As the pandemic draws to a close, pop songwriter Tessa Violet sits down with Atwood to discuss her team-up with lovelytheband and what waits for us on the other side of tragedy.
Stream: “Games” – Tessa Violet & lovelytheband
When people see artists being their genuine selves, it gives everyone else permission to be who they are too.
Life has been on pause for a year. Though we lived through a collective trauma in 2020, a lot of it feels like a time lapse in retrospect. Now that the gears of “normalcy” are slowly beginning to turn against their rust, it’s hard to place whether what happens next will be a continuation of what came before or something new altogether.
Two months before the pandemic hit, the algorithm tossed an indie pop artist my way named Tessa Violet, specifically her song “Games.” Its initially minimalist production emphasized the first lines, which stuck in my head like a fresh tattoo.
I don’t want no peace of that
‘Cause I know there’s no peace in that
Tessa unfolds her story of being lied to by a significant other and how the clash of intuition and the inability to trust oneself can make you feel crazy (see the definition of gaslighting). As the song grows into a marching chorus of stomp-along drums and sweeping vocal harmonies, I felt sure it was going to be one of the defining tracks of my 2020.
Then everything stopped.
When the world shuttered and we entered that first stage of collective panic, I did something completely out of character – I stopped listening to music. “Games,” and everything on my meticulously curated playlists began gathering dust in Spotify’s archives. Though I eventually dove back into my library, somehow “Games” never came back out of hiding.
Yet as it all comes un-paused, Tessa Violet has already begun seizing post-pandemic life with a vengeance. Over a year after her album Bad Ideas dropped – her work that houses “Games” alongside viral hits “Crush” and “Wishful Drinking,” – she’s started reissuing its songs as collaborations with her peers. First came “Bored” with the backing of sugar pop giants MisterWives. Then we got “Words Ain’t Enough” with Atwood Magazine favorite chloe moriondo. Then, in what surely must have been a personal sign that everyday living was indeed resuming, Tessa teamed up with lovelytheband to give “Games” a fresh lease on life.
In its new iteration, the track perfectly personifies the uniqueness of our present moment.
As more vaccines make their way into arms, the world seems primed to resume where it left off. Yet what awaits us is wholly new, and perhaps unprecedented. Though familiar in its broad strokes, the new “Games” is fresh, invigorating and bolstered by the winning vocal addition of Mitchy Collins. “This new version is better than the original,” affirms Tessa. “I feel like it goes harder and his voice really adds a lot to the experience. I get to appreciate [the song] more because when I hear the lyrics through someone else’s voice, I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m a good songwriter!’”
It isn’t hyperbole. “Games” serves as a microcosm of her creative dexterity with radiant vocals riding atop a steady crescendo into one hell of a “forget you” catharsis. “For me [it’s] about the tension of suspecting something is up but being paralyzed because it doesn’t feel good to call someone a liar,” she explains. Still, by song’s end, she wafts away the thick fog of that gaslighting confusion and takes up the call to trust your instincts. It’s an anthem for anyone who’s felt lost in their own mind, because if you can’t trust yourself, where does that leave your sense of reality?
And I hate the way you break, and you take and you tear me down
Boy, you really oughta knock it off right now.
“Games” comes at the end of a busy quarantine for Tessa, which not only saw her releasing the aforementioned reissues of “Bored” and “Words Ain’t Enough,” but enjoying a viral TikTok challenge for “Wishful Drinking.” With touring on pause, she could still reach and interact with fans through this fledgling medium. It looked similar for others too, especially with the Internet being their only window to the outside world for much of the year. “For a lot of people, that’s their community,” elaborates Tessa. “That’s a lifeline. And it’s a space where you can rediscover yourself.”
Growing up on the Internet herself (a vlogger, though she won’t be the first to tell you), she knows firsthand how simultaneously uniting and isolating online media can be. “I think at some point that lifeline became a crutch. I was reluctant to enter the real world because I had this space for myself. And I’m like, ‘Well, this is enough.’ But it isn’t enough. We need to be engaged in the real world with real people.”
