To help capture and shape her own unique sound, Miss Tess enlisted not only her trusty 1930s Weymann archtop, but also heavy input from co-producers Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Hurray for the Riff Raff) and Thomas Bryan Eaton, her full-time bandmate and musical partner. Tess elaborates, “I think Andrija’s indie leanings were pivotal in taking these songs into a transcendent space, while still supporting my initial vision. He definitely pushed me in new ways and the three of us found a very interesting mix between bold experimentation and a more traditional approach.” Combining Thomas’ arranging ideas and skilled instrumental work with Andrija’s studio full of vintage mics, tube amps, keyboards, and tape machines, the resulting record has a rich, buttery warmth well-suited to Miss Tess’s voice and authentic, retro-contemporary songwriting style.
After over a decade on the road, now making her home in Nashville — by way of Baltimore, Boston, and Brooklyn — Miss Tess has found a creative community that encourages and embraces wide artistic exploration and expression as much as she does. Alongside Thomas (who’s been a full-time band member for seven years), local heavyweights like Dennis Crouch, John Pahmer, Jimmy Lester, Jack Lawrence, and Larry Atamanuik fill out the album’s liner notes, but the songs belong to Tess.
Throughout the record, Tess uses many of these songs to look at love from every angle she can think of, except the usual. There is the mysterious thrill of “One Little Kiss,” the quiet havoc of “If You Don’t Know How to Love Me”, the uncomfortable exhilaration in “Take It Easy,” and the deceptive psychedelic darkness of “Sugarbabe.” Of the latter, which initially takes the form of a traditional Piedmont-style blues, she says, “It might sound sweet at first, but the song actually speaks to an underlying intense sexual desire and yearning for someone who is either spreading their love around to many, or is simply gone. Despite these frustrations, you are still deeply obsessed.” The song then shifts into psychedelic overdrive with a swirling instrumental section that leaves the listener unsure of which way is up, or where the journey began.
As Miss Tess shows in every moment of The Moon Is an Ashtray, questioning the status quo while maintaining her unique identity and challenging our ideas of perspective, well, there’s nothing more defiant than that.