Like the recently profiled Whirr (but, perhaps, different in every other way), Tess Henley isn’t exactly a Philly artist (She’s based on the West Coast. Seattle, to be precise.), but I would consider her to be an honorary contributor to the music scene in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. The soulful, R&B singer/songstress’ most recent LP, 2013’s High Hells & Sneakers, was recorded in Northern Liberties and produced by The Roots’ Dice Raw. Tess Henley is currently on tour supporting David Choi and will be here performing downstairs at World Café Live this coming Wednesday, April 1st.
Although I’m yet to see Henley perform live since our May 2013 chat, she’s been up to quite a bit since her last LP. She recently released her Wonderland EP, whose backstory is as inspiring than the release itself. The EP is the product of Henley being selected as the winner of Guitar Center’s National Artist Discovery Program from over 10,000 performers by Don Was, who is best known for his work producing the likes of Carly Simon, Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, The Rolling Stones, and Brian Wilson. The prize was the chance for Was to produce an EP for you, in addition to $25,000 and equipment. She was the first female winner in the history of the competition. The EP boasts contributions from musicians who have played with Marvin Gaye, Bonnie Raitt, BB King, Jimi Hendrix, and Aretha Franklin.
In our most recent chat I ask Tess Henley what have been the highlights of her career since we spoke two years ago, and she tells me that this experience with Guitar Center and Don Was is right at the top of the list: “Definitely being a part of the Guitar Center singer/songwriter program and being able to record an EP with Don Was the biggest highlight. This last year has really surpassed my expectations. Don has been a great inspiration and working with him has really encouraged me a lot.” However, she also tells me that her fans play a pretty major role in how she gauges her accomplishments: “We played San Diego the other night and this girl came up to me after the show and said she was going through a rough time and she heard ‘Positively Me’ that night and said ‘I really needed to hear that tonight,’ and that was really special for me.”
Tess Henley’s current tour with David Choi has her in the slightly unusual circumstance of being a one-woman band, but she explains that, despite being stripped down, the atmosphere of the shows still largely rests on the audiences that turn out on any given night: “It’s just me, so it will be more intimate than normal, but it depends on the crowd. Sometimes the crowd is more lively and sometimes they’re a more listening crowd. It’ll be a mix – definitely songs from the new record, but also some older songs.”
And while Wonderland is the biggest thing that Tess Henley has done yet, backed by an all-star cast of musicians and studio wizards, which she’s very much enjoying promoting, when I ask her what she has planned next, she tells me that her mind is firmly on her next release, which is likely to be a full-length: “I would hope to have some more tour dates and hope to be looking ahead to the next project, which is hopefully a full-length – I have enough songs for a full-length, it’s just a matter of getting it together.”