Interview by Jana Letonja

LA-based indie-pop artist Tessa Rae is sharing her tender new single ‘Sweetly, Softly’ today, on Valentine’s Day. A bold and adventurous creative, Tessa has crafted compelling pop music through a multitude of stylistic lenses before settling into a sweet spot writing folk-tinged indie-pop in 2022. 

Tessa, today you’re releasing your new single ‘Sweetly, Softly’, a delicate piece of whimsical indie-pop, inspired by the fever dream of falling in love. Tell us more about what inspired this single.

Once in a great while, a song will tell you exactly what it wants to sound like. This was one of those rare moments where the song led the way. I have vague memories of writing the lyrics with my producer and recording the vocals at his studio. Putting the pieces together felt effortless. It’s almost like I blinked and the song was finished. The message of the song felt so pure there wasn’t much room to overthink it. 

Why did you decide to release it on Valentine’s Day? What meaning does love have in your life?

Though I can be quite cynical when it comes to love, I am also a hopeless romantic and have always wanted to release a great love song on Valentine’s Day. Love can feel like a guiding compass, something to fixate on, and luckily for me, an endless source of inspiration, for better or for worse.

You’ve crafted compelling pop music through a multitude of stylistic lenses before settling into a sweet spot writing folk-tinged indie-pop in 2022. What is it about indie-pop that makes you connect with it so much?

I can be quite the chameleon when it comes to collaborating, which has led me down some interesting paths. But at my core, I love a good story. I grew up on songstresses like Hope Sandoval and Fiona Apple, women who tell their stories unlike anyone else could. This space has always felt like home and it feels nice to be settled here.

How would you describe your development as an artist?

It often feels like a very layered slow burn. I think of myself as quite sheltered and naive as a young girl. Though I grew up in LA, I went to a very small school and didn’t grow up in the city. I didn’t start taking music seriously until college when I met a few producers and started  learning who I was as an artist.  I’ve given my all to my craft and though it can feel lonely at times, the baby steps can feel quite rewarding. 

You are known for your eclectic genre-melding style and raw songwriting ability. What usually inspires you when songwriting? 

Lately, I like to use songwriting as a tool to get to the bottom of certain emotions and experiences. The words find themselves in my head and onto the page, and I’m like “Yes, that’s exactly what this feels like.” There’s something so satisfying and powerful about interpreting life through art in that way.

Has music always been your passion? When did you know you wanted to create it?

Being a songwriter has always felt like part of my identity. I remember in class I would space out and write poetry. I’d go home and sit at the piano day after day writing songs. I still remember the good ones.

If you had to pick only one artist, who would you love to collaborate with the most?

I’m a huge fan of Youth Lagoon. I discovered him on a playlist earlier this year and was blown away by his voice and the soft power it carries. I got to meet him at his LA show and felt like quite the fan girl. I just think his songwriting is one of a kind and I respect what an integral part he plays in the entire process. 

We all have someone who is our idol and inspiration. Who is yours, not necessarilly only from the music industry, but in life in general?

My mother is an incredible inspiration. She’s great at giving advice and runs her own vintage clothing company, yet still finds time to be my best friend and biggest fan. She can even carry a tune. My father was also an amazing artist,  a poet and a painter. I think I got some of my spark from him. 

When you are not songwriting or working on new music, what are your other passions in life?

A lot of my passions are in an effort to find some sense of peace in such a hectic world. I love practicing tarot, journaling, spending time with my animals and playing guitar.

‘Sweetly, Soflty’ is the title single from your upcoming EP. What else can we expect from you this year?

I promised myself this would be the year I let go and share part of my story through this project. I find it difficult to open up when every part of the process has felt so internal, but a lot of this EP is about learning to let go and opening up to greater possibilities in life and in love, so it’s only right I share it with the world. 

Photographer Paige Strabala