Orlando musician Tierney Tough pauses the Pauses, goes north and goes solo

Tierney Tough
Tierney Tough Photo by Sean Dunn

The much-missed Indie Queen of the City Beautiful may no longer call Orlando home — she now resides a ways up I-75 in Gainesville — but she remains in our 407-centric hearts and (soon) our ears with her solo debut EP, A Farce to Reckon With, gracing us with baroque piano splendor in a matter of days. To finally be faced with the prospect of a Tierney Tough solo project EP is a right treat.

Your correspondent has been a disgustingly devoted Pauses (Tough's long-running trio, with Jason Kupfer and Nathan Chase) fan since middle school — and may or may not have told Tough in 2012 that A Cautionary Tale had a lot of ringtone sounds, which I loved — joining a sizable contingent of devoted locals that have lavished beautifully decorated cakes and other noshes of opulence on the band, often while they were onstage. The Pauses are a band that have occupied a unique space in Orlando's musical firmament, serving as ambassadors for Orlando's music scene on countless tours, cultural signal boosters bringing well-regarded indie acts like J. Robbins to town, and even just purveyors of sonic comfort food with their early pandemic series of Quarantunes cover songs — which saw Dinosaur Jr., Harvey Danger and Fiona Apple getting the Pauses treatment.

The start of the pandemic in 2020 marked monumental change and discord for the entire planet, and many of us retreated to our homes in search of new sources of comfort and novel ways to pass the year to come. It was at this time Tierney Tough seemed to vanish. She moved to Gainesville. "Isn't it the dream to just disappear?" asks Tough.

Tough often went to Gainesville pre-pandemic for seclusion and space to write music, a provisional hidey-hole that would serve its purpose periodically while working out new Pauses material. Her more permanent move north is a piece of a larger-scale domino effect which in turn came to inspire the focus on writing solo music. Tierney was able to have her "own space away from home" and she was able to build that space into a live-in studio.

"As I'm learning how to put out music now, the landscape has completely changed again every time I go to start music. I've been researching how to put out music. Just trying to, I don't know —" ponders Tough, "— I'm trying to be a real musician. I'm trying to be a professional musician. I'm trying to be a full-time real musician."

Tough is a music scene veteran and a jokester (dig the punny EP title, for just one example), and though she talks about becoming a "real" musician between eruptions of laughter, she earnestly is forging a new personal path and feverishly exploring every avenue of what that may be. Breakfast nook be damned, the recording gear sprawls in an ever-growing technological mass on her table and encroaches into the living room by way of a self-built vocal booth.

The new "Apartment 54" music video shows us Tough's Steinway upright piano, but not captured in the frame are the Moog synthesizer, clavinet, Rhodes piano and bass guitar ... to name just a few of the tools in her arsenal. Tough's musical instrument jungle-gym, however, pointedly omits the guitar,

"This is in no way a stab at [Pauses guitarist and collaborator of 15-plus years] Jason. I told him that there was no guitar, and he laughed," offers Tough.

Farce achieves an intimacy that places the listener squarely in the mastermind music-box brain this writer always suspected Tough of possessing. Lighthearted synth and piano tinkle in a familiar way, but Tough warns that, in contrast, "the lyrics are more vulnerable and personal, or revealing," distinguished by "direct and intimate" writing that she would not have lent to a Pauses release.

In a teaser posted on Instagram, the caption reads that one of the songs on the EP, "Tired Swing," was the first song Tough had ever written and she didn't feel like she could pull it off by herself at the time, only "dabbling" in playing piano solo which had always felt so naked and vulnerable for Tough. The personal growth on Farce is tangible.

A Farce to Reckon With comes out Friday, July 9, on the major streaming platforms, but there is a limited cassette and vinyl release available for pre-order on Bandcamp. In ultra-nostalgia fashion, the EP box set includes Polaroid pictures, and the glittery cassettes are accompanied by pencils her mother had made for her as a child (they read "Tierney Tough").

Tough has just finished filming an outdoor session at Gainesville's unique Pulp Arts garden performing solo work. Look for that soon.

And if you've been wanting to read more about Tough's obsession with Harry Nilsson, her essay can be read in the upcoming anthology Harry and Me: Memories of Harry Nilsson by the Fans and Musicians That Loved Him Most.

When queried about her love for the cult-favorite songwriter (another member of this fandom was a certain John Lennon), Tough is effusive.

"It's hard to summarize ... I think he just has great songs, is incredibly clever and just didn't give a fuck," says Tough. "He can make you laugh and cry all in one song."

Sounds familiar ...

[email protected]

Scroll to read more Music Stories + Interviews articles

Join Orlando Weekly Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.