Minneapolis’ VIAL on Battling the Big Bad Algorithm in the DIY Scene

By Sage Shemroske

Photography courtesy of the artist

Minneapolis-based VIAL is an all ghoul band with the perfect potion of anger and humor poured into their latest album, LOUDMOUTH. They thrash against the once homogenous male punk scene, reveling in feminist revenge fantasies and scratching their way out of the controlled gender binary. But there’s always a sweet spot for yearning for crushes and considering their introverted tendencies. LOUDMOUTH is both blunt as can be lyrically and razor-sharp with wit. 

Sugar, spice, and spitfire, VIAL are first and foremost best friends and then some of the biggest rockers you’ll meet.

Slumber: LOUDMOUTH is all teeth and nails with tracks like “Roadkill” and “Mr. Fuck You,” was there a lot of catharsis in recording the album?

KT: Definitely. Recording the album came with a lot of emotions in the studio. I think we all got very angry at some points – at each other and in general. But we dealt with it in very healthy ways.

Kate: I think we got a lot of catharsis out in the studio. A lot of the songs on LOUDMOUTH, especially “Ego Death,” “Roadkill,” and “Planet Drool” were all written post-COVID, so we never had the experience of playing them live and being able to scream like that in front of an audience. So in the studio was the first time we felt the full energy of the songs, especially “Planet Drool.” I don’t think we ever played it perfectly as a group before we recorded it because it had been written really close to recording. But seeing the energy in some of these songs come to life was very exciting. 

Slumber: You’ve finally had your first show back! What’s it like performing songs that come from a place of anger? Is it healing?

KT: Definitely. Playing all these songs live for the first time was a feeling I will miss forever. It’s hard to think back to that now and put those feelings into words because it’s kind of indescribable. Being able to yell and have people yell the words back at you, it’s very very cathartic.

Kate: Completely agree. I think it was crazy. I’m very impressed by all of us on a musicianship level because a lot of these songs are not songs I personally would’ve been able to play live at any show pre-COVID. So it was really cool to write these songs, create these songs, and then be able to play them for the first time. It was a lovely experience, very fun! 

Slumber: Have you gotten any backlash from Punk Bros(™) since releasing the album?

Kate: Luckily our instagram got hacked a couple of days after the album was released, so we haven’t been able to check out Instagram comments. So, I don’t know. Nothing really on Twitter that I’ve seen.

KT: We’ve gotten mostly positive feedback and reviews. There was one review, I won’t name names, that said some not very nice things about a couple of our songs and that made me sad. But that was one out of however many reviews we were in. So overall the feedback has been positive!

Slumber: You’ve got schrodingers Instagram. I hope you get all good things whenever the account is returned!

Kate: Fingers crossed, but Instagram reels are a bit of a cesspool.

Slumber: What do you mean by that?

Kate: The instagram algorithm is really weird, so their reels, the TikTok knock off, we always get the weirdest comments. They always get shown to people who weren’t ever going to like the content we’re making. That always sucks but we tend not to read the comments of our Instagram reels as often as possible. 

KT: If we come across something really bad we just delete it. Because we love that delete button and that block button!

“Playing all these songs live for the first time was a feeling I will miss forever. It’s hard to think back to that now and put those feelings into words because it’s kind of indescribable. Being able to yell and have people yell the words back at you, it’s very very cathartic.”

Slumber: We do! How are you competing with Big Algorithm?

Kate: Our knowledge of social media has grown a lot over the course of the pandemic. And we used to be really focused on the TikTok algorithm and learning what works inside the algorithm to get the most views and connect with the most people within that niche. It was very helpful for a while and connected us to a lot of really awesome people, but we also try not to get too sucked into it and focus on creating only for an algorithm and not for ourselves and other people we think would enjoy it. We’ve been doing a lot of growing on that. Social media is insane and complex and the pandemic has not made it any less controlling over everybody’s lives at this point. So it’s a really hard line to walk as a band.

KT: With our instagram being hacked, it’s helped me to not obsess over how the album has been doing. Because Instagram was my main social media to look at VIAL things, because I don’t use Twitter that much and TikTok is overwhelming. So I use Instagram. But it got hacked two days after the album and so I haven’t been on since then and I’ve been carefree, not a care in the world about how we’re being perceived! Which I think is a great change for me. It’s always nice not to worry about how you’re being perceived. 

Slumber: Speaking of perception, what does “punk” mean to VIAL? Does it even matter?

KT: To me, punk means doing what you want and going against the grain, not taking shit. And I think that we, for the most part, hit all those marks. I think we may not sound very punk but we’ve definitely got punk influence in our message and who we are.

Kate: I think it does matter especially with the changing DIY scene, and I use that term very broadly over pretty much any musician that’s not under a major label and I’m not restricting it by genre when I say “DIY”. But it has been changing so much over the past couple of years. And it’s been leaning into punker, non-men, POC, queer led punk. Which is very important to me. We don’t have a ton of songs that sound super punk, we have a couple of them and they’re pretty fun, but I think it’s a lot about the ethos and community building, and like KT said, not taking any shit.

