When Tessa Violet took the stage at Chicago’s Lollapalooza in August — her first festival gig — she expected the turnout to be in the low hundreds.
“We were on a small stage so I went super prepared to be like, ‘Yeah I’ll probably play for like 200, 300 people. It’s gonna be super dope,'” she says. “In my head I was secretly like, ‘Man, what if 500 people show up?’ That’s gonna be nuts.”
Instead, the turnout was around 3,000.
“I was just fully like, ‘Oh, they’re here for the next act,’ and then when I walked off stage, everyone scattered and I was like, ‘Oh fuck,'” says Violet. “It was wild to see this physical representation of people connecting with the music.”
Lollapalooza was just one of the stops on Violet’s first headlining tour, where she’s been promoting her album Bad Ideas, out this fall.
The album details all of the complexities of falling in love. Violet’s most popular song “Crush,” which currently clocks in at over 29 million Spotify plays, chronicles the insecurity of unrequited interest; “I Like The Idea of You” details the exciting — and in Violet’s words “empowering” — feeling of first dating someone, even if they don’t like you back. The title track is about diving head first into romance, despite knowing that it could end in heartbreak.
Out Friday (Sept. 27), Violet’s next single “Games” suggests a similar theme, exploring the trials of a relationship founded on falsities.
“A friend once told me that madness exists between the experience you feel in your gut and the story that someone’s telling you,” says Violet of the upcoming track. “I found myself in a relationship where the story someone was feeding me was not the reality I was experiencing.”
While many artists’ songs are inspired by their personal life, Violet often takes inspiration directly from her everyday dialogue.
“A lot of the first lines, especially in my songs, are things that I’ve said or been saying or been thinking or repeating,” she says, providing the opening of “Bad Ideas” as an example: “‘I hope that you don’t think I’m rude but I want to make out with you,’ is paraphrasing something I said to someone. I was like ‘Hey, I don’t know if this is weird but do you want to make out?'”
With the exception of “Crush,” Violet writes her songs from the comfort of her own bedroom. “To me that experience is like sorting through my own feelings, and making sense of them through the vessel of a song,” says Violet.
After writing, Violet brings her finished lyrics and melodies to producer Seth Earnest, who’s worked with the alt-pop singer since 2013. Earnest produced Violet’s energetic 2014 debut Maybe Trapped Mostly Troubled and her “dark pop” EP Halloway, as well as the entirety of Bad Ideas.
Violet and Earnest began working on the new album in late spring of 2017, when Violet was still completely independent. While Violet remains independent of a label, she eventually took up management with The Artist Group, who assisted her in planning the album’s release strategy. Originally, there were plans to release three Bad Ideas EPs that would eventually make up an entire album — a plan currently being tried out by Miley Cyrus and The Lumineers.
“Someone else on the management side was like, ‘Hey, this is a great album, but you don’t have a lot of demand for a full album yet — what if we slowed it down and released three EPs instead?’” Violet describes, admitting she was initially wary of the plan. “I was like ‘Yeah, oof, ok I think that makes sense,’” she says. “But at the same time I was like, ‘Man, I didn’t really write three EPs though, I wrote an album and I think it should be experienced together.”
However, when Violet released her EP Bad Ideas (Act One) in late July, the set took off enough to revert to a more traditional plan. “I cried happy tears when we made that call,” says Violet. “I was like, ‘Yes, as it should be.'”
While her first headlining tour has come to a close in the US, Violet will support alt-pop band AJR on The Neotheater World Tour from September 20 to October 3. Afterwards, her I Like (the idea of) Tour will continue in Europe throughout the rest of the month.
“I love to be on tour,” says Violet. “My band and my crew, we’re all a bunch of people who feel very passionate about the experience. It feels good when the work feels like it matters, which it does.”