Bell X1

We started this particular ride in the summer of 2014. Me crossing Dublin city by bicycle most days, to Dave’s studio in Raheny. Take the coast road or the Malahide road after Fairview? I’ll have to check the app that tells me which way the wind is blowing (God forbid I might actually feel it in my face)…pleasant as it is, the coast road’s a bitch with the wind against you. Cycling to and from, my head’s a whirl with tuneage…I don’t notice the city being squeezed by Luas works, until I’m being funnelled around College Green at rush hour on the narrowest of roadways, sandwiched between a barrier and a bus. For non-Irish folks, the Luas is our light rail network – known, in a way that reminds me why I love this city and it’s people, as the Daniel Day…

There was the morning coffee and talk of the issues of the day. There was a morning session, luncheon of hang sangwidges froofified with jalapeño peppers and chilli mayonnaise, then afternoon session. There were songs, both country and western, as is our wont. Noisy ones, gentle ones, krautrock, slow jams…not sure what we’re doing, just go with it. We took them to the wilds of Donegal, to Attica Audio and recorded with Tommy McGloughlin…again, circling, flinging paint – show yourself, you devil! A bunch of songs that had their moments, but still felt uneasy in each other’s company. Back to Raheny for honing, plain hacking and dumping…and still more songs. Getting closer.

Into the arms of Glenn Keating for some sweet sounds, coming down, on the nightshift… He played some keyboards and helped punch out some of the grooves we were going for, and his help was invaluable in getting the record to check its delinquent self. He said of what we presented him that he was particularly drawn to the sex vibes… the what now? That there was a sex-vibe going on with some of the tunes and that that was a good thing. Well, sweet Jesus and the Orphans, we didn’t know where to look… If that’s the case, then that is a good thing. Not that there are songs about just sex, but in all the circling and exploring we did talk about soulful grooves and feel being more important than narrative, and tried to gather the songs we settled on under this awning.

We came across the work of artist Mirjam Dijkema when in Donegal – she had made posters for Villagers, with whom Tommy had played. We got in touch and she made a poster for the acoustic-ish tour at the end of last year. She came over to see us play and we got talking about how to represent the new music visually. We used word like “shonky”, “scratchy”, “dayglo”. She rolled her eyes (maybe?), nodded and went about creating a sunburst metallic intergalactic collage and we thank her for it…

This has been the most difficult record we’ve made, in terms of feeling like it was good enough to share, to let it go and no longer be just ours. That we’d made something different to what’s come before. I know we’ve been crazed with doubt, occasional bum steers & misguided conviction along and we say thank you to those who’ve calmed the waters…

As the world feels like it’s becoming a harsher place (maybe there’s just more damn noise?), we seek out the comfort of the familiar and familial…arms – Paul.

(ARMS will be available 14 Oct. Pre order it here to receive a special discount & 3 new tracks instantly: http://radi.al/BellX1Arms)

"If someone says, 'That's a trite, pop chord progression that everybody uses and it always sounds cheesy, then I want to try and use that, and make it sound good," Tristen says. It's that kind of contrarian spirit and confident moxie that makes the Nashville-based singer-songwriter stand head and shoulders above her Music City peers.

Nashville-based? Singer-songwriter? … Goes by her first name? Do those terms fill your head with expectations of a precious, pint-sized female crooning middle-of-the-road pop with a precious tear-in-beer twang? Well, don't let them. Because, beyond Tristen's sharp-witted lyrical savvy and sophisticated song-craft, her innate ability to defy expectations will leave you hanging on her every note, even in Nashville.

"I'm not from here," she says of the city she migrated to in 2007. "We didn't wear so many dresses where I came from," she goes on, explaining how she pulls much inspiration from the blue-collar suburb south of Chicago where she grew up. "When you have to struggle for everything that you have, when you actually start getting opportunities, you're going to make sure to be completely prepared for them."

