Interview: Tess Roby Explores The Sound of Space

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Tess will be busy with 3 consecutive nights playing with Men I Trust on April 11-13, 2022.

Her first album Beacon which tackles loss, feels like The Velvet Underground meets Enya.  

Her new album Ideas of Space is an evolution of her sound and will take you on an auditory and visual journey.

Origin Story

Tess was raised surrounded by music.  Her dad was a musician/photographer, and her mom loved music.

Growing up, they would host the traditional Maritime Kitchen Parties.

“They would have friends over and the night would end in dancing.”

Tess eventually started singing with the Canadian Children’s Opera Company from the age of 8 till 16.

“The way I structure harmonies came from that vocal training.  We would sing in all these different languages.  I would also sing with the actual opera company in the big opera houses in Toronto.”

That experience became the foundation for her musical journey.  She learned discipline because of call times, where if you are early, you are on time.  If you are on time, you are late.  If you are late, you are fired.

“It gave me this structure to work with.”  

She Divides

And now for something completely different, Tess moved to Montreal and became the leader of the band She Divides.  

“Those were the first times I was playing shows, coming up in the DIY music scene in Montreal.”  

She did not see herself yet, as a full-time musical artist, but it did allow her to adjust to a whole different approach to performing something close to Shoegaze.

“It was just making songs and having that outlet to be on stage.” 

Photography

Tess has a parallel passion for photography.  In the earlier years, photography eventually took the front seat.

Studying photography at Concordia was the impetus for her move to Montreal.

“I’m a very intuitive photographer and musician.  When I’m writing music, there are all these visual cues that start coming to me based on specific synth patches I’m using.”

Self-taught on the synths, she feels the instrument has distinct tonal qualities that can project airiness, watery or earthy sounds.

“I write lyrics at the same time I write the melody.  It’s all coming from this deep, imaginative place, as if I’m picking up on whatever is coming around.”   

The photography experience allows Tess to take visual control over the album artwork and videos.

Shot by Hugo Bernier

When writing music, almost concurrently she is visualizing what the music video will look like.

It’s as if Tess is writing the soundtrack to her own music videos.

Path

In 2019, Tess shot some footage with her partner Hugo Bernier in Los Angeles.  

As she played the video in the studio during the writing process, it inspired some of the lyrics to the song, something that she had never tried.

“It was like film scoring.  It’s a really cool thing to flip the script.”

Visual Themes

Water & Light play an important part in Tess’ photography.

“I grew up travelling a lot with my parents.  My mom was from New Brunswick and my dad was from England.”

When visiting grandparents across the pond, both locations were by the ocean.  

It’s no wonder water is a recurring theme in both photography and the lyrics.

Even if water, and the sea has been depicted in art for as long as any artform existed, Tess is drawn to it.

“There is a deepness.  There is an unknown.  The way light hits water, it varies so much.  It has all these textural elements to it.” 

The songs are soundscapes that embody the ripples of experiences as it interrupts the calmness of our lives.  We are swept away by it and carried by the current to parts unknown.

Nature

The origin of the name Tess relates to the word harvest, the gathering what we are growing. 

Tess jokes that she would love her music to grow into a “sustainable career.”    

On a deeper level, she wants to keep growing as a producer, vocalist, and synth player.  

Tess is already thinking about building on the momentum of her latest crop of songs.

As a self-taught producer, she is hungry to gather skills that will help create the vision she has.

Tess will take every opportunity to learn from others, such as working with her other band Dawn to Dawn, working with Austin Tufts (Braids), Joseph Shabason & Ouri.

The pandemic hindered some of that studio experience, but undeterred, Tess will find those opportunities and take them.

Beacon vs Ideas of Space

The first album was written shortly after Tess lost her dad, which focused on processing grief.

“He was, and still is, a huge inspiration in my life.” 

Written when she was 20/21 years old, life was transforming quickly, and adulthood buries childhood in these formative years.

“Things are moving really fast in one’s life.  You are starting to form who you will be as a person.”

Fast forward 4 years, and there is a considerable amount of growth.

Shot by Ryan Molnar

“It’s been a very important part of life where a lot has changed.  I keep on evolving as a musician and the idea of growth has come through in this new record.”

Beacon was about harvesting and processing the emotions…an inner journey, whereas Ideas of Space is where she expanded her horizons and focused on the external ones.

Working With Family

Tess’s brother Eliot worked on almost every song on Beacon.

Like many bonds between brother and sister, there is certain amount of conflict that is only natural.

The shared mourning experience helped brother and sister focus on healing through music, without even having an album as a goal.

“There was this very natural and symbiotic thing that would happen when we would make music where:  This really feels right.  There is a nice connection here.”

Eliot contributed to one song on the new record, which Tess is grateful for, but this is really is a solo project, so it was only natural for her to do it that way.

SSURROUNDSS

The extra Ss stand for Surround Sounds, a word first used on MySpace.  

It was a way to describe the music which is “surrounding and vast.” 

The label was started because Tess wanted to have control over every element and to dip her toes into the music industry, that is sorely lacking women representation.

Tess did more than dip her toes, she jumped right into the deep end, putting away any fear, and just rolling up her sleeves to get the job done.

Juggling all the roles has been a challenge.

“How much can one artist possibly do?”

Tess would love to use her platform to “give a voice to artists that aren’t as recognized in Canadian media and radio.”

Tess feels the industry lags when it comes to supporting artists that are a little more underground.

She wants to share what little experience she has gathered, which is more than most.

Tess wants to be the Beacon to others to help them navigate what is sometimes a hostile industry.

Technology Choices

Beacon was recording on a 16-track tape, which caused intentful constraints.  This was because it was done in such a way as to mirror the sound during the live performances that would come.

For Ideas of Space, Tess wanted to explore a different technique.

“I wanted to go really deep with the sound and see how far I could push things.”

Removing that constraint, Tess could add layer upon layer to create the texture she envisioned.

Ideas of Space

Cover of Ideas of Space Album
Ideas of Space Cover

When Tess wants to listen to a record, it will get the focus and attention it deserves.  

She might talk a walk and give the songs her full attention, or listen in the car, when she knows she can listen to it uninterrupted.

Music has become this background noise in so many environments that takes away from it’s importance.  “Passive listening” as Tess says.

There was a time when you could only listen to music when it was performed live.  

Then, only the rich could afford the technology to play it in the home.

Ideas of Space is meant to be listened to in a way to fully immerse yourself in the sound.  

April 22, 2022 is the release day for the new record. 

Make sure you buy, download or stream the new album and give it the attention it deserves.  Give it space to be absorbed and allow it to create the visuals in your head that will take you on a voyage of discovery.

If you can’t wait that long, catch Tess Roby at the Corona Theatre with Men I Trust, and just maybe…you will hear some of the new unreleased songs.

Monday Tickets
Tuesday Tickets
Wednesday Tickets


Connect with Tess Roby

Website
Spotify
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Writer: Randal Wark is a Professional Speaker and MasterMind Facilitator with a passion for live music.  You can follow him on InstagramTwitter and YouTube. His Podcast RockStar Today helps musicians quit their day jobs with out-of-the-box advice from Ted Talk Speakers, Best Selling Authors and other interesting Entrepreneurs and Creatives. He created the Rock Star Today Music Business Jam Session for musicians. Randal is a collector of signed vinyl, cassettes and CDs.

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