NewTracks New Artist: Tess Liautaud

NewTracks New Artist: Tess Liautaud

Tess Liautaud grew up an American in France and she has now brought her softly honest folk-pop sound to NZ. Travelling Te Waipounamu in her van, Tess considers herself a nomad and goes wherever the music takes her. Her most recent single Stay Ashore touches on grief and loss and holds a hopeful message to stay strong. NZ On Air Music has added Stay Ashore to their NewTracks compilation this June. 

What’s your full name, where are you from and what instruments do you play?

My name is Tess Liautaud, as the name suggests there’s two nationalities mixed up, I’m born in Paris, France, and grew up as an American in France from my mom’s side (New York) and have been torn between both places most of my life.

I play guitar and sing, some harmonica and enjoy dabbling with a few other instruments for fun.

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

I started guitar with a pretty formal approach when I was little but didn’t connect with it, later found a teacher who would just tell me to bring in songs I liked and learn how to play them, at a time when developing your taste becomes important. Then I took it from there myself and was self-taught, beyond the basic chords. High school was a good time for finding other people to play with and of course I ended up in a band, for every year of high school, by the last year I finally had the courage to sing and front the band!

My upbringing was quite musical in many ways, with my dad playing the piano at home after work and my mom being a dance teacher and also blasting rock’n’roll at home, and introducing me to concert culture and shows.

Any other previous (or current) projects might we know you from?

This is the first time I am really bringing my musical project to the forefront and stepping into that sphere of putting out my own music, even though music has been my whole life.

What’s the background story of how Tess Liautaud came to be? Who else is directly involved?

I think it’s more of a personal ongoing journey with music for me, and sometimes it’s the right time to share it, I also came to a point of feeling more confident to do so. There are many people involved along the way of course throughout the years, but more recently it’s the friends I met and started playing live with and subsequently worked on my songs with to record, Julian Rowe, Jacob Smith, Sam Taylor and then the fantastic Sublime Studio crew, Steve Harrop who produced the current songs I’m releasing, who owns the studio too, and Tom Havard who engineered and then mixed them.

How has your writing (or music) evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

It’s a constant evolution for me, learning, discovering, being inspired too. What I listen to around a certain time or who I’m hanging out with will have an effect on what I absorb or what my vision of the world is sometimes, nothing is a constant. But I can tell things are more fluid by the fact that my mind is often in creation mode, even when it isn’t required to be, in thoughts, when driving, walking, sleeping. You just become more aware of the world and everything is creation. And I think I was always like that but I didn’t know it had a purpose, and now I know how to use it better for my songwriting. But I’m excited to see things evolving and think my best songs are yet to come!

What made you decide to go with Tess Liautaud as your artist name?

I have toyed with the decision to go with my full name for a while, but it feels right, now, I’m doing some personal digging and sharing and what I present is honest, so going with my full name makes sense. I was on the fence for obvious reasons of my surname being a bit complicated to spell and pronounce, but its also part of my culture and heritage (French name), and there’s no other Tess Liautaud that I know of!

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date?

I have had a lot of beautiful musical experiences lately and shared with some incredible musicians too.

But for what music really means, communion and having fun in expressing, one of the most fun shows I’ve done was one Al Park put together for Bob Dylan’s bday, last year at the Loons, just a fun night singing all our favorite songs with many other amazing musicians! (The Eastern, Ryan Fisherman, Adam Hattaway, Holly ArrowsmithBarry Saunders, Marlon Williams).

With the pandemic it has also been more important to really appreciate those kind of gatherings and opportunities, because nothing is a given, and there was literally a lockdown right after that show, and the high of that show kind of got me through to the other side as well. I’ve been on three tours somehow in the last few months, in between all the lockdowns and level reds, all very different, one with my own band, one with Adam Hattaway and the Haunters playing in the band and one in an acoustic duo set up with Adam Hattaway, and all of these brought along their share of experiences, and joy and learning. But I must say releasing music is new for me, so the release of my first song Breezy As was quite special, and people’s feedback and knowing it’s reaching people all over the world.

What makes Stay Ashore stand out for you as a single?

Stay Ashore is the third single I picked off my upcoming album, and it’s been one of my favorite songs since I’ve written it, it carries an extra special meaning, and I felt that it was important enough to share it. It reflects part of my genre, in the softer folk tones but also a powerful ballad.

What is the story behind Stay Ashore?

It’s a journey through grief, and a conversation I imagined (or something that came through me while writing) between my grandparents, one comforting the other, through death. It kind of just appeared on paper within a few minutes, it barely even felt like I wrote the song, which was really wild to experience actually. I do think sometimes artists are just the medium and something else needs to channel through.

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

I really like the build-up after the second chorus musically, of “staying strong for something real in this world, the light through the ferns”, and then back to the comforting softness of “Now trust me my dear, all this time I’m still here”.

Who did you write/record/produce the single with and where? 

This song was also recorded at Sublime Studio, in Kurow, in March 2021, with the same team! I had been playing it live with my band but it still felt like a new song to build in the studio. Julian Rowe’s soft humming drum beat has always been one of my favorite parts of the song and he delivered beautifully in the studio, we also had Jacob Smith using e-bow on this which turned out quite cool, adding something broody to the song. I fumbled around with an extra acoustic to add on top of my electric, and tried a 12 and 8 and string guitars, ended up going back to the classic J45 (6 string) but figured out a slightly weird tuning to use, and I like the extra strummy warmth it adds.

What would you like listeners to take away from this song?

I feel like this song really steps into its power when it’s performed live, for its poignancy, but I guess the message of the song, and comforting through the missing of someone, is what I want people to take away.

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

I guess you have to feel good about a song, its melody, to some extent its catchiness, the lyrics, message, if it’s relatable, feel like it represents you or your sound well enough.

Who else is in your team?

I am one of those crazy unsigned independent artists, so there’s a great learning curve and also some stagnation too that comes from that, mostly some learning though. But you also get to surround yourself with people you like and do things your way, and lately for my tours and my PR I’ve been working with the brilliant Gina Johns from Bad Gin Sanctuary. My upcoming album was produced by the inimitable Steve Harrop and it has been a pleasure having him on my team as well as engineer Tom Havard.

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for? 

Well after this last single, it is time for my album to come out, it’s out on June 17, which is crazy to me, a full collection of songs out for anyone to listen to, it’s a wild thing to imagine when you start a project, especially when it just starts with songs in your own intimate spaces and timelines.

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song.

Well I was just on a duo tour with Adam Hattaway, so every night we’d work out a setlist that would suit listening to both our songs side by side one after the other, so there’s a few from his latest album Rooster, like Back in Jail. I’m naturally thinking of the local musicians I’ve been playing with lately, because those kind of connections form from having a common language,

  • Adam Hattaway: Don’t Touch That Dial
  • Al Park: California
  • The Eastern: The Waterside

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others out there?

My first track Breezy As, wasn’t included in New Tracks, the following two were, I don’t really know how these things are defined though…

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

There’s a few podcasts I discovered, and some I go back to more than others, Modern Musician has been good when I feel a bit lost in figuring things out as a DIY musician in the industry, and more recently NZ’s Garden of Sound by Ian Turner, has been really fun to discover local musicians. Dissect is an interesting one for Dissecting full albums (I loved the one about Lauryn Hill).

Any last words?

Thanks for giving some space to my music and thoughts and a new artist in the New Zealand landscape, means a lot to be part of this!