That may very well be everyone’s rallying cry as they emerge one-by-one into a bright, post-pandemic future. And true to form, Tessa is pulling out all the stops to celebrate. On May 12th and 13th, she is closing out her Bad Ideas era with the biggest and most extravagant livestream event of her career. “Usually you have a budget that you need to make last twenty-five shows over a month and a half,” she lays out. “But for this we used the whole budget for a tour on one show.” If ever there were a case of “going out in style,” this promises to be it. Not only does it mark the end of a chapter for Tessa and the rest of the world, but a striking signifier of hope for the next chapter. She reflects on what it means to her to have come this far, and the utter transformation she has undergone in the process.
I think when I was a little younger, I felt insecure and shy about drawing attention to myself, because what if someone looks at me and they don’t like what they see? And now I’m just like, ‘Yo, whatever people are gonna think, whatever they’re gonna say, I fucking love sparkling.’
That type of boldness shines in the breadth of her work and in an optimism that suggests the best is yet to come.
Though 2020 passed like a time lapse over a sleeping city, it helped set the stage for a world of possibility. It bears a striking resemblance to a life we once knew, but one whose details we can’t quite place – a memory of a memory, a twinge of déjà vu. Tessa Violet’s new twist on “Games” gives us that hit of nostalgia, but blazes ahead. It’s invigorating, cathartic, and most of all hopeful. It sparkles, just like the artist behind it.
I got a chance to sit down with Tessa to talk all about “Games,” overcoming gaslighting, and the careful balance between using the internet to foster new connections or to isolate oneself. Check out our conversation below:
“Games” is out now via TAG Music.
- North + South America May 12 – 6PM PDT
- Asia + Australia + New Zealand May 13 – 6PM JST
- UK + Europe + Africa May 13 – 6PM BST
I love just being who I am. I’m a big person, I’m a big personality. And I think that to offer myself as I am to the world is a gift to the world.
Stream: “Games” – Tessa Violet & lovelytheband
A CONVERSATION WITH TESSA VIOLET
Atwood Magazine: Fun fact, “Games” was probably my favorite cut off your debut album Bad Ideas. Can you tell me a little bit about how this song originally came together?
Tessa Violet: I’d just been through a breakup where I’d been cheated on. And when it came out that he was on Tinder, chatting with other girls, I didn’t want to have hard feelings about that part of it. Because I’m just like, “Yeah, that makes sense. That doesn’t make me feel insecure, you want attention.” And that really doesn’t have anything to do with me.
The part that is crazy-making is being lied to for months and just feeling like something’s off between us. And then that person being like, “Whoa, nothing’s off. Maybe you’re off.” When someone lies to you like that, they put you in a position to either trust them or trust yourself. That’s a really hard place to be. And “Games” to me is all about that experience of being like, “Fuck, I know I should go with my gut and go where that path would lead me down.”
It’s tough because I either have to be someone who breaks up, which I didn’t want to do, or I have to be someone who settles for someone who’s going to be sneaking around and lying to me. And I’m like, I don’t want to live in either of those realities.
Being gaslit is certainly a trip. You’re put in this place of not being able to believe your own intuition.
Tessa Violet: It fucking sucks! Everyone should feel they can trust themselves. But also you can’t expect someone to be honest with you who’s not willing to be honest with themselves, right? That’s his path, whatever. This is my path.
“Games” came out again yesterday. Why did you decide to remake it over a year after its release?
Tessa Violet: First of all, it wasn’t supposed to take this long to come out. lovelytheband and I were supposed to go on tour May of last year, and we were thinking this release would be around that time. We all know how last year went, so it was just like, “Okay I guess we’re gonna put the brakes on this.”
But “Games” really felt like a hit song and we should do everything we can to make this set it up for success. I always really liked this song, but when the original version came out, it wasn’t like this obvious hit. But since then, so many people say to me, “This was my favorite call off the record.”
I was like, “What? Wow, that’s so cool!” It got onto Alt Nation too, and we weren’t even pitching it. Something about it was just working for people.
Then when the opportunity came up to tour with the band, we worked together on rerecording the song. Mitchy sounds so good on it. I really think I like this new version better than the original. I feel like it goes harder and his voice really adds a lot to the experience.
You’ve collaborated with a bunch of different artists on reworks of your songs from Bad Ideas. Misterwives on “Bored,” chloe moriondo on “Words Ain’t Enough.” What was it like to bring these different people to the table to add their spin on your work?
