“Glass Jar,” the moving single from Tristen Gaspadarek, is catchy and complicated. Gaspadarek, who is simply known as Tristen, nails it as she writes in a claustrophobic manner.
Like many of her songs, the tune is derived from personal experience.
“When I was in grade school, our teachers would assign bug collections,” Gaspadarek said by phone from her Nashville home. “We would go into a field and find a bug, perfectly enjoying its life, zenned out in the sun, and trap it in a jar. You dip a cotton ball in alcohol and drop it in the jar and tighten the lid to asphyxiate the bug. Then you put it in the freezer. Finally, you drive a metal pin through its heart and stick it onto a piece of paper, identify it and turn it into your teacher for a grade.
“The song ‘Glass Jar’ is about people who make you feel that way in conversation.”
Gaspadarek is hardly in a glass jar. The Chicago native is breaking out courtesy of crafting bouncy, hook-laden indie rock. It’s all happening in Music City, which is stereotyped as a country destination, but the reality is that the industry town has been a hotbed for a variety of genres for many years.
“People that don’t know a lot about the history of American music may think ‘country’ when they think of Nashville,” Gaspadarek said. “That’s because they are listening to mainstream country radio in their small town anywhere in the U.S.
“But the truth is that Nashville is and has always been about songs and an attractive place for artists to live and make records. That’s why Bob Dylan came to Nashville to finish ‘Blonde on Blonde,’ and stayed to make ‘John Wesley Harding’ and ‘Nashville Skyline.’ These records aren’t country, but Dylan came to work with the best session musicians.
“That’s what Nashville has — the best musicians, and a musical heritage focused on the song and craft. We have bluegrass, folk — genre not being as important as the appreciation for song craft ... (I)t’s part of the water here.”
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Other bodies of water have inspired Gaspadarek. While touring the Pacific Northwest, she was moved to write songs, which grace her last album, “Sneaker Waves.”
“I was playing some shows and writing on Rockaway Beach, just outside of Portland ...,” Gaspadarek said. “I was climbing some rocks when I saw a sign that said to ‘Beware of Sneaker Waves’ and I thought it was a metaphor for life. A sneaker wave is a large coastal wave much bigger in size than the preceding waves, and it sucks you into the ocean.
“And isn’t that death? At any moment, you can be swept away, and isn’t it important to make sure you are using your time in a meaningful way?”
Gaspadarek, who will headline the Englert Stage by the Weatherdance Fountain during Saturday’s Iowa City Downtown Block Party (6/25), typically pens deep, provocative songs, which feature her co-conspirator/husband Buddy Hughen.
“Buddy is my musical soul mate,” she said. “He’s an absolute sonic savant, and his influence makes me a better musician and songwriter — but also by becoming an expert at recording and mixing so that we, together, can be free to record the songs I write, exactly how we want. That’s why I stay in love with him. There’s nothing more attractive than a man with talent, passion and dreams.”
Around Valentine’s Day, she pleases fans with a concept dubbed “Covers for Your Lover.” Every few years she’ll take requests from fans and record a cover of their choice. “I have so many unreleased covers. I probably should put out a covers album. I love picking out a song that is an obscure hit.”
WHAT: Tristen, with The Mystery Lights, Diplomats of Solid Sound, and Elly
WHERE: Englert Theatre stage, Weatherdance Fountain, Ped Mall, during the Iowa City Downtown Block Party
WHEN: 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday (6/22)
DOWNTOWN BLOCK PARTY
WHEN: 2 to 11 p.m., Saturday (6/25)
WHERE: Clinton Street and Ped Mall, rain or shine
ACTIVITIES: Yoga, sand volleyball, roller skating, beach area, yard games, 3x3 basketball, tug of war, interactive public art, music, silent disco, break dancing competition, drag show, poetry slam, “Grease” movie, barn dance, fashion show and more
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ADMISSION: Free; $10 for beverage cup & wristbands ages 21 and older, in advance online or $11 cash only, at the event
PARKING: Free in downtown ramps until 10 a.m. Sunday (6/23)
DETAILS & TICKETS: Downtowniowacity.com/events/downtown-block-party/