Introducing Tesse (aka Tom Stephens) who shares his new single My Madeline. Birthed from demos recorded at home on his iPad, Stephens produced the track himself working alongside renowned Melbourne based engineers Alex O’Gorman (Angie McMahon) and Joe Carra (Courtney Barnett, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard). Hailing from the suburbs of South Sydney, Tesse creates intimate, guitar driven sonic worlds filled with everyday suburban nostalgia. My Madeline is an exuberant, confident cut off soaring guitar lines, driving drums and mellow keys held together by Stephens’ stand alone vocal style.
How have you found the build up to My Madeline, exciting?
Yeah it’s been fun. I wrote and started recording this song over two years ago. The film clip was made a year ago, so there’ve been a lot of steps taken towards the song being given a life of its own and released into the world. It’s very satisfying to watch it take flight and have people connect with it.
Have you been pleased with the reaction to the single?
Yeah pretty pleased. My Dad texted me about it only this morning and said that he’s into it which is big. My parents really shoot it straight and let me know if they don’t pick up what I’m putting down so that was encouraging. When I first started making songs they’d say “I don’t understand what you’re saying.. pronounce your words better, sing up.” Obviously I’ve got my own personal favourites but if my friends and family like a song then I know I’m onto something.
What is the story behind the single My Madeline?
My Madeline isn’t about any one specific person. But I wrote it with the kind of person in mind who always has their fists up and is pushing back against life. So much of our everyday experiences and occurrences are unfair and a struggle, but there is power in letting go when we feel disoriented and powerless and seeing it as a source for growth.
Are you building towards an album or an EP release?
I’ve got an album that’s finished and will come out early next year. This song is sitting at sacred track 3 on the record!
How would you describe your style?
That question is always followed by a long pause and a whole bunch of ahhhh’s when I’m asked it. I feel like it’s hard to describe it when you’re so close to the music. My housemate describes it as Emo Oz Folk/Rock. It seems to be described as indie rock by music reviewers. Hope that paints some sort of picture.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
There’s a whole heap of influences that have come along at different times. There’s a US songwriter called Willy Mason that really shaped how I use my voice. I read in an interview once where he said that when writing lyrics he says the line out first and then tries singing it, trying to retain the spoken delivery as much as he can when he sings the line. I’ve modelled the way that I approach singing off Willy. I’ve always wanted my vocals to be as unaffected and deliver the lyrics in my accent and speaking voice as closely as possible. I find as a listener that it hits harder and feels more relatable.
Has the COVID situation slowed your momentum at all?
Not really, I feel like it’s allowed for so much time to be creative. Obviously the live element has been driven to a halt but it’s been a nourishing time for all other areas of my creative process. I’ve written and made 2 music videos this year, taken a whole bunch of photos and written and recorded more songs than ever. It’s put a big emphasis on appreciating the process of art making rather than the sharing and performative side. It’s easy to half bake ideas and show them off early when things are operating normally and there’s a whole heap of shows booked.
In this COVID haze what has been the biggest thing you have learnt about your own resilience?
I think I’ve learnt that really giving to your friends and personal relationships are a big part of sustaining your own personal resilience. It’s been a tough time for everyone in many ways, I feel like being there and available for the people close to me has meant that they’re there when I’m battling. I’m then able to bounce back quicker. In the words of the great Nutri Grain cereal campaign, “you only get out what you put in.”
Are you looking forward to being able to get on the road and start playing shows when you get the chance?
Yes definitely. I’ve already played a few shows around Sydney which has been a real treat. It feels like the audiences are more receptive and appreciative at the moment which is cool. To drive to another state or catch a flight to another country eventually will feel surreal.
What’s the next challenge for Tesse?
Cooking lunch before work today.
Interview By Rob Lyon