Interview: Tristen

This interview was originally published in Issue #11, March 2010.

Tristen is a staple of the Nashville music scene, regularly playing shows alongside her contemporaries and gaining a lot of attention from the local press; she’s been dubbed ‘Best of What’s Next’ by PASTE Magazine and has recently played the NBN arena to debut her single “Matchstick Murder”. However, on this side of the Atlantic and like many artists before her, support is sorely lacking. In Tristen’s case, this is particularly perplexing considering the extent of her talents; her songs offer hints of pop, Americana and country alongside a smouldering vocal drenched in emotion, cigarette smoke and whisky slurs - utterly addictive and infinitely appealing to the ear.

Although she’s been performing and releasing material under her own name since she was a teenager, in 2009 Tristen released her first internationally available EP Dreamers Are Achievers to critical success. It can be downloaded for free from her BandCamp site: tristen.bandcamp.com. The twenty-something singer-songwriter is hoping to release an extended version of the EP, Charlatans at the Garden Gate, this summer, followed by a US tour.

DrunkenWerewolf’s Tiffany Daniels talks to the performer about her life before Nashville, sexism in the music industry, her current material and what she has planned for the future.

You’ve been making music from a young age and performing live since you were 14. What inspired you to first start penning your own songs? Does that still inspire you or have your motives changed?

It's hard to say, but I imagine because I was always singing as a child, writing songs was a natural way for me to express myself and my ideas as a teenager. I think that translates to my life now. I've grown so used to playing music and writing songs as a hobby, as something I can do fairly easily and enjoy doing more than anything else. I do try to make meaningful work and express my ideas to people through my songs. I'm sure that I am motivated by knowing that ultimately someone else will be listening to this song or I will be performing it for an audience. I'm sure that plays a part in the process.

What was the first song you ever wrote? Do you still play it?

I wrote my first song in 3rd grade and I still remember it because I was eight years old and the song is about a betrayed lover and it has a verse and a chorus. I don't play it but occasionally I'll think about it and it makes me laugh at what a dramatic child I was.

You’ve been performing and moving around the United States for several years; do you think your style has developed because of your relocations, or do you think you relocated because your style was progressing?

My style is always changing for many reasons. I'm always getting older, meeting new people, and seeing new places. Every person is a product of their experiences and influenced by their environment so I'm sure that living in Nashville has affected me artistically. But I still feel like I am chasing inspiration and fighting the bore war at all times. Moving around and having new experiences gives you a freedom to be who you want to be; there is no attachment to what you once were. I am usually ready to shed the things that make me complacent and comfortable in order to learn new things.

Do you still have ties to Los Angeles and Chicago [both cities Tristen has worked in]?

My family lives in Chicago and I still love that city.

A few of our writers and several of our readers are putting together a one off zine called VETO; it focuses on women in the music industry. What are your experiences of and thoughts regarding sexism in your profession?

[We’re] at the point now where [sexism] is uneducated and it’s unacceptable for men to admit they are sexist, but any person who understands the history of the subordination of women in the world knows that women aren't treated equally usually. There is a long history of programming that has to be reset. A lot of men still like beautiful, passive women who they can control and keep at home. A lot of women like being beautiful and passive and staying at home.

I think it's weak and lazy when women use sex instead of ideas to get ahead. I think it's shallow to get off on the attention men give you because they want to fuck you.

If you are a girl making music, you are constantly proving your proficiency. Men, usually the ones who are most unqualified, want to give you advice on how to further your career. A woman is a bitch if she’s outspoken. A strong woman is a novelty, a tart, or a new breed of female songwriter. But with all of this I am still privileged and completely capable so I can't complain about any hardship. I won't forsake my femininity. I'll still wear a dress, feel elegant in high heels, and put on make up. I still love flowers and decorating my house!

What great women of the past inspire you to write and perform?

Dolly Parton, Wanda Jackson, Loretta Lynn, Vashti Bunyan are some of my favorites.

Are you intending to stay in Nashville for the foreseeable future?

I won't be in Nashville forever but I'll definitely be here awhile. I'd love to get out of the United States at some point.

There’s been an upsurge of new music coming out of Nashville recently. What do you think has enticed musicians to join the city’s population? What made you move there?

Nashville has the best musicians. It's incredible. People come here from all over to be among the best and in that environment people are challenged to get better to survive. Nashville has no other prominent industry in town. It's all music, so it's rare to meet non-musicians. It's in the water here. This placed is steeped in its reputation and musical history. It's a great place to make records. The cost of living is low so it's much easier to be an artist. Musicians here appreciate the song and so it seemed natural for someone like me to bring my songs to Nashville.

We’ve interviewed Caitlin Rose and Buffalo Clover before now; what Nashville act should we interview next?

Cortney Tidwell! She is awesome. She's made a bunch of records (ALL GREAT!) and grew up in Nashville. She's covering a genre that is completely foreign to the music scene here. Imagine a modern Jefferson Airplane. She is a Nashville staple.

You’ve had a few short-lived projects with Caitlin Rose; do you intend to play with her on record in the future?

Definitely, Caitlin is one of my favorite singers of all time. We intend to play together for a long time, but only on grassy knolls.

What’s Holly House’s aim? Where are you all planning to take the collective?

Holly House is the name for a group of us who play shows and hang out together. I don't think it will go any farther than that. We are all doing our own thing and hanging out with each other afterward.

Who came up with the idea behind the “Matchstick Murder” video?

I wrote the script and did all the art direction. I cooked all the food and put together all the costumes. We made that video in a week and for a very small amount of money. Jeff Wyatt Wilson, the director, got all the awesome performances, and worked the cameras and lighting.

You’re planning to release a new album, Charlatans at the Garden Gate, this year. Will it differ from your Deceivers are Achievers EP?

Charlatans at the Garden Gate is 7 additional songs to the EP and new mixes of all the songs. We are also working on new artwork.

Do you have an exact release date yet?

Not yet, we are thinking this summer will be a good time.

Have you got any hopes to expand into the UK during 2010?

Not sure if it will happen this year but I want to come visit the UK as soon as I can!

What else do you have planned; will you tour to promote your new release?

I'm always touring the United States. I feel like I have home bases forming in New York and Chicago. But we are doing a full US tour to promote the record this year!

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