On Being a Solo Act
by Vee Manzerolle
Singer/songwriter Jess Cornelius began playing music in full-out rock bands but decided to venture solo. She eventually got her hands on some old drum machines, a keyboard and an electric guitar—equipment that would ignite the beginning of Teeth & Tongue. In between SXSW gigs, Australia's Teeth & Tongue took a breather to answer a few questions for SoulMattersMag.
SoulMattersMag: You're a Melbourne based artist who's just making a U.S. debut now. What kind of expectations do you have for your upcoming gigs in the U.S?
Teeth & Tongue: I don't have a lot of expectations, I am guessing that some shows will be great and some will be not so great. Hopefully most of them will be fun though.
SMM: How has the music scene in Melbourne, Australia, nurtured your music endeavors?
T&T: Melbourne's music scene is pretty strong. It revolves around people making interesting music and pushing the limits of their creativity, rather than trying to get famous or having the right look or something.
SMM: Your song "Unfamiliar Skirts" off the album Tambourine was nominated for the EG Award "Song of the Year." What was your reaction to that particular song being nominated?
T&T: It was a nice surprise, but it's just a Melbourne-based thing and of course there were a lot of great songs released that year.
SMM: "Unfamiliar Skirts" was written and arranged in a single evening at your home studio. What inspired you to write that song at that exact moment?
T&T: Well it wasn't completely recorded that night, but most of the parts were written then and I ended up using the vocal, bass and drum tracks from that session on the final mix. Marc Regueiro-Mckelvie wrote his beautiful guitar part afterwards. It came about because I was feeling pretty lost, I was staying at a friend's house in Footscray and he was away, I was a bit isolated at the time. And he had a little recording set up so it was easy to start laying stuff down.
SMM: Tambourine is your second album—the follow-up to 2008's Monobasic. What unites and separates the two albums? In other words, what are some key similarities and differences between the two?
T&T: Tambourine is a lot more cohesive I think. I had a stronger vision for the sound of the album as a whole.
SMM: Was the pre- and post-production process much different the second time around?
T&T: Yeah, the second album was more focused and single-minded in terms of the sounds I chose to use and the way we approached the mixes, as well as the instrumentation. Tambourine really only has Marc and me playing on it, but Monobasic had a whole bunch of people.
SMM: You've performed alongside well-regarded artists at festivals—for example the 2009 Falls Festival and the 2010 Laneway Festival. Have you ever shared the stage with a peer you were in awe with? If so, who and why?
T&T: Not really. I've really respected a lot of the people we've played with though.
SMM: How does it make you feel to be compared to artists like Patti Smith, Kate Bush, and PJ Harvey by Rolling Stone?
T&T: It can be annoying. I don't know why reviewers don't make more comparisons to male musicians, especially when they're talking about the music or the songwriting and not just the vocals. I guess it's still flattering, if the comparison is made in that spirit.
SMM: You're playing two gigs at SXSW this year, will you be checking out any of SXSW showcases while you're there? If so, any particular showcases that you're psyched about checking out?
T&T: I'm playing about five SXSW shows but I guess two are the official ones and the rest are parties. I'm really looking forward to checking out a lot of other bands, especially Deerhoof and Prince Rama, but I haven't had a chance to look at a program yet.
SMM: Lastly, what can your fans expect next from you?
T&T: Lots of heavy synthesizer guitars, drum machine congas and 808 kick drums.