There is often value in transparency. This is true not only on a larger scale, but on a personal level as well. We want insight into what large corporations and government entities are doing in order to stay informed, and we’d also like the people around us to be up front with us about their feelings and viewpoints. Being open and accessible allows for clearer communication and a better understanding of what’s around us. The same can be said for music. While an artist is by no means obligated to tell fans anything, knowing what’s going on with an artist or interacting with them can help fans understand their music on a deeper level or just create a feeling of happiness and acceptance for everyone involved. When it comes to this philosophy, Tessa Violet is an open book. From releasing relatable pop jams to hosting live streams with her fans, Violet is extending an open invitation for anyone to visit her world.
When I talked to Violet in July, her world was experiencing a brief moment of quiet. She explained the whirlwind summer she was in the middle of, with stops in Los Angeles, London, and St. Louis sandwiched in between brief periods in her current home of Nashville. While it’s all very exciting for her, she does say with a laugh that she’s savoring sleeping in her own bed while she can. This whirlwind was spawned with the release of “Crush” in June, the lead single from her upcoming album, Bad Ideas, and Violet’s first new music in two years. The new music has been in the works for awhile now, with Violet explaining “I’ve spent a year working on Bad Ideas, and I took a year off… I mean not a year off social media, I’m still tweeting and stuff, but a year off having my face really out there.” That’s all changed now. Her face is back out there and there’s an obvious and extremely infectious excitement in her voice as she talks about the new project.
It’s been four years since Violet’s last full length album, Maybe Trapped Mostly Troubled. As such, Violet is a much different person than she was and Bad Ideas represents a whole host of new experiences in her life. She reveals “I went through a breakup last year when I was writing Bad Ideas, and was making a lot of bad choices, as you do… Bad Ideas is a reflection of that snapshot of my life and reconciling ‘why do I keep doing things that make my life worse when I know they make my life worse?’” She also stresses that she wanted Bad Ideas to be a completely honest look at her feelings and experiences during that time, no sugar-coating.
If you read that description without listening to “Crush,” you might have a different sound in your head than the one that comes out of your speakers when you press play. “Crush” is bright and whimsical, built on top of a beaming piano loop. Listen to the lyrics though and there is a darker side to the song. Violet reveals “‘Crush’ was the first song, it’s the beginning of the story. And I think you can hear in that song it’s on a surface level like ‘aw, cute, fun! A song about having a crush.’” She goes on by saying that by digging into the lyrics you start to get into more of the themes on Bad Ideas, and she says “Crush” is “a descent into madness around that.”
Violet isn’t discussing her music and career with just interviewers, either. A huge focus for Violet is being open and transparent with her fans. Violet live streams four times a week through her Patreon, the site that allows fans to directly support creators through a monthly monetary donation, with different “tiers” resulting in different perks for donators. For Violet, that support has been a dream, as she says “I’m super lucky because I have so much support through Patreon, I’ve been able to stay independent and do this big launch of this album direct from fan support and that’s been amazing.”
Besides the live streams, Violet makes sure to also extend support to fans through other means as well. Scrolling through her Twitter feed you’ll find numerous retweets of fan art that people have drawn, and Violet frequently engages in polls and chats with fans to discuss everything from music to favorite Legend of Zelda games (Twilight Princess is Violet’s choice). For Violet, a lot of this philosophy just comes down to enjoyment. She says “It’s just fun to see reoccurring faces. I have some cities I know I see the same fans every show and that’s really fun to be like ‘how have you been since I saw you last?; And yeah, it’s just a pleasurable experience. I like it.” She also hopes to inspire others to create as well. Violet released the B-Sides version of her 2016 EP, Halloway, through the second reward tier of her Patreon and made sure that the release was royalty-free in order to allow other artists to use the music for their projects. She explains that decision by revealing, “when you are in that tier once you get that EP and that’s all royalty-free because I wanted to have something like a real solid thank you for people. You’re supporting this new album, so now here’s a piece of music that you can use to make your own art, too.” Judging by the replies to some of the Patreon posts and tweets, this is much appreciated by fans and aspiring artists.
Violet takes pride in having a huge amount of control of all the different facets of her career, although she’s quick to state that it’s what works for her and she holds nothing against anyone working with a label or taking any other path they may choose. In fact, Bad Ideas will be the first album for Violet where she has a larger team working with her. While some of these members are new, some include longtime collaborators. Seth Earnest serves as one of those longtime presences on the music side. Violet has effusive praise for Earnest, saying “I’ve worked with him all along on all my projects, so we have a great work environment at this point, he understands who I am as a songwriter, and can predict things I’m gonna request on songs and it’s such a joy and a pleasure to work with him.” She explains that Earnest is never afraid to try an idea that she has, and it’s in trying these new ideas that some of the best sounds and experiences occur.
On the video side of things, Violet highlights Isaac White of Big Forest Pictures who has worked with her in the past and did the video for “Crush.” That also is a relationship where exploration and new ideas are key. Violet recalls, “I’ve worked with Isaac for a few years now for video content, and we were working through ‘Crush’ and he’s like ‘I have this idea, what if we did it in a grocery store?’ And I was like ‘I think you’re already speaking my language.’” Besides these mainstays, Violet is also working with a manager for the first time on Bad Ideas, and while she’s still in control of her career, she does say it’s nice to have someone to offload a few responsibilities onto.
While the music industry is a wild, complicated beast, Tessa Violet is pulling back the curtain as much as she can for those who count themselves as fans. Through Patreon, social media, and her own strong intuition and drive, Violet is expressing herself and showing the world how she works. With Bad Ideas on the horizon and a loyal fan following, Violet wants you to step into her vision. You’d be foolish not to agree.