Everyone loves when the underdog gets the triumphant last word. As one of the buzziest emerging punk bands of the past few years, Minnesotan queer punk four-piece VIAL seemingly emerged out of nowhere in 2019, amassing thousands of streams less than a year into forming. This was in no small part due to the internet. Social platforms like TikTok and Instagram proved to be incredibly lucrative tools for the band to market their material to fellow queer and femme Gen-Z punks who felt the same frustration as them at the state of the world and the overwhelmingly-male punk revival.
VIAL focused their songwriting gaze inward for their 2019 debut album Grow Up, a litany of angsty autobiographical punk pop confessionals that earned them tons of critical acclaim and the title of Best New Band in their home state’s City Pages.
In 2021, their sophomore album, LOUDMOUTH, pulled back the curtain on their personal lives and unraveled their evolving thoughts and feelings on the current state of the world. Several tracks find the band responding to the unfortunate treatment they’ve experienced at the hands of their punk peers with primal rage against rollicking guitars, beefy drums, and shimmering sci-fi synths. Their unhinged screams spout lyrics about railroading misogynists with a four-wheeler on the song “Roadkill,” and unleashing their wrath on aggro man babies with the equally ferocious “Planet Drool.” Other highlights include “Violet,” their catchy ode to queer pining, and the reflective album closer, “21,” which documents the universally-shared mental anguish of getting older.
VIAL originated with vocalist and keytarist Taylor Kraemer (she/they) and lead guitarist KT Branscom (they/them), who both found themselves displeased and underwhelmed with the monolithic sound of the Minnesota DIY scene. The lineup was completed when they recruited bassist Kate Kanfield (they/them) and drummer Katie Fischer (she/they), who they found on Tinder. Already with two solid albums under their belt, VIAL’s unique array of carnivalesque, teeth-gnashing thrashers with catchy pop melodies interspersed throughout, form a unique sound that is unmistakably their own while also paying homage to legendary queer punks of yesteryear, like Fifth Column and Sleater-Kinney.
Since the release of LOUDMOUTH, VIAL has kept their momentum going. A month ago they released their latest single “Embryo,” a response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. They recently played Riot Grrrl Fest at Elsewhere in New York, and are now on tour with THICK and Skating Polly. A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with VIAL’s Taylor Kraemer (vocals, keytar) and KT Branscom (vocals, guitar) to discuss the critical success of LOUDMOUTH, keeping art fun, and what they’re listening to right now.
What initially made all of you click musically when you first got together?
KT Branscom: That’s a good question. I think we all were equally bad at our instruments and bad at writing music. So there was never really any competitiveness between any of us. We were just having fun. None of us were planning on making the best song in the world and I think that’s why we clicked musically. It was because none of us were too serious about writing the most amazing songs in the world.
Taylor Kraemer: Yeah. I also remember when we decided to cover “Territorial Pissings” by Nirvana at all of our shows. Having a song that wasn’t ours that we could play and really rock out to has been a great bonding experience that’s shaped how we want our music to sound and how we enjoy music that isn’t ours.
What led to the choice to incorporate keytar in the band?
Kraemer: It was to fill out the bass end of things. I also play bass on some songs, but for the most part the keytar serves as a bass in general which is hilarious. I also just wanted to do something with my hands, because I tried to play guitar at first and I was absolutely horrible at it. But I CAN play the piano. So, I just decided to play a keytar.
I remember seeing you play bass with press-on nails one time. How on earth did you manage that?
Kraemer: Yeah, I remember that. That was very hard. I switch back and forth from bass and keytar and that was one time that I’ve ever allowed myself to endure that experience. I’ve never gotten long nails since then, but I’ll give myself a pat on the shoulder for getting the job done. I’m surprised they stayed on!
Branscom: I think I’ve gotten acrylics or gels or something once in my life. And then I realized I couldn’t do shit with these. I can’t play guitar. I can’t wipe my ass. I can’t do anything. So I applaud you for being able to do that for a show.
I’m curious about the name VIAL. Is it meant to be a double-entendre: vial/vile?
Branscom: Originally, no. I think I just saw the word “vial” and thought it was cool. But I think nowadays we get more questions about [the possible double entendre], so sure, why not!
Kraemer: Yeah! It was intentional *WINK*
LOUDMOUTH is a lot heavier and more layered than Grow Up. How did the process differ from recording your debut?
Branscom: Well, the thing that was different about recording the second album compared to the first was that the first album was recorded, mixed, and mastered in somebody’s garage. So, there wasn’t a lot of knowledge on the producer’s part about how to make it sound beefy and full, especially in a garage setting. And there wasn’t a lot of knowledge on our part either, because we’d never recorded anything before. But then with LOUDMOUTH, we had that knowledge of how we want it to be different. We wanted it to be fuller. So we went to an actual studio in Chicago to get it recorded.
Kraemer: I think lyrically and energy-wise, we were so angry for the second album too. We hadn’t really been in the scene for very long when we wrote the first record. So I think we were writing about more personal experiences and relationships, whereas the second record was about our experience in the punk scene. We had a lot of anger that we needed to get out of our system. And I feel like we got most of that anger out and feel a little bit cleansed now and better off for it.
Branscom: I mean, on the second album, we literally have a song called “Roadkill” that’s about vehicular homicide. So, our next set of angry songs is less violently angry and more in the vein of “I am mad at you and I’m going to ruin your life with words and not my fists.”
Amazing. “Roadkill” is my favorite song on the album, by the way.
Branscom: I’m writing a new punk song and I do have another line about hitting somebody with a car. So, I think I want to keep that theme going from album to album. That’d be a fun run.
What are the most valuable insights you’ve gained from your experiences in the punk scene?
Kraemer: I suppose mine is to keep art fun. That’s also a community goal. Whenever I focus too much on making art that’s theoretically “good” to somebody else’s standards, I find myself removing a lot of the fun from it. So keeping art fun is what makes it worth making. As a community, I feel like there’s a lot of talk about uplifting each other and we’ve met a lot of artists that uplift each other. But at the end of the day, it’s this unique business where you can always track how well your competitors are doing and how their numbers are faring. And it’s so easy to fall into that trap of “Well, I’m not doing as well as them numerically, and therefore I should feel some sort of way about them.” So just getting my head out of numbers and going back into the fun of things and sticking to the ethos of uplifting each other, especially young bands, queer bands, and bands with folks of color in them is so much more important than watching the numbers and self-sabotaging.
Branscom: I think a big thing for me is respect. We’ve constantly had to write in our rider what our pronouns are and explicitly instruct the crew not to call us “ladies” or “gals.” And there will STILL be people who disrespect our wishes and misgender us. At this point, I refuse to work with people like that, no matter how much of a big deal they are in the music scene. If they’re not going to respect me as a person, not only me as an artist, then I don’t want anything to do with them.
Kraemer: I think there’s also a lot of cross-villainization that happens in the competitive nature of the industry, and I’m not about that at all.
What comes first for each of you in songwriting: lyrics or instruments?
Branscom: What’s great about music and art, in general, is that it’s very subjective. I personally find instrumentation to be more interesting to me and to my brain. I won’t save a song to a playlist if the lyrics really poignant, but I will save it to my playlist if there’s some instrumental bit or something that makes my brain tingle and feels good in my earholes. But there are other people like my partner who might really value lyricism over instruments. So I think it’s just up to the person and the listener. I don’t think one is more important than the other. I think it’s just about what sounds good to the individual.
Kraemer: I’m more of a lyrics person. In every song I’ve ever written the lyrics have come first, then the melody, then the instrumentation.
Branscom: See, I’m the opposite. I write the instruments first and then the lyrics.
What artists are you listening to at the moment?
Branscom: I actually haven’t been listening to a lot of music recently. I know that’s crazy to say as a musician, but I’ve been so focused on touring that I haven’t had time to find new music. I guess this is going to sound cringy and gross, but I’ve been listening to a lot of the Beatles lately. I have Sirius XM in my car and so I’ll listen to the Beatles channel 24/7 because that’s what I grew up on. It makes me find comfort in a really stressful time.
Kraemer: For me, it’s Faye Webster. And then going back to my point about bringing fun back to music, I’ve been listening to so much Scene Queen! She has a song called “Pink G-String” and I’ve been blasting that song in my car every night on my way home from rehearsal and headbanging like crazy.
What are some of the most memorable things that have been written about you throughout the years?
Kraemer: My favorite one was after we released our first record, somebody wrote that we sounded like four Julien Baker fans. Gotta love some good-ole god-fearing indie folk.
Branscom: I’ve completely blocked out everything that’s been written about us. I think the most memorable things are what people have written to us, rather than about us. There are so many young queer kids who write to say we have inspired them to start a band or helped them through a tough time. That’s been very heartwarming because I’ve always wanted to make music that inspires or helps somebody. And that’s what’s most memorable to me.
A major factor in your success has been the internet. What are your biggest takeaways from that?
Branscom: I think that we would be in a much different place if TikTok and Instagram wasn’t a thing. We definitely wouldn’t be as big as we are now. And I appreciate it. There are definitely things about the internet that I really don’t like. We recently took a hiatus from posting any content, especially on TikTok, because it’s so stressful and time-consuming. You get stuck in the numbers. When we first blew up on TikTok, I was obsessed with refreshing my notifications, to see what people have said about us and how many followers we got. We just had to take a break because it was ruining my self-esteem.
Kraemer: I think a lot of artists sometimes look down on other artists who choose to use those platforms or spend their time pushing their music and their art online. And I’d really love the narrative to be rewritten. How about instead of throwing stones at the artists that choose those methods for promotion, they start examining WHY the industry is so hard to break into, to a point where small bands like us feel forced to become content creators to market our music. Why are we mad at the people in the machine as opposed to the machine itself? There’s so much judgment. But hey, if we want to be cringe on the internet, then let us be fucking cringe on the internet. It’s fun! And if that’s how people discover our music–if that’s somebody’s record store–I’m all for that.
What does the rest of the year have in store for VIAL?
Branscom: We’re doing a lot of traveling around the country and a lot of big shows coming up. We’re hitting the road in September, we’re playing a festival in November, and we’re going to continue writing and recording demos. Lots of fun stuff coming up!
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