Jess Abbott Wants to Taunt You With Her Secrets

It's not easy to slip away unscathed when making music is your form of therapy.

Some people write music to tell the world something, some write just for fun, others do it because, let’s face it, finding a therapist has never been easy. I’m the type who writes as a form of therapy, a way to escape the real world and catalog parts of a moment until I feel at peace with it. What I’ve gathered from our occasional hit-each-other-up-for-music-advice texts, I have a feeling Jess Abbott is the same way. We’re realists almost to a fault, but somehow still get swept away by all the possibilities the world of music has to offer. Being songwriters means putting ourselves out there and staying open to opportunity, but it comes with a constant feeling of vulnerability that I know we both can’t stand. Co-Star tells me this is probably because our god damn moons are in Pisces, so please spare us the false promises because we will get carried away with them.

I’ve been a fan of Tancred’s music for a while and when I heard that Jess was in LA to record, I knew she must be up to something pretty cool. Of course, she never seems to disappoint. Nightstand starts off slow with “Song One” as a melancholy introduction. If it was possible to lay on the bottom of a shallow pond while listening to this song, that would be my ideal way of hearing it. Something about it makes me want to watch bubbles rise up to the surface while picturing a flashback-type montage of the story that’s getting ready to unfold throughout the rest of the album.

I love music that sounds like it could be in the soundtrack of a movie. It’s a specific kind of feeling when a song seems to propel you through a moment; the ordinary feels like it’s leading up to something and it makes you wish someone was there to witness the exposition of your personal plot line. This definitely came to mind when I first heard “Queen of New York,” a song that comes in strong with the perfect amount of punchy riffs and catchy lyrics. Honestly the whole thing is one hook after another, topped off with the especially charming line, “Make a joke and I’m done for,” which I caught myself smiling at because of how many of my own flirtatious experiences could be summed up with that line.

As a whole, the record is nice and easy on the ears, but it’s the despondent stories that get under your skin. The little backseat-producer in me was instantly drawn in by the graceful recording style of solid, discernible tracks but obviously still live instruments. You feel really close to the music, almost as if it’s inside your head, but Jess’s vocals trade off between being an internal monologue and the narration of a scene. Lines like, “Send me a photo of the two of us in the unknown, send me a photo of the two of us in shadow,” and “I don’t want to fight you, I’m already fighting me and I’m losing,” have especially stuck with me. There’s a vulnerability to the way Jess writes that makes you believe everything she says, and leaves you wondering what more she could have said.

Having also come from a DIY background, hearing this new level of production in Tancred has given me a sense of solidarity for my band, Potty Mouth, for growing into more pop sensibilities. It can feel like a tough balance for a rock band to explore new sounds without over-decorating their songs. I’m constantly looking for good examples of this and now I’m curious to know where Jess finds her inspiration. Because of that, Nightstand has felt like a fun puzzle of references made specially for someone like me. There are times, like in “Apple Tree Girl” and “Something Else,” when echoing, melancholy guitar lines make me imagine a family tree where Tancred and Best Coast connect through some whimsical-ass great aunt. This might be due to working with producer Lewis Pesacov (whimsical-ass great uncle?) whose specialty seems to be adding a dreamy twist to indie rock songs. On “Hot Star” and “Underwear,” tasteful, sour notes coupled with optimistic sounding acoustic guitars definitely brought to mind Tracy Bonham and maybe even a little Ambulance LTD. Even if none of these bands had any influence on Tancred’s recording process, I still find it inspiring to think about the references that it evokes for me personally.

I really think this album is great because every time I listen through, I find new reasons why I like each song. But there’s one in particular I keep going back to; somehow “Clipping” already felt familiar to me despite the contrast in tone compared to its neighboring songs. A little bit groovier than the rest of the album, something about it feels like sailing through space. I’ve been questioning my sanity over the fact that the closest sonic reference I can think of is “Slow Burn” by Kacey Musgraves, not because I don’t like that song, but because there’s got to be a more obvious comparison out there, right?? In the grand scheme of the music family tree I know, I probably love both songs for their kinship to Aimee Mann. I’ll always be a sucker for drifting melodies played by softly scorching guitars that are paired with echoing, introspective vocals.

Lastly, I have to give Jess props for how much vulnerability she reveals in each song. Songwriting is the closest thing I’ve ever come to having a diary, and even then I find myself leaving out just enough to slip away unscathed. It’s not easy to do when your music is therapeutic. You hope including painful details will bond the listener to you, but will it pay off enough to soften what they mean to you? I tend to think it’s the little nuggets of realness that can make a song so great, because those are the things that really help paint a picture of the micro-world that you’ve created within a song. Which sounds easy to do, but those details also carry so much more weight than just a generalized statement about how something bummed you out one time (you’re not getting anything out of me.) But will reliving the lyrics of your own song wear you down one day? Or maybe by taunting people with your secrets it actually helps to reclaim that vulnerability. Only you really know what thoughts and feelings your lyrics are referring to, and maybe you’ve taken the power back by putting them to good use. Either way, I admire people like Jess who are able to put themselves out there like that, and I think it’s what makes this record, and all of her music, really special.

Abby Weems is the lead singer and guitarist of Potty Mouth. Originally from Amherst, Massachusetts, she now lives in Los Angeles where you will most likely run into her at a birthday party