Within moments of them tumbling in jetlagged to their label’s London office, one thing is clear: Transviolet are stars. Not in the overtly bombastic kind of way that you might expect from an LA-based four-piece with a year of meteoric ascent. Rather, they’re effortless in their charm, confident in their approach, and have both enough to say as well as the articulacy to perfectly express it.
So in they tumble – led by Sarah, feeling ‘gnarly’, by far the most talkative of the group, Judah a close second, then Mike and Jon, a pair happy to stay relatively quiet in the background (“these two are the annoying ones,” jokes Mike). Time to get to grips with Transviolet, then…
So the boys here are from the opposite end of the US to Sarah. How did you all meet?
Sarah: Mike was already in San Diego. I was in the Cayman Islands, but I’d put up a profile on a musician networking site and I lied and said I was from San Diego! Then he brought on John and later Judah.
We read about the fake profile thing. Did you not think you were potentially being catfished?
Mike: We were Skyping for a while! We hadn’t met for a year, but we had received an original female vocal audio file, so we kinda knew…
Judah: Wait, were there any catfishes before Sarah?
Mike: No, Sarah was the only person I contacted!
Jon: Yeah, it was pretty cool – we were in contact for a while and she was like, I’ll come move here.
See, we would have tested her commitment by saying, right we’re gonna set up in Guantanamo Bay. Anyway: we know trans issues are huge right now, but where does the name Transviolet come from?
Sarah: It doesn’t have anything to do with that, but we are 100% about people being who they want to be. But the name actually came from a poem we found by Charles Bukowski called When the Violets Roar at the Sun. It goes: “They’ve got us in the cage, ruined of grace and senses, and the heart roars like a lion, at what they’ve done to us”. It really resonated with us at how society is today, how we’re all apathetic and just fumbling around on our phone all the time, not really appreciating things or making meaningful connections. So that’s where the violet came from. Then we liked the idea of transcending into meaningful existence.
“Artists have to be a reflection of the world around them. If that reflection is ugly, then we need be honest”
That quote is quite an interesting one – reading your interviews and hearing your music, you do seem like a band with a manifesto of social conscience. Is there a danger you might come across a bit of a protest band?
Sarah: I’m not worried about that. We just talk about and write music about the stuff that we care about. I don’t have a problem with saying that this is what I care about. I think it’s silly that people are too afraid to talk about what they care about or seem like they care too much…
Judah: Also it’s not like we sat down and thought, let’s write a song about these issues. It’s just who we are coming out as musicians.
So what do Transviolet care about at this point in time?
Sarah: Social injustices. Everyone should be able to pursue the life that they want to live, and we’ll fight for people’s rights to do that. Even if I don’t agree with your beliefs, so long as you’re not hurting anyone you should be able to do what you want. It’s easy for us to be in our bubble and think the world is a great place – I saw something in the news the other day at a Ted Cruz rally. An Evangelical pastor saying things like homosexuals should be put to death. This is 2016, are we still talking about this?
Well, quite. But the US being a much larger country than here in the UK, the scale of the issues afflicting it is a lot greater. There’s a chance you might not be able to reach everyone with a message.
Sarah: I think you can though. I grew up in a conservative Christian household. When I was young I had some extreme views as well. And it was because of peers of mine that would challenge those views – even though I argued vehemently at the time – that things sink in. Even if you think you’re talking to a brick wall, things will sink in. You have to be an opposing force.
Do you think artists like you guys have a responsibility, then?
Sarah: I wouldn’t go that far. I think artists have to be a reflection of the world around them. If that reflection is ugly, then we need be honest.
And in the States there are so many issues – trans issues, Black Lives Matter, so much more. But playing devil’s advocate here, what would you say to people dismissing you as just four white kids from a decent background without a tangible connection?
Sarah: But it’s people like us who have to stick up for those people. Everyone in the community needs to be outraged by this. Just because you’re white it doesn’t mean it should affect you less.
Judah: And what’s the alternative? Say nothing?
Sarah: We have to speak up. It’s the job of the majority to speak up for the minority. You don’t just have to be interested in issues that are just applicable to you. It’s an illusion. We’re just humans, inside everyone’s the same.
