VIAL open up on their new album, ‘LOUDMOUTH’ (interview)
As evidenced with their sophomore LP LOUDMOUTH (released July 30 via Get Better Records), Minneapolis indie-punk four-piece VIAL have entered a period of serious self-discovery over the last year and change, coming into their own as artists and people while adapting to the changing world around them and embracing the evolving nature of their personal lives. While their first release, Grow Up (2019), also exhibits its fair share of existential themes, dashes of teen-angst-ridden lyricism, distorted riffing, and sugary-spiced vocals, this new release takes things up a notch or two, fittingly, as VIAL themselves are on the war-path to redefine themselves with undertones of post-hardcore, Riot Grrrl, and even pop.
Introduced with bouncing bass, a circus-reminiscent theme, spit-fire quips, and the line, “Come one, come all, it's the best show in town,” LOUDMOUTH bashes listeners over the head from the gate. With this beginning, VIAL quickly reel back the curtain, letting the spotlight shine on their faces as they embark on a journey filled with twists and turns, triumphs and tribulations, and fun moments interspersed in between. In the process of coming into young adulthood in such a tumultuous, upside-down period, it makes sense that from the very start of the album they’ve worked on during this time, it’s as if the flood-gates holding back their collective consciousness have burst open, allowing them to feel unafraid to speak their truths, and create with the sonic backdrop that they choose.
A sign of their sense of empowerment and loose grasp on sonic cohesiveness, the record’s three singles exist as separate pieces of machinery on the bands’ toolbelt, each distinct in telling listeners just what VIAL is capable of and willing to try, from The Regrettes-esque shouting matches (“Piss Punk”), to flowery and love-stricken ballads (“Thumb”). The first single, “Roadkill” is razor-sharp and unapologetically bold, wielding lyrics that express absolute disgust toward toxic and harmful people (from the industry and otherwise). All the while, in that fierce aggression, they push forth a message that they know they deserve much better, and that it might not be unjustified if said awful people got run down by a car (hypothetically). It’s surely a strong introduction to what is a holistically powerful record, littered with lines such as, “Get therapy, plus you’re really bad in bed!” (“Therapy Pt II)”, and “I can’t begin to explain how much I fucking hate you” (“Mr. Fuck You”).
Next, the second single “Violet,” poised a lens on VIAL’s ability to take sharp left turns in terms of their musical sensibilities and lyrical themes. Backed with mellow but toe-tapping instrumentation, the band utilize this track to discuss the all-too-relatable journey of coming to terms with one’s queerness, and maturing to the point of finally being proud of and in love with that part of oneself. What is unique about VIAL’s take on this very important narrative is the perspective and tone they choose when relaying their version of the story — lines such as “I would disappoint my momma for you” give way to their newfound sense of pride, and it’s beautifully refreshing.
The record’s final track, “21,” examines yet another difficult shared experience in taking a look at the intrusive thoughts and feelings that we can often get wrapped up in, and the real-world manifestations of those darker moments. Even still, it offers hope, acknowledging that even when all feels lost, it never is, because we’re all in the same boat.
In reckoning with their innermost feelings and using song as a form of catharsis, VIAL’s new album capitalizes on the freedom they’ve found through the blunt, honest, and vibrant stories informed by their life experience, both as individuals and as a collective. As a result, they open the door for their listeners to enter their world, and support them as they progress as musicians and in life.
Prior to LOUDMOUTH’s arrival and on the release day of their final single, “Something More,” I chatted with VIAL over Zoom to learn more about their creative process, the themes present throughout the record, and the tracks that mean most to each of them. Read on for our chat and stream the new album...
So to start, for anyone who doesn't know your music, how would you introduce them to VIAL?
Taylor Kraemer: We got described today as "sunshine punk" by FLOOD Magazine, which was glorious. I think I just want to put that out there into the world because that's good energy.
Kate Kanefield: I think we're just four best friends who started making music together and are just kind of, I don't know, going for it. We're having fun. We're making the music that we want to listen to, and we hope that you like it, too.
