While Americana act Miss Tess and the Talkbacks currently call New York home, Miss Tess has grown up on the roots music of the Northeast, having previously lived in Boston and Maryland. As Knoxville lauds itself a major hub for Americana music, Miss Tess will offer valuable perspective on how the genre is interpreted outside the South, applying a different set of regional influences in her mix.
Americana, as Knoxville commonly knows it, is a celebration of the sounds that make up our specific region's musical heritage. In our case this is typically a melding of Southern rock, country and/or bluegrass, but growing up far from the origins of these styles, Miss Tess's Americana is in no way synonymous with alt-country. Miss Tess and the Talkbacks pay homage to a different set of roots through a combination that emphasizes jazz, blues and swing and fits comfortably into a smoky lounge scene.
"To me, Americana music is exactly that — styles influenced by traditional American music," Miss Tess explains. "I never understood why the current state of the term implies a bunch of dudes hanging out in plaid shirts with banjos and fiddles. People forget that American music is blues. American music is jazz. American music is rock 'n' roll, country and folk. Not enough people know their history and roots and come to identify these marketing terms in the context of one or two bands that make it big. We give this designation to ourselves, because we don't know what else to call it."
Discourse with Miss Tess presents an opportunity to test the reaches of Knoxville's Americana reputation. Acknowledging the number of strong musicians per capita, she admits having considered moving here.
"I think within the roots musician community, people are aware there's a burgeoning scene in Knoxville," says Miss Tess. "Most folks we know have at least toured through the area and are aware of many of the bands of the Southeast. I, myself, have thought about moving there because I know there would be enough musicians around to make it fun.
"New York and Boston, despite the belief of many, have very strong roots scenes. You don't have to look very hard to find an old time or a bluegrass jam session. I'm not sure they have a different sense of the term 'Americana,' but they do seem to have a slightly different set of influences. Obviously country music is more popular in the South for example. We did a cover of 'End of the World' on our live album, and when we play it in the South people say 'Skeeter Davis' whereas in the North they say 'Herman's Hermits.'"
Miss Tess' Oct. 16 release "Sweet Talk" is her first full-length studio outing in three years and her first on the Signature Sounds label. Additionally, the album is the act's first to use the "Talk Backs" moniker. Claiming a name change had been on the docket for some time, the release seemed like an ideal turning point for the band, having grown musically and adopted a new focus on the incorporation of rock and country into its complex musical recipe.
"The new band name is something we had been discussing for almost two years, and we just finally settled on something," Miss Tess says. "It is a result of the music changing. We have a new sound that's edgy and slightly more influenced by country and early rock 'n' roll. It's all mixed in with what I was doing before…
"I did think it was cool to have an album 'Sweet Talk' and a band called 'The Talkbacks.' It goes together if you think of playing music with people as having a conversation. I put something out there and the band talks back. Also there are some sassy love songs on there that play into the more conventional meaning of the word."
Miss Tess and the Talkbacks play a free show at Boyd's Jig and Reel for Miss Tess' birthday (she likes whiskey) Saturday night. Music is slated for 9 p.m.
The kid's got Hart: Former Tim and Eric Awesome Show musician/ventriloquist David Liebe Hart sings about aliens at The Pilot Light Monday night. Big Bad Oven opens the show at 10 p.m. Admission is $7.
Chillin' like Villains on Penicillin: Tuesday night The Well hosts Villains, The Last Crusade and Arliss Nancy. The show kicks off at 9 p.m. and costs $5.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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