Tessa Lee, a musician from Tasmania, just dropped her first single of 2022 titled “Could It Be?” A departure from Lee’s jazz inclinations and into rockier territory, this single follows 2021’s “Warm Orange Glow” and its overwhelmingly positive reception. Produced by Jethro Pickett at Rolling on the River Studios, “Could It Be?” is a hushed, yearning slow burn that stealthily oozes soulful emotions into listeners’ hearts.
According to the artist the song just kind of showed up, fully formed, and with very little effort on her part. You know how sometimes when you’re driving around town in a new automobile, your friends don’t recognize you because they don’t recognize your car? That mental picture was so implanted… There were hundreds of road construction projects going on that day, and She had the wacky thought that maybe road workers are pyromaniacs at heart. That’s why it’s in there now. But they are merely the surface pictures of this song, and beneath them lies something that is never fully articulated, much like how a painter leaves the viewer to decide how to interpret his or her work. Everyone who hears the song will interpret it in their own way; the main character conceals certain information.
The video was shot on site along the Huon River in southern Tasmania, and was recorded with The Cold Weather Band. The video, which was directed by Ursula Woods and filmed by Bree Sanders, features the band’s day in the studio, along with scenes of a melancholy river and an invitingly foreboding surrounding bush. Check out the song and the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you all come from and how it all got started?
TESSA LEE: I grew up by the beach in Victoria, Australia. I grew up putting on Mum and Dad’s records as soon as I was big enough to hold them, and dancing around listening to Ricki Lee Jones, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Ry Cooder and Paul Simon.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
TESSA LEE: I have had flute lessons since I was 8, and studied jazz at university. I began playing guitar at high school, and immediately started writing songs. Like immediately. The minute I could play 5 chords, I’d written my first song. I still play that song today.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘TESSA LEE’?
TESSA LEE: It’s my actual name! Haha. As well as the early musical influences above, I discovered Ani Difranco in my teens, as well as Australian bands The Waifs, Tiddas and the John Butler Trio. We went to a lot of folk festivals when I was growing up, and so I watched every type of music you could think of: from what used to be called ‘world music’ to traditional celtic folk, pop and everything in between. Then jazz came into my life when I was in my late teens… that’s almost a chapter in itself!
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
TESSA LEE: This is always such a tricky thing to try to define. I think I value interesting choices in music… something which makes your ears prick up and sets the track apart from other tracks. So I’m always going for that. I aim to blend folk storytelling with pop catchiness and the soulfulness of the blues canon. I don’t ever stick to one genre… you’ll find country in there somewhere as well…
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and confront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative and entertainment?
What a big question. Yes, music has a role to play politically for sure. I aim to write songs first and foremost, and whatever is happening around me will find its way into my work. I don’t aim to write political songs, or spiritual songs specifically, but like I said, these things happen quite magically sometimes and I don’t always have complete control over the way a song will write itself through me. It’s my job to listen to what needs to be written and try to limit how much my ego interferes with that process.
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfilment as the amount of work you are putting into it, or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
Music making is hugely satisfying in and of itself. The music industry is a different beast though. I’m currently juggling how much music I’m making with parenting my children, working a ‘day job,’ gardening (my other obsessive love!) etc etc. My golden rule is for managing my music workload is: Is it Fun? If the answer is no, that’s when I re-assess…
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
I haven’t done much collaborating. I still feel like I’m finding my confidence as a songwriter really. Sometimes the melody comes first, often it’s the words which pop into my head. Other times, I’ll be noodling away on my guitar and a riff or chord progression will present itself. The process varies greatly!
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
TESSA LEE: I couldn’t point to one thing really. Musically, there are disappointments all the time, and yet I think I am learning how to be resilient, or more so than I ever was. The way I respond to situations is my power. A beautiful songwriter told me recently, “Just keep writing good music and the rest will follow.” It’s true.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
TESSA LEE: Everything little step along the way feels like the best thing ever! Haha. I love it when I get a call out of the blue to perform or be a part of something with other artists. Releasing ‘Could It Be?’ has been wonderful, the amount of people who have responded with enthusiasm to this track floats my boat.
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Photo credits: Bree Sanders/Ursula Woods