Tessa Violet: It’s awesome. Every time we bring on a new artist, I end up liking the new version better. I get to appreciate the songs more because when I hear the lyrics through someone else’s voice, I’m like, “Damn, I’m a good songwriter!” And, yeah, and I love these artists so much. I love Maddie and I love Chloe. It’s been great.
You’ve also had a taste of TikTok fame last year with your “Wishful Drinking” challenge. What was it like to see such a huge worldwide engagement with your music?
Tessa Violet: So awesome. It’s validating. “Wishful Drinking” was my favorite song off the album. It wasn’t a fan-favorite. It wasn’t a management favorite. Initially when I released the album, I wanted it to be my single and everyone was like, “First of all, being an alcoholic is not that relatable.”
And I’m like, “Well, it is if you are, guys.”
So in the end we released “Bored.” And the campaign for that song was such a big one. I was working on it all day every day, which is very positive, very rewarding, but also can really fry you. Eventually, I told management I need a couple of weeks off just to have some me time. But three days into my quote-unquote time off I’m like, Okay, I’m bored, What else can I do? And I was like, I want to get a trend going on Tik Tok. I was just flipping through the album thinking about which one of these songs feels best to me. “Wishful Drinking” just felt so Tik Tok-y, you know? It’s got a lot of space in it. And I love to edit things. I would do the final pass and all my music videos, so editing a transition felt very natural. I’m just going to try this. I’m going to do this every day until it becomes a trend. And it just took off. It was amazing. I love that that song gets to be my second most-streamed now.
One thing I've noticed about TikTok is that especially right now, rock and alternative music has seen a huge resurgence thanks to the platform.
Tessa Violet: Yes! Oh my god, it’s so good. I love seeing those like, smash songs from the 2000s re-circulating I love that. 3OH!3’s “Don’t Trust Me” is in the zeitgeist? Fuck yeah!
Yeah, I remember when I first started listening to that song, I think I was in freshman year of college. And I would just be in the study lounge like blasting it. Probably annoyed a lot of people.
Tessa Violet: Yeah, I remember being in high school and kind of being taught and being like, I don’t know if I like this song. Because I’m like kind of offended by this but also that is such a smash. The late 2000s, early 2010s was the sweet spot of party beggars. That’s all we do. Everything’s good. We just vibe, we go out, “I gotta feeling…”
Good times. Strange times. So how you see platforms like Tik Tok driving the next generation of alternative artists?
Tessa Violet: You know Beach Bunny?
Oh my god, yes! I saw their “Cloud 9” challenge and then I streamed their whole album and immediately went to the group chat like, “Have you listened to Beach Bunny? They're so good.”
Tessa Violet: Yeah, I love Beach Bunny and I love Lili. She’s so sweet. I got to see them. Like a year and a half ago. They open for PUP was like, “Yo, am I punk now?” People were massive and crowd surfing. It was incredible.
Since then, they’ve had two or three songs blow up on Tik Tok. And I’m glad that they’re being heard. It’s great that things can grow organically for great songs thanks to these platforms.
You actually you grew up making music and connections with other artists over YouTube, right?
Tessa Violet: No, actually. Common misconception. I grew up being a vlogger and didn’t even pick up a guitar at all.
For a long time, I didn’t want to talk about the like blogger thing for two reasons. One, the music industry doesn’t like influencers. So if you’re an influencer trying to crossover to music, they don’t take it seriously. We don’t like you. But on the other side I want to scream, “I’m not an influencer!” I was making video blogs before anyone knew what a video blog was — just a creative kid trying to tell stories, making fan-made music videos.
I always loved to perform, but it didn’t even occur to me to write songs. My hometown is super small, not close to a city at all. Going to shows was not at all a part of the culture at all because there were no shows to go to. So when I was older, I met a few songwriters and I was like, “Oh, shit, just write a fucking song.”
My friend left his guitar in my car and then moved and I felt it was a shame that no one was playing the guitar. I started learning and three weeks into it I could kind of cover out Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark.” I thought maybe I could try writing a song. As soon as I started, I was like, “Oh, shit, this is what I want to do.” In fact, I think this is what I was always meant to do. It just took me longer time than most to come to it.
