Tess Stevens and Gideon Berger of the Californian Punk Band Tess & the Details Discuss Their Debut Album, “Runaway”

Since she was ten years old, Tess Stevens wanted to be in a band. However, the opportunity never arose for her, and she spent her early career as a solo artist. “Being a solo artist is a very different mindset than being in a band, and I’ve always wanted to be in a band but, for some reason, people always wanted me to be by myself,” Tess tells Post-Burnout. “When you’re by yourself, everything is on you, and you’re kind of in the dark, going, ‘Eh, does this look good? Is this fun? Does that look right? Does that sound right?’”

Tess’s music was inspired by the punk, skate punk, pop punk, and melodic hardcore that she grew up with. “All of our songs stand alone on an acoustic guitar,” she says. “Like, you can play it with just the vocal and acoustic guitar and you’re not missing anything. And I think a lot of that, and the skate punk, pop punk, straight up punk rock kind of place that we sit in, it overall relies on melody and writing things that are relatable and true.”

Wishing to record some of the songs she wrote, Tess began shopping around for producers and landed on Jacob Light at ModernTone Studios in Lafayette, California.  “It’s funny; I researched a bunch of recording studios around me – like, in the three or four cities around me – and I had interviewed a few guys,” recalls Tess. “And by the time I got to Jacob – again, right when I got in the room, once I saw his studio and how he operated – he heard the songs and didn’t just listen to them and go, ‘I’ll take your money and record!’

“No; ‘I hear a part here’ or, like, ‘This song would be great with this,’ and the fact that he had constructive things to say about the music – aside from, ‘It’s great,’ and ‘I like it,’ and ‘I want to work on it’ – was why I went with him. And a few weeks after we started talking, he’s like, ‘I know this guy. He plays drums, he’s a good friend of mine, and I think you guys would click.’ Because I originally was going to play drums on my EP, myself, and I’m very mediocre, so I was like, ‘Yeah, I’d rather not! Cool!’”

This drummer friend was Gideon Berger; a seasoned musician best known for his work in Israel’s most famous punk band, Useless ID. “Jacob is one of those people when he tells you something, recommends something, offers you something, you listen!” says Gideon on why he decided to get involved. “And we also have a really honest relationship, so when he reached out to me and he was like, ‘Hey, this girl just walked through the door. She has a bunch of songs. This is good. You need to A) Check it out and B) She needs drums, so you want to play drums for this. And, again, when Jacob calls you, you pick up the phone!

“And, indeed, me and Tess connected, and she sent me the demos and I was like, ‘I agree with everything! [Laughs] This is good. The music is good. The vocals – like, the melody itself – is perfect. The lyrics made sense. It’s very sophisticated, yet approachable.’ And when I got in the car and drove to the studio and met Tess, I was like, ‘OK, cool. We’re having a laugh. This is awesome, this is working.’ And, from there, the whole Details started rolling from that point.”

After gelling together, the two initially began releasing music under Tess’s name. Their first releases started coming out just as the COVID-19 lockdowns were beginning, yet they adapted to this new environment. Tess Stevens was actually the first project which Gideon wrote songs for, and he created a home studio during this time to record and work on tracks remotely, which he continues to use to this day. When not working on songs, Tess began using social media to showcase the band while they were unable to play live shows.

Seemingly on a whim, Tess decided to upload a video to TikTok where she explained the lyrics to her then-recent song “Patient 139,” and she suddenly saw how much it resonated with a lot of the kids of today. “TikTok was a weird thing,” says Tess, “because I was like, ‘Should I…?’ I don’t know. I saw people singing on there, like doing covers and talking about stuff, and I was like, ‘I’m bored; I could do that for a little while.’

“And I posted this video explaining the story behind the song, which is gnarly, and all these kids were like, ‘Me too!’, ‘I get this,’ ‘I understand this,’ ‘Thank you so much,’ ‘Oh, my God. It sounds like this band,’ or ‘It’s bringing me this nostalgia,’ or ‘Why don’t people make music like this, anymore?’, and I was like, ‘OK, there’s something here. People want this kind of sound, which is cool.’ I mean, I’d make it, regardless of whether people wanted it, but it was really encouraging and it opened up this floodgate of ‘We could have something here.’”

In the past year, with the additions of Dustin Galecki on lead guitar and Lawrence Hood on bass, they have rechristened the project as Tess & the Details. Explaining the name, Tess says, “’Canary’ was one of the first songs we wrote together, and I was blown away by the amount of detail. Like, we call our band The Details, because we obsess over everything! [Laughs]”

When it comes to their music and goal, Gideon says, “It’s a mixture of experienced people – people who have done this before – but it’s a new band. It’s a young mindset, it’s a new attitude but we really appreciate the history, the tradition, bands that put out the blueprint for this. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel; we’re never going to say, ‘Our genre is so innovative.’ No, we’re like an old car. We’re just cleaning it up and trying to make it tighter and more efficient, but, again, it’s an old-school car; an old-school muscle car, in a way.”

The cover to Runaway
Courtesy of Reybee, Inc.

Last month, Tess & the Details dropped their debut album, Runaway. “We hope that when people listen to it, they get the experience that you [the interviewer] had,” says Tess of the album. “Which is like, ‘There’s something nostalgic about this’ – because it’s classic, right? It’s timeless – but there’s also something new about it, because there’s a bunch of stuff that is colliding on this record that doesn’t necessarily always go together. Like, R&B vocal runs don’t normally go on top of D-beat! Like, you don’t really hear that. [Laughs] So, there’s some little things that we have going that feel very ourselves, but they’re always trying upon, ‘We don’t need to reinvent the wheel and then run ourselves over with it.’ Like, we’re not trying to make it too complicated.”

The band are currently working on their follow-up album, which Tess says is making her a much more outward-facing songwriter. Before then, this Friday they have an upcoming release show for Runaway at the legendary San Francisco club Bottom of the Hill, before taking a break before the New Year. While they don’t know what the future holds, Gideon says, “We’re going to appreciate every time we’re getting up on stage and people are enjoying it. We’re going to appreciate every time we’re connecting with people who are having fun listening to our music. We’re focusing on the journey, not so much on the goals. Like, the path itself is what we’re excited about.”

Tess & the Details’ debut album, Runaway, is out now.  You can buy the album, see live dates, and find the band’s social media links on their website. You can find tickets to their Bottom of the Hill show this Friday here.

You can check out our full interview, where we expand on the topics discussed in this article, and also talk about what people can expect from their album launch show, punk, their upcoming tour with Swingin’ Utters, their idea of success, fan reactions on social media, and more:

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