Miss Tess on the Virtues of Pho and the Realities of a Life in the Music Business

July 14, 2015

Tell us about your tour vehicle.

We are on our third touring vehicle, which is a 12 passenger Ford van. I got it used, but it only had 9,000 miles on it so it’s been generally pretty good. Our only breakdown was when we were making the climb down from Mt. Shasta in Cali and realized the van was smoking in the midst of listening to a transcendental Bill Frisell album. Rear differential fluid leak.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

Instead of going out to breakfast every day, often we just make a trip to the grocery store and get fruit, yogurt, and any other snacks for the day. Also I’ve found Vietnamese food (Pho – yum!) to be a great road stop for something cheap, healthy, and filling but won’t weigh you down. It seems like there’s always a Pho joint in some strip mall right off the highway.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

I’ve only broken one guitar string ever and only replace mine about once a year. I like the thump of deader strings on my archtop and don’t really beat the shit out of the guitar. Most of my $ is spent on bridge adjustments and setups, due to changing climates, humidity, and temperature.

Where do you rehearse?

I just moved to Nashville and have a rehearsal space in my very own basement. It’s great!

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

“One Rainy Day”…I go outside because it’s raining…watch raindrops falling off the rooftops…I don’t need a raincoat I keep walking and walking

Describe your first gig.

My first time on stage I was 12 or 13 and sang a few jazz standards with some of my parents’ friends. Growing up in a musical family sometimes they really want to get you involved.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

My last day job was a landscaper. I really liked everything about it, being outside all day and feeling liked you put a solid day of physical work in. The only thing that was tough was being at work at 7:30am.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

I’ve only been taking a band on the road for the last 8 years or so. I still remember that first band tour when we did twelve shows with another band, and all eight of us crashed on the floors of peoples’ living rooms all over the southeast. I paid my bandmates each $300 for two weeks of road work, and found myself in the hole. Nowadays sometimes I actually make money too! I would hope to be more financially stable in years to come, but I’m not sure that’s a reality for many in the music business, especially relying solely on tour income.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

Nothing. If someone told me how much work and sacrifice it would be, I’m not sure I would’ve had the gumption to follow through. That being said I have no regrets and have learned a lot by blindly throwing myself toward this thing.


Rooted in swinging blues, throwback country, and rockabilly music, Miss Tess & The Talkbacks has proven to be one of the most exciting acts on the blossoming Americana scene, winning fans from New York City to New Orleans and Alabama to Alaska. Over the years they have shared the stage with the likes of Lake Street Dive, NRBQ, The Holmes Brothers, Eilen Jewell, and Todd Snider. The band has graced stages at Blissfest, Cayamo, Clearwater Jazz Holiday, Floydfest, Ossippee Valley Music Festival, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, Burlington Jazz Festival, and Green River Festival. Miss Tess’s music has been heard from coast to coast on tastemaker programs such as XM/Sirius’s The Loft, NPR’s Folk Alley, Santa Cruz’s KPIG and Boston’s WUMB.

Miss Tess’s most recent releases include the digital single “One Match Fire” and the 2013 ep The Love I Have For You, both via Signature Sounds.

You can find Miss Tess online and on the road.