For Tristen Gaspadarek, less is more. “I just love strumming chords with good feel and a guitar with good tone,” the Nashville-based singer-songwriter, who records simply as Tristen, explains. “I’m always playing in that direction. Like, I have two pedals. If I get a third pedal, I stop using one. I’m always pushing to be as simple as possible.”
Her latest album, Sneaker Waves, which pulls from influences ranging from the folk-tinged rock of Laurel Canyon, comparable to the Byrds or Linda Ronstadt, to modern alternative like Angel Olsen, shows that simple is far from boring. Tristen pairs her glistening melodic vocals, introspective lyrics and jangly guitar sound with intricate riffs from husband and collaborator Buddy Hughen to craft straightforward, but exacting, pop songs.
Having established herself over the past 10 years as an active member of Nashville’s indie scene, Tristen has been vocal about demanding equality for women in the industry. Her take on change adopts a similar less-is-more approach: “In music, if you’re too heavy-handed, people don’t like that, and it’s the same thing in life,” she says.
Progress, especially in the music industry, comes not from trying to change things out of your control, she reasons. Instead, it comes from small, daily acts—the ones that build up—like hiring and collaborating with women at all turns, from co-writers and session players to creative teams and opening talent.
“I’m all about naturally supporting other women. It’s not something that is hard for me,” Tristen, who has toured with artists like Jenny Lewis and Vanessa Carlton in the past, says. “Opportunities are our currency, in one way. So many major opportunities I’ve had were from women who brought me on tour to open for them.”
Including women more bleeds into artistry, too. Sneaker Waves’ songs often reframe the narrative with stories about women and all their various relationships and concerns. If a Bechdel test existed for music, it would pass with flying colors.
“There’s a lot of resistance to being genred by your gender,” she says. “You don’t want to press the female genre on people, but you also want to make sure that you have a standard for music that involves women. It’s a tricky time to live. I’m just embracing it.”
● GUITAR 1966 Epiphone Casino
● AMPS Fender Blues Jr. and Vox Pathfinder
● EFFECTS EarthQuaker Devices or MXR Carbon Copy delay and reverb