And for new listeners, what would you suggest they listen to first to get a taste of what VIAL is like?
KT Branscom: If you want punky, harder stuff, listen to songs like "Planet Drool" and "Roadkill."On the other end, we have more indie-pop sort of stuff like "Vodka Lemonade" and "Addict." And then we have some stuff that we've never really done before, kind of really vibey, straight indie — like “Thumb” — so, we've got stuff all over the board.
With speaking on how you exhibit a lot of different styles, are you drawn to anything particular in terms of inspiration? And when you're writing, what does that look like in terms of springing ideas off of each other, and starting from scratch? Do you have any set intentions?
Katie Fischer: I think, for the most part, we normally don't know what the song is going to be by the end of the process. Whatever we start out with, whatever we think this is going to be, it never is that.
TK: We creatively derail a lot, where we have a certain tension, and then one of us will be like, "Let's make a joke about running people over with cars." And then we'll be like, alright, this is a murder ballad now. So, I think creative derailment is our motto when writing recently.
In general, how do you go about writing? Do you tend to bring individual ideas you've worked on on your own to the table when you meet as a group, or is writing together the primary focus?
KB: I think when we all have the songs, we like to start off with either just a chunk that somebody individually has written, or like, almost the full song that that person has written. I don't think we've written anything fully from scratch, organically.
KK: Yeah, I don't think so. I think we always start with a little something, and then all four of us build on it and see what it becomes.
With LOUDMOUTH, did you all go into writing it with an idea of the general themes and topics and sounds that you wanted included? Or again, was it more like, "We're just going to write and see what comes of it?"
KK: Yeah, the latter definitely. We got to sit on some of the songs on LOUDMOUTH for over two years at this point, so they really had a lot of time to marinate, and grow, and change, and be rewritten or have more stuff added. I remember KT found this song, “Beat Up Kidz” by The OBGMs, and all four of us just absolutely loved it. And it inspired one of the songs on LOUDMOUTH, like the kind of sound direction of it. So, that happened maybe two or three months before we recorded everything at the end of the day; it changed up pretty quickly.
Speaking of that sort of thing, like what type of music are you all into? What have you been listening to recently?
KF: I think, when we're together, we listened to quite a bit of punk and Riot Grrrl music. We enjoy having harder-sounding music in the car together. It's really fun to jam out to.
TK: Individually, I've been revisiting a lot of Frankie Cosmos' discography, and specifically Zentropy and stuff. Frankie’s one of my all time favorite artists, if not my favorite. So, that's what I've been listening to right now.
KK: I've been listening to this band called Ho99o9. I love their song "Christopher Dorner." That's another one that Katie showed me and I've just started listening to more of all of their stuff, and it's just great.
KB: I've been listening to lots of illuminati hotties, and I've been listening to a lot of N*SYNC recently, and the new Bo Burnham album.
Jumping off of Bo Burnham's recent special and speaking of albums that have a theatrical quality to them, I feel like LOUDMOUTH does have elements of theatricality, like with the opening song which kind of reminded me of A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, and the nursery rhyme on "Planet Drool." With those moments, where do those ideas come from and how did you go about arranging the album's narrative?
KK: Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of the lyrical content of our songs is mostly, if not always, based off of personal, lived experiences. And so I think, especially with this album, we had been in this band, we had been playing shows, before experiencing COVID — together, we've gone through a lot, the four of us — and so, it tends to be really cohesive in terms of the stuff that we all want to talk about and want to write about. And so, putting [our ideas] in order on the album, we did that after all the songs were written, so there wasn't a specific, like, "this is going to be our first one, and this is going to be our last one." I think that allowed us to see the story ourselves before, where we see it from a bigger picture with all of the songs combined, versus just looking at one individual song.
Funny story: I remember that we weren't originally planning on having "Ego Death" be the lead track on it. And Katie, at one rehearsal, just out of the out of the blue, out of nowhere, no context, was like, we should make "Ego Death" the first track, because the chorus is like, "Come one, come all to the best show in town," and it's like welcoming them." And we were like, "Yep, done."
