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Album Review + Conversation: Tancred, 'Nightstand'

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There is quite a lot that separates Nightstand from previous releases from Tancred, the nom-de-rock of musician Jess Abbott. From outright production quality to maturing lyrics, the album takes a significant step forward from Tancred’s 2016 release Out of the Garden.

Most notable perhaps is the fact that Nightstand, released on June 1, is a cohesive and well-designed album. While Abbott’s past releases have cogent themes, often they sound like collections of vaguely related songs rather than true structured albums. With Nightstand, she presents a unified work that explores a seemingly simple concept: how to be a part of the world around you.

“I was single for a couple years and was living my own life really independently, making friends and having romantic experiences,” Abbott says, “and it was interesting to me to not only share that time with people but also experience the loneliness that comes with independent identity and how other people are also experiencing the same thing. I don’t think my experience is unique at all. I just think we’re all people trying to figure out how to exist together.”

This is most evident on the album’s second song, “Queen of New York”. At its core, the song is an introspective look at the morning after a one night stand. It looks for the elation that these micro-relationships, these small moments of shared intimacy, can bring. Unlike so many of its kind, the track steers clear of pining and instead celebrates the fact that for at least a short time two people were a little less alone. It ends with the line, “When we were here we both felt it, not alone, but I can’t feel it now.”

It is lyrics like this which really help set Nightstand apart, and for Abbott it is important that listeners are able to connect with the words as well as the music itself.

“Lyrics are my favorite part of writing, hands down,” she says. “I feel like playing guitar is what I’m strongest at but I have the most fun writing lyrics. Playing guitar is like a vessel for me to write lyrics so I love when people really get into them. Every time I hear a song I like, the first thing I do is look up the lyrics and dissect it.”

And that is exactly what listeners have to do with Nightstand. Beneath the pop-punk and often upbeat music, the lyrics can take darker tones. “The grave digger says you’re killing me, and I’m ready to go,” Abbott sings in the hook of the song “Hot Star”. “I’ve been a monster, I’ve been a madman, I’ve been a villain. You’ve been a friend,” she croons in “Strawberry Selfish”. Part of what makes this album so enjoyable is picking apart the songs and discovering something new on each listen. They are neither happy nor sad, neither comic nor tragic. But neither is life. Which may just be the point.

After the release of Out of the Garden, Abbott wrote a new batch of songs that were similar both in content and style to that album. She ended up throwing them all aside and starting over.

“It really changed what the album was going to be because at the time I wasthinking ‘I had fun making Out of the Garden and people seem to be into it so I’m just going to make an evolved version of that,” she says. “But then I started writing these songs and realized I don’t just want to do the same thing again. What I was really feeling were things that were a little slower and more introspective so I decided I’m just gonna do that. And that’s where the biggest step forward came from.”

She began writing again, dedicating three days of each week entirely to music. She would wake up, set up her gear by the window of her room, and begin to mess around on her guitar, trying new things. Anytime she liked something, she would record it on her phone. The next day she would listen through what she had recorded, pick out bits she wanted to develop and would begin to expand those. Once she had a feel for what she wanted, she would begin to work on demos.

“I did really really detailed demos, they sound almost exactly like the album except way lower quality cause I did it on my Macbook in GarageBand with one microphone,” Abbott says. “But I was very meticulous about the demo progress. It would take me one to three days to demo a song and then listen to it in a bunch of different speakers and go back and edit it. And I reworked so many of the songs I have like a whole step by step progress thing. I can go open up folders of a song like Clipping which went through four different phases before I landed on it.”

The album was recorded in the home studio of producer Lewis Pesacov. Over the course of a month, spending ten hours a day in the recording studio, Nightstand slowly took shape. At one point, Abbott recounts, several drum tracks they had recorded were erased.

“Everyone was so high stress, we were all hanging by a thread trying to not lose it. But ultimately, with things like that, and maybe it was just what we said to feel ok about it, but things happen for a reason and maybe we were gonna get something better with the next take and I feel like that was true. A lot of the clippings drum fills are just improvised and we ended up with a lot of cool stuff that we didn’t have the first take, so it was fine.”

The album is certainly not perfect, and there is room for growth in Tancred’s sound. Often the tracks lean a bit too heavily on established genre stereotypes. The romanticized fantasies in some of the songs can tend towards the juvenile. But it is a massive step forward for a band and songwriter who continue to impress with each release. Tancred is playing in a crowded field but Nightstand will go a long way towards helping push Jess Abbott above the noise.