There’s a running gag that Tristen likes to close out her shows with: “If you need advice, I’ll be at the merch table.” As someone who studied relational group and organizational theories of communication in college, the parting line is less of a joke and more of a sincere offering to fans; Tristen is a devotee of psychology, admitting that she often plays the role of therapist in friendships. She even hosts a segment called “Dear Tristen” on Partners in Crime with The McCarltons, a radio show hosted by fellow Nashville residents Vanessa Carlton and Carlton’s husband John McCauley. Her interest in the human psyche is an extension of the thought-provoking paradigms she presents through her music, exemplified in her new song “Wrong With You,” from upcoming LP, Aquatic Flowers, out June 4 via Mama Bird Recording Co.
Tristen tells Audiofemme that she was intrigued by the concept of someone being attracted to a mess they can clean up, the cycle of “liking someone less the more they like you because you, underneath it all, have a self-hatred that makes you suspect something’s off if somebody would like you.”
The song’s defining line, “there must be something wrong with your for loving someone like me,” which reprises twice in the chorus, is inspired by a real-life argument from a friend’s toxic relationship. The line stuck with her for years, and eventually Tristen built a song around it – one that happened to align perfectly with the themes on her fourth album, the follow-up to 2017’s Sneaker Waves.
In the video for the song, premiering today exclusively with Audiofemme, the singer takes to the woods in a vintage wedding dress. With tear-stained cheeks, she walks alone in the lush green forest, her train dragging in the mud and getting caught on the branches as she slowly strays from the path. “So deep are the grooves/I’m sinking into/No love could ever wash away,” she sings, shooting dramatic looks at the camera all the while.
“I don’t necessarily try to define myself through my music,” Tristen shares. “I do take first person a lot because I see myself falling into the same mistakes everybody makes. I think that a song is worthy of writing when it’s something that I feel like people can relate to…and it’s common enough so you can distill some behavior or pattern or trait.”
The 11 tracks that comprise Aquatic Flowers resonate on varying psychological levels. The singer spotlights a frustrated emapth on “Die 4 Love,” while the character in “I Need Your Love” has taken many partners, yet longs for the feeling of falling for someone. Meanwhile, “Hothouse Flower” follows a comfortable and privileged artist who is ironically envious of others’ artistic suffering. “I do believe that everybody has these range of emotions whether we were taught to avoid them or we don’t acknowledge them,” Tristen observes. “Part of the enjoyment of writing, for me, is that you can relate to people by pointing out some kind of behavior pattern.” She will celebrate the release of Aquatic Flowers with a livestream on June 11 at The 5 Spot in Nashville. She’s also slated to appear alongside Kesha’s mother, songwriter Pebe Sebert, for a music and motherhood Q&A on Twitter Spaces on May 9 at 9:30 p.m. ET, where she’ll likely dispense more sage advice.
Tristen’s psychological approach to the music process has made for some interesting songs, but it’s also in her nature to want to help those who are struggling. “I feel like I have a hopeless optimist in me, like we can solve that – there’s a way to solve it with creativity,” she says. “The problems are fun. I think that there’s underlying patterns happening for everybody’s problems and there’s ways to pick them apart. For me, writing songs is a way to analyze things and put all that thinking energy into lines and soft words, and then the melodies and the music and all that is easy for me.”
In her daily life, Tristen dedicates herself to saving vintage clothing via Anaconda Vintage, the Nashville shop she runs with her sister. In her songs she captures characters with individual flaws that all embody the human experience in their own unique way. Both reflect Tristen’s desire to fix what feels broken. “I don’t really take a lot of responsibility for the writing and the music. I feel like it just happens and it’s a very natural, untouched thing for me. I have worked really hard to keep that untouched,” Tristen says of her artistic process. “I keep it pure.”