This week I had the opportunity to talk with one of my biggest musical inspirations, Tommy Lefroy, before their Austin show on Samia’s Honey Tour. The two-piece band of best friends, Wynter Bethel and Tessa Mouzourakis, bonded over their love of literature and experience in songwriting. During the stillness ensued by the onset of the pandemic, the duo rekindled from a distance and began producing music under the name of Jane Austen’s ex-lover – a nod to their literary influence and a satire of men’s effect on artistic expression. I sat down with Wynter and Tessa at Scoot Inn to talk Rivals (2023), SXSW, and writing.
Tessa: “…this is our first time playing in Austin, yeah”
Ashley: “I was so excited to see you announced your EP – was that yesterday?”
T: “Yeah, we released the track list yesterday”
A: “That was super exciting! Is there anything you can tell me about the upcoming EP?”
Wynter: “What do you wanna know?
Q: What was the writing process of Rivals like in comparison to writing Flight Risk from a distance?
T: What was really special about Rivals was this was the first time we got to really start the songs and produce them together in the same room. We started a lot of it in LA, last year, and then continued working on the songs as we went back to London and were moving around, making them in different places.
W: Rivals felt like a snapshot of a very particular time in our lives because Flight Risk we wrote over the course of a few years and it was kinda our separate stories combined. We had never lived in the same place so were just pulling our own original stories together and then, Rivals, we had just spent like a year together in London mostly building the project and working really hard and we were kinda pulling from shared experiences for the first time. We wrote it in a more contained environment and period of time, so it feels like this snapshot of what was happening in 2021-2022, whereas Flight Risk was like everything up until then. I think it feels different in particular that way. I think the next thing will feel like something else, it’s just the season we were in.
A: Is this the way y’all approached writing your second EP? Rather than releasing an album or a larger collection of the sorts, you have these little snapshots and themes you associate with your life – is that kinda how your writing process works, in segments?
T: Right, it’s natural that our lives and our experiences bleed into the music and into the writing. Also, you know, what we’re reading at the time. We’re definitely just influenced by the world around us, and you can see that in Rivals, we were kind of in a transient period; we were living in London, we were moving around a lot kinda playing shows for the first time as Tommy. It was a very busy time and we were definitely trying to work through a lot of things as they came. It was a tough season. I think the EP is reflective of that as well.
W: I think the way we’ve related to writing has changed a lot because we both started as songwriters writing for other people’s records, which in a lot of ways requires a more methodical approach, whereas when you’re writing for your own artist project you have like all the time, not really, but especially with Flight Risk, there weren’t any deadlines. We were just making this project for ourselves at first. It’s hard to know when it’s done because we’re producing it as well, so it’s easy to feel like you’re never done with it. I think for us, it feels like an honest depiction of what we’re going through at the time. That’s when we’re like, “ok, we made something.”
Q: How does approaching your albums with a theme work when combining your personal experiences?
T: We became friends partly because we had a lot of shared interests. Yeah, that’s what friendship is, you sit down and you talk about things you’re passionate about. And it’s a similar process with our writing. We definitely both are writers, first and foremost, so we take a lot of time apart to write poems and journal entries and whatever, so when we come together and we have different ideas and pieces we want to work from, it’s usually like we will both kinda find shared themes or things that we wanna talk about, or things that we’re both passionate about. There are certain lines that may speak to Wynter’s experience more than my own, but I think we just want to serve the song and story, so it is shared but there’s definitely little moments of the song maybe resonating with someone else more.
W: and I think with themes too, there’s some things that one of us might want to talk about, but usually the other one is close enough to understand their experience and we wanna help tell the story too. And other times there are themes that are so pertinent, like when we started writing “Dog Eat Dog” it was kinda our first experience of being artists and working with a community of other artists and being compared to other artists, and often we find that if you’re a female artist, you’re often compared to female artists just for the sake of being female artists, and I think we were very much living in that space and it was really topical and relevant to our experience, so even though there’s a lot of other themes in there throughout, sometimes things just come and it’s like, “yeah ok this is what we’re gonna write about because it’s happening right now.”
A: That’s very interesting to see your thought processes co-mingle! You said you write a lot of poetry and journal entries. How does your other writing influence your songwriting as a project together? What makes you know that you want to work together on it rather than keep it to yourself?
T: I think for me it’s like we talk a lot about themes and what Tommy represents to us as a duo, as a band, so I think I will definitely come across an idea or I’ll be writing out a poem that feels like, this is a story that I want to bring to Tommy and I want us to be able to tell. There are definitely certain things sometimes that feel like, I wanna keep close or I’m not ready to share, but I also think in a lot of ways for me Tommy has been a very empowering process and it’s really encouraged me to bring stories that are sensitive or that I’m working through to the project. And I think also having Wynter there as my friend and collaborator to lift it up is great too. I think it’s kind of an intuitive thing, we just kinda know when something is gonna work and when we wanna bring it to the other.
W: I think Tommy has a voice that is separate from either of our voices individually and I think that we talk a lot about themes we want to write. We talk to fans a lot. We meet a lot of people and talk about their experience and how they’re relating to the records and I think that also helps bring clarity to things. Tommy is a good platform to talk about certain subjects and then other things, yeah, maybe it’s too personal, or it doesn’t make sense, or it’s sonically different, because I think there’s kind of a distinctive thing were going for with Tommy that maybe our solo writings might be a departure from. It’s pretty instinctual but I feel like it’s pretty obvious what’s for Tommy and what’s for us.
A: Do you ever start writing together or is it always kinda bringing other pieces to the puzzle?
T: “Dog Eat Dog” kinda started like that. Wynter started playing a riff and we were both just playing a round over it in the moment, in real time. That does happen, definitely, it just depends on the day, what we are doing, how pressed for time we are.
W: I think the biggest difference with our experience of writings Rivals was, with Flight Risk we had so much time and with Rivals there was pressure, and there was a limited window of time when we weren’t on tour last year – or on the road – we played a lot of festivals and kinda one-off shows, but we were really busy with the live show and getting that component off the ground. So, there was only a short window of time we had to work on the record which was really different than our experience with Flight Risk because we spent the whole year living in it, working it all the time, so I think for those sort of constraints we’re having, we almost always start from pulling from poems or something we’re reading by someone else.
A – Is it hard to write on tour?
T – It’s hard to write to completion. We write bits and bobs and we’re always taking notes and highlighting and things in our books, but to like sit down and write an entire song, we haven’t been able to do it yet.
W – I think we like to compartmentalize. We prefer to write in moments of stillness and so much of our year is moving and moments of chaos and going somewhere else, going to the next place, but I think we still like to protect our writing time and have it be a separate thing where we’re in one place and it’s designated, but sometimes it’ll just fall out, that happens, too.
T – That’s always really great, I wish it was always like that
A – Are y’all excited for South by Southwest?
T – We’re really excited! We’ve never played before so were really looking forward to it!
W – We’re playing 5 different sets. We’ll post our schedule!
Wynter and Tessa will be spending time In Nashville with friends following the end of tour with Samia before heading back to Austin for SXSW! The band’s second EP, Rivals, is out now on streaming platforms! Stay tuned for coverage of Tommy Lefroy’s SXSW sets as I will definitely be in attendance.
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