On the Map Q&A: Tristen, March 25 in Fayetteville

Photo: Kristy Benjamin

Nashville singer-producer Tristen describes her music as neo-traditionalist synth folk pop. Besides writing her own music, Tristen is also Jenny Lewis’ touring keyboardist. Like Lewis, Tristen writes gorgeous folk songs inside of whimsical pop music. Her newest record CAVES contains an astonishing amount of emotion and variety of styles. Tristen’s songs are anchored by ethereal vocals and flourishes of strings.

Tristen makes her first appearance in Fayetteville at the On The Map Festival on Friday, March 25.

We asked her some questions between tours, here goes…

Who: See lineup at OnTheMapFest.com
When: March 24-25, 2016
Where: Fayetteville Town Center
Cost: $25-$35 / Purchase online

What are you working on right now?
I’ve just been on the road in the Midwest opening for Those Darlins on their farewell tour, and directed a couple of music videos for my new record. I’m currently working on string arrangements for the record.

You’re a touring musician and a songwriter – can you tell us how the two worlds affect one another? Are you able to write on the road? What do you need to write a song?

I don’t really separate them into worlds. I feel pretty lucky to be able to do both on a daily basis. Traveling broadens your perspective, it’s a privilege and an education. It allows you to see how different people live, what the country looks like. Flying is a strange idea, you go to sleep on the plane and wake up somewhere else. Touring involves driving through the vast landscapes of our country. You have a concept of the space between each city and it’s people. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your little fishbowl, but traveling keeps you hypnotized with discovery and how insignificant you really are. Writing requires this. Wisdom requires this.

What’s the last thing you read, or watched that seeped into a song of yours?
David Lynch’s ‘Quinoa’– I desperately want to make a show about cooking and storytelling, set in real time, and also shot beautifully like this video.

Also, Taschen’s Book of Symbols. Human mythology is a great source of wisdom and often the reason people like astrology. What patterns in human behavior and what symbols show up in all stories, art, and religions, over all periods of time?

What is your strangest influence? Anything you want to share for the first time?
Nothing strange. I’m influenced by life, by my friends, films, poetry, and music. I’m interested in paradoxes and contradictions. Lately, I’m very interested in how our every day lives play out, Jean Baudrillard’s predictions in Simulacra and Simulation, where society prefers the simulated version of the object, over the real thing. I’m interested in the things that make my existence, the time period I live in, unique, like technology, and also the things that make my life just the same as those that came before me.

We’re in the beginning of a crazy election cycle. Has that worked its way into new songs? Does it make you want to write?
The great political activists and thinkers like James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr, Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, and Bertrand Russell inspire me. Elections do not inspire me. The kids protesting in Ferguson inspire me. Those who sacrifice their lives for truth inspire me.

American politicians mostly just spew hot air, with the exception of few. Bernie Sanders is the first politician that has excited me during my lifetime. The mainstream media, an entertainment business, learned long ago that selling fear increases ratings and that people make fear-based decisions instead of data-driven decisions. Candidates use these tactics to inspire votes. It’s sad that more folks aren’t aware of the game.

After the first democratic debate, I was in an airport flying from L.A. back to Nashville. The night before I was playing in Jenny Lewis’s band and we had just opened up for Neil Young, who played his beautiful tunes “Monsanto Years” and “People Want To Hear About Love”. But it was clear to me how the echo chamber of music media had seeped into my brain – I went in thinking “Neil Young and his crazy Monsanto rants”. I wonder what this show will be like. I heard these songs and cried. They were beautiful and understandable, relevant, poetic political songs. Duh. It was Neil Young after all.

Ok, back to the airport. I grabbed a New York Times to see what folks were saying about the debate. I turned to Page 5 to read about it, and there was no mention of Bernie Sanders. Not one mention of a man who clearly dominated the debate. It’s been thrilling to watch the mainstream media ignore Bernie Sanders, despite his message and momentum.

You recently played a set of David Bowie songs – are those covers going to pop up in your live sets this year? What’s your favorite Bowie song?
For years we’ve had a saying in our band, whenever we are stuck, we ask: ‘What would Bowie do’ (wwdbd)? Then we immediately know the answer. ‘Man Who Sold the World’ has been a part of our set for years. For me, asking which song is my favorite Bowie song, is like asking me which way I prefer eating chocolate – a cake (Starman), ice cream (Oh You Pretty Things), candybar (Drive-In Saturday), hot (Moonage Daydream), with mint in it (Queen Bitch), cookie (Modern Love), mousse (The Prettiest Star). So hard to put a hierarchy on art. He broke the mold and we are forever grateful for him.

Is there a new record coming soon? What can we expect?
There is a new record coming soon. I’m still working on it. No expectations necessary. Talking about music is like dancing about architecture. ;)

Have you been to Fayetteville Arkansas before? What are your plans for the show and your visit?
I’ve only driven through, but I’m taking suggestions.