How the singer immersed herself in Nashville, building up her chops and experimenting with ideas in a competitive incubator of exceptional musicians and songwriters, while waiting tables and living hand to mouth to tour on a shoestring budget shaped the songs and sounds on her earthy, acclaimed 2011 debut, Charlatans at the Garden Gate. But if Charlatans was the story of Tristen finding her voice in Nashville, the singer's stunning new album CAVES is the sound of her defining that voice for the world, and setting it to some sleek, synth-pop-inspired tones, once again defying expectations.

In much the same way, "Forgiveness," off the album, is hardly a song about forgiveness. "That's my 'angry girl' song," she jokes, explaining that the song was actually inspired by an interview she heard with punk rocker/ writer/ pundit and pillar of male aggression, Henry Rollins, in which he says he forgives his dad by not finding him and beating him in the face with a hammer.

Not all of the songs on CAVES are as openly confrontational as "Forgiveness." Relentlessly infectious opening track "No One's Gonna Know" — which sounds like Kim Carnes taking on latter-day Leonard Cohen — is about gangsters. "Monster" is a menacing, minor-tinged stomper about having multiple personalities. By contrast, the gorgeous, lulling "Island Dream" plays like a spacey, sonic mini movie about existential dread and "searching for answers and not getting any."

There are break-up songs on the album, too, like "Easy Out" and "Catalyst." While songs like "House of War" and "Dark Matter" are sociological critiques about "being a terrible American," she says. "Winter Night" — the album's moody, resplendent centerpiece — was inspired by the Boris Pasternak poem of the same name.

Although, lyrically, CAVES covers a wide breadth of thematic territory, the album is unified by an aesthetic concept: She wanted to make a synth-pop record that combinedCharlatans' rootsy foundation by casting objects of obsessive Reagan-era influences like Kate Bush, Eurythmics and Echo and the Bunnymen in her own singular image.

"At first I wanted to make a dance record," she says. "That's where my headspace was. … I wanted to challenge the acoustic reverence of the Americana music world and I wanted to piss off the old folkies. Is there something wrong with that?"

Looking into Tristen's backstory, it's a musical Frankenstein that makes sense. "[Growing up] I had a Dolly Parton greatest hits album that I listened to on repeat," she recalls. "That and Madonna's Immaculate Collection, I always loved Madonna. And that's actually why I wanted to be just 'Tristen,' because I picked that up when I was 14 — [that's when] I started writing songs."

Later, much in the same away, she says a childhood obsession with '60s girl-group pop and the Beatles would blossom into an adult obsession with classic singer-songwriter troubadours and legendary art-rock pioneers. "I would want to be an amalgam of Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Dolly Parton," she says.

With a stellar set of songs locked and loaded for CAVES, the singer tapped luminaries from both ends of that musical spectrum to achieve a very specific goal. "I wanted to mix synthesizers with string arrangements and electronic drums with live drums so that you couldn't tell which was which — I wanted people that were anti-digital to listen to it and not be able judge its authenticity by its acoustics," she explains.

So, after tracking the record in Nashville with guitarist/husband Buddy Hughen and a hand-picked host of A-list Nashville indie-rock session vets, like Ben Folds drummer Sam Smith, she took the tracks to Bright Eyes producer Mike Mogis, who recorded Tristen's own lush string arrangements at his ARC Recording Studios in Omaha, Nebraska. And to achieve an authentic synth-pop sheen, she enlisted famed New Order, Pet Shop Boys and OMD producer Stephen Hague, a pioneer in the field of digital recording to mix. "That was a game-changer," she says. "Stephen gave the recordings dimension."

"Tristen is a rare combination," says Hague. "The lyrics of a real artist, the voice of a pop star, and the focus of someone who will always bring her A-game. It was a real pleasure for me working with someone who always has her eye on the bigger picture, and is always willing to try different approaches to the work."

Tristen is releasing CAVES on October 15 on her own PUPsnake records via ThirtyTigers.

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