Photo by Shervin Lainez

Tancred Finds Inspiration in the Horrors of War and a TV Teen Drama

"Tancred started out as a side project. My big three influences were the Cure, Portishead, and Letters to Cleo. I'd been listening to them since I was 11, and they always get me to want to write music," explains Jess Abbott, the onetime guitarist for the indie-rock band Now Now. "I named [Tancred] after a character in a children's book series. It was just to do something different. I had no intention of ever touring." But after leaving Now Now, the 27-year-old has made Tancred a full-time thing, and she's taking her songs on the road, including to Miami Wednesday, January 9.

Performing the songs live brought a new element to those first records. "They were very grungy and energetic, so I always make sure to play those songs live," she says. "We have a great band and lots of strings and textures I like to sample live."

Her newer songs, however, come from much heavier points of inspiration. She says Tancred's latest record, Nightstand, was influenced by one of history's darkest moments: the Holocaust. But if so, how could the single "Something Else" have a fun vibe and a video that nods to the CW teen drama Riverdale? "That song is the black sheep of the record. It didn't fit aesthetically with the emotional aspect of the other ten songs on the album, but it was by far the hookiest song on there, so we kept it."

Abbott decided the video should be an homage to her guilty viewing pleasure. "I watched that show begrudgingly. One episode in, I thought it was the dumbest thing I'd ever seen," she says of Riverdale. "But the surprising plot twists and high energy made it like candy for me — so bad for you, but it tastes good. I knew someone would do a Riverdale-themed video; might as well be us and put a queer spin on it."

The rest of Nightstand has darker vibes. Writing the songs for the album while on tour in Europe, Abbott listened to Beirut and Regina Spektor. "But I was more influenced by reading and watching documentaries on World War II," she says. "All the horrors of midcentury were getting in my head space. I immersed myself in history, and the songs became about timeless themes like love and isolation — how romance can make you feel less and more alone at the same time."

A visit to the Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen in Germany greatly affected Abbott's songwriting process. "It was a mass grave for tens of thousands of people," she says of the site. "The people running it just left, leaving the prisoners with no way out before American troops found them weeks later. It was lightly snowing while I was there, which made it so much more haunting."

The experience made everything else feel insignificant, she says. So it made sense that a wink at Riverdale might be a much better way to draw listeners in to her music.

Tancred. 8 p.m. Wednesday, January 9, at the Ground, 34 NE 11th St., Miami; 305-375-0001; thegroundmiami.com. Tickets cost $20 to $25 via ticketfly.com.

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