Tristen has been on our ‘artists to watch’ list for several years now. The talented lady, who has also been playing in Jenny Lewis’ band for a while, has finally released a new album. Listen to her new single Glass Jar here, check out her tour dates with Jenny O. here and read our little interview below.
You have a new album out and I think it’s absolutely amazing! Can you tell us a bit about it?
Sneaker Waves was made in my home studio with my husband, co-producer, guitarist in the band, Buddy Hughen. Our dining room is a vocal booth, our living room had drums set up for months.
We started with 30 songs and focused on letting them naturally form around the way they were written, normally me with a guitar or piano. We spent a couple of years taking breaks, adding songs, reworking things. A process of deconstruction and reconstruction.
A sneaker wave is an unanticipated coastal wave much larger than those preceding it, and so there’s no way to detect them; they can sweep an innocent bystander away forever. That felt like a metaphor for life, and death.
Can you pick one song off the album and tell us a bit about the story behind it?
I wrote the song Alone Tonight really quickly while in Omaha recording strings and vocals, finishing CAVES, my last record with Mike Mogis at ARC studios and staying in his guest house. I was really depressed and isolated and so this sad song about being thrown away, tossed aside by someone you love, just poured out.
I really love your lyrics! I think they’re very special compared to a lot of other stuff that’s on the market these days. Especially Psychic Vampire, I’m in love with every single word of this song. What is your favourite line of one of your songs?
That’s for the listener to decide. I will say that I don’t allow any lyrics to make it onto a record that I don’t feel strongly about. So the great part of going into making a record with a lot of material is you can make sure that your favorite songs survive and that over the course of a couple years you still stand behind the ideas, that they’ve stood the test of time and perspective.
You’re on tour with Jenny O. at the moment, how did that come together?
I love her music and when I found out she was putting out a new record, Peace and Information, around the same time as Sneaker Waves, I reached out to see if she wanted to join forces.
Imagine it’s the future and you’ve got kids. Whch concert would you pick for them to be the first one to come along with you?
I would let them decide. The cool thing about kids is they haven’t been overly aestheticized or intellectualized yet, so they have a physical, emotional, raw visceral reaction to music that is purer than any adult. So when a child reacts to something, it’s not jaded by expectations, concepts of genre, or even expectations for proficiency. They feel it or they don’t and that’s the way I TRY to experience music, without trying to define or explain. Just locking in. I hope if I someday have a child I will just pay attention to what they react to and help foster that curiosity.
As a woman in the music industry – do you feel any difference in how people treat you, compared to male artists?
That’s a really hard question to answer. I can’t tell how I’m treated differently because I only know my experience.
I am certain every time I look at a list in the press, or a festival where there are no or very few females listed or on the bill, that women, owning half the population, are underrepresented. Always have been. The music biz is a kielbasa fiesta.
And even being asked this question, screams the thing we all know, that women’s contributions in the arts are underrepresented and underrated. This has been happening for a very long time.
Show business, that is to say the machine that is major labels, mainstream television, with few exceptions, is a very shallow, visual industry and it’s extremely focused on aesthetics over musical quality. It’s capitalism at its finest, and sex sells. Models, male and female, get record deals and the music becomes second to this.
For women, it’s hard to navigate between sexual liberation, shedding purity, and just placating to the stereotypical ‘sexy baby’ avatar that advertisers, aka major labels, want and know will sell.
All this translates to more stringent expectations for women to maintain perfection, beauty, and youth. This translates across the whole of our culture, not just for women musicians. We stretch ourselves, pluck, paste, and paint to live up.
In general, for men and women, there are very few personalities (jesus, cowboy, poet, outlaw), narratives, or genres that musicians are expected to conform to in order to be considered sellable and it’s all based on precedent. Because of this, the least creative musicians tend to sell, because they simply emulate and exaggerate these known characters, and as a culture we tend to gravitate toward familiar ideas, stories. McDonalds still sells the most cheeseburgers. They aren’t the best cheeseburgers, but they always taste the same, no matter where you live. And also, red meat will kill you.
There are exceptions to this, where amazing music prevails, and reaches audiences massively, but it’s rare.
Ok! Back on track. With all that said, women, more than ever, are looking to each other as a support system where the old model fails us and as a woman, one way to be constructive, is to hire women and reject competing with other women. So I tend to gravitate towards women artists, both visual and musical, and have been extremely lucky to have an incredible community of women around me.
You’re so right, that’s why we’re trying to talk to as many female artists as possible about this issue. An issue that shouldn’t even be an issue. So thanks for speaking up about this!
You’re from Chicago and you live in Nashville, right? Both cities seem to have a lot of good new artists coming from. How would you describe / compare the music scenes in those two cities?
I’ve been in Nashville for ten years so it’s hard to say what the music scene is like in Chicago. I love Nashville. I love making records there because we have some of the finest, most song oriented, tasteful players in the world.
Do you have any newcomer bands/artists you can recommend?
I’m in love with the new Alvvays record. I love Jenny O.’s new record. In Nashville, I love Erin Rae McKaskle and Charlie Witten. I love Savvoy Motel, Sun Seeker, and Ornament to name a few.
Photo by Kristy Benjamin