Transviolet, singer Sarah McTaggart’s mom was seated next to a celebrity hairdresser on a flight. The pair got talking and being the proud parent, Sarah’s mom ended up bending his ear about her daughter’s band. When she hopped off the flight she insisted Sarah reach out to him via Twitter. “I was like, stop bothering this poor man, he was nice enough to talk to you on the plane, I don’t think he really wants to hear our music!” Sarah laughs. “But she kept asking until I finally sent him some of our stuff.” And you can bet he liked what he heard—so much so in fact, that when dining with a record exec friend later that week, said hairdresser mentioned Transviolet. After one listen the exec was hooked, insisting that they speak with Sarah that very night.
“They called me at 10.30 PM and I was in my PJs and I thought someone was pranking me because the guy on the other line was like, ‘We want to sign you, we want to do a showcase,” she recalls, still somewhat incredulous. “I got off the phone stunned. It was super freaking crazy: they called that night and we were signed and moving to LA a month later.” All because someone chose an aisle seat (probably).
But this wasn’t the only moment that a twist of chance altered the course their path: their origin story is equally serendipitous. Thanks to her father’s job as an entrepreneur, Sarah’s family lead a nomadic existence. She spent her childhood bouncing from place to place before settling in Grand Cayman, where her father’s family hailed from originally. A Caribbean island surrounded by crystal cerulean water sounds like paradise, but removed from her friends and the “normal” high school existence, Sarah felt isolated. Although she arrived late to artists like The Beatles, Nirvana, Bob Dylan and Radiohead—“those timeless songwriters whose music really seems to transcend time and space”—it was at this point in her life that these artists really resonated.
“I clung to that kind of music because I moved around a lot as a kid and didn’t really fit in or I got sick of trying to fit in,” she explains. “So I’d escape by listening to songs like ‘Across the Universe’ or ‘Lithium’ or ‘Creep’—these artists, they get me. I became obsessed with lyrics and songwriting and that’s when I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
It was around this time that Sarah picked up the guitar. She cut her teeth playing open mic nights on the island, eventually uploading her material to a site designed to bring musicians together. And here’s where the other random split second decision triggered a crucial set of events: instead of listing her whereabouts as the Caymans, Sarah wrote San Diego on her profile. She’d set her sights on the SoCal city and it turned out to be something of self-fulfilling prophecy because when multi-instrumentalist Michael Panek logged on to search for a female vocalist, he narrowed his search to his area in—you guessed it—San Diego. A sucker for “90s jams” there was something in Sarah’s songs that appealed to this leaning. “Her lyrical style reminded me of Death Cab For Cutie,” explains the Rochester, NY native. But more than that it was her innate sense of melody that reeled him in.
“There’s a lot of good singers out there who can write crappy lyrics and get by,” he explains. “But there was something about her that had substance, it was a real visceral connection.” Despite the fact that Sarah immediately admitted she wasn’t based in San Diego, the pair quickly forged a musical partnership: Michael would email his music and Sarah would apply her words and melodies. She introduced him to Alt-J; he played her Sigur Ros. This was at the top of 2011 and by the end of it she’d uprooted her life and moved to San Diego. Was it a shock to meet each other in person for the first time after the intimacy of long distance songwriting?
“Luckily in those emails we were both pretty honest about who we were,” says Michael. “She was exactly who I thought she was going to be—except she was a lot shorter. I think the first thing I said to her when I hugged her was like, ‘Oh you’re so small!’”
It wasn’t long after the airplane-Twitter-phone call exchange that the duo upped sticks and moved to LA. Once there, Transviolet truly solidified thanks to the addition of Michael’s high school buddies and former bandmates, drummer Jonathan Garcia and guitarist Judah McCarthy. What followed was an incredibly fertile period: they signed to Epic and penned some 60-odd songs which were eventually whittled to a svelte debut album scheduled to drop next year.
“For all of us it’s more than just the music,” Michael concurs. “We think it’s important to spread positive messages and have a nice effect on the world around us.” While Michael describes Sarah and him as yin and yang—her lyrics and melodies, his beats and arrangements—the addition of John and Judah should also not be underestimated. Sarah credits them as being essential to the development of their sound, which they’re now honing live on their first ever tour (they made their stage debut back in September 2015). The foursome are a tight unit and it works. “There are no divas, we all look at each other as equals and there’s no such thing as stupid ideas,” affirms Sarah. “I think that safety is what allows us to feel so free in the writing process because no matter what, the other three people are always going to back you up. Those stupid ideas are what sometimes lead to the brilliant ideas.”
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