The story behind Tess Buckley

Interview by Christophe Sam

Coming off her first EP “Percentile” and having recently made her musical comeback with her single, “Heavy Shoes”,  KUMO interviews the lovely, Canadian native singer, Tess Buckley. From Ontario, Canada, the young artist performs both covers and original music in styles such as Jazz, indie and soul.

Tess worked on a beautiful rendition of “Blind, Meet Day ”, exclusively for the collective, before leaving to London from Montreal, a city that has inspired and driven her to greater artistic heights. Diving into her world throughout this interview, it will be hard not to get attached to her angelic voice and personality.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us how you got into music?

I’ve been singing forever, and was trained in both classical piano and percussion. Family is everything, and I was lucky to grow up in a very creative one – surrounded by music, dancing, and visual art. My grandpa loved Jazz music, specifically Billie Holiday (she is my favourite), while my Nana loves celtic music, she is from Ireland; a wonderful harpist, Irish dancer, and soda bread baker.

Aside from music I also danced growing up – Ballet, Pointe, Hip Hop, lyrical and Modern Jazz – this background allowed me to appreciate the movement that sound inspires.

A turning point in my love of music was grade 5 – I had just moved to a new school and decided to audition for ‘Jazz Choir.’ It was the first-time music challenged me, I loved it.  Jazz found me at the perfect time and has had a strong influence on me as a musician and a person. Despite the technicalities of the genre, it is a place for freedom; to tell and share stories, specifically those of lived hardship. 

 

Tell us more about how you ended up doing what you do now … And how would you describe where you’re at now?

Throughout middle school I was focused on consuming – consuming as much music as possible, listening and learning. 

In highschool, my focus shifted to performing – in Jazz Choir, concert bands, gigs in Toronto, Galas or fundraisers, basically anything I could sign myself up for – on piano, drums and vocals.

In my final year of highschool it was time to apply to University – the ‘Big Split.” At the time, I was choosing between Jazz Performance and Musical Therapy at Berklee in Boston or a Bachelor of Arts at McGill. I decided on McGill, as I aspired to develop other parts of myself, rather than niching to only music. The prospect of institutionalizing my art was at the forefront of my mind – I didn’t want to make music something that I “had” to do, but rather what I “chose” to do.

In University I was focused on producing – events, and songs. 

I worked with Ecole Publique on traditional and experimental events, organized charitable music events with Jam for Justice and produced at CKUT radio station. Finally, I released my six track EP ‘Percentile’ about a year ago now – that was a two-year journey. 

Where am I now with my music? When I move to London I hope to perform. I have a bank of songs, but I am not in a rush. For me, music is always ongoing; it is my emotional outlet. I feel grateful to have been able to share these six songs and I plan to share more in the future – when I am proud of them and when they are ready to meet the world.

How did you start opening up about your music? What was your first show? your first release? 

I feel I was always open with music around my family; I started to become ‘that music kid’ more in high school, lost it a bit in first-year university and found it again second (thank goodness). 

First real show: age 15, a local bistro in Oakville called Johnathon’s.  

The first release, February 18th, 2020 – Percentile (EP)

I felt so much love on this project, and my biggest emotion was pride. I will say that it was released right before corona  so sadly the launch party and all planned gigs to perform/promote it got cancelled – I hope to perform it properly someday.

What inspires you and your music? 

Philosophy, Travel, Concerts, Jazz Standards, Fashion, Procrastination, Lived Hardship, Unspoken Frustrations. 

What does your musical process look like?

  1. Chords on piano/someone sends me a track
  2. loop track or chords until I know it inside out 
  3. start voice memo and attempt to scat on top/freestyle lyrics 
  4. add it to the pile and overtime keep reworking words, and structure
  5. score it (add brass, bass, percussion, etc.) and attempt to translate/sing that to a producer. 

 

How hard is it to find a balance between music, university, work and your social life? 

Music is what allows me to balance, so it is never a challenge to make time for it. I actually know something is very wrong when I am not singing – usually, because I am drained or scared of what subconscious thoughts may come out while singing. 

 

The biggest challenge for me has been deciding at what level I want to pursue music. I have a tendency to pour my time into several separate things because I have many passions. I think we all have the same energy potential, but I feel we have a tendency (me included) to waste it in a dozen little ways. I find balance when I set structure with spontaneity – meaning I have a mission, outlet and energy source. The goals I set, long-term and short-term are my structure; and my outlets and energy sources are the spontaneity that keeps life interesting.

One defining moment in your young career? 

The wrap up of recording day for Percentile, 8am – 7pm on July 30th.

‘Blind, meet Day’ is the most personal song on my EP – it was the first song I wrote and last I recorded for this project. At the end of the day, it was just me and my piano. 6 originals and 3 covers later I sat at the piano for my final take – it ended where it had first begun. 

 

What’s next? music-wise? Personally? 

Musically – hoping to develop some singles, with associated visuals and release them this summer/fall.

Personally – A MA in Philosophy and Artificial Intelligence.

Perhaps find a means to merge AI and music?

 

Do you feel like there is a wave of talented young artists around you? And how do you fit into it all?

There are 100% waves of talented young artists coming – always and forever.  The way that we share our content and craft will shift as technology does.

Around me? – Yes, in Montreal, less so when I am in Oakville and hopefully a yes in London.

How do I fit? – Lately, I have been working more behind the scenes on creating events and then booking other talents (which I have loved), lots of learning through that. In the future, I plan on focusing more on collaborations and performing. 

 

Finally, who would you love to collaborate in Music, Visual Art & Design?

Music – Joy Crookes, Olivia Dean

Visual Art – Jack Peros, Mugler 

Design – Neil Harbisson

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