Artist Spotlight: VIAL

    VIAL is the Minneapolis-based indie punk trio of bassist Taylor Kraemer, guitarist KT Branscom, and drummer Katie Fischer. Kraemer, Branscom, and Kate Kanfield – who has since left the band – met at an after-school music program, and after looking for a drummer and coming across Fischer on Tinder, formed VIAL in mid-2019 and quickly recorded their first EP, Grow Up. The group’s feisty, relatable debut full-length, LOUDMOUTH, arrived in July 2021; its credits thank Marisa Dabice for “musical guidance,” and Dabice’s band Mannequin Pussy is aptly included as an RIYL in the press release for VIAL’s brand new LP, burnout, along with Olivia Rodrigo and illuminati hotties. Despite being inspired, in part, by the overwhelming grind that comes with becoming full-time musicians who are also expected to act as influencers, the album has no shortage of energy: it stays captivating by doubling down on both the aggression and theatricality of the band’s earlier material, covering a range of styles and emotional states in less than 20 minutes. ‘therapy pt. iii’, continuing a series that began on their debut, segues into ‘just fine’, a track that’s stuck in desperation and denial; other songs are bratty, self-deprecating, or downright silly. But by the end, burnout makes sure to release several sessions’ worth of pent-up catharsis.

    We caught up with VIAL’s Taylor Kraemer and KT Branscom for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about the band’s formation, recording burnout, the album’s journey, and more.

    Do you mind sharing your first impressions of each other? How did you know you wanted to form a band?

    Taylor Kraemer: KT was scary as hell.[laughs]

    KT Branscom: Yeah, a scary-as-hell 15-year-old.

    TK: You scared the shit out of me, dude! I think we both wanted to be in a band.

    KTB: Yeah, definitely. I wanted to be in a band, or at least be some form musician, since I was really little. Taylor texted me out of the blue one day, a couple of years after we had first met each other. She was like, “Hey, wanna start a band?” I was like, “Dude, that’s my dream. Let’s do it.”

    TK: And then we went on Tinder, and we found Katie.

    Right, I heard that’s the lore.

    TK: Yeah, it’s been love ever since. My first impression of Katie, simply because her name was Katie, was like, “Yeah, you belong with us. Get the hell in here.”

    KTB: My first impression of Taylor – I thought Taylor was pretty cool. I thought she had a shitty boyfriend at the time. [Taylor laughs] I was like, “Come on. You could do so much better, you’re so cool.”

    TK: Who is this? [KT whispers to Taylor] Oh, yeah, yeah.

    KTB: My first impression of Katie, I thought that she was kind of shy. She was a little bit less alternative than the rest of us. I was like, “I don’t know how this will work in the band, but I’m really excited to see where this goes because she’s really talented.” I’m glad we stuck by her.

    How quickly did you get the sense that this was the band?

    KTB: We just clicked. They very quickly became like my best friends, and we were making such good music, and music that I always wanted to write and make. I kind of thought, “I don’t know if I’ll ever feel this connection with other people in the future.”

    TK: I’d say mine was all of that in Chicago. Our first time travelling together was during the pandemic to record our first full-length. It was a very strange time, obviously, and it just kind of worked. We had each other’s backs, and we were interacting with people on the internet – it was just, “Oh, people are excited about this.”

    KT, how do you look back on that time?

    KTB: Very fondly. I was actually looking through old videos of us in Chicago last night, and it was very heartwarming. And I was so young, too, I was like 19 at the time. I love my friends.

    How long had you been playing music by that point?

    KTB: I started playing guitar at age 12 or 13, but I wasn’t very good. I didn’t take it too seriously.

    TK: You were so good, you were a shredder!

    KTB: I can play a mean power chord, man.

    TK: I did singing, but classical singing, since I was in middle school, and then finally got into contemporary training in high school. And then recently, I took up bass, so I was just flying by the seat of my pants. [laughs]

    KTB: I’d always been a “singer” since I was a little kid, but I went to this performing arts high school, and I also got classical and contemporary training for two and a half years before the band started.

    You’re the only band I know of that has covered both the Hex Girls and Nirvana. What sort of bands and influences did you bond over early on?

    KTB: Definitely Nirvana. That was a big one. I think me and Taylor especially bonded over ‘90s riot grrrl.

    TK: For LOUDMOUTH, it was Dazey and the Scouts, illuminati hotties.

    KTB: For sure.

    Going into the studio to record burnout, did you set out to approach things differently?

