"It was very important to me that it was only myself and my brother on the record"
“We’re moving into a new phase, it’s time for a change of pace.” So Tess Roby tells me as she watches winter melt outside her Montreal window. “It’s a hectic time at the moment because I am in the process of moving apartments and everything is colliding. A lot of people get intense emotions at the seasonal change – sadness and happiness – but I think that is a good thing.” I tell her that we’re still waiting for spring to begin on the South coast of England, and she laughs. “My dad was British and I have been almost every year that I have been alive. I remember going once in late February and it was beautiful; it was a vacation from the long, cold Canadian winter.”
It was her father who inspired Tess’ debut album, ‘Beacon’. After passing in 2015 his British heritage and very being was lovingly carved into the crystalline and absorbing body of work that we’re discussing today. It’s a fascinating release for Italians Do It Better, a label more synonymous with sugar-rush Italo-Disco than hypnotic, Durutti Column-esque journeys of the soul. ‘Beacon’ is bucolic and faintly operatic beside the urban night drive of Chromatics and Glass Candy. Released on 4 May, all of Roby’s emotions are on course for a head on collision once again. “[My dad] was born in Wigan,” she tells me. “It’s funny whenever I tell anyone British he was born there they shout ‘Wigan!’ it’s the same expression every time. My grandparents moved to Parbold nearby and there is a town called Southport I know very well on the North West coast – you can see Blackpool from there.”
Sense of place is key to Roby and a cold Lancashire wind blows through every beat of ‘Beacon’. You can even sense it howling on the haunting ‘Air Above Mirage’, which signals the album’s closure. The work itself is named after the beacon that sits atop Ashurst hill in Dalton, a gloriously gothic looking watchtower looming over the English countryside, 600ft above sea level. In 1798 it would have raged with flames during the Napoleonic war, now it sits silently.
“Music can impose a landscape onto someone,” says Roby. “I think it’s really powerful when a performance can transport you to a place. There is this energy that runs through the album that was definitely a subconscious energy. I had the title of the album as soon as I was into the recording. I don’t even remember the moment that I named it, I just immediately knew. There are all these photographs from my childhood of my British grandparents and my parents at the beacon. I have never seen another structure or anything that looks like it and I am really emotional when I go there now. I didn’t realise that as a kid but as soon as my grandparents died and then my dad, whenever I go there now I instantly realise this place has such a profound meaning.”