Tattletale Saints Cy Winstanley (guitar/vocals) and Vanessa McGowan (bass/vocals) live and play in the musical stratosphere, Nashville Tennessee.
Now they are coming home for us and we will whistle and marvel at their success and we will know they deserve it.
For both Winstanley and McGowan, a career in music was always on the cards. But the pair, who describe themselves as essentially siblings at this point, have traversed a long and winding road to their current lives in Nashville. With the release of their third full length album under the band name Tattletale Saints, Winstanley and McGowan celebrate choosing a tough path, and conquering seemingly insurmountable obstacles to chase a dream. From living on three different continents together, to ending their romantic relationship before the release of their first album, their success has been hard won, but their new release, Dancing Under The Dogwoods leaves little doubt about the immense payoff from all the difficult choices they’ve made.
Originally from Auckland, New Zealand, bassist McGowan and guitarist and songwriter Winstanley met in high school where they played together in a jazz big band. Years later, McGowan was pursuing a masters degree in Jazz Bass at the University of Nevada Las Vegas when she came across Winstanley’s band on MySpace. He had moved to London seeing a more diverse music scene. Recognizing her old high school friend, McGowan reached out and the two reconnected. That December, they both returned to New Zealand for Christmas, and quickly realized that their reunion would be a life altering one.
After finishing her degree, McGowan moved to London and the two began gigging around the city and working on some of Winstanley’s original material. Gradually, their collaborations became more purposeful, and their band, Tattletale Saints, was born. But after four years in London, facing an existential crisis about their romantic relationship and the future of the band, the couple decided to move back to their home country of New Zealand to regroup. There, they made the painful decision to split up romantically, but wanted to continue their band.
“Both of us were scared to lose everything,” says McGowan, “we had put so much into the project.”
“Living in New Zealand, our livelihoods really depended on one another,” adds Winstanley, “it’s not easy in such a small scene to find people whom you connect with and really want to play music with.”
So the two forged onwards, and made plans to head to Nashville to work with producer Tim O’Brien on their debut album How Red is the Blood. Although things were difficult personally as they worked through their breakup, their gorgeous and introspective album went on to with the 2014 New Zealand Music Award for Folk Album of the Year, called a TUI award, the equivalent to the Grammys in the United States.
Complicated Man, a standout track from the album was also nominated for the APRA Silver Scroll songwriting awards for Song of the Year, alongside Lorde’s Royals. The band did a month long, largely sold out, tour of New Zealand in support of the album before relocating to Nashville, where they hoped their music could reach broader audiences. After months of preparation for the move and having spent thousands of dollars obtaining work visas, Winstanley and McGowan began the long process of re-establishing themselves and their careers. Winstanley found himself working room service at a hotel while McGowan took a job in the gift shop at a local whiskey distillery. Despite the many frustrations of the move, they found a welcoming community in the Nashville music scene and were able to start gigging and recording their second, self titled album which was produced by Josh Kaler.
In the past five years, Tattletale Saints have found their footing in Nashville, both now working full time as musicians, playing for artists such as Brandy Clark, Sugarland , Peter Bradley Adams and Aubrie Sellers .
“For me, Tattletale Saints is an opportunity to put my own creative stamp on something rather than working in someone else’s band” explains McGowan.
At the same time, Winstanley uses the band as an opportunity to showcase his original songwriting as well as production ideas.
“This is the first album we’ve produced by ourselves,” says Winstanley, “it’s very live and not overthought”.
In their music and in their lives, Tattletale Saints don’t bow to societal pressure. One of the album’s standout tracks, D.I.N.K. highlights the joys of being child free.
“Double income/no kiddies/living downtown close to the city/doing what we want/happy as a clam/money in our pockets/time on our hands,” the duo sings. The song feels so good that one wonders why anyone would ever want to have a family.
The pair seek the same carefree feeling in their music.
“Neither of us are trying to force the songs into any one genre,” says McGowan of the albums’ 10 tracks, which move from country and cajun influences to jazz and folk-rock with ease, and include a melancholy reimaging of ABBA’s Dancing Queen.
At its core, Dancing Under the Dogwoods is a triumphant album, celebrating endurance and fortitude. On the album’s closing track Here at Last Winstanley sings of seeing the light at the end of a long tunnel.
“There were times that we thought that it never would come/waiting on a train that never would run/burning up hope like a shot from a gun….Here at last, it’s here at last/the dream we had/is in our grasp….the years we gave/were not in vain”. The lines ring true not only for their personal journey but on a macro level as well.
“I was thinking about immense societal shifts” explains Winstanley, “How it feels when you’ve worked for something for so long as a community and it finally happens.”
On their third release, Tattletale Saints has come into its own. With thoughtful and minimal production, the album showcases the duos perfectly intertwined harmony vocals and Winstanley’s clever yet emotional songwriting. Their musicianship, while always masterful, feels relaxed on this offering, as though they no longer have to prove themselves. It is clear that Winstanley and McGowan have spent years working towards the creation of music that is organic, honest and effervescent, and with Dancing Under the Dogwoods, Tattletale Saints truly are here at last.
Written by Rachel Baiman