Interview by Scout Kelly
Walking through Chicago’s Logan Square, I felt slightly out-of-place, like the Tennessee kid I was when I was 15 and, admittedly, still am now. I was on my way to interview Jess Abbott of Tancred. They're set to release their new album Nightstand, on June 1st through Polyvinyl and I had spent the last few weeks revisiting their earlier records and consequently being sent down a wormhole of my teenage days by my favorite tracks like “Harvest and Holly” from 2011 and “Twelve” from 2013. I usually try to think of myself as a little bit aloof, but this was a special opportunity to me, having grown up listening to her music at some very tender ages of my own, weird adolescence. From her work in the indie pop band that got their break on Myspace – Now, Now – to her records released as Tancred back in 2011, I was gonna have to admit that I’d heard it all and most likely cried to it.
I approached the white tour van parked in the alley beside the Chicago’s own Subterranean. It was parked right underneath the train tracks; the roaring overhead was another stimulus that made me just a little jittery. The window rolled down and Jess popped her head out and yelled, “Do you wanna get in the van?”
We laughed as I crawled over a skateboard and some bags to get into the van where the band was lounging, simultaneously shaking hands and exchanging names. They had just gotten to Chicago from Kansas City, where they had their first show on a month long tour opening for Julien Baker. Jess said it went really well; it felt like a good start to performing a new record with a little bit of a different vibe than their previous 2016 release, Out of The Garden. I was a big fan of the record with its bold lyricism and power-pop guitar arrangements so I was excited to hear more about it.
“You have certain lyrics that I relate to really, really well,” I tell her, in reflection on some of the writing from Out of the Garden.
“Oh, yeah? ...What’s your sign?”
“Gemini. What’s your moon?”
She laughs and says that, Nightstand is her Pisces moon album, whereas Out of the Garden was her Sagittarius rising album. Nightstand, as she describes it, is a little less aggressive than the 2016 release: “It’s still confrontational; there are songs on there that hit pretty hard, but it’s less vindictive.”
What about releasing “Reviews” as your first single? That’s an interesting choice. It seems like it deals preemptively with how the album is going to be received.
“It feels like the new album is … well, half the songs are more downtempo; I don’t feel like ‘sad’ is the word, but not exactly as upbeat as the other half of the songs are. So, “Reviews” is almost about both. It feels like a good bridge, because it felt drive-y enough to be connected to Out of the Garden, but it has some other stuff goin’ on enough to show that this is going to be a new album.”
You’ve been making music for a really long time.
“Yeah, it sucks,” she says while laughing in a way where I can tell she doesn’t entirely mean it.
How old are you now?
That’s what I thought. You’ve been making music since you were pretty young! I’m 25. I feel like if I had art released into the world when I was younger, I feel like I’d be like ‘OH MY GOSH.’
“Embarrassed?” She laughs.
YEAH, I mean not embarrassed but …Yeah, maybe embarrassed.
“Sometimes, I’ll look at another artist and think, ‘They’ve put out a lot of albums and they all sound really different and that’s kind of weird and I’m like…’OH SHIT THAT’S ME’… Then I see people that release their first album when they’re 26 and I wonder what that’s like.’”
I’ve been listening to your music for a long time; I’m 25. I grew up kind of like the same time you were with YOUR music, which is kind of odd. So, it’s really interesting to be able to sit down with you.
“ -like Now, Now?”
Yeah, but also Tancred, I mean I’ve been listening to your work for a long time. I grew up alongside those records, mostly from Myspace.
“That’s funny. It’s cool to do an interview with someone who has context for this new record.
I met Now, Now on Myspace. My high school girlfriend heard of them on a Tegan and Sara forum and I didn’t know what to get her for her birthday, so I wanted to order her Now, Now’s EPs and I got on Myspace to order them. So, I started messaging them and then I was somehow moving to Minnesota and joining Now, Now. What really got me into the kind of music that I make now was just everything I was absorbing off of Myspace.”
I think of my own creative work, and the feeling of being 25, and never knowing what’s going to happen to me next, and I can’t help but ask:
How have you been doing it for so long?
“I think with any creative project, it’s hard … It’s really hard to go on tour, financially. In terms of your own self-worth, it’s like, if you have a good show you know think ‘that’s why I’m doing this!’ and if you have a bad show, you’re like ‘why am I doing this?!’ Going on tour when you are in a relationship is like … the worst thing of all time.
Sometimes, it feels like ‘what am I doing?’ I almost got into music management. I had some opportunities to do other things, and I thought, ‘I could just do that.’
No matter what; I just can’t stop doing this. Sometimes, you’re lying in bed at night and you hear a song and it just pops off and you love it or hate it, but either way it’s a huge deal. I wonder, what did this band do to get to this point? Sometimes you hear the greatest song ever and no one gives a shit about it. And you’re like, how did that happen? It’s wild. There is no answer to it. I just knew I’d feel deeply unhappy if I didn’t do it. When I think of what music did for me as a teen, it feels comforting to know that maybe I’m paying that forward in some way. I got really into music kind of because of Slingshot Dakota. I saw them when I was 14. They played at a hardcore show in Maine, and I was like, ‘HOLY SHIT.’ I immediately added them on Myspace and asked them to come back to my hometown to play and I had no idea what I was doing. They pretty much showed up and had to take care of everything, and they were so nice about it ... First and last show I ever put on.”
I mean, I know that I’ve sent people links to your music and your music video, specifically for the song “Pens” because I, like, really love that video and send it to people all the time. I don’t know; there are so many different types of success, you know? There are certain phrases in that song that stick out to me that make me love the song so much, similar to how I feel about that line in your song, “The Glow” that I adore. I’ll listen to that song over and over and over just to hear one that one line: “I want to kill myself inside your mouth,” and I’d feel like totally overwhelmed by that line. That’s a line that I wish that I had written and put in a poem, you know?
“Whoaaaa, hahaha; do it!”
Ha! Like Steal it? And italicize it and put your name under it as a footnote?
“No, it’s a collab! …It’s fine! Lyrics are my favorite part of music! I even hate putting reverb on my vocals when I’m playing live, which makes sense to do, but I like my vocals to be dry and upfront, because I really want people to hear what I’m saying. It’s really important to me. Guitar is fun and I love it. I mean, if I had to prioritize my skills, guitar would be first, before singing or lyric writing, but lyric writing is my favorite part of it. Playing guitar is just a vessel for me to write.“
Yeah, I mean, you have multiple songs where certain lines just punch me, and I’m like, “wow this is great.”
“It’s encouraging to hear that that’s translating.”
Later that night, I got to hear Tancred play songs from their new record, and I wasn’t surprised to have my heart buckled by the lyrics and the energy. I had never gotten to see them live before, and I was happy to be surrounded by friends dancing with me and singing along. At one point, I heard a line from a new song and I turned around, sweaty, with my jaw dropped and saw Morgan Martinez and Julien Baker both nodding, understanding what I felt. Morgan mouthed, I know. She threw her arm on my shoulder and we dove into the crowd a little.
This past week, Tancred released a noir influenced music video for their song “Queen of New York” which embodies the feeling of a quick, heavy-handed romance that leaves you wondering when will I see them again? It’s a classic crush song and unabashedly queer. Incidentally, “crushy” happens to be my favorite category of songs. There’s nothing more satisfying to me as an adult than hearing queer artists celebrate a heart-throbbing romance. I’ve driven home from work with the song blasting as I drove through Tennessee fields and highways, shamelessly. I think of Jess, a musician who has been a signed artist for years, whose music has been in my ipod since 2012, still hoping to “pay it forward” with her music. I think about the joy of new love and the devastation that it can leave behind it when it goes away, how delicious it all is in its entirety, how grateful I am to be able to experience it alongside the right songs.
There are few things as precious to me as finding an album that rearranges time, that can make you feel older or younger, taller, bigger, more of what you are or even what you aren’t. There are few things as precious as a song that you sing along to with your friends in a crowd. I’ve been lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the album, and I know good and well that Nightstand is going to give me more precious moments away from time. I know I’ll be 15 and 17 and 25 and 26 during this album. I’ll sweat to it again. I’ll sing it in my car after kissing someone or maybe getting my heartbroken, who knows.