Tenci – In Their Own Words

What better way to kick off 2023 than by interviewing the artist who produced one of my favourite records of 2022? Tenci crashed into my albums of the year list with their record A Swollen River, A Well Overflowing shared via the ever-amazing Keeled Scales label.

You can read my review of a record I described as, “a guide book to life, with plenty of missing pages waiting to be discovered down the road” HERE. Then read on for my interview with the person behind the band Jess Shoman, discussing embracing studio recording, the pressure of following up a successful debut album and why making the album’s cover was every bit as unpleasant as it looks!

FTR: For those who don’t know who are Tenci?

Tenci is the project of Jess Shoman – with the most recent band lineup being Isabel Reidy (bass), Curtis Oren (sax, flute, guitar) and Joseph Farago (drums).

FTR: You’ve just released your new album,  A Swollen River, A Well Overflowing. What can you tell me about recording it?

This album was recorded over the course of a couple years (2021-2022) by Abby Black. The process of recording it felt much more stretched out, patient and slower moving than the last album. The first song we recorded was “Sour Cherries” which was recorded in more of a live setting in order to keep the genuine momentum and energy of the song. All the other songs were recorded and tracked out by their individual instruments and layers. Most of the songs already had arrangements written prior to recording, so it was more of a matter of fine tuning things. But some songs like Great Big Elephant and Memories were written at the tail-end of recording. I think getting to look at the pre-existing songs with such detail brought some more inspiration. Recording with just the band felt very intimate, natural and exciting to finally get to fossilize these songs we’d been playing live for quite some time.

FTR: What did you do differently on this record compared to My Heart Is An Open Field?

This record was much more planned out than My Heart is An Open Field. The first album was much more hastily put together because we had some time constraints. I invited musicians that I admired to play what they felt sounded good based on some loose direction from me. With this new album we had already taken the time to workshop the songs during practices and so we had a much better idea of what we wanted to do going into the recording process. My Heart Is An Open Field was also more of a home recording setting which added a different type of warmth whereas A Swollen River, A Well Overflowing was recorded in a studio setting so I felt like we had a little more room to play with different equipment and soundscapes.

FTR: You’ve spoken of this record as being about self-rejuvenation, so is this record a celebration?

In a way, yes. It’s more so about celebrating the journey to self-rejuvenation. The last album dealt with letting go of hard things in my life, and although it was freeing, it was also depleting. This new album is about reminding myself of the ways in which I can find restoration. It is a process though, I can’t say that I am all of a sudden feeling magically rejuvenated, but I am grateful for giving myself the space to learn how to get closer to that.

FTR: You’ve worked with a lot of Chicago-luminaries on the album, how is the music scene there now? Who should we be listening to?

Chicago holds some of the most talented musicians! From the very beginning of Tenci Chicago has always felt so welcoming and collaborative – everyone does a good job at lifting each other up. I do wish there was more of a mix of genres and art at shows though. I feel like that’s something I’ve seen in other places that seems a little more rare here. The pandemic hit the DIY scene pretty hard making it harder to have non-venue shows. I feel so grateful to be surrounded by so many great talents though. You should listen to – Mia Joy, Kara Jackson, Henry Hank, Joey Nebulous, Izzy True, Curt Oren, Nnamdi, Kiwicha, Hemlock, Toosh, Hannah Frances, Macie Stewart, Girl K, Moontype, Lipsticism

FTR: After the success of your debut album, did you feel more pressure on this record?

Absolutely. It’s hard not to compare the two, especially because I feel like the songs are pretty different. It helped to remind myself that ultimately I am writing these songs for myself, and that’s the biggest accomplishment. The fact that people are listening to my music at all is just the cherry on top.

FTR: What are your expectations for this record?

I don’t really have any expectations. I just hope the album resonates with people in some way.

FTR: I’ve spent a long time looking at the album cover trying to work out what’s going on. Was it as unpleasant to shoot as it looks like it would be?

YES! It was lots of fun but it was extremely cold and all we were wearing were these thin raincoats. We had a bunch of different ideas we wanted to try, but the main one was this idea of the band pouring buckets of water on my head. I tried to keep a more stoic expression, but I couldn’t help but scream.

FTR: What can people expect from the Tenci live show? Do you have plans to take the album out on the road?

Lots of laughs, captivating moments, a feeling of togetherness and a wholesome good time. We just recently took the album out on the road in November on our first headline tour through the east coast and Canada. It feels great to finally get to share these songs and figure out different ways to bring the album to life.

FTR: What’s next for Tenci?

Tons of touring in 2023 in so many places we’ve never played! We have two more headline tours announced at the moment. In January we will be going South and in April we will be going West. You can see all the dates at tenci.band/tour and get updates from our IG: @tenci.band

A Swollen River, A Well Overflowing is out now via Keeled Scales. For more information on Tenci visit https://tenci.band/.

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