Tess Henley and Don Was in the studio.
Courtesy of Core PR Group
Don Was has produced The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Mayer, and Bonnie Raitt, so when he takes on a little known artist, it’s a good idea to listen up. Enter the silky smoothness of Tess Henley, a vocalist-pianist whose classy brand of soulful R&B could hold up in any era of Was’ storied career.
Feb. 10 brings us Henley’s Wonderland EP, a four-song teaser of her potential. Was agreed to produce it after picking Henley out of the myriad entrants of Guitar Center’s Singer-Songwriter Artist Discovery Program. For a sampling of Wonderland, check out the exclusive in-studio video below:
And that’s not all: This week, we caught up with Henley and Was. The pair looked back on Henley’s recent network television debut, their common inspirations and what’s coming next.
So Don, what did you think of Tess’ Kimmel performance?
Don Was: What I took away from the performance is confirmation of what I felt from the Guitar Center things, in the studio, and listening to the finished record. Which is that she’s a world class singer who absolutely does not need any of the distractions that technology fuses into records. She can sit down at the piano and sing and it stands out; it’s a performance, which is really what we tried to capture in recording. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it anti-technology, but the technology is not only not a texture on the record, but the lack of it is a texture. It was really meant to demonstrate that Tess is an artist who really stands on her own. There’s real serious musicality going on. We’re thinking of things like (Stevie Wonder’s) “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life,” a record like that. I played her the Laura Nyro-Labelle record “Gonna Take A Miracle.” These are just records where the music leads and does everything. It’s the rare artist who can step in and do that. The Kimmel performance is icing in the cake, proof that she’s got it all going on.
Watch Tess Henley Bring Soulful Style and Steamy Piano Love to ‘Kimmel’
Tess, how do you think things went?
Tess Henley: I had a lot of fun. I don’t always get to play with a full band and singers. My brother played organ and my family flew in. It was a really special day. Friends came out. You try to not think about how it’s your national TV debut and millions of people are watching and you get one take. It was really exciting.
I’ve read online about how you two met, but how about a firsthand account?
Was: It was through the Guitar Center contest. I was a judge for that. Guitar Center probably received a thousand entries, people uploading videos. And they narrowed it down to the top 300. And I watched the top 300 and from that I picked finalists. Tess really stood out even among the last 10. She was wonderful. There was a final at a hotel café where everyone got up without a band and they had to play their own songs. She was a standout — you did “Wonderland” right?
Henley: Actually I did “Going Back” from the last album. It was another ballad.
Was: She was great. She had all the goods. Wonderful singer, wonderful writer, wonderful musician.
Don, you said when you first heard Tess’s voice you already envisioned the album you guys could make together. Describe to me what that vision was.