KT: Your music can still be punk without sounding like classic punk or what people would generally perceive as punk. I think we are still a punk band even if we don’t sound like a typical punk band.

Slumber: But then you have tracks like “Something More,” which is very much a Crush Song. Would you say there’s also a healthy dose of sweetness on the album?

Kate: Yeah, I think our very first album Grow Up bounces a lot between angry and sad and happy, it bounces through a lot of human emotion that the four of us have felt over the time we’ve been writing. I think that the little sweet parts of LOUDMOUTH make the angry parts even more impactful. I like the more soothing parts of the album before you get absolutely punched in the face. I like the “Thumb” to “Piss Punk” transition because it’s just Sad Vibes and then “ope no longer sad, we’re very angry and we’re yelling at you.” I think it’s fun and it’s always nice to have a little sweetness no matter how angry you are. 

Slumber: You have “Therapy” on your first album Grow Up and “Therapy Pt. II” on LOUDMOUTH, which are directed at other person. Are any of you in therapy? What are you doing for your mental health?

KT: Yes. I believe all four of us, I don’t wanna speak on anybody else’s behalf, but I personally am in therapy. I haven’t gone in awhile though. 

Kate: I’m also in therapy, I recently got a new therapist and she’s lovely, I love her! Mental health plays a huge aspect in this band because we all are neurodivergent. It comes out in the songs in what we write about and how we interact as a band, which I find super wholesome. I’ve had a lot of musical experiences – I’ve been playing guitar and bass for almost ten years at this point, but I really like VIAL because we all focus on each other’s mental health as well as our own. 

Slumber: Thank you, I appreciate your vulnerability. On “Vodka Lemonade” you sing “Or maybe it’s because when I’m at parties all I can think about is what time I can go back home”, are you introverts?

KT: Yeah, definitely. 

Kate: Absolutely. 

KT: I think we all have extrovert qualities, if we’re at a show most of the time we’re easy to talk to and not closed off, but we all like our time alone. 

Kate: We’re all anxious introverts.

Slumber: What role does making music play in your mental/emotional state?

KT: Music for me has always been something that my life has been focused around and so it helps me a lot in getting through difficult periods of my life. I can always count on picking up my guitar and playing a few songs and immediately feeling a bit better. It’s very important to me. If I didn’t have music I don’t know where I’d be or who I’d be.

Kate: Big agree. Music plays a central part in my life. When I went to college I stopped playing music for a while, because I went to a performing arts high school so it wasn’t part of my daily curriculum. And this was before VIAL had started so I just stopped playing and it was a really unfortunate time in my life. And I didn’t realize how much I missed the aspect of playing music,  creating music with friends. It’s a really wholesome and fulfilling feeling. It was very nice to jump back into it with VIAL. Just imperative to my everyday well-being. 

“To me, punk means doing what you want and going against the grain, not taking shit. And I think that we, for the most part, hit all those marks.”

Slumber: “Ego Death” has this fucked up carnival sound to it, where did you come up with that?

KT: That was the first song we wrote together as a full group. I think we had a lot of fun with it and carried it not too far because the carnival theme is very fun and I love it, but we carried it very far and had a little bit too much fun with it.

Kate: Never too much. I love My Chemical Romance, KT also loves My Chemical Romance. And we both very much enjoy the song “Mama” by My Chemical Romance. Especially at the intro and outro, that waltzy, fucked up circus-y vibe was definitely a little bit inspired by that. When we started writing the song as a group Taylor had one line and it was “come one, come all to the best show in town,” and we built the song off of that. And it felt very circus-y. 

Slumber: And then “Planet Drool” starts with a sort of pattycake game. What inspired that?

Kate: I wrote that when I was very angry with people in the local Minneapolis scene. I was inspired a lot by the beginning of ‘Demi Rip’ by Bikini Kill. I very much like brat punk, Riot Grrrl, those kind of childhood-but-now-we’re-adults-and-very-angry vibes. I thought it was a fun way to do it. It was originally a disgusting intro, a good little rhyme, but we wrote-

KT: We wrote a little drum beat behind it and then an awful, awful guitar riff thing. And we tried to record a demo of it and as soon as we heard it come out of the speakers we were like trash this immediately, we don’t wanna hear this any longer.

Kate: I still feel horrible for our poor friend Nate who had to mix it and send it back to us. I ran into them at our album release show and they were like “it’s so great to see what the album has come to” they recorded those demos for us a year ago at this point. So it was a wonderful little moment and we both were like never talk about that intro ever. But then KT decided to write a song with that as the beginning of it and came up with ‘Planet Drool’. She wrote some insane riffs and wrote them on piano, which does not translate super well to guitar or bass. But it was fun, we still learned them and we played it live. So it just helps us get better, but I love that song so much.

“Mental health plays a huge aspect in this band because we all are neurodivergent. It comes out in the songs in what we write about and how we interact as a band, which I find super wholesome.”

Slumber: It’s funny you say that because it reminds me of Bikini Kill’s ‘Demi Rip’ but I was hesitant to compare you to them because I feel like anytime non-men make punk they’re automatically deemed Riot Grrrl and that label often becomes kind of immovable. Do you consider yourselves to be in the lineage of Riot Grrrl?

