Once upon a time (oh, about seven years ago), San Diego was home to a rock band by the name of Noise Floor.
The group -- which consisted of vocalist/songwriter Sarah McTaggart, drummer Jon Garcia and multi-instrumentalist Mike Panek -- started to make waves around town and at one point (not to toot our own horn or anything), we ended up tapping them to perform at one of our SoundDiego LIVE parties. While we didn't know it at the time, we had booked a band that'd go on to become one of the biggest San Diego musical exports ever.
As local bands chock full of potential tend to do, Noise Floor took off up Interstate 5 to LA, reinvented themselves as an electro-pop quartet after adding guitarist Judah McCarthy and changed their name to Transviolet. After hard work and steady buzz, the band eventually released the powerhouse singles "Girls Your Age" and "New Bohemia" in 2016 -- and kinda blew up.
Tours with Twenty One Pilots and LANY followed as did slots at huge festivals like Reading, Governors Ball, SXSW, and Firefly -- not to mention a record deal with Epic/Sony and TV performances on "The Late Late Show with James Corden" and "The Today Show." And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
With Transviolet currently on a headlining tour (which includes a stop at the Casbah on Sunday, July 1), McTaggart spoke with me via email about the band's transformation, San Diego roots, and their strange journey through the music industry.
Dustin Lothspeich: Years ago, SoundDiego got to witness Noise Floor firsthand at one of our shows. Would you consider Transviolet the evolution of that band’s sound or something different entirely?
Sarah McTaggart: I’d say you can definitely hear that it came from the same three people that are now 3/4 of Transviolet -- but it is a different band. I love listening back to those songs. I still love them but the way we write, produce, perform, is all so different now. I’m sure seven years from now, we’ll say the same thing about the music we are making now. I hope we keep evolving.
DL: Do you consider playing San Diego a hometown show? It seems like there's a number of places -- the Cayman Islands [where McTaggart lived before moving to SD], LA, NYC -- that could claim that distinction, yea?
SM: In a way, yes, it feels like the birthplace of this project, and we still have friends and family there, so that makes it feel like home.
DL: Is there one particular spot in town that you make a point to go to while you’re here?
SM: I miss the taquerias. LA has nothing on San Diego’s Mexican food. We've got Luche Libre and Rigaberto’s in our sights.
DL: You guys went from San Diego to LA -- what are your thoughts on finding large-scale success after moving to another city? A lot of local musicians seem to have better luck in LA and elsewhere. Are there any ways you think our music scene can, or should, improve based on your experience?
SM: You need to be where the industry is if you are serious about doing this professionally. Right now, that happens to be in LA or Nashville. Maybe one day, San Diego will have that industry presence, but for now, I’d say your chances of breaking through are exponentially better if you are in one of those cities. A lot of our “luck” comes from randomly meeting people in the industry while we are out and about. As for San Diego’s music scene, I’d say collaborate with other artists, get to know those in the music community, and foster budding talent. I don’t know where I would be without all the artists, journalists, and kind-hearted people in the industry who gave me encouragement and guidance along the way.
DL: Nylon once said “Transviolet want to take over the world and save it. Our heroes.” Does the band feel any pressure to live up to critical praise like that, especially while being on a bigger label, etc.?
SM: I don’t think any of us think we are going to save the world. I don’t think any individual or group of four people can do that. But, we can provide a little bit of solace in our music and at our concerts. We can create an environment for those who feel like they don’t belong. We can inspire others to do the same -- to speak out. It‘s easy to feel overwhelmed with all that is wrong in the world -- especially now. It can feel hopeless. But knowing that we can have some small part in making someone’s day a little more bearable, or helping them feel a little less alone is enough for us.
DL: Music critics throw around names like Halsey, Lorde, Sia or Lana Del Rey when talking about the band’s sound. Does it get to be frustrating? And what’s the most ridiculous thing said to you or about your band thus far?
SM: I think it’s flattering. I like all those artists, so I’m not mad at the comparisons. I think the only time I’ve been irritated by something like that was in the beginning of our career. We were still trying to figure out who we were as a band, we’d been picked up by a small label, and we kept getting thrown in with random producers/A&Rs, and some were so off base in how they envisioned our sound/vibe.
At one point they suggested we all wear headset mics like Britney Spears to perform, and have me dressed up like a porn star version of a soldier. Other ridiculous suggestions included having a “slave ship” in a music video, having the guys wear three-piece suits, and having a Civil War re-enactment on stage during a live performance (not joking). I’ve also had a myriad of outrageously sexist suggestions thrown at me -- being told I should never wear pants, only mini skirts to “show off my legs,” to find a haircut that “best suited my social consciousness,” and to “shake my ass a little” while I cut vocals because the producer “liked watching [my] ass move.”
DL: You guys have done so much already in the last couple years: What has been the most outrageous or unforgettable experience you have had to this point?
SM: The first show with Twenty One Pilots in Leeds was pretty insane. Up to that point, we’d only really played small rooms -- like 250-500 people at the most -- so playing in front of 2,500-5,000 was a completely different ballgame. My entire body felt like it was vibrating, like the energy inside of me couldn’t be contained. It was a rush like nothing I’d ever felt before. I was terrified and ecstatic at the same time.
DL: Jesse Porsches recently released a collaboration with the band -- is there a particular artist you consider the ultimate dream collaboration?
SM: I’d really like to collaborate with Børns. I’m obsessed with his style and voice. Or maybe Kendrick Lamar, he’s phenomenal. I’d love to write a scathing f--- Donald Trump song with Kendrick. Sia would be unreal as well, I love everything she does. Childish Gambino would be sick. “This Is America” was the best thing I’ve heard in a long time. I’d love to be a feature on one of his tracks one day. There are other songwriters/producers I’d really like to work with as well: Ryan Tedder, Joel Little, Mike Posner, Ross Golan, Mozella and Julia Michaels are all people I’m determined to work with one day.
DL: After the current tour wraps up, what’s up next for the band?
SM: We have some new music on the way. Look out for our new single "Undo," coming out July 13 and an EP in September.
Dustin Lothspeich is a San Diego Music Award-winning musician, an associate editor at NBC SoundDiego since 2013, talent buyer at The Merrow, and founder of the music equipment-worshipping blog Gear and Loathing in San Diego. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.