The next time someone asks the singer-songwriter Miss Tess to list her musical influences, all she has to do is hand them a copy of The Love I Have for You, a new EP with six covers and her own sultry title track.
Miss Tess and her band, the Talkbacks, are currently venturing far beyond their home base of Brooklyn, N.Y., in the midst of a national tour. She answered a few questions by email about why she recorded Willie Nelson’s “Night Life,” a highlight of the new EP, arriving Tuesday (Oct. 29).
CMT Edge: So many Willie Nelson tunes cross all the boundaries, but “Night Life” seems like the right fit for you. How did you settle on it for this record?
Miss Tess: I love the fact that Willie pays tribute to so many different musical styles. I saw him in concert recently and was blown away by an instrumental version of the early swing tune “Nuages” played amidst his country hits. I have a large background in blues and jazz, so I think that’s why “Night Life” spoke to me so directly. From the beginning, it felt really natural to play and sing. I also think the lyrics to this song are very telling and personal, and I can relate to them very much as someone who spends so much time on the road and in the late night bar scene.
I would imagine it’s fun to sing from the perspective of a honky-tonk angel. What is it about that classic country style of music that pulls you in?
I love the stories, the honesty and the appeal to the everyday person going through life. It’s a special craft to write a simple song that makes sense and touches on something so human. Classic country really gets me more than newer pop stuff because the production is much simpler. It’s stripped down enough so you can hear people’s real voices and instruments. As a musician myself, it’s nice to be able to hear the grit of what people are really doing.
There is quite a variety of older styles of music in what you’re doing. How do you go about discovering music from the past decades? Are you a vinyl collector by chance?
I grew up in a musical household. My folks both play and have a massive alphabetized vinyl collection of their own. They have always been obsessed with early jazz, blues, Western swing, country and folk and would frequently have band practice or jam parties at the house. So I learned a lot from growing up in that environment.
Aside from that, I am always learning about new old music from musician friends or sometimes in a YouTube vortex of my own doing. I do have a healthy pile of vinyl of my own and love to frequent record stores when we’re touring around the country. I like that vinyl is in style now because I love the sound and the size of the artwork. We were able to press vinyl for our last album, Sweet Talk, and I think it really came out great.