Auckland musician Jess Bailey aka Fables has an artful passion for making – making jewellery, paintings, ceramics and, most fortunately for us, music.
Early music making at high school was a collaborative affair so it’s not surprising that collaboration is still central to her musical endeavours. Fables, the musical entity that she currently fronts, has a revolving cast of members with Jess’s vocals and songs the one constant.
“I’m kind of the bones of it all,” says Jess. “I will flesh it out on a gig by gig basis. There’s no stock standard band. I have a group of people who know the songs really well and I call on them depending on the environment. I’ve been so lucky to meet all of these really talented musicians. I don’t feel the need to be hamstrung to a band. I like the freedom and fluidity and the different flavours that everyone brings to the table.”
Fables recently released its debut EP ‘Portraits’, featuring cover artwork by, you guessed it, Jess herself, with a 13-gig national tour of mostly small venues. Jess is refreshingly candid about her grounding in folk music, and the fact that she has found some of the larger venues she’s played recently a little outside her comfort zone.
“A lot of the gigs I’ve played have been in quite intimate settings. It comes naturally to me to be in that intimate setting. I’ve played a few shows in theatres and you can’t really see anyone. It’s quite uncomfortable for me because the energy is going out and I don’t know where it’s going to.
“Having a scripted thing would feel very false to me. Just because I find theatres and stadiums an uncomfortable premise, I’d still like to do it and learn the skill of having a back and forth without seeing everyone in the audience. I’ve got a bit of time under my belt if I’m lucky. If I get better at what I’m doing, hopefully, that means there will be space and audience and time and hopefully, it’ll be financially viable to do it more.”
At just 22, Jess does have the time, and judging by the songs on her seven-song EP certainly has the talent to realise her ambitions. Double bass player James Geluk also pitched in with the recording and co-production, the inclusion of other instruments cello, violin, mandolin and clarinet indicating the maturity of ambition for the release.
She says that for her the stories she tells about the songs are just as important as the performance of the material itself.
“I wrote a song for a reason and I want to do it justice, but I also want a connection to the people I’m playing it to. It makes me feel more comfortable if I have people on my team, whatever landscape I’m trying to paint for them.
“That’s what I like about the genre of music that we play. Audiences usually come thinking they’re going to be part of something bigger than just themselves. What we’re doing is creating a community of engagement in that moment, if I do alright. At gigs, you get to build a narrative to support the poetry in the song. I think that is what I love most.”