Interview with Tess Henley

09/2015 Song River
Vents Magazine
(Upcoming September Issue 2015)

Song River: Where is home for you Tess?

Tess Henley: I am from Seattle, but I am based in L.A. Now. It's close to home, and its about a 2 and 1/2 hour flight, so it's not too bad. Its been random this year, because I have been on the road so much with touring. Hoping this winter during the holiday time to be home, I would say I go home probably more than the average person. It is an important part of who I am.

SR: How much of an influence is that central core of family on your music?

TH: Yes, I think so. Really they are just who I prefer to hang out with, they've been really involved in my career. They are a big reason why I am doing music.

SR: It would seem their influence began at a very early age... at 3 years old Suzuki method of taking piano lessons.

TH: That was my mom all the way. My mom was in a band and a singer. Both my parents love music, and that was their commonality between them. But my mom couldn't play an instrument, so she felt for her children they should be able to have an accompaniment to their singing. She believed that learning piano, especially the Suzuki method, is like learning another language. It is learning a second language and she wanted us to start that at a very young age.

SR: Not only is it a second language music, but isn't the Suzuki method a way of influencing mathematical structure as well? Were you exceptional math?

TH: I guess I really never though about the math part, but I loved doing math in school, it was one of my favorite subjects.

SR: As you can attest to Tess, you can see how music influences and assists patterns of learning whether it is in language or math. How important do you think music is in the educational system?

TH: Just seeing how for myself, learning the Suzuki method and having it translate over to my schooling, you know there have been studies on music and education, even classical music. I think it is good for the soul and mind in general, I totally believe it is a big plus when it comes to education.

Suzuki to Soulful Sounds

SR: Listening to your style of music now, it is very soulful. Is that the music sound you grew up with?

TH: My mom loved soul and Motown, but she also listened and played other types of music. Her band played a lot of rock music from the 70's, 80's and 90's. Dad listened to Jazz music, Kid Rock, but I listened to a lot of different styles of music. I just gravitated towards more of the soul, I mean anything with a lot of emotion. Growing up in church too, I think that played a role too.

SR: What is your faith background?

TH: My mom is Italian, so that Catholic side came in from there.

SR: You were selected as I understand it from over 10,000 different performers as the winner of “Guitar Centers National Artists Discovery” program. Wow! That is huge, talk to me about that process and what all was involved.

TH: I actually had known about the program, because Carson, my brother, had entered the year before I did. He was selected as a top ten semi-finalist. So, I kind of knew how things went with him, and he was under a different producer judging that year. I saw an email for the year I entered and I saw that the producer was, Don Was, and I was familiar with his work and what he does. So, I thought to myself, I have to at least try (laughed).

From there was an online voting contest, and that was kind of stressful because you have to get voted to the next step. And eventually it comes down to the top ten, everyone picked from there was flown into L.A. And we played one song each for Don. That was stressful too because there is so much on the line as an independent artist, but I just remember I was standing in the back of the Hotel Cafe, and as Don came in and he said my name, there was no thinking at that point, it was just a blur. The whole year after that was just career changing for me.

SR: At that point of winning and this shift in a career what was you mind-set and what were you thinking?

TH: The studio process was a little more on the slide that I was expecting. Don is a very busy guy, it just went so fast. We had to push the recording process it seemed, and I had given him twenty songs to pick from, and he chose four, but I didn't know which of the four he was going to pick for me to do. I am a little more 'organized' (laughed) I wanted to give him my best A game. So, I just decided to let myself to trust Don and let it go as it would. It turned out to be the best recording to date.

SR: What ended up being the one song you performing for the contest?

"Going Back"

TH: It was the song, “Going Back,” which is off my last album, called “High heels and Sneakers.” It was kind of a breakup song (laughed) and I felt I wanted to sing something that was really personal to me and a better choice in that situation.

SR: I think when we are nervous to or excited to begin with, sticking with something that is close to our own heart, probably helps us slip in easier.

TH: Yes, I believe so. It helped me slip into the emotion of the song easier, making it believable and connecting.

SR: You have released your music video for your new album, “Wonderland,” talk about how you visually put yourself into the video creation and song.

TH: I like creating the visuals for the music, and it is exciting. With “Wonderland” I wanted to create the emotion and have people feel it. I was concerned that they feel something. It is simple, but it feels right for the song. As we shot it out in the desert, it was a cool experience, out on a dry lake bed, all sandy. It was fun. Then part of it is set up in a dance hall, slow dancing scene, depicting what you feel in your head about how you feel.

SR: As an artist you seem to draw from your own experiences. Do you sometimes feel that you're laying yourself all open to the world?

TH: I was painfully shy growing up (laughed) I look back at videos of when I was performing back in talent shows, but music has always been a way for me to express myself, and music has become a way of me doing that. 

Double-sided Sticky Tape

SR: Would you say Tess that there are two definite sides of you?

TH: Yes, I would say there are two sides of me. There is the introverted side of me that likes to blend in and the other side that likes to act a little crazy and have fun. On and off stage there is two sides, the on stage doesn’t really see the off stage. That is for my family and friends.

SR: It must be a challenge at times.

TH: Yes, as I was talking to someone the other day about social media and do you want everyone to know everything, how do you feel about that? It is a weird thing today, how much everybody knows about you. You have the option to share as much as you want, but as an artist you want to feel connected to your fans. I guess because of social media I am out there more than I would have been without it.

SR: As you continue to build your profile as a song-writer, how is it your connect yourself to your songwriting and building those abilities?

TH: On the road it is hard, so when ever I have a thought or an idea I leave myself a voice memo or jot it down in a note. For me what I am writing I want to be all in for that, with no distractions. Looking ahead already to my next album, when I get back I want to focus on the writing. I like to be in a solitary place. I do co-write as well, but there is something about getting into your own head and continuing to write as much as I can that is how everyone gets better at it.

SR: Looking down the road to 2016-17, when does this tour officially conclude, and what are your plans forward?

TH: This tour ends September 18th, then back out on the next tour in October through December. The rest of this year is touring, but looking ahead I have already started thinking about the next album and who I want to work with, I have enough songs for the next album, but I want to write some more. I want to start cutting the record next year, and it will probably be another year of touring, and I would like to play some of the bigger festivals. 2016 though I would like to focus on doing a full length back in the studio.

SR: How important is it to an artist to create that full length album?

TH: Speaking for me it is important. As you can do a lot more creatively I think. You have lot more to work with, more topics, and different things. In my opinion I feel that a full length album can be more of a listening experience. For me it will always be something I enjoy doing.

I recently got my first record player and one of the first albums I had bought was by Stevie Wonder, “Innervisions.”

SR: Welcome to the world of vinyl!

TH: I know, who would have thought, right! I still have to build up my collection, and I think about the albums growing up I played all the way through.

SR: You had mentioned your brother, Carson, earlier. What is your relationship with him, as you both are musicians?

TH: Carson is always there to help and give advice. He is working on his next music project, hopefully in the next six months he will have that. We both share a place here in L.A.

SR: Would you consider working together on creating an album?

TH: At first we did do a lot together, but then we made a conscience effort to go out at it alone and try our own things. So we watched how involved we were, but now I think we have come around to wanting to collaborate with each other again. Having given each other space, then coming back together will help us create something else with different perspectives. I am really looking forward to it.  

Website: Tess Henley 

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