On her third album, “Sneaker Waves,” Tristen has created a collection of mellifluous music – full of poetic lyrics, classic stories and pop rhythms – accented by complex compositions and an unflinching female perspective. Many of the songs were written with the live setting in mind, and Tristen will be bringing her creations to stages across the country over the next two months – including an April 12 set at Haymarket Americana Series in Chicago – during her North American Tour.
Tristen grew up in Lansing, Ill., before moving to Ukrainian Village to attend DePaul University, so her upcoming performance in the Windy City will represent a bit of a homecoming.
“I love Chicago. The food is great and it’s such a beautiful city. I love the museums, and I love visiting in the summer,” she said, joking that she hopes it doesn’t snow when she performs in the spring.
Now residing in Nashville, Tristen has honed a unique sound that combines the radio-friendly melodies of the British invasion with the earnest storytelling of country music. “I’m very into ‘feel’ and I don’t like music that sounds like it’s trying to be impressive,” she said. “I don’t like anything to be competing with the melody or the vocal. The two most important things to me in a song are the drum beat and the vocals. Everything else has to fit into that arrangement.”
The power of a great song is undeniable throughout “Sneaker Waves” – co-produced by Tristen’s husband and bandmate Buddy Hughen – as individual tracks traverse time signatures with captivating ease. Tristen contemplated the mysterious origins of great music by recently retweeting a quote from King Crimson musician Robert Fripp that read, “Usually people think that it is the musicians who create the music, but in fact it is music who creates the musicians.”
“I think songwriting is like that quote,” she said. “I don’t know where these influences come from, and I don’t know why I write the songs the way that I do or why the melody has different time signatures, but it probably has something to do with influences and listening to music that also does that in the composition.”
One of the stand-out tracks on “Sneaker Waves” is the upbeat and airy “Glass Jar” featuring Jenny Lewis with whom Tristen performed as a touring band member in 2015. “It was awesome. There’s nothing better than getting to work in an environment with another band leader and songwriter and see what they do and compare yourself. Jenny really likes to find the distilled simplest idea, and I definitely aesthetically live in that same world as her,” said Tristen of the experience. “It was nice to see somebody with similar instincts and how she leads a band.”
While Tristen’s songs speak for themselves, the way women are portrayed, viewed and treated in the art world is something that she perfectly articulated with a pointed personal essay for Bust Magazine last month. “I was asked the question, ‘who are your favorite female characters written by female authors?’ And, I really had a hard time thinking of many,” she said explaining the origins of the essay.
From there, Tristen crunched the (very low) numbers of women working in the literary, songwriting and film worlds and how this disparity leads to incomplete and unrealistic female characters in art.
“Every day when we watch our five hours of television, women see very few representations of ourselves. And of those very few characters we even have that are written by women, even fewer are written in a way that is realistic,” she said. “In life, we have relationships from woman to woman. We have relationships from mother to daughter, from sister to sister, we have sister to brother relationships. We have all kinds of relationships between women that aren’t being represented in art.”
Tristen encourages fans to avoid being passive consumers and instead seek out interesting and compelling works from women, people of color and all under-represented creatives. Let your dollars speak and hopefully it will convince the predominately male gate-keepers in charge to hire more unique and diverse voices.
“It takes time for things to catch up and you have to deal with the backlash of the pendulum swinging.” she said. “We have to strive to educate without making people feel defensive or that something is being taken away from them. There’s this idea of competition that infiltrates everything and, really, people are very collaborative.”
She continued, “From the moment we’re born, we’re collaborating in our families, in groups at school and in activities. The competition thing is something that allows those in power to feel justified in oppressing other people or beating other people down. It’s a plague of capitalism.”