KT: I think that we are definitely in the lineage. I think we stray away from what original Riot Grrrl was and what the ethos behind it was. A lot of the times we’ve considered ourselves, there’s a new term “Riot Ghoul,” instead of Riot Grrrl. One, ‘cuz we’re not all girls and two, we’re fine with the term Riot Grrl but we wanna make it clear that we don’t agree with everything the original movement spread and did.

Kate: In the lineage, absolutely. Riot Grrrl is coming into its second wave and seeing a lot of changes. I’ve noticed on TikTok a resurgence of Riot Grrrl and a lot of really important conversations around the overwhelming whiteness and cis-ness of the original Riot Grrrl movement. But Bikini Kill, to me, is a huge inspiration. I don’t think I would compare VIAL to Bikini Kill because I don’t think we sound alike except for that little intro. But they are a huge inspiration for me and it’s an Interesting balance between acknowledging the flaws of the Riot Grrrl movement and moving on past it and building it into something different. 

Slumber: LOUDMOUTH also addresses new crushes and gender and sexuality in songs like “Violet.” What would you say to listeners who are also figuring out that they may wanna be a girl’s boyfriend?

Kate: Trust yourself. I did not trust in myself when I was a child and it pushed off a lot of crucial discoveries for me. If you are somebody who is having those questions, the best thing you can do is explore that to the best of your ability. It’s never a bad thing to be curious or to try out a new label, or new pronouns. Maybe you were wrong, and that’s ok too. It’s all fluid and the only thing that matters is that you are who you want to be. And it’s really hard to figure out who that is, so you have to give yourself a lot of time, and a lot of space, and a lot of love while you do.

KT: My identity and sexuality are constantly changing and fluid, so don’t feel pressured to choose one label and just stick with it. You can experiment and find what’s right for you. And if what’s right for you changes in the future, that’s fine too. 

Slumber: What advice would you give to anyone facing sexism in the Minneapolis music scene? 

Kate: Bark at them! VIAL wholeheartedly endorses this: if somebody is being stinky and sexist, bark at them until they go away. Like a dog. But on a more serious note, I think in Minneapolis specifically there are huge sexism problems and still a lot of racism in the DIY scene, and overwhelming whiteness, cis-ness, men. It’s very hard to see outside of the bubble that is created in DIY. And I don’t think we would’ve had as decent a time figuring ourselves out within that without COVID where we didn’t have to see any of those people who made us feel like shit and were misogynistic and sexist and headaches. Don’t listen to them. Specifically in music, you are only going to get what you want out of creating music if you’re with people who enjoy you creating your own music. And this applies to anybody of any gender and any bullshit you encounter. 

KT: I think if you’re facing sexism, stand up for yourself if it’s safe for you to do so. If you don’t feel safe and can’t, don’t let it get under your skin. Anything hateful that somebody says is not a reflection of you but a reflection of them. You are not the hateful comments that you get, you are more than that.

Kate: All of the people that we have dealt with who have been sexist or shitty in any way have been projecting their own insecurities and perceived failures onto us. Find a good group of people that you know you can trust throughout anything and try your best to ignore shitstains. And that’s VIAL by the way, the group who will help you get through anything. I was never a part of the DIY scene until I had the three of them around me at every single space we went to. Find a group of people you know that you’re safe around and you can still have fun even when sexist shitstains try to ruin the vibe. 

“VIAL wholeheartedly endorses this: if somebody is being stinky and sexist, bark at them until they go away. Like a dog.”

Slumber: How do we make the scene more accessible for people who aren’t men?

KT: if you are in a band and booking a show, try booking a show without any men on it. At all! Or at least more than one non-male act. If you are not in a band, support non-men artists like VIAL and the many others that are out there that are wonderful.

Kate: The most diverse and safe shows I’ve been at have been shows where 99% of the bill aren’t men. Following those same lines, having non-men on the bill and having that presence in the organization is very important to non-men who are attending shows. Stick together and carve out this new safer scene. We had our very first show back at the Fine Line, and it was fantastic. Almost everybody that I saw was wearing a mask. We had a huge supportive vibe. It was an incredibly fun show and nothing like shows I’ve played before that were run differently and extremely unsafely. There’s a lot of things that we all have to do. It’s a slow but strong process. Take no shit and if you have the ability to control any aspect of the show, stick to your guns and make sure that those safety aspects are there. 

KT: If you see a festival line up or bill that is all men, don’t be afraid to call it out. The more we talk about it, the more we call bookers out on misogyny and sexism, the more we will change it for the better. 

Slumber: What questions are you tired of the band getting asked?

KT: I’m personally tired of people asking “so what’s up with the Kate, KT, Katie thing?” It’s just our names! It’s not that hard!

Kate: In interviews, in comments on TikTok, It’s always “how do you deal with a Kate, a KT, and a Katie?” I’ve accidentally called Taylor Kate a couple of times.

KT: It’s only ok when we do it to each other!

Kate: The only ones that get repetitive are the TikTok questions but that’s fair because we do a lot of our content making on TikTok. 

Check out VIAL’s latest, LOUDMOUTH, below: