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Tristen Gaspadarek holds a distinguished position in Nashville’s indie-rock locale as a songwriter unbound by genre. Since she arrived in Music City in 2008, she’s released two critically acclaimed albums of catchy ballads and singalongs that have spread her audience across the globe and merited the admiration of big names, like Vanessa Carlton and Stephen Hague (Tom Jones, Pet Shop Boys). This month, she’s releasing her third album, Sneaker Waves, on Modern Outsider.
“Over the past eight years, the whole record-making process has gotten a lot more streamlined,” Gaspadarek says. “I’ve sunken more into the process of writing first, then demoing second, and, then, I’ve also taken the reins when it comes to recording. With this latest record, it’s just me and Buddy working on it at home from start to finish.”
Buddy Hughen, Gaspadarek’s husband and lead guitarist, has been a collaborative force since 2010 when his own band dissolved. At that point, Gaspadarek had already created a name for herself next to other Nashville rock starlets, like Caitlin Rose and Those Darlins, as one of the pioneers of a new folk, garage-rock sound. She hadn’t released a full-length album yet, but there was a buzz around her delicate, but powerful, voice, infectious melodies, and electric live performances. In February 2011, Gaspadarek released her debut, Charlatans At the Garden Gate, produced by Jeremy Ferguson at Battle Tapes Recording in Inglewood.
“I was really, really in to country music at the time,” she says. “I was playing a lot of shows around Nashville, and, so, it became kind of an experiment, like, ‘Let’s bring in this musician and that musician and run with it.’ Now, I’ve sort of got my crew together. There might be seven drummers that come onto a recording, but they’re all people I’ve worked with before.”
Despite its somewhat embryonic recording process, Charlatans received rave reviews across the country, and it established Gaspadarek as an imaginative artist with a unique ability to create worlds with each song by caroling deep lyrics over countrified pop music. She released her next album, C A V E S, in October 2013 on her own PUPsnake Records. It was a clear separation from her acoustic-driven first record; mixed by Hague, it incorporated electric beats and synthesizers to augment her ideas into more expansive, orchestral arrangements.
Two years later, Gaspadarek put her solo career on hold to spend 2015 as a keyboard player and backup singer for famed actress-songwriter Jenny Lewis. While the job afforded her some invaluable opportunities, like opening for Neil Young and spending some time in the spotlight, it ultimately reinforced her ambition to pursue her own artistry. When she returned home, she got back to buffing Sneaker Waves, a project she had begun in 2014.
Like Gaspadarek’s other albums,Waves has a multiplicity of sounds and moods that work together. Across the album, the artist’s lyrical poetry pairs with innovative chord progressions. Longtime fans and new listeners will hear fresh, genre-bending ideas as string melodies play in the background of her doo-wop ode to a despicable girl, called “Psychic Vampire,” in the sampled ocean sounds on “Lions,” as well as echo-y vocals in “Glass Jar” (featuring Jenny Lewis).