In June earlier this year, Tessa Violet released the video for her first single off her new album, “Crush.” Within a month, it garnered over 7+ million views on YouTube and became the most popular video on her channel. As a steadfast creator in new media for nearly a decade, this seemed like an auspicious beginning to a new era in her career and discography.
With Tessa’s fresh body of work queued up for later this year, as well as a US tour with Dodie in the fall, it’s an exciting time for a musician on the precipice of what feels like a breakthrough to an even greater audience.
We recently sat down with the artist to discuss all things music, K-pop, and what, exactly, smushed ants really smell like.
It seems infatuation is a threading theme through “Crush” and “Bad Ideas.” Is infatuation a bad idea?
I don’t think so! There’s nothing bad, broken, or wrong about enjoying someone or about wanting to be wanted. That’s a totally normal human experience. I think it totally depends on the specific experience and your personal history. I know I’m someone who can seek out momentary highs (like chasing people who aren’t that into you or who won’t be that good to you) at the expense of a low crash. That’s the bad idea.
Who or what are your major influences?
I loooove people who put a lot of themselves into their writing. I’m a huge fan of Lorde, Bleachers, Lily Allen, Taylor Swift, Cavetown, and Julia Michaels.
Patreon still seems to be a bit on the periphery, but so many important creators are now using Patreon to support their work in order to have full control over their content. What has your experience been with Patreon?
So positive. Patreon is such a great idea both for artists and for fans. I support a lot of my favorite people (for just a dollar or two a month), not for the perks but just because it feels good to give something to people whose art enriches my life. On my own Patreon I have a bunch of perks but one of my favorites is the lifestreams where we all get to digitally “hang out” together.
What do smushed ants smell like?
Formic acid, haha. I always thought this was something everyone could smell! It blew my mind when I accidentally crushed an ant the other day and my friend couldn’t smell anything. It smells a bit like vinegar.
Have you ever felt like giving up? How do you move past feelings of self-doubt as an artist?
I haven’t. I think it’s because whether or not my music ever achieves mainstream success, the joy of making it and performing is always the driving force. I love to make music and I love to play music — even for small groups gathered in living rooms. But that said, I’m definitely speaking from a position of privilege; I’ve been able to do art (in some capacity) full time for 10 years now.
Are you into K-pop?
I was way into K-pop when I was younger and have fallen out of touch with it since. I like how K-pop is so playful. The videos are something else! I love to see people dance — especially in unison.
You’ve been working with producer, Seth Earnest for quite some time now. How did you two meet and why has it been such a successful partnership? What has it been like evolving together musically over the years?
I am literally Seth’s biggest fan! He’s such a joy to work with. When I first started writing songs I reached out to my friend, John Zappin to ask if he knew a music producer I could work with. I remember asking specifically for someone who “is very creative with a lot of ideas and an eagerness to collaborate, but also who will be gentle with me because it’s all very new and I’m easily crushed.” Seth has a gift for making people feel comfortable. He knows so much about music but never lords that over you. It’s a really special experience getting to work with him and knowing it’s a safe space to have bad ideas. I think we’ve gotten a lot better at predicting what each other is going to like, but we’ll still surprise each other.
Are there certain things you search for in collaborators that really make you feel safe, seen, and comfortable as an artist?
What a great question. I mean, exactly that is what to look for: people who make you feel safe, seen, and comfortable. There’s a lot of vulnerability in making art, so it’s important to do it with people that make you feel safe. I once heard Seth say something along the lines of “Take the art seriously, don’t take yourself too seriously.”
You’re very much into touring, why is that so important for you and your work?
Honestly, it’s just so fun. And not to say it’s all easy, touring is exhausting and it’s very much a 24/7 experience. You’re always doing something, even if that something is “existing in this van for the next seven hours.” But (especially if you get to tour with people you love) you all become a family working together for one common goal: to play a great show. The show’s are so fun; it’s a great experience to get to be on stage and be vulnerable with people. And each audience is different and a part of the experience so no two shows are exactly alike. I like that you’re doing something together, both at the show with the audience, and behind the scenes with your tour family.
Do you think artists can be manufactured?
Depends on your definition of “artist.” I mean, we know that if you have the right team, the right songs, and the right performer, you can have a hit artist… and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I wonder, sometimes, if talking about artists who don’t write their own songs as being “manufactured” dismisses the hard work and talent that goes into being an incredible singer and performer? That said, I’m drawn to people who have a hand in the writing of their music, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with liking an artist who picks their songs instead of writes them. It’s a different skill.
Has working on this new album taught you anything about yourself that you didn’t know before?
I think it’s all stuff that’s been clunking around in my head for a while, that I knew was true but didn’t want to look at till now. Writing this album has been an exorcism in some ways of darker things.
Tessa’s next single “Bad Ideas” will be dropping soon.
Photos by David Aragon. HMUA Aryanna Martin. Styling by Nikki Bostwick.