KF: Okay, I thought you were going to talk about the intro [laughs]. We had a little intro called "The Intro," and it was the chant at the beginning of "Planet Drool." It was horrible. We immediately scrapped it. And I took that chant and put it at the beginning of "Planet Drool" instead, so we could still keep it, but that was the original beginning and it was awful [laughs].
KK: Yeah, I erase that from my mind. So thanks for bringing that up, Katie.
Continuing on intention with song order, was there any intention with picking the singles as well, because, obviously, "Roadkill" is a very intense, aggressive track, and I think it's a pretty fitting introduction to your sound and mentality as artists. Was that chosen because you wanted to come out swinging, essentially?
TK: Yeah, "Roadkill" was also one that we all wrote. Katie came with the riff, and we all sat down and wrote out the lyrics. So, I think it was a song that all four of us felt very confident about, and it was one of our newer, or at least more recently written songs. We just wanted to set the tone because this album, I think, is a little bit more punk or heavier, I suppose, than Grow Up was, so we just wanted to show people like, "Hey, this is what we're getting into."
KK: I think we wanted to show our range between the three songs, and I do remember that none of them are what we thought that they were going to be, except for "Roadkill." That was like, a really strong one from day one, but I remember, through the process of recording demos and recording the album and getting everything back, I think every single song was mentioned by somebody, either the four of us or on our team, as a potential single. So, we just wanted to show our range and what we thought fit the album the best, and we wanted to come out swinging, like Katie said, [with] a little punch in the face.
In terms of the singles' music videos, how much of a stake did you have in terms of the concepts and the visuals and what they ended up like?
KF: I suppose each video is different, so the first one, “Roadkill," we gave Enne [Goldstein] a lot of creative control. For that one, we had a couple ideas that we wanted to make sure were in there but, for the most part, Enne came up with that whole storyline and they did a fantastic job. For "Violet," we came up with the original concept and then Jasia [Ka] really fleshed it out and came up with the specifics of the storyline, and they edited it and made it look amazing. So, we're very grateful to them. And then "Something More" was completely us, cuz we didn't have any more money in the budget [laughs] so we decided to just make one ourselves.
KK: That was directed by Katie. Katie's not saying it, but Katie directed it
KF: It was my first time using Final Cut to color stuff, so I did my best [laughs].
In general, I also noticed that a lot of the tracks on the album are directed at "you," at a specific person, from the slower and more emotionally vulnerable songs, to the quicker, more aggressive ones. When going into this writing process for those more confrontational, potentially revealing tracks, how do you go about it, as opposed to your process with tracks where you're almost throttling your listener?
KB: I think a lot of the softer songs that we write, most of them are brought as almost fully finished songs to the group, so they're very much based on individual experiences and what has happened to us as people instead of us as a band.
TK: Yeah, and then the throttle songs [haha] usually are talking about stuff that we go through as a band, even if one of us writes it or if all four of us write it together. It's kind of like the band's experiences.
An example of those band-focused tracks, "Roadkill" touches on a lot of universal lived experiences, when you're talking about toxic people and relationships. With tracks such as this, did it feel cathartic in a way to be able to act out your pent-up emotions in an aggressive way?
KF: Absolutely, yeah. I love performing angry songs, and I'm very excited to perform these new angry songs live because it is very cathartic to just scream the way you feel on stage at a bunch of people who are also screaming back at you [laughs].
KK: Yeah, the catharsis is, I think, one of my favorite parts of being in the band and playing music together, because just letting loose for a little bit...that's really fun sometimes.
Regarding playing live, since that's more plausible nowadays, which songs specifically are you most excited to debut in a live setting, if you've given thought to it?
KK: We've just started rehearsing. We've been at it for a couple weeks. But for our very first show, live back on stage, it's the whole new album that we're working through and it's all been just super fun, but I love "Ego Death." I think it's just so fun and starts things off with a bang.
