd got a more than welcome taster of the talents of London’s own Miamigo. Drawing elements from The 1975 and The Killers and throwing them into a blender with 80s new wave textures and an intangible additional spice, the four-piece were consistently impressive over the course of their 30 minutes on stage. If anything, the set got better as it went on, building from fun electro-indie that entertained, but rarely excited, into more unusual sounds. The bluesy strut of “Forever” was particularly striking, with a chorus that shifted time signature so effortlessly it was barely noticeable. Ending their set with the intriguingly left-field minimalism of “Hard to Love”, Miamigo made more than a few friends among Transviolet’s fans.

If the ecstasy among many of those fans when the headliners took the stage is anything to go by, then they won’t be in venues as intimate as the Boston Music Rooms for long. “Bloodstream” is a genius choice of opener; the dark, pulsating synths of its recorded version bolstered live by heavier guitars and bass. Transviolet’s music as a whole is meatier and more “rock” in a live environment, and all four of the band members throw themselves into every crescendo without slipping out of the tight structure of the songs. Many good bands are full of energy, but great ones are made up of characters. Vocalist Sarah McTaggart is a captivating presence, assuming the role of mesmeric rock star but ensuring the focus is always on her chameleonic, stunning voice.

What’s also very reassuring about the band’s live performance is that they are very much a band, rather than a vehicle for their singer, and each musician plays an integral role in how the songs are recreated live, whether it’s Judah McCarthy’s varied guitar lines, the pumping bass undercurrent from Mike Panek or the great balance between sampled and full-on rock drums provided by Jon Garcia. Those songs are, without fail, excellent. Inevitably it’s the already released tracks that get the biggest reactions, but unreleased gems like the dreamy “Astronaut” make the imminent prospect of a full-length Transviolet album tantalising. “New Bohemia” is predictably rousing, while it’s obvious why “Night Vision” is almost unanimously designated the band’s favourite song to perform live, as its chorus hits harder and soars higher each time it bursts out of the speakers. The best is left until last, an encore performance of “Girls Your Age” that perfectly captures the dark electronic magic of its recorded version and sends the crowd home very happy indeed.

Transviolet’s show proves not only that they can recreate their songs in a live environment to a standard that equals, and at times even betters, the EP performances, but also that they have a catalogue of material at least as good that’s ready to be unleashed on the world. The band return to the UK this summer for the Reading & Leeds festivals, and if you happen to be going then they’re a part of the lineup you do not want to miss.

Review by Michael Bird

Check out our interview of Transviolet here. The band’s self-titled EP is out now.