Chicago native Tristen Gaspadarek has quietly become one of Nashville’s most exciting new voices. But when we say quiet, we don’t mean she’s hard to find. Tristen (she performs under her first name) has been touring constantly over the last four years supporting her albums and her appetite to perform, experiment on stage, and connect with her ever-growing audience. She’s been was writing and making records at home since she was a teenager. Now with two national releases to her credit—both produced in her adopted hometown of Music City—Tristen has a fist-full of national press champions and is gathering new fans everyday. She’s also taken over the reigns of production.
Her latest album, Caves, was a long-time coming for fans, many of whom chipped in to Tristen’s Kickstarter campaign when she left her original label and went off on her own to ensure the album was finished to her high standards and her own timetable—a common crossroads for artists who are quickly embraced both by the embrace of fans and the tentacles of business hype. With her ever-present 1966 Epiphone Casino—a gift from her father—Tristen is a must-see performer. But she also has a lot to say about the creative process. Epiphone.com spoke with her in Nashville as she was gearing up to begin work on her next album.
There was some time between your first album Charlatans at the Garden Gate and Caves, which you made on your own--away from a label. Why leave your label and go independent?
I knew that it needed more time. I won’t put something out until I know it’s finished. Taking control over the pace was important. And getting Steven Hague to mix was key.
Your first album Charlatans at the Garden Gate--from an outsider’s point of view-- had great momentum with national press including NPR. So, were you afraid of getting some criticism for raising money to go off on your own? Kickstarter has a negative image among creative types sometimes. People might say, “Why change horses when you had success the first time out?”
I came to realize that after I started the campaign. If you look at Kickstarter, there are some great projects that have been funded through that process. So the reality is--taking things into your own hands is a viable, professional, and absolutely normal occurrence. Here’s the thing: when you’re a new artist, the press will bite at it. Everybody’s putting their chips on the table and everybody wants to say they heard you first. And that’s journalism and that can help you. And my first record had a really incredible press campaign and it took off.
I’ve had so validation from here. I came here to do the Music Row thing and I didn’t know how to do any of that. But I was just embraced as a solo artist right away. On top of the fact that I had this weird confidence that is part of who I am. I didn’t know anything about the business but I was very protective of my work. And I’m still like that. I guess that could have hurt me in some ways this time around.
There’s a lot of pressure on a second release.
It’s called the sophomore slump--you’re not new anymore. But Nashville has been incredibly supportive.
You come from a family of musicians, right?
My Dad had tape machines--when you could get your hands on them. My father always had a studio. He wrote songs and made demos but he never really pursued it because he was working 6-days a week. My grandmother plays the saxophone—great piano player. So that’s the lineage.
From the time I was 14, my Dad and I would make records together. I made a record when I was 20. I’ve had enough experience doing it for fun with my family. I learned ProTools when I came to town. I grew up at in the age when recording equipment became accessible to everybody. The fact that I’m from that generation of musicians who had access to that is very important. I didn’t want to pay somebody to record all the songs I was writing. I wanted to get them done and keep going!
Did that give you more freedom as a songwriter?
In the beginning, you’re doing it all for yourself and you’re just throwing ideas out there. You’re following your own dream. After awhile, you start to include a lot of people, there’s a committee. I couldn’t imagine having a committee in the creative process. That’s not how my brain works. So, I’ve set myself up now to be with people who are amazing but also support the fact that I want to be on my own. It’s all a part of learning about every part of the process and learning how to get better all the time.
So now that you’re hands-on with recording and mixing, do you find that to be a distraction to songwriting or performing?
Buddy Hughen, my husband, has taken over a lot of the mixing and engineering so I have that firewall so I don’t have to be involved. I’ve always had someone helping me. But before I was under a lot of pressure before to handle a lot of details. Once you get really good at your craft, you do have to have a division of labor. It doesn’t make sense to do it all. But I’ve learned to be self-sufficient when I have to.
Nashville has always been a bit of a ‘boys’ town when it comes to the record business.
It has. But now I feel like being a woman in town is a kind of an advantage. Women producers and artists are a fresh voice. I do find the competitiveness in Nashville is hard. It’s something you have to check and watch out for.
Are you still touring with your Casino?
Yes. Always. My Dad bought me my Casino
. He saw me playing at the 5 Spot borrowing someone’s guitar. And the next day my Dad took me to Gruhn’s. It’s a 1966. She’s Miss America. She’s the best—she stays in tune. She sounds great.
Do you see yourself as a producer for other artists?
That’s my goal. I’m not really ready yet to do it for other people. But in 10 years—15 years. I’d love that. I write all the time. That’s really the phase that I’m in now. Writing a new record, playing with other people and writing with other people for the first time. I just wanted to get out of my own head and the by-myself-thing. After the last record, I made a conscious decision to not to tour so much and make it really meaningful. I love making records. I hope to have a great box set one day.