Nashville singer-songwriter Tristen pens 50 songs a year 

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click to enlarge Indie-folk-pop artist Tristen also plays keys for Jenny Lewis

Bekah Cope

Indie-folk-pop artist Tristen also plays keys for Jenny Lewis

Besides being an extraordinary indie-folk-pop artist in her own right, Nashville's Tristen is currently the keyboardist for none other than 20-year indie-rock veteran, Jenny Lewis. "I always admired her peripherally, and then when I got the gig, I really dove into learning basically all of her music and fell head over heels in love with her lyrics and her melodies," Tristen Gaspadarek says.

But at the end of the day, Tristen knows her true calling. "It's just really fun to be in somebody else's band and be in a supporting role, although, of course, I first and foremost put my heart and soul in my own work. But it's nice to step outside and be a part of a bigger picture and watch someone who's seasoned."

Between balancing Lewis' hectic touring schedule (she's been on the road with Ryan Adams) along with Tristen's own tour and studio commitments, it's been a helluva year so far for the singer-songwriter. Earlier this year, her focus rested solely on new material. She and her husband/guitarist Buddy Hughen recently finished recording 18 songs for Tristen's currently untitled next record, the follow-up to 2013's Caves, an infectious, synth-driven collection that won praise from the likes of NPR and Spin. The process was a painstaking one, especially considering Tristen began with 40 fresh songs for the new album. "I write songs all the time," she says. "Really, I'm backed up. You gotta figure in the fact that I'm writing a song a week, so that's 50 songs a year."

When Tristen was only a kid, she opened up for Lowen & Navarro — the songwriting team behind Pat Benatar's hit "We Belong" — and they forever impacted the young artist with a few words of wisdom. "I was like 16, and they told me, 'You're not a songwriter unless you write 30 songs a year,' and so that stuck with me," she says. "So that's kind of one of my things is to just constantly be writing, even if I'm on the road and I don't really have a space to be private."

Tristen also models her own songwriting practices after legends like Neil Young. "Neil Young always says if he has an idea, he stops what he's doing and records it," she says. "So I'm in the discipline of doing that. I'm always just sort of gathering little pieces, then when I have time at home I'm writing and co-writing and doing the whole full-immersion work thing. It's just part of the life."

Another commitment in Tristen's life involves the TV show, Game of Thrones. After Sunday concerts, the singer loves to retreat to the tour bus and get her fix at 2 a.m. She blames her GoT obsession for dreaming one night she was being chased by lions. That dream incidentally inspired the new track, "Lions Were Loose." Reimagining the entire dream through music, Tristen's character leads the lions to the ocean and calms them with a song. When they fall asleep, she creeps away to find a disheveled ship, her only hope for escape. "At this point, the character is like, 'Well, I have no choice. There's lions everywhere trying to eat me,'" Tristen explains. "So she sails out to the sea, and a huge storm rains down and sinks the ship, and that's that.

"It's just a song about dying actually," she continues. "But there's also a quote that kind of informed the song, which was, 'Life is a sinking ship.' And that's the journey of life and eventually we all die, and it's a slow march to death. The chorus goes, 'The waves were my backing track, the moon was my ambience, and the wind was a song that would carry me through,' and then at the end it's, 'Where my heart is the only beat and my soul is solo-ing.' So it's like the lyrics work to take you into this moment of death where it's just you and the end and, you know, who knows what's next."

Tristen doesn't stick to writing songs about herself, but rather prefers telling stories in ways that could impact a large group of people. "Writing a song and deciding on something that's worthy of writing a song about is important to me," Tristen says. "It needs to be a unique perspective on a universal issue, something that comes up enough to be worthy of writing a song about."

For Tristen, it's the words that matter the most. "People sometimes don't pay attention to lyrics, and I understand that some people, that's just not the way they write songs," she says. "Everyone's different, and that's what makes music so great is that everybody's approach is unique.

"But for me personally, I feel like it's gotta be worthy of a song, and the topic has to be something so many people go through," she continues. "I have friends breaking up, and as they're breaking up, I'm pulling these things out of what they're saying that seem like wisdom or truths, and that sort of translates into a song."

Due to an earlier biker event at the venue, this will be a late show.


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