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21 Apr

You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s Nashville Week in the Twin Cities, with The Civil Wars here on Sunday and Monday and singer-songwriter Tristen in the Entry tonight. Tristen (born Tristen Gaspadarek in the south suburbs of Chicago) is out touring behind her debut full-length, Charlatans At The Garden Gate, which has been racking up accolades from the likes of Rolling Stone and NPR. Her sweet songs have a hard twist and worldly edge to them and before her show tonight, Cake In 15 caught up with her to talk about leaving songs behind, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and the benefits of an innocent face. Tristen opens for Ezra Furman & the Harpoons at the 7th Street Entry tonight at 8pm.

CakeIn15: You are based in Nashville, which is such a song town, with a lot of singer-songwriters. What do you do to set yourself apart in a scene like that?

Tristen: You know, I really don’t know. I feel like if you make a really good record, if people like your record then people want to help you. I don’t think there’s really a methodology to making yourself stand out. I just played as many shows as I could when I moved down there, I went to see a lot of shows and if I saw a band that I liked, I would say hello. I feel like there are a lot of really great musicians and a lot of people that are looking for the next thing, you know? I didn’t really get into the visual thing, where I was peacocking at shows or do anything other than just try to play as many shows as possible and hang out and listen to music. It’s a kind of easy place to work your way through if you’ve got the goods. It’s probably a bit harder if you don’t have your own style coming into it.

C15: Charlatans At The Garden Gate is your first studio full-length, what was did you do to prepare for it and what was the studio process like for you?

T: I kind of approach thing from my own sensibilities really, so I listen to a song and I can tell when it’s done. I don’t really know what that means, but just listening to what’s happening and saying, “That sounds right,” or “That sounds as good as it can be.” I recorded a lot by myself before I went into the studio to make the record, so I was already in a place where I trusted my instincts to be able to say when things were finished and not finished. It took a really long time because I was being squeezed in sort of after hours with Jeremy Ferguson at Battle Tapes. It wasn’t one of those things where I had the band lined up and we went and did it, a lot of bands do it that way and a lot of mediocre records are being made. At this point in time we have all the technology and we have the expectation of the technology to make something that has arrangements and is interesting, so I felt that pressure to not just crank out the songs and not worry about it. I recorded a lot of songs and some of them fell by the wayside and some of them forged to the front with the arrangements and so it’s just one of those processes where you keep a running tab of what you’re working on and when something is finished, you move it into the finished pile and you build a record that way.

C15: Are there any songs that fell away that you wish you’d kept in retrospect?

T: No. No. [Laughs] I’m always writing so I’m actually only ever interested in the things that are new, so I have no desire to go back.

C15: In the American Songwriter video you talk about how you can’t always be writing about yourself because no one person is that interesting. Is there any auto-biographical element to your songs, or is that important to you?

T: Oh yeah, I definitely consider myself to be one person in the mix, obviously it’s my perspective usually and it’s my interest that are talked about, definitely my own personal experiences are involved. I guess just not talking about your own personal ideas and experiences literally and trying to create a universality to what your saying or trying to have multiple interpretations to what you’re saying, it’s writing something that has subtext that you can get more out of than just face value. Not saying, “I guess I feel that way kind of, sort of about something…maybe.” Which I find a lot of pop music to be sort of bland.

C15: Because it doesn’t take a position and is vague?

T: Yeah, it’s shallow, and I’m sure that it’s because there’s a whole segment of our population that doesn’t really looks deeply into what’s happening or don’t know, a lot of people don’t know what’s going on. I think that it’s definitely encouraged for people to stay our of what’s going on, by the media, etcetera, there’s a lot of divergence tactics happening daily. I don’t know if I’m even doing anything but I’m just interesting in figuring stuff out; with the friends that I choose, with the movies that I watch, the books that I read, the music that I make and listen to, I’m interested in people saying something. I might be the minority in that respect.

C15: Is that where the “Charlatans” in the title of the record came from, in respect to that unquestioning segment of the population you see?

T: Yeah, partially. I just watched Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, and the mendacity, you know? Tennessee Williams, the whole thing that people lie so much that they don’t realize they’re lying, they’re just operating within this structure and a lot of it has to do with money or the appearance of money or wealth. We all are in debt. It’s funny, you ask a classroom of people, “How many of you consider yourself to be middle class?” And 80 percent of them will raise their hand, then you say, “The definition of middle class is that you have no debt, you have money in savings, now how many of you consider yourselves to be middle class?” And only 20 percent of the class raises their hand. Our culture considers being poor a moral failing and reveres being rich as something we can all do. The idea of social mobility, it’s just a fallacy but people believe it so much so that they’ll elect leaders that directly don’t benefit their interests because they aspire to be rich and they aspire to be part of the elite and they’re not. So we’ve got all of that going on, that aren’t used to talking about what’s happening and what’s going on. Some people are happy running around pretending to be rich or running around pretending to be happy, but…

C15: …It’s not for you?

T: No. I’m a musician, for god’s sake. I made a choice a long time ago not to have any money. [Laughs] You know, I get caught up in the same things, but I’m worried, I’m worried about the future. Everything’s been so politicized to put a veil over what’s happening. It’s really hard to get through to people.

C15: Speaking of our politicized times and the culture of fear, it’s hard not to watch the video for “Baby Drugs” and not think of TSA agents all over you.

T: No, I have such a sweet, innocent face. [Laughs] We shot that entire video, including in the casinos, secretly. We did it in about a day. We started at six a.m. and we were finished by four p.m. the first day. We shot the hotel scene on the next day for three hours, but it was done fairly quickly. We got stopped in Vegas by security and we were just like, “Oh, these are my friends, just hanging out, filming for fun!” No-one said anything on the airplane, no-one really cared, so we just got away with it.

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  1. A Slice of 2011 | Cake In 15 - December 26, 2011

    […] Tristen: “…I’m interested in people saying something. I might be the minority in that respect.” […]

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