Tancred grew into something it wasn’t intended to be.
In 2011, after years as a guitarist in Minneapolis indie rock band Now, Now, Jess Abbott began to miss writing songs entirely on her own. She began Tancred as a lo-fi/acoustic recording project, but with Now, Now between albums, it has bloomed into a full-time endeavor, and has grown into a a bigger sound, too.
Tancred’s newest release, Out of the Garden (which came out on Polyvinyl Record Co. last month) takes from the skuzz of ‘90s grungy alt-rock and punctures it with Abbott’s demure vocals. It’s Tancred’s loudest, most confident work to date, both sonically and thematically—A feminist tour-de-force where Abbott explores her own empowerment as a woman.
While Tancred prepares to tour in support the new record with Speedy Ortiz this summer, She Shreds talked with Abbott, who recently moved back to her native Maine, about the development of Tancred and finding her true genre.
She Shreds: I feel like every time I read about the project, it’s tagged as “a solo project from Now, Now’s Jess Abbott.” Is it weird to see how people refer to it in relation to Now, Now instead of it being its own thing?
Jess Abbott: At first it wasn’t weird, because it was just a recording project and it made sense as a reference point, because no one was ever gonna hear of it from seeing it live. Now it’s kind of weird – I’d like it to be seen as its own thing. I put the release out in the same way as anyone would put out an album to tour with, so it’s kind of weird to be thrown back to that, but it’s whatever, I guess. I don’t even think about it much.
When you first became a member of Now, Now– I promise this question is not about that project–you went on a major Paramore tour pretty much right away. Were you dealing with stage fright or nerves?
Strangely, no, because those shows were insane. They’re still probably the biggest shows I’ve ever played. We were playing to eighteen thousand people a night. When you’re up on a stage in a room that big with that many people, you can’t make out a single face or a single word from anyone. It was like we were playing to an abyss. I remember not having stage fright for that tour.
Since you’re playing more intimate venues with Tancred now, do you find you get more nervous now?
Oh, yeah. I’m totally incapable of doing a solo show completely on my own. If it’s just me and a guitar it just does not sound good because I’m too nervous to project right. With this album cycle, I’m doing all the shows with two guys who are playing drums and bass with me [Kevin Medina and Terrence Vitali, respectively], and that makes it so much easier.
At the same time, I don’t feel nervous at all playing these songs, because I wrote them with a confidence that I came into as I was getting older. When I play them, I’m getting into the mode I was in when I wrote them, so I’m channeling my own confidence through what I’m singing. I definitely am a little nervous, but it’s way easier for me to just forget about it and play the songs because I’m having such a good time doing it. It’s so different from Now, Now because it’s more upbeat and fun and aggressive, and apathetic in a certain way that Now, Now never was, and I’m having a great time playing these songs.
Out of the Garden is an empowering record, and I’m wondering if that’s reflective of you becoming more empowered, or if these are inclinations you’ve always had?
I’ve always had a lot of these things at the back of my mind because of my upbringing–I was raised by really strong women. It’s not that it’s something new, but it’s something I finally came into on my own. I was working in a really rough area of the city at a liquor store for a year after Now, Now stopped touring in 2013. The things I experienced helped me understand myself more, because I wasn’t sheltered anymore and was experiencing the real world and how things really are, and getting older, too. I look pretty young, so for my whole life I’ve been treated like a kid when I go out, but that kind of stopped happening the past couple of years. I was going through that transition of no longer being treated like a child, but being treated like a woman, and that wasn’t fun. Neither one was fun, but this was not fun in a whole new way, this really aggressive, uncomfortable, fucked-up way that any woman can understand. I don’t think I was intentionally writing about these topics at first, I think it was just happening and I was writing songs while it was happening.
The new record is also a lot louder and more rock ‘n’ roll than your previous material – did you have the intention to end up making this kind of music, or did it just organically happen while you were writing the songs?
This kind of music is what I grew up listening to and all of my favorite music throughout time has been stuff like this, but I never experimented with writing anything like it. One day, a friend of mine in another band was like, “Do you want to start a side project? I want it to be kind of grungy.” We were sending demos back and forth for a while and he ended up getting way too busy with his band to be able to do it. It kind of fell out and I loved the songs so much and I thought, “I’m putting this into a record.” They just felt so good and so natural to write.
Do you place more of an emphasis on the technical aspect of music-making, or the artistic/communication/writing aspect?
Definitely the latter. When it comes to studio stuff, I can hear clearly in my head how I want a song to sound, but I couldn’t tell you how, on the technical side, how we get to those sounds. I do get really into guitars and pedals and amps, but I get really into basic pedals. So fuzz, chorus, delay, and vibrato are just the only things that I really use ever, but I get really into those things. Playing and writing lyrics is really what I’m all about.