I saw Tristen and her band on Mountain Stage on June 16, 2017 and was duly impressed. I love singers with a little grit in their voice and Tristen has that, plus a lyrical purity and range. When she wants to imbue her lyrics with a delicate vulnerability or a outright aggressiveness, it flows out with ease.
For example, Glass Jar reveals its layers of meaning by her vocal inflections. First, the verse is sung with almost a sweet innocence:
Live by the sword, die by the sword
They’re all assassins
They’re all assassins
Hold your head high, never swing low
Don’t look behind you
There’s no one there.
Then the chorus brings out the pain of the true romantic fallout:
I don’t have to say goodbye
You don’t get to see me cry
You put me in a glass jar and tap, tap, tap to see how I move.
Tristen Marie Gaspadarek, or just Tristen, is an American singer-songwriter based in Nashville. Her songs are eclectic: a rock-pop-60’s retro vibe with vibrant hooks you’ll find yourself humming all day, and with literate intelligent lyrics.
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, music was always a part of her life: “The folklore in my family is that I could sing at the same time as I was talking."
Performance came naturally as she spent her high school years in plays and musicals: “The beginning really for me started doing acting and musical theater at a young age as well. It was something I was really interested in doing-performing." (Receiving local notoriety back then, she now returns home to be in all-girl band tribute shows.)
As a freshman in high school, she started gigging at a local coffee shop who gave her with two sets: “I learned covers because I had only four original songs. And then it sort of turned into doing the circuit of coffee shops in the suberbs of Chicago."
She wrote her first song at 14, so I had to ask if songwriting ever presented difficulties: "I've always been able to write songs and they weren't very good when I was 14, but I've always been able to write songs. Easy. I never had the concept that I wanted to be a songwriter, I just started writing songs." That turned into an obsession which has become her profession.
Fast forward to 2007 where she moved to Nashville and find others “obsessed with songwriting” and started gigging solo. One year later, she released her first album, Teardrops and Lollipops – a self-produced, folk-flavored work where she played all the instruments and even burned the CDs herself, complete with handsewn sleeve.
In 2011, Charlatans at the Garden Gate was released and the musical growth in the three-year interval was exponential. To use more common parlance: Tristen comes out swinging like a prize fighter. Eager For Your Love captures what “the young kids call breadcrumbing” (or intermittent reinforcement for you psychology fans) or someone who gets you on the hook and then “ghosts.”
Tame that nasty shrew
‘cause she knows what you’re up to
You gotta keep her thin and hungry
So she’s eager for your love
Subsequently, she has released CAVES (2013), Sneaker Waves (2017) and a new ep called Dream Within a Dream; culled from Poe’s poem. It’s flat-out rock and roll when she rips through:
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
She said that this poem attracted her because "It fingers the wound of mankind, prodding at the mercurial nature this reality is, consciousness as participation in a shared reality, and how the sands of existence creep through all hands."
Tristen will be featured on Electopia this week (June 13 &14, 2019).
Listen to Eclectopia Fridays at 10pm and Saturdays at 11pm on WVPB radio