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Interview: Tattletale Saints

Thursday 29 January 2015

Interview: Tattletale Saints

Fresh from winning the 2014 Tui award for Best Folk Album, Cy Winstanley and Vanessa McGowan of Tattletale Saints moved to Nashville. The pair have spent their time imersing themselves in the music scene there and going on extensive tours of the States and now they are back for a homecoming tour this summer. Gigs on the tour will include songs performed as a duo, re-imagined versions of songs with a live drummer and brand new material off the band’s forthcoming full-band album. We caught up with Vanessa on the eve of the tour to hear about life in Nashville, their experiences touring New Zealand and what we can expect from the upcoming album, due out mid-year.

How have rehearsals been going for the tour?

We played in a band with Tom (Broome) before we moved to Nashville so already had a pretty good idea of how he played and that he would fit in. I’ve been surprised to find that he’s working out even better than I thought - the rehearsals before the tour started were pretty intense because we had two sets of material to teach him but he’s a great drummer and had done a lot of prep on the songs so it was actually really fun and was sounding great pretty much immediately.

What has the new drummer added to or inspired the sound of Tattletale Saints?
We’ve been working with a few different drummers in Nashville over the last 10 months or so, experimenting with different approaches to our new songs and the songs from How Red Is The Blood that we’re now playing with drums. I think it’s kind of the other way around, we had a new sound for TTS in our minds and that’s why we started working with drummers. Partly this new sound was inspired by the band we had with Tom (Bolo with whom we did a three month residency at the Portland Public House at the end of 2013) and the huge fun it was to play with drums, Finn Scholes on trumpet and to have Cy playing electric guitar.

Is there a particular city or venue you are most excited about playing in?
There are so many great venues on this tour ranging from theatres to venues to acoustic cafes. I’m excited to play Bodega in Wellington because we’ve never played there before and The Tuning Fork in Auckland. I haven’t played there either but I’ve been to a few concerts and the sound is always really great - I think it’ll be a really nice way to finish this tour.

Do you have a favourite NZ venue?
This is our fifth NZ tour so we’re kind of whittling it down now to only venues we really dig. We play a really wide range of venue types and I value them all differently. Eggsentric Cafe in Cooks Beach is such a lovely chill vibe and getting to have lots of ocean swims right across the road is awesome. Wunderbar in Lyttelton was a really fun time last year, Fairfield House in Nelson is totally different again but I always enjoy being there in that gorgeous historic house. The Dome Cinema in Gisborne has gotta be one of the coolest looking venues on the tour schedule. There really are so many great places - we don’t really go back to venues unless we enjoy them.

Do you write music with the live performance in mind?
I don’t think Cy writes music with any kind of end performance style in mind but we do think about it when we arrange the songs for the band. With How Red Is The Blood we wanted to make an album that sounded like what we sounded like live at the time, an acoustic duo. Now we’re allowing ourselves to be a bit more creative and just see where the songs take us. The new single “I Did This To Myself” has pedal steel played through a bunch of effects and we haven’t even thought yet about how we might re-create that live. But we loved the sound of it on the studio version so went with it.

Do you have a pre-show routine?
We do some vocal warm ups and I usually try to get a few minutes to myself just to focus my mind a little. One of the hardest things about indie touring is that you’re often dealing with sound, merch, helping with ticket stuff etc so you have to force your brain into creative/performance mode. It’ll be great when we have one or two support people on the road with us, just to take the pressure off being everywhere at all times a little.

What can we expect from these shows?
We’re doing a two set concert featuring some of the older songs reimagined with drums, some brand new songs that will be on the next album and playing a short set in the middle of acoustic duo, so people will be hearing where we’ve come from, where we are now and where we’re heading with the new material.

How has the last year since winning the Tui award been for you?
We moved to Nashville in March last year so most of the year was spent playing 80 shows in the States and doing a short tour of Australia. It has been an amazing experience, really rewarding and also really hard. Just transitioning into being a full time touring band took a little time to adjust. We spend a lot of time in the van driving from town to town and it feels like this life where you have to get used to really bringing your energy level down to simmer so you can handle the seven hour drive on a boring US freeway and then bring it up really high, really fast to hit the ground running with load in, sound check and the show as soon as you arrive.
Living in Nashville has been amazing - both of us have found it to be a super inspiring place to live and have become friends with some just amazingly talented and wonderful people.