There’s that meme that going around that lists when different famous people like got discovered, and it's anywhere from 10 or 15 to 70 years old. I think that there's like this misconception that if you haven't found yourself by 30, it's too late.
Tessa Violet: Yeah. So much of the stories we see are people in their late teens, early 20s. Sometimes I have fans come up to me and they’re like, “I want to do what you do. I want to be a singer-songwriter, but I’m afraid it’s too late for me.” And they’re like, 16. Wow. All it is, is practice, you know? That’s all you have to do.
Coming up in the early 2000s, the internet was still new. And there wasn't a big sense of connection on it. Nowadays, teens’ worlds are bigger than ours were. Do you see the connections that people make now on these mobile platforms as genuine and positive? Or is there a negative side to that in your experience?
Tessa Violet: So, this is what I would say about the internet, and social media in general. It is neither good nor bad. It’s neutral. It’s a tool. A hammer isn’t good or bad. It’s how you use it. If you’re like hammering a nail, that’s good. You’re hitting someone else with it, that’s bad.
I was an early adapter onto things like YouTube before people realize what they could really do with them. I’m like, yeah. At that point, I was really isolated in my life and having access to the internet, to make friends online to make friends with other like likeminded, creative people was a lifeline. And I don’t know if I would be here today if I didn’t have that. I didn’t have another access to my friends and especially now during Corona times, that’s true for almost everyone.
For a lot of people, that’s their community, especially young, LGBTQ+ people who are living in a small town where people don’t understand them. That’s a lifeline. And it’s a space where you can rediscover yourself. If you go to work or school with the same people every day, they have an expectation of who you are. And it’s hard to suddenly be someone else. But on the internet, it’s a blank space. I think that’s great.
That said, I was looking at my own experience with the internet. I think at some point that lifeline became a crutch. I was reluctant to enter the real world because I had this space for myself. And I’m like, “Well, this is enough.” But it isn’t enough. We need to be engaged in the real world with real people. It’s tough to talk about because those relationships we make online can be just as real as those we have in person. I am still close with people that I met through the internet. When I’m in town, I go and see them. But the flipside is that you can’t foster those friendships at the expense of everything else.
So to get back to your question, I think it’s neutral. And it depends how you use it. Different things are right for different people at different times in their life.
I saw that you have a live stream event coming up as a final celebration of Bad Ideas. Can you tell me about that?
Tessa Violet: Oh my God, that’s the thing I am most excited about that I’ve ever done. First of all, live performances are where it’s at. Obviously, it’s not live in person with fans, but it is live music reviving vibing with my band, dancers. Usually you have a budget that you need to make last 25 shows over month and a half, but for this we used whole budget for a tour on one show. I love the production, and it’s just been so cool to create a world. The story of that idea is a journey inward. And I want to I want to experience that in some way. We have different sets, and some of the number of dancers and different costumes for everyone.
I think when I was a little younger, I felt insecure and shy about drawing attention to myself, because what if someone looks at me and they don’t like what they see? And now I’m just like, “Yo, whatever people are gonna think, whatever they’re gonna say, I fucking love sparkling.” I love just being who I am. I’m a big person, I’m a big personality. And I think that to offer myself as I am to the world is a gift to the world. When people see artists being their genuine selves, it gives everyone else permission to be who they are too.
I feel like the show is such a reflection of who I am: joy and grief and sadness and sparkling and dancing and hanging out with my friends who also happen to be my fans.
The end of the pandemic is almost in reach. Do you have any big plans for when live events come back besides this live stream?
Tessa Violet: I don’t currently have any plans but I’m dying to have plans. I’m dying to back on tour. Let’s do it, baby. But, you know, a lot of these festivals announced but it’s like, are they gonna happen? We don’t really know for sure. Let’s see how it goes, you know?
Tessa Violet: Yeah. Fingers crossed.
So last question. For fans of our podcast Tunes & Tumblers, if you were to describe your music as a drink, any drink, what would it be?
Tessa Violet: I like things that are light and refreshing. Minty, really bubbly, with one of those completely clear ice cubes. It will just have so many different like flavors. And as non-drinker, you could definitely do it without alcohol. I don’t even know if that’s my music. But that’s the sort of my move when I go to cocktail bar with friends. Something that’s light and refreshing and not too sweet.
Stream: “Games” – Tessa Violet & lovelytheband
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