Tristen Talks Packing Shows and Women in Music

We’ve always been big fans (and we’d like to think “friends”) of Nashville singer/songwriter Tristen Gaspadarek (although usually known simply as “Tristen”).  We fell in love with 2011’s Charlatans At The Garden Gate, one of the best Americana albums of the century, and we were equally as charmed with 2013’s C A V E S, her foray into post-punk, new wave, and synth-pop.  The last time we talked to Tristen was last July, shortly after the release of her latest LP, Sneaker Waves, which would seem to blend her love of classic songwriting with postmodern musicality.  At the time she was preparing to play a proper full-band, rock gig at Boot & Saddle, a follow-up to her first Philly set of 2017, which had her and her husband opening a sold out listening room show for Vanessa Carlton at World Café Live as a duo.  Last month I got a chance to chat with Tristen for the first time in 2018, while she was preparing to kick off a batch of dates, which include four shows this week opening for Robyn Hitchcock, including a stop on Friday, April 27th, at Underground Arts.  I ask Tristen about some of the highlights of her career since she released Sneaker Waves and she tells me that a lot of cool things have come of it but that, more than anything, she feels like she’s reached a new place in her career as an artist.

“I got to tour with Robyn Hitchcock once already and that was amazing.  That was definitely a highlight of last year, but also, these headlining shows were basically all full.  I’d been touring since 2010 and haven’t had any major breaks and – for those at the Philly show [laughs], that wasn’t how it looked most nights – most major cities had great, packed-out shows… Oh, and NPR compared the album to a Costello album, which was great.”

I’m curious to hear how Tristen feels about Sneaker Waves at the moment, so I ask if she currently has a favorite song and she tells me she’s basically still in the middle of her love affair with the record: “Every single song on that record is perfect to me.  I recorded over 30 songs, so I needed to narrow it down a lot.  Fans really like ‘Psychic Vampire,’ which is like the ultimate dis track.”

In addition to supporting her latest musical baby with a plethora of live shows and a number of great music videos (most recently “Partyin’ is Such Sweet Sorrow.”), Tristen has also recently taken up the journalism game (even if just for a moment), penning perhaps the best op-ed of 2018 for Bust, entitled, “Is Art Imitating Life or Just Limiting Women?” a poignant analysis of life in the music industry from the perspective of someone with a vagina (Seriously, you need to read it… If you need any more convincing, which you shouldn’t, the second paragraph includes the line, “feeling like a unicorn in hell’s dick forest.”)  The majority of our conversation is centered around this article and Tristen’s take on being a female in an almost-exclusively male-run industry, and just how she came to pen something for Bust (which I tried, unsuccessfully, to do so much of my junior and senior years at UArts).

“They asked, ‘Who are your favorite characters written for females?’ which I realized was actually kind of difficult to come up with.  We hear a lot about the numerical disadvantage as being paid less, but not only are women a minority, but they’re less likely to be published.  It forces you to think about, of these female characters, how many have relationships outside of men?  How many have names?  I thought about how many daily relationships do I have with my girlfriends and my mother and how that plays out.  It’s sad and scary, but it needs to be told.  And, it’s like, even if you fail, you wanna be trying to push out of that.  You can’t not have the desire to try to create something fresh when you’re writing a song.  How many songs pass the Bechdel Test? Not a lot…”

We also spend a lot of time talking about how many women are currently making amazing music (If ya hadn’t heard, take a look through this site.), despite the fact that so few make it into the mainstream and so few of those who do are actually worth noting (I take my digs at Tyler Swift and Beyonce and she gets her jabs in at Katy Perry.)

“The amount of women making great music right now is just overwhelming.  I love Caitlin Rose, Jessica Lea Mayfield (she’s got this voice that’s very simple and lilting and kind of simple in every kind of way), Erin Rae (who’s very folk and very good), and Birdcloud… I have so many women in my life who are so great… With a major label, we have about 10% of the women writing.  You get hired and you’re literally an actress that can sing, but you’re controlled by men and they plug you into their network.  It’s a boys club and it’s always been a boys club.  My band is all men and I would love to have women, but there aren’t as many women and the good ones get snatched up right away… When it comes to mainstream America, they’re not buying records.  They’re watching The Voice, and when you have people producing things like that, and they’re trying to sell anything to a large number of people, it has to have a certain level of simplicity.”

Tristen’s show this Friday at Underground Arts is going to be one of her last for the immediate future.  Her short run with Robyn Hitchcock (which she’s quite excited about) wraps this Saturday at The Lincoln Theatre in DC and then she has a one-off show June 9th at Musician’s Corner at Centennial Park in Nashville.  When I ask her what’s currently in the works, she tells me there are a few things fans can look forward to in the near future: “I just finished making a covers record that was fan-funded.  This is the third time we’re doing this.  I’m working on a new album and this is just a really good palette cleanser when going into a new record.” The album will apparently include covers of “A Case of You,” “There is a Light That Never Goes Out,” and “Heroes,” but she also tells me that she plans to spend much of the rest of the year on her own music.

“I’m just gonna work on new music.  I don’t know that I’m gonna tour much more, unless something super special comes along, but I’m working on something for 2019.  I’m excited to open for Robyn again and excited to see his set every night and excited to see his band, who I haven’t seen (The last tour was just solo.)  On my Spotify page I made a playlist of his best songs, if you’re interested.  His father was a writer, which is just really cool, and he’s one of those people who, when he speaks, he’s mesmerizing.  His stage banter is as brilliant as his music.”