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Tenci Interview

(Photo by Rachel Lessing)

Chicago based Tenci, is the folk project of Jess Shoman. Tenci has been making waves in the music scene since their debut album, My Heart is an Open Field, dropped back in 2020. Jess has a knack for translating raw emotion through experimenting with her voice and guitar. Songs like Earthquake, Joy, and Serpent showcase Jess's talent for communicating feeling through song. Tenci's debut album has been well received which is, with out a doubt, a testament to their amazing talent and hard work.We recently had the opportunity to talk to Jess Shoman of Tenci. Check it out!


Rapid-fire Questions

1. What have you been listening to recently?

Playing Piano for Dad - H Hunt

2. What has your grandmother been listening to lately?

Probably novelas, some sort of classical or Johnny Cash

3. Can I be your grandmother’s pen pal?

LOL - she can’t really write that well so prob not

4. Can you ask your grandmother if she can give me her best piece of life advice?

Don’t even trust your own fingers - passed down from her grandmother haha take what you will from that

5. What are you currently looking forward to?

Recording new songs

6. What is the worst soda flavor combo?

Hmmmm not sure, but I bet root beer and orange soda

7. Last song that you cried to?

Please Don’t Bury Me - John Prine

8.Whis does it cost $57,000 to park anywhere in downtown Chicago???

Greed and selfishness!

9. If your album “My Heart Is An Open Field” was a soundtrack to a movie, what kind of movie would it be?

Maybe some sort of whimsical felted, stop motion

10. On a scale from 1-10, how much do you regret agreeing to do this interview?



To start things off, can you introduce yourself?

Hi, I’m Jess!

When did you first get involved in music?

When I was about 14 or 15

Was there a moment or anything in particular that inspired you to start writing and recording your own music?

I think it was just a really great outlet for so many complex emotions, really the best way for me to process through life’s trials. It feels very therapeutic for me and I think it just feels necessary and inherent to my spirit.

What was it like coming up in the Chicago music scene?

Well, I grew up in the North Suburbs of Chicago, which the music scene there was a lot of Pop Punk and Hardcore - which I fully indulged in at the time. I didn’t really start in the Chicago music scene until about a few years ago, and it’s been such a whirlwind of excitement and I’ve felt really lifted up and embraced by the community here.

Was it difficult for you to find a place in the Chicago scene?

Not really, I felt pretty welcomed right off the bat

What kind of music did you grow up listening to?

When I was younger I would listen to alot of Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilara, Britney Spears.. Stuff like that. Anything with a strong female vocalist. That’s where I started to realize my love for singing. Then as I got older I listened to a lot of different things, started with tons of really bad emo music and then that grew into listening to more folky artists like Sufjan Stevens, Elliott Smith, Iron & Wine etc.

You were on Audiotree live this year! What was that experience like?

Omg it was so so fun!! One of the highlights of the year for sure. Felt like we were playing a real show again, even though the audience was still online, I think just all being in the same room and having a sound crew made it feel real. That was the first day of quarantine that didn’t feel like quarantine.

Something that really stands out to me about your music is how you’re able to translate emotion not only through lyrics, but through your voice and instruments as well. Is that something that just flows naturally or is it something you spend a lot of time experimenting with when creating a song?

Thanks! That’s definitely something that’s very important to me. I love to experiment with the personification of instruments and imagine what they would sound like if they could communicate feelings. Sometimes it's hard to pinpoint exactly what emotion I am feeling and doing that through the bend or screech of my guitar or a heavy shake in my voice brings me one step closer.

I read that your band is named after your grandmother! What does she think of your music?

She loves it! She hasn’t really given me a full review, but I can just see that she is so proud. She just loves to hear me sing and play guitar, and is always asking me to do it for her. I think she would be proud of anything I make which is a great feeling.

Talk to us a bit about your latest release “My Heart Is An Open Field”

My Heart Is An Open Field is about the wavering feeling of laying everything out in the open where sometimes dormant memories bubble up to show their faces. It’s about picking at your own knots and scabs and eventually joining yourself in an honest and present form.

I read that Spencer Radcliffe helped you with the recording of the album, what was it like getting to work with Spencer?

