Interview by Sam Schraub
The first time I discovered Tessa Violet was while falling down the depths of a Youtube rabbit hole one night. Video of Dodie Clark *click*, X-Factor audition *click*, ukulele cover of a song that got popular through some daring indie movie *click*, animated storytime about Vidcon *click*, back to Dodie *click*, and then Tessa Violet came up as suggested. Of course I clicked on the thumbnail and that's when I heard her sing.
By the occasionally good graces of the Youtube algorithm millions have found a following in Tessa Violet's channel and her artistry, amassing nearly 33 million views on her videos altogether. It's not everyday that you see a young girl from Nashville become discovered by a fanbase online, but that's how it happened for Tessa. The simplicity of her vlogs and stripped down covers in her bedroom have evolved into the development of her new set of singles.
Along with the release of these singles, Tessa also released a music video for her song "Crush," a bubbly song about the awkwardness and complexities that come with having a crush. Her style fits well on a playlist with such voices as Hayley Kiyoko and Grace VanderWaal, and "Crush" is just another example of the infectiousness of Tessa Violet's music.
We were lucky enough to interview Tessa and find out in her own words what the transformation from Youtube star to real life star feels like, and what more we can look for in the new singles / future album.
It's been a couple of years since you released music - how have you seen yourself grow as a musician over that time?
I think I've really honed who I am as a writer. I had a really tough year and I had a lot to write about and to sort through. I remember early in the process I did one co-write with Yacht Money for a song that didn't end up on the album but I showed up sort of wishy washy about what I wanted to write about and they both looked at me and went "no bullshit songs, Tessa. Write what's real". haha but it sort of became my mantra, I wanted everything I wrote about the be something real and honest to who I was and what I was going through.
I feel like listening to a song from Halloway and then moving to “Crush" there’s a definite shift in tempo and theme. Will the rest of your album Bad Ideas follow this change?
My mom heard the album for the first time this week, she described Crush as "the least of it" haha. I think I've definitely progressed as a writer since my last project, I also had a year of emotional upheaval in my personal life and that's definitely reflected in Bad Ideas. I guess I'd say the album has a variance of moods, tempos, and feelings, but it's all connected by who I am as a writer, and the story of my year i'm working through in my music.
I also really love the art for the “Crush" single. The yellow hair, and text remind me of something out of Scott Pilgrim! How was it deciding on and shooting the cover art? Did you work with Isaac again?
Thank you! The picture is by the very talented photographer Jared Heveron and the album art is by the also very talented Devin Wilson. I wanted to capture something that felt like a moment at a party, as opposed to a photoshoot.
“Crush” also was released along with a music video of you absolutely nailing some dance moves in a grocery store. How did the process of filming that go?
haha, I worked with Isaac White and Jordan Harms for the music video! Isaac pitched me the idea of filming it in a grocery store and I looooved it. I'd always secretly wanted to film something in a grocery store, the juxtaposition of getting to perform in a very normal setting is striking I think. The grocery store we're filming in is an hour outside St Louis. They were kind enough to let us film form closing till sun up the next day! It was super fun. Isaac and Jordan have a great team and they're very easy and fun to work with. It's great when people are great at what they do, plus I got to dance on top of the freezers!
In your “a year of bad ideas” Youtube video you talk about how that is sort of the epitome (and name) of the album. Can you explain a bit more about some of your bad ideas this year.
haha I don't want to go in to too much detail but you know when you're sad or lonely and you keep making choices that in the moment feel good (or at least distracting) but in the long run are further isolating you? yeah, that.
What inspired you musically and lyrically on this album?
i guess I was aware that I was continually making choices that didn't bring me joy, but instead brought me momentary relief from my emotional pain. The album is me working through that, and maybe getting really honest with myself about it.
Is there a song your most looking forward to having finally out there in the world?
I'm really looking forward to people hearing the whole album piece by piece! But the single, Bad Ideas, is the cornerstone of the album, so it owns perhaps a larger chunk of my heart than the others.
You also mentioned in that video wanting to tour more, and now you’re opening for Dodie on a sold out US tour! Sounds like a dream come true! How does that feel?
so!! freaking!! exiting!! These will be the biggest crowds i've ever played for and i'm stooooked for it. It's super fun to be a supporting act (all the fun and half the pressure haha), PLUS dodie is a close friend of mine and i'm really looking forward to spending the month with her.
Going back to the concept of Youtube, from what I understand you started building your platform by posting covers on the website. Do you think Youtube has aided (or maybe even hindered) your success as a solo artist in any way?
I think i've always felt like more of a songwriter than a singer per say, so for that reason I never really did covers. I actually got my start on Youtube doing video blogs! sharing my feelings about things and experiences. Youtube's been a wonderful tool to connect with like minded people. When I was young I struggled to fit in and Youtube was a life line to other people my age struggling with many of the same things. It was a place to find community. It's a bit of a saga really, the journey from vlogger to artist, but I've been exceptionally lucky and grateful to my fans to who have stayed with me through it. Bad Ideas is an indie release and a huge part of the reason it's able to be is through the support I receive on Patreon. So it's really all been very very positive. If it's hindered me in any way, it's that there's a stigma around artists who come from youtube within the music industry, but i'd like to think that's slowly changing.
I know you used to perform at conventions like Playlist Live and VidCon. Is there a noticeable difference in the energy, or the crowd transitioning from conventions to concerts in smaller venues?
What a great question! I've played all sorts of shows now, when I was first starting i played almost exclusively house shows (unplugged, all acoustic) to 15 or 20 people in living rooms, with two conventions a year for good measure. The venue shows now are so. much. freaking. fun. The energy's more focused, everyone (performers and the audience), have a basic idea of what they're getting in to, and it's so fun to create that energy with people. I still love the house shows too though. We fit one in to our last winter tour in Tampa and it was a great juxtaposition to the venues we were performing at.
How was it playing at the legendary Basement in your hometown of Nashville this past year?
haha hometown shows are kind of their own beast, I was sort of a mess that night. It was the last show of tour and you have friends there to see you and it's just a whole different experience! but it turned out to be an awesome night! I was coming out of this really lonely year, but i had so many friends come out to see me and it was wonderful to see the juxtaposition between where I was a year ago and where i was now.
Nashville is such a music oriented city! Are there any local bands you’ve been digging lately?
Yes! Right now I am specifically in love with Phangs song Dry Eyes. It's like a put on repeat and jam song.
Finally, as a young creative yourself, is there any advice you have for other people hoping to pursue a career in music or even online?
Practice your craft a lot and in seasons! I didn't start songwriting or playing guitar till I was 23 and I think people are amazed like that, like i get "i could never" a lot, but... maybe you could? I think I am where I am now because I did it a little bit at a time. Try to enjoy the process of learning and building something.