Tancred’s Jess Abbott Talks Philthy, Touring, and Riverdale

As excited as we are to have Minnesota indie poppers Now, Now back on the road and with new music, we’re equally excited to see former Now, Now vocalist/guitarist Jess...

As excited as we are to have Minnesota indie poppers Now, Now back on the road and with new music, we’re equally excited to see former Now, Now vocalist/guitarist Jess Abbott’s solo project, Tancred, thriving for more than half a decade now.  Tancred’s fourth full-length, Nightstand, dropped this June on Polyvinyl Records Co.  Like its predecessors, the songs found on Nightstand were crafted by Abbott, alone in her bedroom, with nothing but a guitar.  The album rings of the best kinds of punky, teen-angst-fueled power pop and alt rock of the mid-’90s.  Tonight Abbott kicks off a month-and-a-half-long string of live dates that will have Tancred on the road with Welsh rockers The Joy Formidable in the US and then local folk outfit Kississippi in the UK (in addition to a handful of headlining dates).  And Wednesday, November 7th, Tancred will be appearing at our very own Underground Arts, opening for The Joy Formidable.  A few weeks ago I got a chance to chat with Jess about her latest endeavors.

Izzy Cihak: Since this is a Philadelphia publication, I have to ask your thoughts on the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.  You’ve played here a ton of times.  Any favorite memories?

Jess Abbott: I love Philly every time. Union Transfer is one of my favorite venues. Last time I was there I went out to that diner late at night over by Boot and Saddle with my friend Shamir and the waitress told us all these wild ass stories about robberies and stuff that happened there.

Izzy: I realize this is a pretty big question but, considering the fact that you’ve been doing Tancred for more than half a decade now, what have been some of the highlights of Tancred for you, so far?

Jess: There really isn’t any one thing. I’ve met so many new people, seen so many places, had so many wonderful days and nights. Tancred is something I wake up with every day and follow to new places.

Izzy: You released Nightstand this summer.  How do you feel the album compares to previous releases?  Were you trying anything new this time around?

Jess: I think any time I write an album I’m always trying to develop my songwriting skills and improve. I wanted this album to be less aggressive than the last. I wanted it to be more personal, while still trying to maintain some pop structure. I got really into guitar tones for this album. I usually spend a lot of time on guitar tones, but with Nightstand we really went all in. I never had the time to do that in my previous albums.

Izzy: What would you consider to be the album’s most significant influences?

Jess:  Hmmm. I was listening to Ida Maria’s album Fortress ‘round My Heart and reading WW2 books.

Izzy: I know the album was produced by Lewis Pesacov.  How was working with him?

Jess: Incredible. He is very meticulous with tones, and he was always so open to my creative direction. Helping me improve upon specific thoughts I had. He really got what I wanted to do. We meshed really well. Plus, his puppy and baby would come hang out sometimes. Cutest studio conditions to date.

Izzy: On a related note, do you have any favorite works of his, in addition to your own?  I’m super into his work with FIDLAR, Nikki Lane, Telepathe, and Valley Queen.

Jess: All of his work is phenomenal. I was a massive fan of the Best Coast album he did, Crazy For You. Also, Lewis’ work with his own band, Fools Gold.

Izzy: Have you had any favorite reactions to the album?

Jess: Someone on twitter said that my last album was a fire and Nightstand is wiping the ashes out with your hands. That stuck with me.

Izzy: I really dig the whole album, but I especially love “Underwear,” which totally sounds like it could be a Veruca Salt ballad penned in like 1996.  How did that particular track come about?

Jess: I was actually knee-deep in Fiona Apple music videos when I wrote that song. I wanted to write something dark and slow that brought me back to the creepy hotel “Underwear” mentions.

Izzy: Okay, so this is kinda personal, but also at least medium-relevant: I love your video for “Something Else.”  Potty Mouth are my favorite band of the past six years, so it’s amazing to see you all together, but it’s also super cute in general.  I understand that the video was inspired by the notion of a “gay Riverdale.”  Anyway, anyway, my BFF and two of my other best friends have tried to convince me to watch Riverdale (I don’t normally do hour-long dramas.) and I recently found out that Gregg Araki, who’s my favorite filmmaker of all-time, actually directed an episode. Soooooo, I’m assuming you’re a fan of the show: What would you tell me, or any of our uninitiated readers, to sell us on the series?

Jess: Potty Mouth is sick. They are one of my favorite bands to hang out with. All of them are so quick and funny, and also have a lot of really insightful things to say about music and the industry. I’m moving to LA soon, where they live, and I can’t wait to hang with them as much as humanly possible. Last time I saw them we talked about starting an all-female Limp Bizkit cover band. Anyway, I’m gonna be honest with you, Riverdale is dumb as shit, but everyone on it is very hot and the cinematography is soooo cool. It’s just a very entertaining show, for better or worse. Southside Serpents forever.

Izzy: You have a ton of upcoming tour dates.  Are there any gigs you’re especially excited to play, or just cities you’re especially excited to visit or revisit?

Jess: I can’t wait to go back to the UK and see friends I rarely get to see. Also, at the end we’re gonna spend some time in Amsterdam and Paris, two of my favorite places, and I can finally put my French to use, which hardly ever sees the light of day.

Izzy: What can be expected of your live show when you play Underground Arts with The Joy Formidable this November?  It’s funny, because I’ve been a fan for a long time, but I think the only times I’ve seen you live are last October at Boot & Saddle and whenever was the last time Now, Now played North Star Bar.

Jess: I’m excited to play these Nightstand songs for people. The live vibe is very different from the last album. Although I guess you’d know that if you were at Book & Saddle, we played the whole thing front to back! We won’t be doing that, per se, but we’re gonna play a healthy dose of songs from Nightstand and the last album.

Izzy: And what are your thoughts on The Joy Formidable?  They’re definitely one of my favorite rock bands of recent years.  Are you excited to get to watch their show every night?

Jess: God, I can’t wait. I’ve listened to them for a while and they seem like such badasses. We’re def gonna have to bust out our heavier songs for this one.

Izzy: Finally, how are you hoping and planning to spend the last part of 2018 and the first part of 2019, after this batch of dates wrap?  Is there anything you’re especially excited about, whether it be forthcoming work, or just a bit of rest and relaxation?

Jess: I’m gonna spend December marathoning the Scream movies, my personal Christmas tradition, and relaxing after all the touring. Plus, we’ve got a cool tour lined up for January that we have yet to announce, so I’m gonna need to rest up for that one. Also, I’m moving to LA in December. I’m sure that’s gonna have an impact on my writing one way or another.

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.