    TK: I think we attempted it a bit differently, being that we had a lineup change. I guess I only ever recorded bass for two other songs before we recorded these ten, so that inherently is a different process. Other than that, we kept it pretty much the same – besides the sound, the process remained pretty similar, where we do live tracking so that it feels very organic.

    KTB: The other difference was, we didn’t go to Chicago this time. We stayed in Minneapolis, which was helpful, to be able to go back to our own houses at the end of the night.  We actually did record it a bit differently – with LOUDMOUTH, we did individual tracking of every instrument: drums first, then bass, and then guitar, then vocals. But with burnout, we did live recording, like Taylor said, where we’d all play at the same time.

    Did you come up with ‘chronic illness flare ups’ in the moment, or was it planned?

    TK: I have chronic illness, so when I was having a flare up, I would sing that song to myself to kind of make it silly. Having chronic illness, for me, came with a lot of body hatred, so to make it less stressful, I always sang that. And I was like, What if we made this a song, an actual song?” So we wrote the guitar riff, which is just the same riff the whole time. It took like five minutes, the whole thing.

    KTB: Taylor sent us a voice memo of that song in our group chat, and we immediately were like, “This is going on the record, this is too good.” And then the synth that we added on top of that – we really liked the synth that we did in ‘Planet Drool’ off of Loudmouth, we wanted to recreate that a little bit with at least one song, and we thought ‘chronic illness’ was perfect for that because it’s a little silly. It fit right in.

    Taylor, what was it like for you to write the lyrics for ‘bottle blonde’ and then have Katie sing them along with you?

    TK: It was inspired by listening to a lot of Girlpool, and a lot of Girlpool is that kind of layered duet. I kind of always heard Katie’s vocals as the leads in that song as I was writing it, and I love to belt high notes, so that’s just how it shaped up. It was always the intention to begin with the influence that it had from Girlpool.

    KTB: I do remember that you were a little nervous about being like, “Katie, I want you to sing the main vocals.” So you had both of us do a competition, The Voice-style singalong to the song, because I think you were worried about hurting my feelings or something.

    TK: I don’t remember this, but I’m sorry!

    KTB: No, it happened, so we both sang the verse and the chorus of the song, and we’re like, “Okay, Taylor, which one did you like better?” And you went, “Um, I feel weird saying this…” And I was like, “You’re not gonna hurt my feelings if you want Katie to sing it.” And you were like, “Yeah, I think Katie’s timbre just fits with the song perfectly.”

    TK: I’m a people pleaser, and I’d rather die than hurt somebody’s feelings.

    Did you have to talk about the song at all?

    TK: I feel like as a band, we know each other so well that when we get lyrics from one another, the meaning or the implication is always understood without having to discuss what it meant to us when we were writing it. I always trusted whoever was going to sing it with the lyrics and the meaning. Sometimes we switch vocals because all three of us have very different timbres. Katie’s is very bright, and then – what would you say our timbres are? You got a nice dark one.

    KTB: Yeah, I feel like I’m dark and you’re more bright. Katie can go very soft, but she can also scream her head off. Our timbers together I feel complement each other very well, and I think you and Katie together blend very well.

    As bandmates, do you feel like your communication has gotten more intuitive in terms of making decisions and understanding each other’s strengths?

    KTB: I think we’ve definitely gotten a lot better over the course of

    recording two records and an EP together at understanding each other and communicating well, and knowing what will sound good. That has made recording go a lot faster and smoother in a lot of cases. We’re all very much people pleasers and we don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings, but I feel like now we know what will and won’t in regards to recording music.

    TK: Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly. I think there’s more that can be left unsaid musically and we all just are on the same page, which is really awesome after so many years of working together. But also, we’ve turned up the dial on communication when it comes to people’s emotions and comfortability and mental health.

    KTB: We’re all really in tune with each other, and we can all tell when maybe somebody’s not feeling the best, or when somebody might disagree on something. I think we tackle those issues with a lot of tact now.

    In what ways have you learned to be more mindful of those things?

    KTB: We’re so much better at communication now, and that, I think, was a really big hurdle when we first started touring. We were in tune with each other before we started touring in August 2022, and then things kind of – we had to revisit a lot of communication stuff when we first started touring together, because you’re living with

    your friends for two weeks to a couple of months on end, and that can be a challenge. But we’re very much fans of talking it out, not holding things in, not letting things bubble up and boil over.