KB: I'm super excited for "Planet Drool." Because playing that in rehearsal already, it goes so hard and I just can't wait to see people's reactions to the song.
KF: I was also gonna say "Planet Drool" because I am the lead singer on that song. And secretly, I'm planning on not playing drums and we're going to have a friend play drums for that song. I'm very excited to just go buck wild. I think it's gonna be great.
TK: I think I'm most excited to play "Roadkill" live cuz it's the song I play bass on and we go crazy. I usually play guitar, so I'm excited to rip some bass.
How has it felt to take in how people have been reacting to the singles? And how are you all feeling about having the album out there? Does it feel intimidating, or are you mostly excited?
KB: I was very intimidated at first, before we released any of the singles, but we've gotten really, really positive feedback on all three of them so far. And so, at this point, it's mostly just excitement for me.
KF: I think we've all put so much work into the album and the songs, and I don't want to speak for everyone, but I feel like we're just very confident in the work we've put in and the way that the songs have turned out. So, to me, if people don't like them, it doesn't really matter to me, because I like them. And I think that we've really gotten them to a place where we're happy with them.
Do each of you have, in addition to the songs you're excited to play live, a track that is closest to your heart in terms of either the material, your contributions to it, or otherwise?
KF: Mine is "Vodka Lemonade," for sure. I love that song so much. I wanted it to be a single, but that's okay. It was my idea to put the trumpet solo in there and I got one of my good friends to play the solo on the album, and it's just very near and dear to my heart. Whenever I hear it, I get very happy, and I think the lyrics are just so relatable.
KB: For me, I think mine would be "Addict." It's personal, and I put the most work into writing that song. Yeah, it's my little baby.
KK: I think mine would be "Piss Punk," just because it is the oldest song on this album, written before some of the songs on Grow Up. I don't know, just playing it live is great and recording it was even better. I just really like it. I think we all have fun with it. And when we play it live, during the part of the recording that is a little talky thing, I usually get to talk to the audience, and everyone thinks the song is over, because we just cut out, but then I bring it back in with "You're so boring," and then we all just go crazy! Those are some of my favorite show memories.
TK: Think mine might be "21" because I think that's the second oldest after "Piss Punk." It kind of follows up on a lot of the themes on Grow Up, which were just like being afraid to mature, and being in your early adulthood, and being really crappy at taking care of yourself, and learning how to love yourself. So, I think that song, lyrically, gets vulnerable at times, but it kind of is enshrouded in this indie-rock, fun, happy sound. So, I'd say “21.”
With relation to Grow Up, how would you say that the album-forming process for LOUDMOUTH differed from what it was then, especially considering the last year and a half? Would you say worldly conflict and everything has helped VIAL grow as a band and do you feel like you've emerged different in any significant ways?
KF: I think we've all grown a lot as musicians since the beginning of this band, and that has definitely influenced our music. But I also think, since the beginning of the pandemic, we've learned a lot about our worth as people and as a band, and how to be more comfortable standing up for ourselves and asking for what we deserve, and not just taking whatever we get. And that's what LOUDMOUTH is about.
KK: I think all four of us have also had an insane amount of personal growth over the past year and a half. At this point, the world has changed immensely, and so have we, and I think that has influenced LOUDMOUTH, and I think it'll influence what's to come afterwards.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
KB: We've been writing; we're always writing. Nothing planned, as of yet, but we'll see, hopefully soon.
Where do you hope that the rest of this year takes you? Do you have any goals for the year, and what are you excited about?
KB: Maybe a small tour, but we’re hoping for next year for that, too, but as soon as possible for that.
KK: Yeah, playing shows. I can't hope for anything more. I just hope that they come back and they stay back, so I think that's going to be the best thing about next year.
KF: I want to solidify what comes next because the songs that we've been noodling on that are post-LOUDMOUTH are super good and very much, like, pandemic feels and that kind of stuff. So, I'm just excited to put them on paper and demo them out.
LOUDMOUTH is out now on Get Better Records. Order yours here.