If you received a handwritten, otherwise unmarked package with a single tape cassette in the mail, what would you do? Last summer, people across the country received such packages , with little indication as to how the sender came across their addresses. The only message: a handwritten note on the tape saying “Just Press Play.”
Thankfully, there was a smartphone-friendly Shazam code to scan for those who no longer own cassette players. And once curiosity won out and everyone pressed play, the brooding, minimalistic sounds of Transviolet’s single, “Girls Your Age,” began to spread.
Los Angeles-based band Transviolet consists of of Sarah McTaggart, Judah McCarthy, Michael Panek and Jon Garcia. Though McCarthy, Panek and Garcia met in high school, the full quartet would take some time to grow together. After high school, Panek and Garcia moved to Los Angeles. The duo came across McTaggart on a social networking website for musicians, and the trio started sending songs back and forth, hitting it off musically. Eventually, they realized the need for a guitarist and keyboard player and reached out to their former high school classmate; McCarthy moved out to the West Coast at a week’s notice.
For a young band with next to nothing on social media and little information about them available online, Transviolet is already beginning to make waves. Just a few hours after their first single “Girls Your Age” dropped last July, Katy Perry tweeted it out to her to her then 76.4 million Twitter followers, and One Direction’s Harry Styles quoted its lyrics in a tweet a few weeks later. Currently, the single has over 1.2 million streams on Spotify, which is an impressive feat for a band just emerging on the music scene.
They released their self-titled four-song EP just last month on Sept. 18.. With haunting, electronic sounds reminiscent of Lorde, Halsey and Lana del Rey, Transviolet’s EP has both the softer, stirring synth-pop sounds of “Girls Your Age” and the darker, seductive sounds of “Bloodstream.” Also included is the quiet of the pulsating “Night Vision” and the highs of the idealistic “New Bohemia,” which Transviolet calls “a mindset … the belief that each individual has the power to change the world.”
Transviolet is currently on their first tour, opening for singer Mikky Ekko. They will perform in Atlanta on Tuesday, Oct. 27 at Center Stage.
Recently, I talked on the phone with guitarist Judah McCarthy about everything from the meaning behind the band’s name, the mysterious tape cassettes and their creative process.
Julia Munslow: You’re pretty new on the music scene — how did your band come together?
Transviolet: It’s kind of a long story, but the three guys in the band, myself, Jon and Mike all met in high school in upstate New York — in Rochester. Jon and Mike were playing in [a] band at the time and Mike was also a local producer and engineer. A few years after high school, Mike and Jon ended up moving to the West Coast to write music. They ended up coming across Sarah on a musician social networking site and thought she would be a good fit for the kind of music they wanted to go into. After sending music back and forth online and writing some songs together, Sarah moved out to San Diego and they worked on their writing, recording and playing shows and [thought] ‘this might actually be working.’ They started getting attention from people in Los Angeles, so the three of them moved to L.A., and [then] called me because they wanted a guitarist and keyboardist. I moved from New York to Los Angeles with a week’s notice and that’s where we are now.
JM: What is the meaning behind the name “Transviolet”?
Transviolet: We were racking our minds for a band name for a long time, and it’s tough to find something that four artists, let alone people, can just all agree on — that this is the name for the band, forever. We were laying in our living room one day, reading pretentious poetry, all this stuff. We read this one that kept speaking about violet. It stuck out to us and Sarah looked it up, and it turns out that violet is a color rarely found in nature. It’s known as a combination of red and blue, which is yin and yang, respectively. We loved the idea of dichotomy in the band name, left and right, war and peace, love and hate. I think our music is a new perspective [on] understanding, it’s connecting [one thing to another that] you might not necessarily [connect] in your busy life. Then through that, trans just means across, beyond and through, and we just loved the aesthetic [of the name]. It just felt right to us.
JM: You just released your first EP and already, you’ve been compared to artists like Broods, Halsey and Lorde. How would you describe your overall sound?
Transviolet: Well first of all, being compared to any of those artists is the most massive compliment ever. We do listen to them and respect them. I think we all understand there are pop elements to it, but, at the same time, we like more of a darker feeling that goes throughout the music — it’s meaningful. The way we approach pop is that it can be a catchy song, it can be something that massive amounts of people can connect to, but it’s about having something to say at the end of the day. It’s not bubblegum pop, where it’s just the same love song you’ve heard over and over. Maybe it’s a new approach to something that everyone can connect with.
JM: Tell me about the creative process in writing this EP.
Transviolet: Each song has its own story of how it came about. [For] some songs, Jon produced half of it in his bedroom before he even showed us, and then we all started working together. [For others], that [same process] could have been [by] Mike, and some songs could have been [that] Sarah had the melody and lyrics and these chords ready to go. Sarah is the principal lyric writer. It’s a really good collaborative process. We have an incredible producer that we’ve worked with through the entire process, Alex Reid, and he’s been so good at directing our ideas. We’ll be sitting in a circle and someone will say, “What about this as the bridge here?” And he’ll [say] “That’s really good, but what if we take it this way?” It’s all of us throwing our ideas in the hat, and we’ve always said from the beginning that the best idea in the room wins — up to this point, it’s worked very well for us.
