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The Unspoken Melodies of Tessa Rae's "Sweetly, Softly"

LA-based singer-songwriter Tessa Rae enchants listeners with her latest single, "Sweetly, Softly," released on February 14th. The tender track is a blend of whimsical indie-pop, inspired by the euphoric haze of new love.

With a touch of the fantastical woven into its timeless sound, "Sweetly, Softly" serves as the lead single from Tessa Rae's upcoming EP of the same name, set to debut later this year.

The song features mellow acoustic guitars paired with whispering strings, creating an ambiance of bittersweet melancholy. Tessa's evocative vocals effortlessly glide above the gentle instrumentals, capturing various conflicting emotions within its melody. In an interview with Intersect, Tessa unraveled her single and upcoming EP release.

Paige Strabala ©

“Sweetly Softly” was just released. It is inspired by the fever dream theme of falling in love. What's the main inspiration behind the song? 

I feel good. I've been sitting with this song for so long, like a year and a half, which is crazy. And I feel like I’m having some kind of small full-circle moment. It just feels nice to have it out in the world. This song was one of those moments when we weren’t trying to do anything. And the song just wanted to exist. And I say when I write a song I love, I almost like “blackout.” I have vague memories of writing the song, but I feel like the inspiration came from this place of purity. And to me, the song is about that moment when you fall for someone. And I think that emotion is hard to explain. And so this song, to me, feels like how this song sounds. So that was the inspiration.

The lyrics convey conflicting emotions. Can you elaborate on the different themes that led to the overall while you were making the song?

It’s like those exact feelings when you fall. It’s hard not to have a sense of trepidation, like thinking things will go poorly. And I feel like it's human nature to try to focus on the good but also have this voice in the back of your head saying, maybe it's not right, or maybe it'll all fall apart. And I think the song plays with the theme of just like realism but like it wants to stay in that fantasy. Most of the songs live in the fantasy genre, and there’s just a little bit of it because I like to overthink everything. I feel like that’s snuck into the song for sure, yeah, and when you were kind of taking the themes of your life and incorporating them into your song, the music video features contrasting visuals. 

How do these visuals complement the message that you wanted for the song?

We filmed at the beach, and he projected it back in the studio. I thought that it was fun to emulate the dreamy aspect of the song. And then we added moments of me alone on the beach. I didn't realize it till I watched it back, but I feel like being alone at the beach symbolizes the solitude and loneliness of when that person isn’t with you. 

“Sweetly, Softly” is the first single from your upcoming EP. What can listeners expect from the rest of the EP regarding visuals and musical style?

I'm further along with the music of the EP. I decided “Sweetly, Softly” would be a project long ago, and it's finally manifesting. I'm finally wrapping up these songs, and it feels so good. It tells a singular story from different perspectives; like I said, it feels full circle. I'm processing everything I was going through these songs. And so it's time to dream up the visuals for the rest. I have another video I'm sitting on. That's up in the air. I want to keep it in that dreamscape. 

When you talk about the dreamscape, it feels like you’ve explored various genres. What draws you to experiment with these styles, and how does it influence your creative process? 

I feel like I was always a chameleon. So. In sessions, I would always just be down for whatever. I was down for the ride and down to see what happened. And I love that you can get in the room with someone without knowing what will happen. But now I've honed it more, and I go into the room, and I'm like, this is the vibe.  I have really specific references, and I’ve always gravitated towards them. I don't know. When I came up with the name “Sweet, Softly,” it was just the softer side of me that I was ready to connect with more. 

Paige Strabala ©

How do you approach songwriting to ensure your authenticity as you navigate the phases of your life reflected in the genres?

Melody and lyrics are always simultaneous for me. But the most honest way for me to get the music out is for it to happen. It almost feels like I’m not in control, and I let something else take over. Then, I can sit back and appreciate it. But that just keeps everything super authentic and in the moment. 

What type of songwriter are you? Do you start with a poem, or do you start with, oh, this experience happened, I have to write it right now?

I love the idea of thin air. I’m saying in a session, it could literally be anything. And so I will sit down with the guitar 90% of the time and immediately start singing something. I always have the recorder on, and I’ll probably just take a six-minute voice memo and then listen to it, dive in, write it down, and try to capture it. 

Can you discuss your transition to writing folk indie pop in 2022 and how it impacted your current position?

I used to have no idea what to say when people were; what kind of music do you make? I always say indie pop, but that's so vague. And I love adding the folk thing to it because folk is another way of saying singer-songwriter. And it's always like the main label I've identified as, just like a songwriter, there goes the light. I know they're not going to turn on. Folk music is just when you listen to the artists like they're telling their story. And it's usually written from their perspective. It's not like many people got to make a song in a room. It's like there’s a human aspect to it that I feel like my music; I wanted to feel like that.

“Sweetly, Softly,” especially at the beginning, which almost feels like an instruction on how to love. What do you want listeners to take away from this song and the upcoming EP?

The EP surprised me because I wanted it to be this soft, sweet thing, and I tried to replicate that song but could not. It just wants to be its own thing. And some moments, it winds up, and then it settles back down. The last song is called Finish Line, and it’s symbolic of much that happened while I was writing this EP. Yeah, I like climaxes, and then it comes back down. But people, I hope people will get out of it, just like I said. I try to focus on being in the moment when I'm writing. I hope people react to that and like it because we all share similar experiences. 

How do you balance vulnerability within your work?

I feel like the people I work with know me better than anyone because that’s where I can be myself. I will just say anything, and it feels like a safe space. Once the song exists, I kind of disconnect from it, and whoever hears it will take away whatever they want. I feel like it doesn't feel so vulnerable anymore. 

Do you have anything to say to your listeners, fans, or people who have been following you for a long time?

It’s just been such a slow burn. I've been saying that lately. It feels like that.  I've had some people along this journey with me that I'm so grateful that they haven't because I kind of disappear for a little while, and I come back, and I’m just figuring it out. And so I'm just grateful for the people that are still here. I want them to know that there is this project coming up, and I'm excited to have them hear what I have been working on.


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