When you hear a band described as being anything like Led Zeppelin you have to sit up and take notice. So that’s exactly what we did when the new Tess of the Circle single landed in our inbox this week.
The Oxford-based quartet is a musical collective built around the superb songwriting of Tess Jones and his ‘circle’ of musical friends. The band throws together multiple genres of rock, punk and folk and the result is this year’s debut album Amplify, a fascinating eclectic mix of music that keeps you on your toes not knowing what to expect from the next track.
The band has just released I’m Not Ashamed, the second track on their debut album. It’s a powerful, uplifting song that you might pop on if you’re having a bad day, with strong vocals and a very 90s rock feel.
It kicks off with Tess’ vocals over light guitar chords, which swiftly turn into a clean quick riff, and a strong bass line. After the first verse there’s a quick drum roll and the guitar kicks into life with a Red Hot Chili Peppers-esque riff and a second verse that leads into repeated calls of ‘I’m not ashamed!’ A cool high-pitched guitar solo lingers in the background as Tess’ vocals repeat the extended version of the chorus.
Take a listen for yourself in the video below:
But to leave this review at just I’m Not Ashamed doesn’t do service to the intrigue of Tess of the Circle. Every song on Amplify sounds different, has a different musical influence or a completely different musical style.
For example, the excellent rocky Digging At My Bones, with its highly enjoyable fusion of sliding guitar and bass riffs and cries of ‘Bones’ with big guitar chords followed by a big guitar solo, is followed by the singalong pop-rock acoustic track Face The Changes.
Intrigued to hear more about this eclectic group of musicians we caught up with Tess of the Circle this week and asked them to sum up the band’s approach.
“The aim was to mix genres of rock, punk, folk to try and make something fresh and exciting for music lovers out there. The songs on Amplify tend to be biographical or about people around us. Its the old case of “write about what you know.” Themes often cover love, loss, fragility, exhilaration but it all based in the real – four guys in a room playing with heart.
“Music is emotion fused with sound. It describes our lives, and punctuates life events. Ever since I was a child I just loved what music could say that even words alone could not – I wanted to be part of that.”
The band has drawn a wide range of comparisons, from musical similarities with Led Zeppelin through to bands that initiated the grunge movement in the early 90s. So we asked Tess for his take on their sound and who had been the band’s biggest musical influences.
He said: “It’s always interesting what people hear in our music. We’d say to a point the above bands are good starters in as much as we love 70s music and 90s rock. But you also have to try and find a way of pushing forward, I guess we see Amplify as almost like an alternate timeline in which grunge hadn’t died off so quickly – post Kurt Cobain’s death – and as if it had merged with some other influences old and new and continued into a new form.
“People tell us that we sound unique and that the album shouldn’t work due to its mix of styles, but that it does. I’m not sure it’s a unique thing about us specifically, but we absolutely emphasise that the song comes first: no egos, no dramas, just whatever it takes to make the song work. I guess our structure is pretty unconventional in that different people do different things – album, live etc..- but it makes it exciting to work on!”
Looking ahead to 2017 Tess of the Circle will be gigging their new album, including sub-headlining the Wooldlands stage at the wonderfully named Bearded Theory festival and Acoustic Festival of Britain, plus several to be announced festivals.
Tess told us: “It’s never been a better time to be a band, we control our own destiny but its also very hard to get the message out as the floodgates are open to everyone. I think for us we are so grateful for the national radio and press the album has got yet we feel that Amplify is still finding its audience, we don’t fit neatly into a genre so we constantly aim to find lovers of music rather than a certain type of fan. You’ll see us at hard rock festivals, acoustic festivals and even Ronnie Scotts! Our goal is to connect with people, to become an important part of their musical life.”
Tess is right that their music fits into all kinds of genres, so there’s a huge audience out there for them. I’ve seen hardcore metal fans saying how much they like this band, through to fans of classic rock, grunge, punk, acoustic and more loving their sound. The eclectic, unpredictable nature of their music makes them a refreshing and exciting band to follow.