JM: You sent cassette tapes with your music to people’s houses. What sparked that idea?
Transviolet: The cassette tapes — let’s just say the idea came across our desks collectively. We realized it seemed a little bold, but at the same time, the way we viewed it was hey, you guys want to send music to people for free in a way that’s going to make them be like, “What is this, like why do I have this?” We were thinking if I was a certain age at home and I just got free music in the mail, I’d be stoked — [I’d want to know] who is this, what are they doing and why did I have it? We thought it was a cool way to stir things up.
JM: Your song “Girls Your Age” currently has over 1.1 million streams on Spotify. What inspired the song and how are you reacting to the success?
Transviolet: As far as inspiration for the song, Sarah wrote that from a very personal place in her life. It is the common coming of age [song], but it’s also tied into this feeling of [how] maybe a girl growing up doesn’t have to be what society expects a girl to be. Maybe it’s not about whether she’s too modest or too prude or too slutty, maybe that’s not how it works, and maybe it’s more so about figuring yourself out rather than figuring out how you fit into what everyone else wants you to be.
We completely got blindsided when we released the song — Katy Perry’s tweet a few hours after it came out — I don’t think we’ll ever fully know how much that did for us. And then a few weeks after that Harry Styles tweeted again and it was just such a jump start for us, and it completely took us by surprise. The four of us have played music our whole lives, we’ve been releasing music our whole lives, and we’ve never seen any sort of reaction like that. We all feel this band is a little different than anything we’ve done before, but getting close to a million [streams], we were all like come on, we just want to see six digits, we’re so close. [When we hit a million], there were hugs and high fives and clinking of glasses.
JM: On your Facebook page, you share a lot of posts about social justice issues — from the legalization of gay marriage to a video of refugees arriving in Germany. And you also have your song “New Bohemia,” which you call having a “mindset and a belief about having the power to change the world.” What’s your role, as an artist, in talking about these kinds of issues, and [do] you try to address these purposefully and intentionally in your music?
Transviolet: I think that’s a very relevant question to this band. Currently, we’re still trying to figure out what our voice is. We have discontentments in the world, whether it’s gender inequality or the way that minorities and ethnic groups get the brunt of police brutality. There are so many things that we can talk about. We’ll never ever claim to be the final opinion on anything, we never claim to have all the answers, but the one thing we can say as a band — if we get the attention — is that we can ask people to come up with their own opinions and their own thoughts on these situations. We feel [that] the worst thing society can do is to be quiet. It’s not so much a matter of agreeing with us or disagreeing with us, it’s a matter of just doing something. It’s an old cliché, but, “e the change you want to see in the world” — I think [it] is very relevant in our generation and is very present in people’s minds.
JM: What’s the song that means the most to you off of your EP? Are there any lyrics that you feel strongly about?
Transviolet: There are two ways to look at it. Personally I look at it more as a live standpoint, where I feel like “Night Vision” exploded with this energy that we weren’t expecting when we started playing it live. It’s still the same song, don’t get me wrong, but there’s just something in the air when we play it. That song to me is the most fun song to play — it’s so relevant and real. That’s what we love about Sarah’s lyrics, they aren’t bubblegum pop and yes, sometimes we talk about love and sometimes it’s heartbreak, but that’s what’s really happening in the world and you can’t just not talk about it. But there is a way to talk about it, a way to be artistic and creative about it.
JM: What are your plans for the future?
Transviolet: We have lots of plans — I can’t give them all away. After this tour we have a few days in the U.K., which we’re very excited for — this is our first tour in the States, let alone our first in another country. We do have more music but we’re not sure of the time yet. There’s going to be a lot to come out and to happen in the next few coming months.
JM: You’ll be opening for Mikky Ekko in Atlanta on Oct. 27. What can we expect from your live shows?
Transviolet: Anyone can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Instagram, Twitter — you can see what we look like and you can hear what our recorded music sounds like — we like to think that live it goes to a deeper level of the music, so it’s where you really get a chance to see who we are and what we’re about. It goes through explosions of high energy with “New Bohemia” and “Bloodstreams.” There are a few songs that no one’s yet to hear unless they came to see us live. And then it goes down to the lows, too. It has romantic cry of “Girls Your Age,” the urgency of “Night Vision.” There are moments you dance and go crazy, and moments you cry. We’re not the kind of band that tells people to jump or put their hands up, but playing live — [there’s] nothing like seeing people enjoying themselves and expressing it in whatever way they choose, whether it’s dancing or freaking out or just being a general weirdo in front of the stage, we just want people to enjoy the music with us.