Well, this rock ‘n’ roll spirit certainly seems to have worked – your rise has been stratospheric, given where we’re sitting…
Sarah: It may appear that way from the outside but behind every overnight success is years of hard work. I’ve been at it for almost 9-10 years now.
Mike: The whole internet thing of how we met was five years ago now…
But then the first song as Transviolet only came to us a year ago.
Sarah: Right. We wrote about 60 songs before paring them down for the EP and then the album.
“he says ‘that girl’s your singer, right? … how’s it gonna be, dude, to be on the road with someone who bleeds?’ “
And all of the things we’ve talked about, the statements and issues etc – it’s not really something you put hand-in-hand with a major label. Was that ever an issue for you to think about?
Sarah: Oh definitely. You hear horror stories, people’s sound being obliterated. We made it clear that we had songs finished, we weren’t going to be controlled. They’ve been good on their word and have given us creative control.
Picking up on the horror stories: have you ever experienced prejudice in the industry as a female musician?
Sarah: Yeah. There are producers who say stupid shit so you just ignore them, put them in their place, or fight awkward with awkward. You’re the idiot here. One time we were all at a party, there was a musician who thought he was a pretty big deal in LA. We were all sitting around and I got up to go to the bathroom and he leaned over and said something to Judah…
Judah: We were just talking and he says “that girl’s your singer, right?” – and this guy’s typical spiky hair, leather vest, low cut pants. He then says “how’s it gonna be, dude, to be on the road with someone who bleeds?”
Oh dear God.
Judah: That’s the first thing he fucking thought of. You have a female singer, this is what I think of that. I just said “everybody bleeds, dude”, but I’ve never regretted not hitting someone in my entire life until that moment. As a guy, I don’t see that shit. But that was fucking crazy.
Sarah: Right, and people say we don’t need feminism because sexism doesn’t exist any more. Well maybe not around you, but it’s definitely out there.
Right, we should probably talk about the music at some point. Performing on The Late Late Show was a huge moment, we imagine.
Sarah: That was the most nervous I’ve ever been. Just the thought of being on camera. You could stick me in front of 20,000 people and I’d be fine but stick a camera in my face and it’s recorded forever!
You’re in the UK doing a couple of dates. What do you think of things here?
Sarah: We love it! You guys do a great breakfast. I’m a vegetarian but I love the whole beans situation. And hash browns!
Judah: But they ran out of hash browns at the Holiday Inn Express…
Holiday Inn Express? Mate, you’re signed to Columbia. Tell them to up their fucking game.
Judah: It’s nicer than the last place we stayed in! London fucking rules for the fact that you can just walk everywhere. There’s hauntings here too!
Sarah: We don’t believe in that kind of stuff…
Mike: I do.
Sarah: Well, I can’t just default to it was a ghost! We were walking down this street and I just got yanked backwards.
Jon: I saw it. I saw it.
Judah: Me and Jon were on either side of her and I ran back to check – no one was there.
And clearly we can’t even escape chauvinism from the ghost world. So, the album – just to bring it back to the music after all. Release date, titles, anything?
Sarah: We’ve talked about it but nothing decided yet. It should be here this year though.
What are you all listening to on the road at the moment?
Judah: We all agree on The Killers and Radiohead and things like that. But Banks, Grimes, and Wet – new artists who do cool shit in the realm of pop.
Sarah: We’re also into Aurora. She’s amazing. Japanese House… Soak is awesome as well.
Judah: But we pull from different places. Sarah likes The Beatles, Mike likes Prince. I grew up on Sufjan…
Literally the only person above Beyonce in our eyes. The things we would do with him. In our household we grew up on Bollywood though…
Sarah: We totally love Bollywood! There should be more influence. The way they come up with melody is so different to ours, especially for a pop writer.
Well, we’re going to tack on a Spotify playlist at the end of this interview as an introduction. Final question, the one we ask everyone. Favourite Beyonce song?
Mike: Love On Top.
Jon: Does it have to be Beyonce or can it be Destiny’s Child? Say My Name.
Sarah: I’m gonna go with Say My Name. For sure.
At this point, Transviolet try to convince us to come on stage with them to sing a Beyonce song, which is always a good juncture to cut off an interview.
Transviolet’s EP can be ordered here; you can find our Transviolet’s Introduction to Hindi-Urdu playlist below.