    TK: We’re also all introverts, very bad introverts, so space is another one of those things that we’ve learned is super valuable in conflict resolution – just leaving each other the hell alone sometimes. [laughs]

    How does that tie into the title of the album, burnout?

    KTB: Most of the songs on the album are personal songs – you’re getting a glimpse into our psyches, a little bit of our lives. And with all of those songs being super personal, they kind of surrounded the idea of being burnt out,  whether that being burnt out from a career or burnt out because of a relationship or friendship or whatever.

    TK: Looking back on it now, I don’t think it was our intention, but I think we also had a lot of burnout from being content creators over lockdown. We aren’t content creators – we’re musicians, and we were kind of put into that place where that’s the only way we could connect with people. So, a lot of burnout from how much we poured into that.

    KTB: For sure. We were being looped in as influencers as well as musicians, and I’m not an influencer. Man, don’t listen to me. [Taylor laughs] Don’t take my advice.

    It feels very much like the songs on the album are in conversation with each other, despite having different writers. Was there a point while you were assembling them when you realized what they had in common, that they made sense as a record?

    KTB: Definitely. We actually have more songs written for this record than we’ve put onto it, and we had to sort through all of them and think about which ones sound good together and make sense together thematically, which songs can be left to the next one. But I think we did a good job with that. I think the record, even though it’s very personal, it’s very relatable, and you can make your own story from it while listening through. But our story about the record – we think it kind of follows the stages and processes of going through or losing a relationship. The anger that comes with that, the acceptance, the guilt, the self-loathing that comes with that.

    TK: It was really cute, our managers were like, “So, then, ‘broth song’ is a metaphor for the person that you’re writing this about?” We’re like, “No, it’s a song about soup.” [laughs]

    KTB: That’s a good middle point for the record being like: we’re feeling all of these really big emotions at the beginning, with ‘two-faced’ and ‘bottle blonde’ and ‘falling short’, and then there’s ‘broth song’, and that just pulls you right back into reality.

    There’s a sense of continuity to the songs you each lead in the second half of the record, with ‘therapy pt. Iii’ and just fine’ going into ‘friendship bracelets’ and ‘ur dad’, but there’s also an interesting contrast between your writing styles.

    KTB: We knew we wanted ‘just fine’ to be in the middle because that’s the middle stage of grief or losing somebody, self-loathing and self-deprecation. And then getting straight back into anger and being pissed off at somebody, and then revenge with ‘ur dad’.

    TK: Those four songs very much felt like a great B side, like a great finale, and they fit together even though they don’t have the same writers. We also felt they were very captivating, and a lot of times B sides can be neglected, so we wanted to keep people engaged when they flip the record. But that was about the most thought that went into it.

    It feels intentional to end with ‘apathy’, which feels like the most cathartic song on the album. There’s no sense of irony or self-deprecation in that one.

    TK: Imagine if we ended on your ‘ur dad’.

    KTB: Oh my gosh. We were thinking of that. [laughs] When we

    were starting the process of structuring the album, I knew in my heart and soul that we needed to start with ‘two-faced’ and end with ‘apathy’. ‘two-faced’ being the most angry,  screamy song, and then ending with an outpouring of catharsis, despite the song being called ‘apathy’ and talking about apathy. It’s a big sigh, that song, and after all of the emotional turmoil that the rest of the record hits you with, I think that we really needed to end with with a big sigh.

    Could you share one thing that inspires you about each other and Katie?

    KTB: I very much admire Taylor’s gusto, Taylor’s assertiveness, and wanting to go above and beyond. I think you’re a really good person.

    TK: I admire KT’s drive to always be their best authentic self.

    I admire your style and your songwriting. Katie can write riffs for days. And then Katie, I admire Katie’s honesty. Katie doesn’t give a fuck. I admire Katie’s missingness right now.

    KTB: And she just texted us.

    TK: [laughs] Katie is an enigma.

    KTB: I admire Katie’s absolute ferality and anger, and her willingness to beat somebody up if they do either of us wrong. She’s also an incredible songwriter as well. She’s not one of the main songwriters, but she adds the missing puzzle piece to our writing, and I think all of our songs are better for it.

    TK: She also protects her peace like a grizzly bear, which I respect so much. Katie and I will be running ourselves bone dry, lighting the candle at both ends, just burned out, and Katie will be like, “Yeah, I’ll catch you all, I’m gonna sleep in my own bed. See ya!”

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    VIAL’s burnout is out now via Get Better Records.

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