For starters, there's "Song One." Less than two minutes long, it introduces us to the album in a dream-like state, reminiscent of a flashback in an old film. It's enchanting, mysterious, a hint of what's to come. And we're given a promise in the lyrics that sets the stage for the next 33 minutes: "I will not lie to you, these words will be true."
The beautiful, haunting rock tune "Clipping" anchors the album with a pause, a slower pace at the center. It's one of those songs that was meant to be made--a kind of fate in the musical universe. Tancred does herself and this track justice with minimalistic layers, harmonizing guitar and bass lines, and sliding strings that all perfectly support her melancholy lyrics. This is her best work in action: grungy, effortless, reflective rock. Abbott then takes this as a catalyst and jumps into "Something Else," a classic indie rock jam that samples tastes of the five tracks preceding it, with the best possible result. I'm torn often between these two as my favorite on the record.
"Underwear" takes a dive into a darker sound, unafraid to get angry and loud on stage--or at least I'm imagining this one as a joy for her to perform. Like a pendulum, she swings to the far end of traditional indie rock here, before swinging back towards the other side for "Just You." A hushed beginning gives way to solo guitar and vocals, creating an intimate listening experience, well placed later in the album. By this time, I'm craving some raw and personal material from Tancred, and she delivers. I start to hear the end of the record coming as Abbott enters in a fog on "Strawberry Selfish," and I love its low-key vibes. But she's not done yet--there's still the poppy and upbeat "Reviews," which takes a strong third place for me. Ironic, considering she croons: "feels like this song don't mean a thing." But I can't get enough of the bridge, the synth and bass lines, and the relentless force driving it through to the end. Then she aptly finishes with a soft landing and the lines "it's hard to end" on the final track, "Rowing."
But enough from me--let's hear from the musician herself. Abbott kindly took me up on answering some questions about the songs on Nightstand, its process, and her evolution in the past year.
I put “Clipping” at track 5 because I wanted it to be in the first half of the album, it’s one of my favorites on there, but wanted to put some drivier stuff up top and let the listener sink into “Clipping.” I wrote it one night when I was sinking into some kind of feeling of floating in space, being alone, but accepting it. I picked up a guitar and the song started happening.
I'm also very into "Reviews" and "Something Else." What about those two?
Musically and lyrically these songs come from two different worlds. “Reviews” is about living with loss and failure and where those things intersect. “Something Else” is a love song, wanting what you shouldn’t have but going for it anyway. Musically I wanted “Reviews” to have some kind of dark echoes in it. I wanted “Something Else” to be fun. Recording guitars was an entirely different experience for each.
This time around, you devoted three days a week for a whole year just to playing music. And when you recorded, you experimented more with gear and the production of pieces. What did you like about this process of writing and recording?
There was palpable dedication in this process. Having a song writing schedule, something regimented like that, made me feel really close to my creativity. Like I was really making space for it to grow. Scheduling it made it feel important, near to me. The producer, Lewis, was dedicated to finding the right tones. To making sure we really did each piece right. Nothing ever felt rushed, in writing or recording. It was really fantastic to be able to treat it in this way. To pay full attention to it. It helped me create an album I’m really proud of.
And although it sounds like you came into the studio with most songs finished, were there any tunes that surprised you, or took a strong departure in their final form from how they entered the recording process?
The song “Just You” wasn’t supposed to have any drums or bass or percussion or textures. Was just supposed to be guitar and vocals. But in the studio Lewis was like “trust me, I have a vision for drums and bass here, it needs it.” And I fought it for so long but eventually came around to it and now I can’t imagine the song without it. It’s similar to the demo but so much richer with the added instrumentation.
It’s been interesting, to kind of start over. Hard in some ways. Really satisfying and reassuring in others. I’m able to take a very close look at how my writing works by myself and what I learned in my time with Now, Now. Ultimately time moves forward. I’m learning as I go.
You mention in your bio that you want this album “to have a timeless feel to it" with "themes that have existed for everyone forever." What do you think your younger self 15 years ago would think of this release? How about your older self, 15 years in the future?
I think my younger self would have loved this album. I’ve always been drawn to songs that are brief but raw, and this album is both of those things. I was also a pretty lonely kid and obsessed over music that felt lonely. I think this album is a lonely album. 15 years in the future… I have no idea where I’m going to be in 3 months. My musical ideas change constantly. I never know what kind of record I want to make, what I want to listen to that day. There’s so much, so many possibilities. I think 15 years from now I’ll still be proud of this album, though.
All photos by Shervin Lainez.