What does winning the Tui mean to you? Do you feel any pressure to produce another award-winning album?
We’re not really thinking in terms of awards or acclaim with this next album. Of course it is really nice to be validated with a music award, and we really appreciated it, but I think when you create music that isn’t pop music there isn’t any point trying to aim for any particular goal other than just making an album that you’re truly proud of. We’re really enjoying this new sound that we’re working on and feel good about the direction the band is headed. I’m personally really proud of Cy’s songwriting and I think this new batch of songs that is coming together are going to be great. He’s maturing as a songwriter as we are maturing as a band and we’re having a lot of fun being creative with where we’re heading.

How has living in Nashville influenced the sound of Tattletale Saints?
We were already thinking about the changing sound of the band before we moved to Nashville but I definitely feel like being immersed in that scene and being surrounded by super creative, driven musicians has impacted us. Cy says that he’s enjoyed being in a real “songwriters town” and that he feels like that has reinforced his desire to write songs that are really strongly about storytelling. To make sure that every element of a song points in the same direction and there is nothing superfluous or vague in there.

What has been some of the benefits you have noticed have come from being based in the States?
Just the ability to tour constantly because of the larger country and scene. We want to be a recording/touring band and unfortunately at the moment New Zealand is just too small to be able to do that full time. Being in Nashville is inspiring because it’s somewhere that what we do for a job is considered completely normal, and there’s a strong industry there so it’s easy to find good videographers, studios, producers etc in all styles of music.

While the reasons for moving to Nashville might seem obvious to anyone aware of its significance to the music industry in the States, I am curious to hear your thoughts on why you moved there?
We wanted to expand our touring career and Nashville seemed like a really great place to be based. Having recorded How Red Is The Blood there in 2013 with Tim O’Brien we also had some contacts already and started off touring with 10 String Symphony, the duo we brought out to tour NZ last year in Feb. Without that tour booked with them we wouldn’t have been able to get our touring VISA so that was essential in making it happen.

You played in Joshua Tree recently, how was that?
Cy was actually just in Joshua Tree with some other musicians hanging out and jamming. It wasn’t a TTS gig but I know he had a really wonderful time and said it was a very inspiring place!

Have you been experimenting with new instruments or technology for this upcoming album?
It’s definitely a shift from the last album, having drums and with Cy playing telecaster on the first single. We have pedal steel on the first single too but we’re totally open to using other instruments for future recording sessions.

Does the new album have a name yet?
Not yet - we’ve only had one session so far and will get back into it when we get back to Nashville in March. The album will most likely be finished around the middle of the year.

Tickets are now available from Eventfinda (excluding shows marked with a *. Full ticketing details are available on the event page).

Tattletale Saints Summer Tour
Whangarei - Wednesday 21st JanuaryOld Library
Whangateau - Thursday 22nd JanuaryWhangateau Hall
Whitianga - Saturday 24th JanuaryEggscentric Cafe
Hamilton - Sunday 25th JanuaryThe Meteor*
Napier - Wednesday 28th JanuaryThe Cabana
Whanganui - Thursday 29th January, Sarjeant Gallery (Duo show)*
Palmerston North - Friday 30th January, Centrepoint Theatre *
Wellington - Saturday 31st JanuaryBodega*
Blenheim - Sunday 1st FebruaryDharma Bums Club*
Lyttelton - Wednesday 4th FebruaryWunderbar
Port Chalmers - Thursday 5th FebruaryChicks Hotel
Wanaka - Friday 6th FebruaryGin and Raspberry
Hokitika - Saturday 7th FebruaryOld Lodge Theatre*
Nelson - Sunday 8th FebruaryFairfield House
Wairoa - Wednesday 11th FebruaryEastEnd Cafe*
Gisborne - Thursday 12th FebruaryDome Cinema
Tauranga - Friday 13th FebruaryBaycourt Theatre*
Auckland - Saturday 14th FebruaryTuning Fork*