Jessica Tanner may not be an actual astronaut, but she definitely is an explorer of the creative kind.
Music lovers can follow her journey by way of her new album, Antares, which was recently released on multiple platforms. It’s a project that she has mapped out for several years, and with the pandemic restricting everyone’s activities, it seemed like a good time to record it.
“Music has kind of always been in the background of my life,” Tanner says. “Some of the songs on this album I had written the lyrics for, or had a rough outline of, as early as 2015.”
She admits that she has pursued many creative endeavors — sketching, writing, to name two — and never tried to develop them into a serious part of her life. “I didn’t want music to go the same way. Especially working from home now, and since my boyfriend is a musician and he moved in with all this gear. I thought, ‘Well, I have the material and the time, so I may as well try to put something out and do everything I can to finish it. At least I will be able to say that I took it the whole way.’”
A Tucson native, Tanner moved away with her parents to the Phoenix Valley area when she was very young. She returned here to attend the University of Arizona in 2015 and stayed on after graduating. As a child, she dreamed of being involved somehow in the space program (therefore the Asphalt Astronaut name), but she was dissuaded by the amount of complex math required to get a degree in engineering or one of the other applicable sciences.
She chose instead, almost on impulse, to study architecture, and after graduating she landed a job as a construction manager. Nevertheless, she says that she has long leaned toward expressing herself on paper and through song. She hasn’t always been comfortable letting others listen, however.
“I barely started singing in front of my mom two weeks ago!” she notes with a laugh. “I’m definitely more of a car singer or bedroom singer. When I was about eight, and I heard some song on the radio that I really liked, I would whisper-sing it in bed. I wanted to sing it, but I was embarrassed. And I’d hear my mom at my door, ‘Can you please go to bed?’ I think that was the closest she got to hearing me sing until very recently!”
But once listeners tune into her voice on the 10 tracks of Antares, they’ll wonder why she’s been so shy. She matches a smooth, melodic, soothing sound — a little like Cat Power — with the ability to subtly punctuate her lyrics, giving depth to her observations.
The second song on the album, “The Panhandler,” sprang from an encounter that Tanner had with a homeless person. “One day I saw a man holding a sign that said something like, ‘I go 24 hours a day being ignored,’” she notes wistfully. With a lyric that trails off on the line, “don’t you ignore me, too,” Tanner turns a powerful lens on a part of humanity that we have pushed into the corner.
Although there is much self-reflection in the songs, the lyrics are so universal in significant ways that listeners will find themselves profiled in pieces like “Grown Up Now,” and “Shadow Self.”
The title track, although a departure in its content, is still both personal and easily relatable. “I chose ‘Antares’ as the title because the project is sort of ‘space-themed,’ I guess you could say,” she elaborates. “I started writing the title track, which was inspired by my mom and my boyfriend’s mom, people who have been caretakers for many years, and suddenly they are empty nesters. It’s a question of, ‘What do you do now?’ and that felt important.
“A star that’s about to explode in a supernova is a romantic, beautiful idea,” she adds, “and I really wanted to tie that in because that’s kind of how the narrative of the song felt as well.”
Tanner not only wrote the pieces on Antares, she also played all the instruments, and recorded it herself. “I used recording software on my computer, and I would record one track and then go back, pick up a different instrument and record another track, and just kind of layer it,” she explains. “In some ways, it’s almost easier to do everything by myself rather than ask someone, ‘Hey, can you do this thing that I’m not sure what it’s going to be yet, but I’ll know when you’re doing it wrong?’”
As for what the next step will be for Tanner, beyond the sky may be the limit. She already has the material for another album, and she is mulling over playing in public. “I do think that once things start opening up for live music again, I will shop myself around to see what invitations I can get,” she muses, forever the explorer. “I haven’t really done it before.”
Antares by Asphalt Astronaut is available on Spotify, Amazon (digital and CD), Apple Music and YouTube.