London based Tess Cunningham challenges the existing definition of the piano-based female singer songwriter, effortlessly blurring genre and style with her fearless compositions. Quirky piano and string arrangements sit upon an undertow of darkly menacing synth soundscapes and subtle time changes. Tess writes and composes without fear or favour, expressing often dark, passionate, sometimes heart on sleeve at others in your face truthful, lyrical, dynamism. Her songs are short stories to her life…..full of raw emotion and honest insight into the heart of a self.
Her debut EP ‘Let’s Compare Scars’ is a collaboration with experimental pop producer Marc Pell (Micachu and the Shapes, MAXIXE, Benin City)and is an introduction to this fully formed and prolific artist. Marc’s organic and inventive approach to production perfectly sets off the elaborate and imaginative songs on the EP. Although Tess refers to her music as pop, she has also used the terms “ballet rock” or “pianocore” to describe her sound.
Tess was born in Melbourne Australia. Her parents were both English teachers, and she developed a passion for literature from a very early age. The youngest of six, (Tess has five older brothers) she remembers growing up to a soundtrack of Led Zeppelin and the Beatles. She began classical piano and ballet lessons at eight and experimented with early composition and choreography spending hours at a time creating in her room. Tess’ professional career began at ten as a classical dancer, her introduction to the performance world came via the avant-garde and genre-defying choreographer Maurice Béjart, who she considers to be a primary influence. She still loves taking a classical theme and twisting it about and is inspired and, equally, ‘rebellious’ towards her classical roots. Leaving home while still a teenager to pursue a career in ballet, and no stranger to big stages, Tess found herself in London and made it her home. Branching out into other performance genres Tess appeared in Joel Schumacher’s Phantom of the Opera film before purchasing a keyboard and locking herself away in her tiny London room to focus on songwriting.
Tess has developed a unique ability to weave difficult and intense personal experiences into a surreal and colourful world of escapism in the form of a pop song. After writing and recording hundreds of songs in her bedroom Tess emerged to start performing live, just herself and keyboard at intimate acoustic nights around London. She eventually formed the short-lived band ‘Tess and the D’Urbervilles’ and more gritty performances followed on the London gig circuit in 2011/12.
Seeing her work as an entire concept, Tess likes to illustrate, choreograph and make a visual representation for her songs – she has made her own videos for each of the songs on her EP. Her wide ranging influences include surrealist and impressionist painters, to poets – William Blake and Emily Dickinson, Dr Seuss and Sesame Street, Nina Simone, Prince and The Pixies, authors Patrick White and Peter Carey.
Tess’ debut EP “Let’s Compare Scars” is a selection of songs from a large body of work and serves as a taster to this exciting new artist , and with an all new band line-up in tow, it promises to be a fascinating fusion of musical, visual and performing art.
You can catch Tess live at the Silver Bullet, Station Place N4 2DH on Dec 6.
Links : Soundcloud – https://soundcloud.com/tess-cunningham/sets/songs