If you've had any kind of interest in YouTube over the past ten years, then name Tessa Violet is probably not new to you. Beginning her time online under the screen name "meekakitty," Violet dipped her toe into the burgeoning video platform at age 17, and quickly attracted a large following on the site. From discussions of her nerdy interests to directing massively popular fan music videos to writing and performing comedy songs, Violet spent years flourishing as a vlogger with music on the side. But now, it's time for Tessa Violet, the musician, to take center stage.
The first release in Tessa Violet's debut as a dedicated singer is "Crush," a shimmering example of chilled-out pop perfection. With over five million Spotify streams and accompanied by a characteristically adorable music video with nearly 17 million views, this bright-eyed singer has been met with overwhelming success in barely three months. Currently on tour with indie-gem dodie, it's clear that Tessa Violet is here to stay. We'll be here cheering for her success along the way, as Violet represents the best of independent musicians: undeniable talent, ambition, and a magnetic mix of quirk and charm that has earned her a loyal fanbase.
Tessa was kind enough to take some time out of her hectic schedule to chat with Ones To Watch, and we talked learning music on a friend's guitar, vlogging, and the finding the bravery to listen to your heart.
OTW: You've amassed a pretty impressive fan base from your time creating content online over the years, but how would you describe your music specifically? Who is Tessa Violet, the singer?
Tessa: The most important part of my music is that it comes from a very personal and experiential place. I write a lot about my experiences with love and with anxiety. I think to the casual listener, a lot of my songs feel like a bop, pretty up. A song that sounds like a bop, but with sad lyrics pretty much encompasses me.
OTW: Your single “Crush” has generated some very well deserved buzz and attention. How does it feel to see so many people connecting to it and enjoying the song?
Tessa: So much fun, it’s so exciting! I don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing, but in some ways, I feel like I’m separate from my art, and in that sense, I’m a fan of it. So it’s fun to have people also be a fan of it because I’m like, “Hey, we have that in common! I like that song too."
It’s a whole new world to be experienced by a fan base that isn’t embedded in YouTube and isn’t in touch with that. It’s fun. I’ve had some people find me through Spotify first and then see my videos and be like, "Oh, there’s more of you here!” And that’s neat.
OTW: Music has been a common theme in your videos for nearly a decade now. I’m curious, what got you started with singing and songwriting in the first place?
Tessa: Ooh, great question. When I was 23, a friend left his guitar in my car and then moved and then wouldn’t tell me his new address, and I kept being like, “Hey, I still have your guitar, I’d love to get back to you, send me your address and I will forward it your way.” But he didn’t, so I thought to myself, ‘It’s such a shame that no one is playing this guitar, someone should play this!’ And I was like, “I guess I could learn how to play guitar.” So I started playing guitar and then I started songwriting and it came as a really beautiful outlet. I really wanted a new way to be creative, and it came at a time when I was going through a love loss and it was this new way to work through what my feelings were and turn them into words and songs.
OTW: So then what motivated you to shift the focus from general YouTube topics to specifically music?
Tessa: With this new record, I guess I knew within myself that music was my love, and it’s what I wanted to do. I’ve had a few people ask, “Was that scary to know that your fanbase might not follow you over into music?” And it wasn’t for me. I just felt like it was just such a truth that I’d rather do something that I’m in love with to a smaller fan base, than continue with something that wasn’t as genuine to me for the sake of having a fanbase. It’s not that I don’t enjoy vlogging or that I think vlogging is less genuine, because I don’t think that. I think it’s its own art form. It’s just that my heart lays with music. I just knew that was true for me and it’s what I wanted to do. So I did it!
OTW: You’ve been active on YouTube for about 10 years, and you started during a relatively golden period of the site where lots of now big name YouTubers were first joining. Can you describe what it felt like to eventually over a million fans intimately following nearly 10 years of your life?
Tessa: Yeah, it’s hard to separate it from my experience of life because it has been so long, and it’s been with me through early adulthood. Ant I think in early adulthood you learn so much about who you are and that was so much a part of my experience in my learning. So it’s almost as if I feel I don’t have anything to contrast or compare it to, it’s just been a part of my life. But I went through phases where it was a source of anxiety, this feeling of needing people to like me. And then I think especially in the last few years, it’s been a place to play and be creative and share.
OTW: You utilize Patreon’s help with the funds associated with recording, producing, and promoting music. What does it mean to you that fans are willing to directly crowdfund your creativity?
Tessa: It is literally the best, shout out to Patreon! It’s so much fun. I do four live streams a month, so I get to hang out with a lot of the people that are pledging every month and play music and talk about what I’m up to. It’s fun to get to experience this story and to be upfront with people, like “I’m trying to make this transition into a more mainstream music industry and I need money to make that happen. Will you help?” And it’s fun to get to share what that story is with people and to feel like we’re all doing something together. Like I took a break from YouTube and everything for a year to write [the album] and record it. And then I came back and was like, “Hey everybody, I’ve been gone for a year, here’s what’s up with me! Here’s what I want to do now!” So that’s fun, it all feels very positive right now.
OTW: You’ve spoken about how your goal is to tour more frequently. What is it that draws you to performing live music specifically?
Tessa: I love live music. I love to watch live music, I love to be a part of live music. It’s such a special experience to know that each person can make that one live show different. Now having the experience of being onstage, I really understand that–whereas maybe I wouldn’t have prior–that the audience is so much a part of the experience of what the show is for everyone. To take people on an emotional journey and to make this experience with them is so fun and so special. And for tour itself, to be on the road, it’s so fun to be a part of a family-because you really do become a family with the people that you tour with. Everyone works toward one job. Get to the show, play the show, and you’re there for each other. It’s a really positive experience.
OTW: Speaking of tour, you’re supporting dodie on her fall tour. Are there any stops in particular that you’re super excited about?
Tessa: So excited! These are the biggest crowds I’ve ever played for, and it’s super fun to be a supporting act because it’s all the fun of being onstage without the pressure. It’s just gonna be me on stage with this tour, no drummer, so that's a little bit of a new experience–usually I play with a band in a big crowd. We're also on a bus, so that’s really exciting. This is my first bus tour where I’m doing music, so I’m like moving on up!
OTW: Which artists are you really into right now? Who are your Ones to Watch?
Tessa: Ooh, great question! I’m freaking obsessed with Caveown, and his album is Lemonboy. He's unbelievable. And Phoebe Bridgers. Alright first so much. She’s so cool! I’m like mad that everyone on the planet doesn’t know her. I saw her perform in Missoula and I was like, "This music is amazing!"
Catch Tessa Violet on tour this fall, supporting Walk Off the Earth.