We’re going to take a break from Open Mic Week to catch up with the great Miss Tess (who we’ve reviewed on this site before; you can find a link in the text below). Not only did we play her last week on The Local Playlist (did you listen? We hope so), but she’s also going to be performing at The Opera House in Shepherdstown on Thursday night. We caught up with her recently to talk about her latest EP, which is made up of mostly cover songs, what happened to The Bon Ton Parade, and, of course, what we can expect from her show over in West Virginia Thursday night (tickets are still available!). We love her to death and hopefully you will, too.
On your latest record, you cover six different artists. Were there any people you wanted to cover but didn’t? If so, who and why? What songs might have just missed the cut?
I’ve always wanted to do a whole album of Tom Waits tunes, but I haven’t quite worked that out yet. The artists we chose to cover for this album all share a common thread — they are all lifetime performers. The batch of songs we covered developed naturally from the interests of the band members at that time. We spend a lot of time on the road diggin’ music in the touring van together.
Conversely, are there any artists around now with whom you have not collaborated, but you really want to collaborate? And why did you want to work with those artists in particular?
I would love to collaborate with any of the artists on the album, but some of them are already dead. That’s the kicker when you’re into older styles of music. I would love to take a time machine (and go) back in time at some point.
I also see that you have a new single out next month. Is that part of a new record? Do you have a lot of new material you’ve been waiting to record, or is this just a tease for another full-length somewhere far down the line?
Yes, we have just released a brand new 45, “One Match Fire,” which features our new single that will be released digitally June 23. I have yet to decide whether this song will be included on the next full-length album. We’re in the middle of developing the next batch of material and shaping the sound aesthetically, and are going to start recording this summer. So it’s basically a teaser for now but we hope to have another full-length out in early spring of next year.
Also, when it comes to “One Match Fire,” can you talk a little about the video? It seems like a simple-enough video, but it’s a lot of fun to watch. How did the concept come up? How/when did you shoot it? Also: What went into the writing of the song itself? Can you maybe explain how the lyrics came together?
We self-filmed that video in sub-zero weather in two feet of show in my friend’s backyard in South Bend, Indiana, during one of the longest winters ever. When I wrote the song, I was literally trying to make a campfire and it took quite a while. The next day, my friend suggested I should be able to make a “one match fire,” so the song idea came out of that as a metaphor for building a relationship.
What’s your impression of this area? I know you’ve played in Frederick before with the Bon Ton Parade — have you been to Shepherdstown? If so, what’s your impression of the area?
I grew up in Maryland, about an hour outside of Shepherdstown. It reminds me a little bit of being younger and driving around the area with my folks and taking field trips to Harpers Ferry. I think it’s a beautiful area and I’m looking forward to coming back. This will be our second time performing at the opera house.
Speaking of that, what’s the difference between the Bon Ton Parade and the Talkbacks? Does this also mean that the Bon Ton Parade is no more?
The Bon Ton Parade was originally conceived when I started the band in Boston. We originally started out as a more jazz-based band. Eventually I started getting more into country and early rock ‘n’ roll, and as some of those influences crept more and more into my songwriting, the band’s sound started to evolve. I changed the band name to “The Talkbacks” to represent the shift from a having a horn player in the band, to more electric guitar. We play similar material, but the style has changed as I have developed as a musician.
Who were some of your major influences and why?
I have a lot of roots in blues, country, jazz and folk music. I grew up in a musical family and I think my earliest influences were listening to my parents’ bands play swing music.
Can you give us the names of a few lesser-known artists we might not know, who we should keep an eye on?
A bunch of our friends’ bands and songwriter friends are definitely worth checking out, like The Stray Birds, Lake Street Dive, Michaela Anne, Caitlin Canty, The Revelers — they all tour a bunch and are playing really great music.
You guys seem to tour a lot — where are some of your favorite places to play (cities/venues) and why?
I’ve toured all over the place for the last eight years or so, and have been to all 50 states. Our tour to Alaska was a remarkable one, having to get to all of our gigs by boat or ferry. We’ve just moved to Nashville to keep exploring the Southeast and Midwest, but we always love coming back to our home bases in New York City and Boston.
And finally, what can we expect from your show at The Opera House in Shepherdstown?
We’ll have Thomas Bryan Eaton on guitar, James Gascoyne on bass, and Sam Zucchini on the drums. We’ll be playing tunes from my last two albums, “The Love I Have For You” and “Sweet Talk,” as well as our new single, “One Match Fire,” and some newer tunes. It should be a good mix of American Roots music and dancing is welcome!