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Tristen Interview

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Tristen Gaspadarek Nashville

I really enjoy discussing the twists and turns that have led people’s lives to where they are now. Whether speaking with someone a few decades older than me or talking to people who are the same age — as is the case with Tristen Gaspadarek — it’s rare to hear an entirely uninteresting account of what’s worked for them during their journey through life. Part of the intrigue there is found in contrasting each individual’s path: for instance, when I was 17 I barely eked out a high school diploma, and while I had completed an apprenticeship as a chef I was fairly aimless in terms of what I wanted for myself. By the same stage in her life, Tristen had already been performing live for three years in her native Chicago and was none too far off from taking the first steps toward pursuing a degree from DePaul University. Without knowing much else about her, it becomes clear quite early on that the lady has had her head on straight for quite some time.

Recently talking to Paste, Tristen explained that her focus of study was aimed at “relational group and organizational theories of communication”; but once she graduated she still found the urge to follow the path of a musician before transplanting herself south to Nashville. Now having crafted her style as a vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter for over a decade, Tristen is on the verge of releasing her debut album, Charlatans at the Garden Gate, via American Myth. Catching up with her via email, I wanted to figure out some of the key moments which have led her to this stage in her life. We discussed her education, religion, and approach to songwriting — all of which support the character which resonates deeply throughout Charlatans‘ 11 tracks.

I read that you graduated from DePaul University. Knowing little about the school other than it being a Catholic university, I was wondering if there was any religious influence which directed your songwriting through those years?

Tristen: I was raised Catholic as most kids on the south side of Chicago, but fortunately do not suffer from any religious influence. I believe in the God with two o’s. With that said, DePaul was a very progressive school and placed no pressure on students have any particular religion or politics.

Your songs on Charlatans seem like they’re coming from a place inside of you that is far away from that sort of environment. Where does a line like “Baby, don’t you want me to bring you those drugs” come from?

“Baby Drugs” is about loving someone that is an addict and the naive perspective that you can fix them or fill the void that causes addiction with love. At the end of the day you are only capable of sustaining a relationship an addict as long as you are capable of enabling their addiction, whether that be burying your head in the sand or getting messed up with them and calling it sport.

Do you find that you’re more comfortable as a storyteller or poet with your songs rather than a solely autobiographical writer?

I’ve never really thought my life was interesting enough to be put into a book. My autobiography would say “She waited tables in the morning and then she went home and wrote a song about it, and recorded for hours. When she was done she went to the local pub to get a beer.” Part of the fun of writing songs is that I get to sing, play, and write music, and it’s more like poetry to me than anything else. I get to say what I think about relevant topics in my world. It’s more of a puzzle that I get to figure out.

Do you write your songs yourself or is there anyone you’ve collaborated with along the way?

I write songs by myself. I’ve tried the “Nashville co-write” thing and it seems like a waste of time to me. I’m mostly a loner in that respect.

As a newcomer to the city I’m still trying to figure out what the Holly House collective is all about. How do they fit into your story since you moved here?

A group of us started playing shows together, hanging out all the time, collaborating musically and we finally decided to call it Holly House. You know the best way to kill something is to name it. Most of the bands now are broken up, estranged, or rearranged.

When the Black Cab Sessions crew was in town recording the scene recently, you were recommended to them as one of the artists in town that who is sort of coming into your own right now. What does it mean to you to regarded as one of the city’s brightest upcoming talents?

Although I am flattered by the attention, it honestly doesn’t mean anything. My day to day includes a few more emails, but nothing has changed. I’m still all locked up in my studio writing songs and traveling around playing shows. It’s the same as it was when no one knew I existed.

Do you ever look around you and see how many great musicians there are in Nashville and feel a little self-conscious, like “what makes me stand out?”

I’ve been pretty lucky in Nashville since great musicians need songs to play. I provide that. I’ve never felt self-conscious about my work mostly because I’ve always been surrounded by those great musicians and felt encouraged and accepted by the community. You get to a certain point in any trade, building houses, writing songs, whatever, and you know exactly what people are doing. I listen to a song or see a live music show and I know how that person wrote it and what they are going for. There is no mystery left for someone like me. I find it hard to be a fan(atic) of anything.

Since moving to the city have you met anyone who you look up to musically or anyone you’ve been a fan of for a long time?

I met Wanda Jackson, queen of rock and roll, last year when she played at the 5 Spot and she autographed a picture for me. She was still awesome after all these years.

When playing live, how much do you switch things up like your setlist?

My setlist changes all the time. I’m always adding my new songs, these are my favorites to play. My band has been through a lot of changes, sometimes with strings, sometimes with keys, sometimes I play solo. The steady forces though are Buddy Hughen on guitar and Jordan Caress on bass.

Do you find that bringing something unique to each show keeps things more interesting for yourself?

Definitely, you have to keep things fresh within the group and you have to always challenge yourself to perfect things. We never, as a group, think that we’ve made it, or that we are done working. We just say, that was a cool show, what should we work on?

Which tracks of yours have you enjoyed most in the live setting?

I enjoy them all. Honestly, my band is such a bunch of hot shots that I really enjoy my time with them singing and playing.

I wanted to get your opinion on something I’m trying to piece together right now on my own. Right now I’ve been working a lot to try and piece together what’s going on in Music City within the rap and hip hop community, but there is a lot of brokenness there right now. The impression that I’m being given is that people are so bent on the idea that working with other people of the same style or whatever could be detrimental, or that because I’m helping you out, doing so somehow puts me back a step or two. But in the rock community I’m left with an entirely different picture: there I’m seeing people like the Nashville’s Dead crew who seem to be about building something bigger here. What’s your perception on that, and how do you see the development of the non-country community shifting in the coming year or two?

I’ve never believed that there is a finite amount of success out there and if one person gets it, you don’t get it. Music simply doesn’t work that way. People all over the world listen to MANY different artists, in different genres, and they will buy a record if they like it. Being competitive with others, only alienates you from learning, growing, and getting better.

I definitely sense a competitive edge in this town, people move here to see where they stand. Usually big fishes from small ponds. I find that competitive people are usually the ones who are the most insecure or frustrated with their own work or success in music. These people find it easier to tear things down, rather than build things up.

I find the most talented people are usually the most open to help and collaborate and are the easiest to work with. You can’t do music all by yourself, because at the end of the day you will have to play shows for people (unless you are Steely Dan or Harry Nilsson) and at the point you have to consider how someone will respond to your work, otherwise who are you talking to?