If you’re going on titles alone, chances are you’ll like Miss Tess and the Talkbacks. Luckily, the band—a formerly Bostonian, now Brooklyn-based outfit that draws on vintage jazz and early rock n’ roll—has the chops to match its name. Frontwoman Miss Tess, a native of Baltimore, has been touring with the same lineup for years, but it was only recently that she started calling her backup band the Talkbacks. They originally performed under the moniker Miss Tess and the Bon Ton Parade, but, says Tess, “The band has just evolved, and we had been talking about changing the name for the last year and a half.” For whatever reason, “the Bon Ton Parade” seemed to imply that Miss Tess was a novelty swing act, an assumption she was anxious to escape.
“I think it pigeonholed us in a way.”
When they finally settled on the Talkbacks, it was to signal a new direction, away from the jazz-inflected ethos of their earlier incarnations and towards a sound that incorporates rock n’ roll and honky-tonk. “We are a modern band; we’re not doing anything shticky, we’re not wearing costumes,” explains Tess. She writes most of the band’s material and delivers it in a sunny, forthright croon, backed by bass, drums and the cool vibrations of her own arch-top guitar.
This fall will herald the Talkbacks’s first label release, Sweet Talk, on Signature Sounds. The writing process for the album was special, says Tess, because she had the opportunity to co-write two songs with Phil Madiera, a Nashville-based musician and member of Emmylou Harris & Her Red Dirt Boys. Despite her old-fashioned predilections, Tess has more in common with modern songwriters like Madiera than anyone from the past. As a writer, she is smart and economical, drawing from personal experience but prioritizing form:
“I think storytelling is a huge part of it,” she explains.
Sweet Talk was recorded during a four-day retreat to producer Sam Kassirer’s (of Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band) studio in Maine, out of cell phone range and far from the Internet’s myriad distractions. The isolation forced the band to focus, says Tess, although it was not without its diversions.
“We got to shoot BB guns on our breaks.”
Getting signed to Signature was a long time coming, says Tess, and for her the Sweet Talk release cannot come fast enough. In the meantime, she and the Talkbacks will be passing through Club Passim on their summer tour, as they continue to prove themselves one of the hardest working bands in the business.