Analogue Music | Tancred


By Matt Conner

Jess Abbott needed a reprieve.

There was a long stretch in which all Abbott knew was the touring life, first as part of the band Now, Now before venturing out on her own as Tancred. A tour schedule that minimized any possibility of "home" and the demand to stay in front of fans any way you can combined for a slow erosion, and it wasn't until the world shut down—a forced sheltering-in-place—that Abbott was able to take stock of what was important (and not).

Tancred is back with new music as the year comes to a close, a new single "“Mirepoix" with Jenny Owen Youngs, with another dropping soon. It's the first fruits of an artist on the other side of something, who will likely develop a new approach to the industry as things become normal on this side. Most importantly, however, is that Abbott is an artist who is healthier and that's an exciting space from which to create once again.

Analogue: You’re back with some new music and it feels like Nightstands came out quite a bit ago. How are you feeling about putting out new music again?

Jess Abbott: Well I released the acoustic album in the last year or before. I know that doesn’t count as new music and we’re not talking about it as such, but it felt like something to me. I’ve also been doing livestream shows and my first record had a 10-year anniversary. So I’ve been doing little things here and there. People keep saying, ‘Congratulations on releasing a song after so long,’ and that’s nice to hear but it doesn’t feel like it.

Now when I think of touring and doing interviews and being out in the world and playing shows, that feels crazy to think about. That feels like time has just slipped through my fingers, because it’s probably been four years since I was on a tour. That’s what I used to do for most of the year for a decade. [Laughs] I So that’s been a big adjustment.

Analogue: How much have you missed that, if at all?

Jess: You know, I love being at home. [Laughs] I just did so much touring that I don’t think I miss it. I was lucky to see and do so much that there are so few places left that I still want to go. I still miss the electricity of doing stuff, of feeling like there’s always something tomorrow you’ll be doing. When you’re at home, you’re like, ‘Well, tomorrow I’ll do the dishes again.’ But being able to be in one place all year long has not been an experience in my adult life until these last four years and it’s been so great.

Analogue: Part of your own press says that you needed a reprieve from the constant touring, but some of that can be built up for the sake of a bio. But this seems very true for you.

Jess: Yeah I think I just got really burnt out. I don’t know if younger artists feel this way now, but there was so much pressure for so long to stay really active. I was in the band Now, Now for a while and that came with so much pressure to keep moving and keep active. Then when I wasn’t in Now, Now, there was even more pressure to keep doing things on my own. I was always staying busy. How long can I stay on tour? How much press can I get? It’s all of the things you try to do as a musician in the internet era, and I just got so tired. Even when I was making money on tours, it was barely enough to pay some of my bills. The most successful tours I’ve done, I never came home like, ‘Oh, I made a living.’ I knew I needed to stop and try to have some sort of normal life, to slow down and feel more secure. It all felt like a personal crisis, too, I guess. I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ When I decided to make music a career, I didn’t picture myself at 30 trying to make a spreadsheet of paying my bills, you know? So there’s a bit of a crisis there. [Laughs]

So I needed that time to settle down. I moved to Los Angeles and started working in artist management for a bit. It was bittersweet. I think it was hard to let go of the life I’d been living for 10 years but it was also something I needed to do to recalibrate. Now I’m trying to find that in-between where I can be creative and share what I make but also not spread myself thin or take myself away from my home all of the time.

Analogue: Are you in L.A. now or Maine?

Jess: In Maine. I moved back here about two years ago or so.

Analogue: So would you say you’re resolute now that you’ll never go back to that?

Jess: Um, I mean I’ll say that anything can happen. I don’t want to speak in definite. But for now, it seems like it’s not even just me who is thinking this way. Even young people who are in that rise-and-grind stage where they have the time and capacity and excitement to be out there 24/7, it’s becoming less sustainable up against how culture is changing and the economy is changing and how COVID does not seem to be letting people alone when ti comes to live events.

Even though it’s motivated personally by wanting to be home as much as I can, I do think also that it just feels like the smart thing to do to figure out what the happy medium is between staying active and working really hard on your career while also not compromising your life and your livelihood and your happiness.

"I used to know what was next, but now everything is much more fluid and subject to change."

Analogue: How has this shift affected you as a songwriter? Have you noticed a real difference?

Jess: Yeah, I definitely felt a different kind of energy to the music I wanted to make when I had the excitement behind what I was doing of going out into the world and staying up until 3 a.m. and playing shows and going crazy. I think that was somewhat reflected in the music. Now if I play a show, I want to go to bed afterward.

That doesn’t have to change the nature of the songwriting, but I guess I have noticed some loose correlation. It’s more common for me while I’m at home to pick up an acoustic guitar or I’ve started to get into the lute lately. I’m inside a house in a quiet neighborhood, so I’m not going to crank up my amp to 11 and go to town. Sometimes I’ll do that, but I definitely feel quieter inside after putting myself in a physical environment that’s quieter.

I will say that I don’t know necessarily what will come next. One thing I’ve noticed in this long stretch of time I’ve had to assess what I want to be doing is that there are three different records I want to make and, depending on the day, I never know which one I feel gung-ho about. And that’s news. I used to know what was next, but now everything is much more fluid and subject to change.

Analogue: Are you good with that or do you freeze in the face of that?

Jess: Oh, I freeze in the face of it, for sure. That’s why I’m putting out only two songs this month instead of an EP or an album. [Laughs] Definitely a lot of writer’s block. But hopefully this song and another I’m releasing in a few weeks will lead to the next stair on the staircase of what I want to do.

VISIT: Tancred