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Interview: Jess Cornelius of Teeth & Tongue

Interview: Jess Cornelius of Teeth & Tongue

Martyn Pepperell / Monday 22nd October, 2018 12:26PM

Now based in Los Angeles, Wellington-raised musician Jess Cornelius refined her skills as a songwriter, vocalist and instrumentalist in Melbourne with her acclaimed, genre-bending project Teeth & Tongue. From 2008 to 2016, she released four albums and used music as a way to explore the world, touring through Australia, Europe, the US and the UK, and connecting with audiences through song, humour and sentiment. Over her career, Jess has shared stages with Courtney Barnett, Vance Joy, J. Mascis, Laura Marling and Paul Kelly, performed at Meredith Music Festival, Laneway Festival, Falls Festival, SXSW, CMJ, MONA and Perth International Arts Festival, and released music through Captured Tracks, Remote Control and Dot Dash.

On Friday the 2nd of November, Jess is playing her first Wellington show in 17 years at Bicycle Junction. She will be joined on the night by French For Rabbits in their duo format. Having paused Teeth & Tongue to begin working under her own name, Jess will be presenting a set of minimal, direct, and emotive folk songs in the style showcased on her first Jess Cornelius EP, Nothing Is Lost. In advance of the gig, Martyn Pepperell asked her a few questions. Read their edited and condensed conversation below, and check out the Wellington gig details here…

Jess Cornelius - One New Zealand Show
Friday 2nd November - Bicycle Junction, Wellington, w/ French For Rabbits

Tickets available HERE via UTR

You moved to Los Angeles recently. What does community look like for you there?

I'm not going to lie and say L.A. is a magical dreamland. Of course, there are downsides, pros and cons, but it's a very very creative city. There are a million types of music happening. You could play any genre or non-genre, and there would be some other people doing it. I've found it very invigorating and accepting, and I’ve put a band together. The thing I've found the most incredible is the relationships I've made with Americans. The thing about L.A. is everyone is from somewhere else, which is I think why it's so easy to establish friendships here. You have people with a similar lifestyle who are creative and have to deal with the lack of security and all these weird things that come with being a freelancer.

Why did you decide to shift from recording and performing as Teeth & Tongue to using your name?

Now and then I wonder if I did the right thing. Even though Teeth & Tongue became more collaborative - and the sound was very influenced by the wonderful and committed people I was playing with - it was always a solo project. It probably would have been okay for me to make this record and keep using the same name. This is going to sound a bit trite, but I had this feeling I wanted to make sure I was being authentic in what I was singing about, and the music I was making. I wanted to say stuff that was important to me, and that idea of authenticity, it just worked better when I wasn't using an alias.

The songs on the EP are very direct. You're saying exactly what you're saying. Was that important?

Jess Cornelius: It's been funny hearing people’s feedback. There is that whole tag of "confessional", and it's so easy to get lumped in with that stuff. Confessional singer / songwriters, which is a tag that often gets applied to women. Here's the thing: I guess I have an issue with the term. This isn't me confessing. I’m not saying anything I don’t want to say. This is me sharing some human shit. If I say that I'm having this experience, then maybe you might be having it too? Maybe you think I'm crazy or deluded? Maybe you relate? It doesn't matter. It is what it is.

You’ve been playing shows in different bands for close to two decades. Do you ever wonder if it’s too late to do anything else but music?

I don't think it's too late to do anything else, but I think it's too late to stop. I would definitely do other things as well, but I can't imagine not doing music. I've spoken about this with other people because on the surface; you have to wonder about the benefits of being a musician. You have no job security, you work weird hours, and you don't make much money - especially now. So, after you put out a project, you can find yourself thinking, this is going to be my last record. I'm going to do something else. I'll keep making music, but I won't do it seriously. Then you start writing again, and before you know it, you're doing another record, and the whole thing goes around again.

Jess Cornelius is playing at Wellington’s Bicycle Junction venue on Friday the 2nd of November, with support from French For Rabbits. Doors open 7.30pm. For more details and to purchase tickets, click here.


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