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Tattletale Saints - Interview with Tattletale Saints

07 Dec 2019 // An interview by Mike Alexander

The award-winning duo Tattletale Saints, Cy Winstanley and Vanessa McGowan, will be performing at the Auckland Folk Festival in 2020. They won a Tui at the New Zealand Music Awards in 2014 for their debut album, and then departed these shores before settling up stateside in Nashville, one of the music capitals of the world. They spoke to Muzic.net.nz’s Mike Alexander ahead of the release of their third album, Dancing Under The Dogwoods and an upcoming extensive New Zealand tour.

You’re back so soon, did you miss New Zealand that much?

Vanessa: Well, yeah we did! It's home and as much as we love living in Nashville it's hard being away too. A summer tour is the perfect excuse to come home.

What is it about this country that, having travelled, you would say makes it so unique?

Vanessa: I think the smaller size and remoteness of the country creates a really interesting situation for creative inspiration. Kiwis seem to constantly punch above their weight in all fields and for a country of under 5 million we've created some incredibly talented people. There's something about being from a small place at the bottom of the world that seems to make people work just that little bit harder and really dream big. And that combined with the classic Kiwi "can do" attitude means that more often than not, they succeed!

Your first concert when you arrive back is the Auckland Folk Festival at Kumeu. Have you ever been to Kumeu?

Cy: Many times! We both grew up in Auckland so ventured to Kumeu often. Frequently stopped there on the way to the Piha / Murawai beaches. Also, we played the Folk Fest in 2104 so… well acquainted.

It strikes me as a bit surreal as the headlining act is two-time Grammy Award winner Tim O’Brien, who has been very influential in your career?

Cy: Yes indeed, he was one of the main people that gave us the idea and the springboard to make the move to Nashville. As a musician too, he’s so groovy and such a unique voice in the bluegrass / folk realm, that it’s hard not to be influenced by him. Super chill dude too.

Do you normally play many festivals? It must be quite a different atmosphere to just being out on tour on your on?

Vanessa: We don't really, we've played a handful but our normal circuit is theatres, small clubs and bars.

Your New Zealand tour is pretty full-on. Twenty gigs in 27 days. What do you do to stay healthy and motivated when you are on the road?

Vanessa: We both work as sidemen in Nashville, which means being on the road the majority of the year, so staying healthy on tour is really just the same as how we stay healthy in life: exercise, drink water, sleep as much as possible, don't drink too much alcohol. We're pretty good at getting up a little earlier to make sure we get some exercise in before the travel starts for the day and we try to remind each other to make good food choices, though there'll definitely be some Burger Fuel and Monteiths Black being consumed on the NZ tour!

I gather there is a new album, Dancing Under The Dogwoods that will be released to coincide with the tour. The title seems to suggest carefree spring and summer days?

Cy: Very much so. That song was actually written when we first moved to the States, and the idea is that it’s also a sneaky love-making metaphor nestled in there too. There are many forms of dancing, you see.

The first single from the album Bobby Where Did You Learn To Dance has a Cajun feel to it? What was the inspiration behind it?

Cy: The song is very much a true story, I heard about a blind friend of mine learning to dance in a bar in Texas. I had the main chorus line in my head when I got the chance to visit the bar (The White Horse in Austin, TX) and there was a Cajun band playing. They were grooving on a very simple progression and I began humming the hook along with them and voila!

One song that might surprise a few fans is your cover version of Abba’s Dancing Queen. Can you remember where you were when you first heard it and what is it about the song that you love and what made you turn it almost inside out into something quite beautifully melancholic?

Vanessa: Dancing Queen is one of those songs I feel like I've just always known. It was released when I was just a kid so I just grew up hearing it on the radio and never really had to actively learn it. We were on TV3's 7 Days a while back and they asked us to choose a cover song to perform. We came up with Dancing Queen, but then someone else had just chosen it for another night, so we did something else on the show. In learning it though we found this slow, mournful approach, and the lyric started to feel like it meant something quite different. We fell in love with this different version and thought it was too lovely not to put on the album.

How does the songwriting process evolve? And do you ever come to loggerheads over a lyric or the structure of a song?

Cy: Usually in a fit of inspiration I will get a verse and chorus very quickly, along with the general harmonic shape. Then I will often (in fact, more often than not) get stuck. My time frame for completion is minimum of three months, usually around six or more. Often times my touring schedule doesn’t permit that I work on writing everyday but still… I am slow. Though I love attention to detail and the avoidance of cliche us much as possible, and those things take time! I always think of the Mainland Cheese ad when I’m writing: ‘Good things take time’.

Are you still based in Nashville and how has that impacted on you as songwriters and musicians?

Cy: Yes, we’re both still based in Nash and have been for almost 6 years now. It’s a very inspirational city on many fronts, I think just being around this many songwriters and hearing their output, be it either quality or throwaway, really encourages me to write more and make it the best it can be. As instrumentalists, our playing has really evolved too. The amount of musicians that we both play with and the high standard and efficiency of the gigs and rehearsals forces you to up your game.

Has it been hard as 'outsiders' to find your own place in the capital of country music or has it been welcoming?

Vanessa: Nashville is the most welcoming music scene I've ever been part of and I found it supportive and encouraging from day one. As long as you're genuine and real with your love and knowledge of a genre then musicians here don't care where you're from. I think if people can tell you're just phoning it in they might give you the cold shoulder (after the obligatory southern "Howdy" of course), but that's true of new American musicians turning up here too.

After New Zealand, what then?

Cy: I’m sticking around for a little vacation in Wanaka (where my family lives) then heading back to Nashville. I have a couple projects on the go and a good helping of side player work to keep me busy!

Vanessa: Yup, hang time with the parents and then back to Nashville to head back on the road for the US spring/summer.



Main photo credit: Natia Cinco

 

About Tattletale Saints

Tattletale Saints are a New Zealand based duo described as a “masterful blend of Americana fused with jazz, soul and pop”.

Formally part of London based band Her Make Believe Band, Cy Winstanley and Vanessa McGowan released their debut album AM Radio (Old Oak Music) in 2009 to critical acclaim both in NZ and in the UK, including Uncut Magazine UK who described songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Winstanley as “a potent songwriter with a voice gently reminiscent of Paul Simon” while vocalist/bassist McGowan “adds beguiling harmonies”. Graham Reid, New Zealand's foremost music journalist, described AM Radio as a "delightful album...hooks you in with melodies and keeps you there by virtue of the words...very sharp stuff".

Performing as a duo under the name Tattletale Saints, Cy and Vanessa present Cy’s songs in their rawest form, with just acoustic guitar, double bass and two voices. With voices described as “love letters between Amy Mann and a slip-sliding Paul Simon” they evoke the work of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings in their musical connection and full sound belying the duo’s size.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Tattletale Saints

Releases

Dancing Under The Dogwoods
Year: 2020
Type: Album
Tattletale Saints
Year: 2016
Type: Album
How Red Is The Blood
Year: 2013
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape

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