For me, Jess Abbott stands alongside my biggest influences as a songwriter and musician. First being introduced to her creative output through the band Now, Now circa mid-2010s, I continued to follow her musical endeavors into her solo pursuit under the moniker Tancred. Tancred's music spans over a wide variety of genres and trying to cast a wide net to cover it would be rather feeble, as is with most bands with a singular voice at the creative helm. Tancred's music is as introspective as it is observational. Her music has a drive at times that feels both fun and gloomy. Her songs are so full charm and character that I can't help but smile and feel joy as both a listener and audio engineer. Here is my interview with Jess Abbott:
Q: As someone who has Nightstand in my top 10 favorite albums, I was ecstatic to hear the acoustic version and hear how much more personal the songs felt in that format. What led to the decision to release the acoustic version?
ABBOTT: The acoustic versions were created before I went into the studio to make Nightstand. I made them as an exercise to flesh out the bones of the songs and make sure they worked together as an album. After the studio album came out I remembered I had these recordings sitting around and thought it would be nice to release them. They definitely have a very intimate feel that I was excited to share. Sometimes I wonder if I was able to make the album versions fit together well enough as a whole. They feel very glued in the acoustic release.
Q: Being a solo artist, most of the decisions fall on you when it comes to music, videos, shows, setlists, etc. How do you strike a balance between Tancred and your personal life? What’s the hardest part?
ABBOTT: I don’t know that I’ve ever been able to separate Tancred from my personal life. Every album sounds different from the last, which I think is a consequence of writing along to particular moments in my life as opposed to letting the songwriting exist as its own thing. Tancred has always been very confessional, even when I tried not to be. It’s always been a goal to find consistent footing with Tancred’s stylings, but at this point in my life I think I’m starting to accept that there just isn’t such a thing - Tancred is a part of my life and life is always changing. The two songs I have coming out this year don’t sound anything like what I’ve put out before, and the next thing I do will probably sound nothing like these new songs. It is what it is, I think.
Q: One of my favorite places to turn to when it comes to inspiration for song ideas is other mediums of art. What books, movies, tv have been inspiring you the last few years?
ABBOTT: The book Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch really changed my entire outlook on personhood and civilization, especially in America. It’s impacted every area of my life, particularly musically as the book talks a lot about the American capacity for egotism and how the arts are compromised as a consequence. I know it’s not a perfect podcast and it’s not made by perfect people, but Red Scare has also really changed how I see culture and world events. That podcast is always either very enlightening, or otherwise an excellent exercise in calmly disagreeing with people and accepting that it’s okay to exist with and even like people who have different beliefs than you do.
Q: What did a perfect Saturday morning look like to you as a kid and what does it look like now?
ABBOTT: Then: putting on a baseball jersey and running outside to join the other kids on my street and see what we were going to get up to that day; usually playing baseball, riding bikes, ding dong ditching our crabby neighbor, or starting some kind of bizarre elite club like “Halloween Club” or something. It’s crazy to think that the world used to be like that so recently. I walk around outside now and I’m like, “Where are all the kids?? What are they doing inside??"
Now: Sleeping in, putting on a cushy robe, having coffee and reading book, figuring out what kind of fun house project to get up to for the day. Boring stuff. Lately I’ve been trying to familiarize myself with the lute.
Q: How does it feel that your first Tancred release Capes is over 10 years old? Are there any songs that still resonate with you now?
ABBOTT: Capes makes me feel so old. It doesn’t even feel like listening to myself, it feels like listening to some other kid starting out. I think that’s what I enjoy most about it though, the honesty of it and how unafraid I was to just put out songs that raw. I get too in my head now. I’m unhappy with most music I make, which is something I’m trying to find balance with now. Back then I was just happy to be making things and getting them out there. I’m trying to find that place again. Life is just too short and simple to be so wrapped up in that kind of criticism. It is hard to reverse that way of thinking, though.
Q: One of my favorite things about Nightstand is how you chose to open the album. With this being what I consider to be your most personal collection of songs, did you feel you needed to establish a base-line level of trust with the listener as they dive into your perspective through the rest of the album? What was your thought process with “Song One”?
ABBOTT: The sonic landscape for the record came from a particular kind of mood board I had going on in my mind, and I felt I needed to open the album with something that kind of encapsulated it. Truth of feeling, a timelessness, and the timelessness of human love. There’s also a lot of feelings of inadequacy in those songs, whether or not I meant for there to be, and I think Song One directly addresses that theme.
Q: The music video for “Something Else” is inspired by Riverdale. What drew you to want to make a video inspired by those characters?
ABBOTT: I was just in a deep dark Riverdale obsession at that time. I probably wouldn’t make a Riverdale video now if I’m being honest haha. But it was definitely a lot of fun to make and I had so many friends involved. There was actually a different video treatment at first but the director fell through last minute so we had like, a couple weeks to pull together another idea and I was just like, “I don’t know!! RIVERDALE!!” It’s a goofy video but a lot of Tancred is goofy.
Q: What's something you're looking forward to outside of Tancred?
ABBOTT: Playing the lute. Getting older and calmer and learning acceptance. I’m not trying to be corny, I just sat here for awhile thinking about what is ahead for me that isn’t Tancred, and this is the truth of it. Life is pretty straightforward now that I’m not touring all the time or pushing music constantly. I’m only just understanding the treasure of simplicity. Calming tf down and letting things go.
Thanks Jess for taking the time! If you haven't heard Tancred, just released a new single "Mirepoix" you can stream now! Until next time, take care and talk soon!