Analogue Music | Tancred


By Scott Elingburg

Jess Abott spent time crafting her latest album, Nightstand.

Right off the momentum of 2016's Out of the Garden, Jess Abbott was on a roll writing songs in the same vein as that LP. But then, as she notes, she "wasn't feeling it deep down." Which, naturally, is one of the most important parts of songwriting. If you don't feel it, you can't force.

But you can feel the songs on Nightstand. A collection of eleven songs that broaden her style from perfectly crafted pop to near-orchestral ambience, Abbot's strength and growth as a songwriter, arranger, and player is on full display. From songs such as the gorgeously wrought opener "Song One" to propulsive build of closer "Rowing," the effort that Abbot pushed on Nightstand reward the listener after many and multiple listens.

"I put more into this album than I’ve ever put into an album before," Abbot told me to start our recent conversation. She expands on that subject and more in our interview below.

Analogue: What specifically did you put into this album that you had not done before?

Jess: When I started writing the album there was a whole batch of songs that I scrapped that I didn’t end up using. I had a lot of fun writing for Out of the Garden so I thought I’ll just stay with that style, but then I started writing the songs and I liked them but I wasn’t feeling it deep down. I was feeling a bit more introspective and I didn’t want to put out Out of the Garden part 2. I wanted to do something newer and felt more right. So I scrapped all the songs and started over, then I was super elaborate with the demo process. Each song went through two to four different entire writes of the song. Where a lot of these songs started is so different from where the ended up. I worked on a few co-writes with people out in LA, then reworked them again. And the demos were meticulous. In the studio, I was really particular about every little thing. I even had an argument with the drummer about how I wanted a specific drum beat. I took the time. And every corner of this album I took the time on and I’ve never had the opportunity to do that with other albums.

While you were doing that, did you discover some things about your songwriting or even your playing that you didn’t know before this album?

Hmmm. Well, the string arrangements on the album, I wrote all the string arrangement and I had never done anything like that before. And I wrote most of the drum parts too with the exception of most of the fills. For most of the beats and the arrangements and bass, as well, I went all in on the drums and bass for “Strawberry Selfish” specifically. I pushed myself to take on responsibilities I may have otherwise hired someone else to do. I knew what I wanted, so I just tried to do it. I expected to have to change the string arrangements a lot. I said to the producer, “I’ve never done this and I won’t be hurt if we have to change a lot of this.” But for the most part they were what I had written. It was a nice feeling to feel myself growing and pushing myself to do things.

Tancred, Nightstand
Tancred, Nightstand

In that respect, is this an album you feel like you have complete ownership over? Or have you felt that way about other records?

I’ve always done all the song writing but I’ve always left doors open for other musicians that have played on the albums. Producers, too. Even with the co-writes, I leave the door wide open. I’m not prideful about this; I would love to have someone else’s input on what I could do here. But for this album, I was so meticulous with the demos that there wasn’t really room for that door to be open this time.

At first I felt weird about it because I was looking for a team of people to develop my songs with me. But once the record was done it is something, at this point, that I take a lot of ownership of. I was more invested in how these songs turn out than a lot of other stuff I’ve done. I’m very proud of this album and feel very close to it.

I thought about a sense of ownership on this record when I heard the first lines: “I will not lie to you / these words will be true.” That felt like an intentional statement. Was it meant to be that way?

Definitely. The way that song came about, “Song One,” I named it that before it was even written. It had come to me that I wanted this album to come across as very honest and vulnerable. The way that I want to get people into that idea is to open up the album with those lines. I typed that out in a note on my phone and knew it would be the opening lines of the album. I wanted it to be very clear that “Song One” was the beginning of this journey. From there, I wrote the song. But yeah, it was very intentional.

It sets the tone for the record, although it’s not what I would call “confessional” but it invites listeners in with some universal themes. It’s also very hopeful, too.

Yeah, I didn’t want it to be too specific. There were a lot of stuff on my previous albums that were really specific. I love stuff like that, too, when someone paints you a really elaborate picture that you get to look at. But I wanted this album to be something that they could put themselves into and feel something about themselves from it. It’s confessional in that these are real experiences I had but I make sure not to make it too specific so that others can share those experiences.

Even if you’re not truly alone, we all are at the end of the day. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but sometimes it doesn’t always feel like a good thing.

It does feel universal, not so much reference your life. And that juxtaposes nicely with the title of your record, Nightstand. It’s a very intimate, personal invitational title. What was the reason behind the title?

Some of the songs genre-wise, feel a little slower, some more drive-y, rocking and 90s-ish and some are tame and modern. I wanted the album title to encapsulate the idea of a jumble of personal items. What could contain a bunch of sentimental and personal objects that don’t necessarily relate to one another? I thought about jewelry boxes, the word “bijou” came up, but then I thought “nightstand.” When you get in bed you have all the things you want near you while you’re sleeping. It also tied in with the album, too. It’s about intimate relationships with people and there’s a song about a one-night stand on the album. I felt like a nightstand was the perfect image that this album was about. It was like the center of a Venn diagram for all the themes.

And everybody’s nightstand is unique. Almost as if what you put on your nightstand defines who you are.

Exactly. Yeah, and we all have one but no one’s nightstand is identical to someone else’s.

You said after the last album you experienced some loneliness and felt like human connection was missing. What was missing for you?

My last album as a lot about identity and becoming who you are and bringing that forth into the world without reservation. Now I’m coming from a place with a sense of identity, but how do I take that identity and exist with other people? And know that that same idea comes from the other side; they’re going through the same thing. How we share time with each other, what we mean to each other, and how experience loneliness when we’re with other people. Even if you’re not truly alone, we all are at the end of the day. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but sometimes it doesn’t always feel like a good thing. And just existing with it was the main focus that I was writing about on this album.

We do have the tendency to reject loneliness but it sounds like you set about embracing loneliness and almost using it as a motivator for some of these songs. Does that sound right?

Yeah. I’m very romantically invested, that’s just an aspect of myself. Where I was experiencing loneliness and also running from it was with romantic involvement with other people. But I was also choosing to be single. The last couple years I was choosing to be independent. And it was very lonely but I think everyone feels that way at one point or another while they’re single. It was necessary because of the growth that I went through because of that decision. There’s a way to look at loneliness that’s not so dark.

That’s a great way of putting it. Loneliness doesn’t always equal a dark place.

How would you ever learn about who you are if you spent all your time invested in someone else?

After you look over what you’ve done musically, is there one moment, album, or song, that made you feel like you knew what you were doing?

I think it would definitely something from this album. I think writing “Song One” and “Clipping.” When I recorded the demo for “Song One,” I listened to it in my car a million times. I demoed it December/January of 2016/2017. And it was snowing a lot in Maine and I would drive around in my car and listening to it on repeat. It was the first time I was riding around in my car, listening to something I recorded and connecting with it. Usually I don’t playback my own songs because I hate my voice (Laughs) but with “Song One” it felt like something genuine and me. I was proud of it and it was relatable and striking in a way.

And then in the studio we did some really cool sonic stuff with it. I took a national guitar and ran it through an octave pedal, one or two octaves up and then picked it pizzicato so it was like string-plucking. Then the full song came together in a way where it felt very special and important to me as a songwriter.

Fitting then, too, that you knew it would be the first song for the record.

Yeah, it is. Definitely.

*Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez