- March 2013 -
HAVE A BEER WITH TRISTAN PRETTYMAN
After an almost four year break from the music scene, California-based singer/songwriter Tristan Prettyman is back with a new record Cedar + Gold and a headlining tour with opener Anya Marina. We had a chat with Tristan this week to talk about her “Eat, Pray, Love” moment, the inspiration for the new album and what she likes most about choosing her own adventure. She plays Lincoln Hall on Friday, April 12, so be sure to grab tickets while they’re still available.
Drink of Choice: Stone Brew Craft Beer
Kristen: Let’s talk basics. How did you get into the music scene?
Tristan: I basically just kind of fell into it. When I was fifteen, I started teaching myself how to play guitar and I was putting songs together. I’d always loved writing and when I was twenty, my friends and family started figuring out that I was writing music and they encouraged me to go play open mics. So, one night my parents came to a show and they said, “This really seems to make you happy. We think you should take a break from college and go pursue music and see what happens.” I was going to junior college and I didn’t really know what I wanted to study, so with their blessing I went out and decided to see what music was all about. I had no idea what I was doing. It seemed like a better thing to do than sit in class all day.
Kristen: Those are some pretty cool parents to let you go and do your thing.
Tristan: It’s funny because they were the strictest parents for so long, so when they said that to me, I was like, “What is going on here?”
Kristen: Who were your musical inspirations?
Tristan: Ani DiFranco was a huge inspiration for me. Growing up, my mom was an aerobics instructor and my dad was a construction contractor. He listened to a lot of classic rock like Dire Straits, Jackson Browne and Paul Simon, but my mom listed to a lot of Janet Jackson, C+C Music Factory and Paula Abdul—all this pop music. Then my brother gave me an Ani DiFranco tape and it blew my mind. I didn’t realize that people played music like that. I loved her level of honesty, how shocking her lyrics were, how blunt she was. It really resonated with me.
Kristen: What about now? What’s on your current playlist?
Tristan: My music taste is all over the place. It’s everything from Beyonce to Butch Walker to The Lone Bellow to Griffin House. I’ve had The Lone Bellow album on repeat for days. And Griffin House’s new record “Balls” is so good. I’m such a fan of his. I’m the worst. I’m a musician but then I geek out on other musicians and totally freak them out.
Kristen: We’re fans of Griffin, too.
Tristan: I’m the worst. I’m a musician but then I geek out on other musicians and totally freak them out.
Kristen: Let’s dive a little bit further into your music. How have you grown from your first album, Twentythree, to your most recent, Cedar + Gold?
Tristan: Twentythree included the songs I wrote when I was 15 all the way up until I recorded that record,. It’s very childlike and pure. It’s safe. It’s cute and pretty. Then, Hello…x came out [in 2008] and that’s a little blues-ier, a little more gritty, a little more rough around the edges, and a lot more produced than the first album. And I think with this new record [Cedar + Gold], it’s just coming from such a different place. I think those first two records were the rough draft and the first draft, and this one is in a complete space of its own. It’s written from a place I didn’t even know I could access. It took so many different things to happen to break down the walls and the layers inside me, and I don’t think I could have written it without all the other stuff that came before. It’s a lot more raw. It’s a lot more honest, more to the point. And I feel like it’s got a richness to it, whereas the other records are kind of cool and surface-level. This one’s got more depth.
Kristen: I’m sure this record is more personal, too. You took a long break from music before you recorded it. Why did you decide to do that?
Tristan: I took that break after Hello came out. It was supposed to only be a year and then I ended up taking four years off. At the time, really burnt out on music and I felt really disconnected from everything. I was twenty-seven at the time and I was really missing my friends and my family. I was craving connection. I felt like I was going, going, going, touring one city after the next, show after show and I wasn’t really having any experiences. I sort of felt like I was on auto-pilot… So, I had my Eat, Pray, Love moment. I went and traveled; I spent a lot of time at home with my family and my girlfriends and I got really into yoga. I basically didn’t pick up a guitar for a couple of years. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I wasn’t listening to music. I didn’t go to shows. I was completely checked out. It was weird, but totally necessary. I needed that much of a clean slate to figure out what I was doing. After taking some time off, I felt guilty and started back into things, but my voice felt really weird. I intuitively knew something wasn’t right. So, I went and got my voice checked and I had two polyps on my vocal chord and ended up having to get surgery. It was weird because I was getting vocal surgery but I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to do music anymore. And then I got back together with an ex-boyfriend [Jason Mraz], we got engaged, and then four months later we ended everything. And pretty much right after that happened I was like, I’m gonna write a triple album.
Kristen: Ex-boyfriends give you a lot of material.
Tristan: It’s sad that it works that way, but it’s so true. I went straight for the notebook and the guitar. In that moment, I knew that was the only thing that could be there for me in the way that I needed something to be there for me. It really wasn’t until I wrote songs and got everything out that I ever felt any sense of closure or could really make sense of anything. Through that, I fell completely back in love with music again and realized, “What am I doing? Why am I resisting this so much?” It’s asking me to put the work in and be present. It wants me to do this. The universe wants me here. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. But it took all those things happening to get me to that place where I realized it.
Kristen: It’s interesting that something so positive and great can come from such a dark place.
Tristan: That’s the one thing I look at now. Whenever I’m in an uncomfortable spot or feeling vulnerable, I tell myself to chill out. It’s not going to last forever. Just take a minute to check out what’s going on around you, why you’re in this space, and why you feel this way. There’s a reason for it. It’d be weird if everyone were happy all the time or if there were never any conflict. You need that balance. That’s how life works.
Kristen: You’re now headlining a tour, and I know you play Lincoln Hall in April. How long does this tour last?
Tristan: We did a West coast run and had a week off. That’s kind of how I do my touring—we’re out for two weeks and then I’m home. Back out for three weeks. I need that balance of getting home to re-charge and what not. We’re going to be doing a lot of touring this year. This headlining tour has been especially great. We’ve had great crowds, the turnout has been rad, and more than anything else, I love this record so much and I love playing the songs live. I don’t ever get sick of it.
Kristen: What’s your favorite song to play live?
Tristan: I love “Say Anything.” It’s sort of the foundation of what this record was built on. It was one of the first songs I wrote, and when I was writing it, I remember feeling like I was onto something. It felt different than anything I’d ever written. It set the tone for the record.
Kristen: You’ve been to Chicago before and you’ve played here. What is your favorite thing about our city?
Tristan: I love Chicago. So much. I think if I ever moved to the Midwest it would be Chicago for sure. It’s so unique… It has that Midwestern, homey feel to it, but it’s a fast-paced, super hip city. The restaurants are amazing. I love walking around with the bridges and the waterways and the lake. I love everything about it.
Kristen: Tacos are an important part of your life. What’s the best taco you’ve ever had?
Tristan: Well, my best friend Leah makes the best tacos. But, you know what, I went to Big Star in Chicago and that place has frickin’ awesome tacos. And it has a big sign on the wall that says “Tacos” and I sort of lost my shit. I was like, I’m going to live here. We definitely go there every time we’re in town.
Kristen: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Tristan: What comes to mind right now is very early on, when I was deciding to choose music as a career, I had a friend who knew Jack Johnson fairly well and Jack had just put his first record out. I was sort of figuring out if I wanted a manager and if I wanted to be on a label, and I didn’t really want to be on a label. I wanted to do things my own way. So, I called Jack Johnson one day. I really admired how he stayed true to himself and stayed independent and it seemed like he didn’t really have to conform to anything, but he was still able to grow as an artist. And what he told me was basically: “Do it your way. There’s no right way to do this. If you want to be on a label, be on a label. If you don’t, don’t. There’s always going to be a way to make it work how you want to make it work.” And I think that’s always something that’s stuck with me. No matter what comes your way, you get to choose your own adventure. And just because it’s worked out for nine out of ten people this one way, be that one person that did things her own way and was successful. There’s always a way.
Kristen: What’s next in your adventure?
Tristan: I’m just so stoked about music right now. When I think about the future, I just think there’s so many genres I want to explore and writers I want to write with. I can’t wait for all of that. I think I will be making music for a long, long time.