It was fun! If Spencer hadn’t offered to record some of my demos at the time, I’m not sure I would have made that step into recording an album so quickly. Spencer had been playing some Tenci shows and so I knew I really trusted him, because he had already contributed some parts and is such a great musician. I felt that he really believed in me as a musician when I didn’t really have a ton to show for myself yet, and I’m so grateful for that. He was really patient with the loose process and really helped me through recording for the first time. Sometimes he would offer advice for how we could slightly tweak things without ever being pushy! I really felt like I had the space to explore.

You mentioned in a previous interview that the process of recording the album was a bit rushed. (Which is crazy because of how good it is.) What role do you think that ended up playing on the album?

I love that it was rushed. I think it really plays into the spontaneity and purging feelings the album gives off. We spend so much time second guessing ourselves and trying to make things perfect, when what if they are supposed to just come into existence as they are? I think it’s beautiful to keep things imperfect, and not to overwork - that’s how life is anyway.

It’s hands down one of my favorite albums of the year. I’ve seen a lot of positive responses to the album online. Is there a sense of pride or accomplishment knowing that it has been so well received, or is that something that you don’t really pay attention to?

Yes absolutely!!! I can’t believe it to be honest with you. This being my first release, I didn’t really expect the response that it has gotten. Truly makes me swell with pride and makes me feel so grateful to have been able to share a part of myself with the world.

Was there anything in particular you were listening to while making the album?

I had just recently discovered Arthur Russell’s “Love is Overtaking Me” and had been listening to that religiously. Lot’s of Karen Dalton, Jessica Pratt, John Prine, Michael Hurley, Mulatu Astatke and lots more I’m not remembering.

What do you want your listeners to take away from your album?

The courage to become friends with deepest and scariest parts of yourself, to give yourself openness, truth and peace.

One of my favorite songs from the album is “Earthquake” can you give us some background on that song?

Earthquake is about that ache when you recognize a feeling or a person starting to fade. As you desperately grasp to keep them close - It’s that aftershock jelly feeling in your legs, the same type of feeling you might get when you feel something or someone you love slipping from your hands.

Were most of the songs on the album songs or ideas that you had been working on before?

A few of them were - but a lot of them were written just before recording and some were half written and finished during the recording process.

How did you deal with writer’s block or distractions while working on the album?

The only song I had writer’s block on was the title track, because that was the only one I had planned for the album, so that one took a few tries to get to a good place. All of the other songs literally poured out of me. But, I just would write a version, and put it away for a week, come back to it, turn it upside down and try to look at it from a different angle. I didn’t really do anything specific, but practice patience and let it come to me slowly.

When you’re writing, do you sit down and push yourself to get things done, or yourself or do you just go with the flow?

I usually just go with the flow, I try not to push myself because I find when I do I don’t enjoy it as much or like what comes out of it

What are your ideal conditions for creating? Do you have a favorite place or time of day?

It varies, I feel like I work best at night, and just need a soft place to sit - doesn’t matter where. Oftentimes a lot of inspiration comes to me when I’m in the shower or on the bus or on a walk, when my mind is wandering.

What does “success” look like to you as far as music goes?

Ultimately I just want to keep making and sharing my music, playing shows with my friends and hopefully music can take me to different parts of the world someday. Would love to just make as much music as possible until I die.

Do you have any other creative outlets other than music? (if so, where can we check that out?) Yes! But, don’t really have anywhere you can see them. I love to cook, food is a huge passion of mine and recently have taken up knitting and pottery.

I know that your tour got cut short last year because of Covid, but are you planning on touring for this album when touring is possible again?

Yes, definitely.

Is there any musical accomplishment that you’re most proud of?

It was pretty surreal to hear “Joy” on NPR

Are there any bands or artists that you think are doing something cool or interesting in their music currently?

Really like Frank Consent’s music and everything they create!

What can we expect to see from Tenci in the near future?

More songs : - )

What is something that most people wouldn’t know about Tenci?

Everyone in the band also has their own incredible band!

Thank you for taking the time to do this! Looking forward to hearing more from you in the near future!


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