We talked to surfer/model turned singer/songwriter Tristan Prettyman about her excellent new album Cedar + Gold, her hiatus away from music, her songwriting heroes and more.
Your voice is amazing. What happened that you needed vocal surgery?
I found out that I had two polyps that needed to be removed. No bueno. But my voice is better for it now. The surgery taught me that I really needed to start taking better care of my voice, so after surgery I began working with an amazing vocal coach: Valerie Morehouse. My voice has never sounded better. I’m very grateful.
What led to you taking a hiatus from music?
I was pretty burnt out after the last record, Hello…x. I felt disconnected from life, my family and friends. I needed to find my anchor, and just go live for a minute.
Were you writing songs during your hiatus?
Nope. I completely walked away. I don’t think I picked up a guitar for two-and-a-half years.
Is Cedar + Gold your most autobiographical album?
I’d like to think all my albums are autobiographical. Every song is specific to an experience. On the other records, I took some time to reflect and gather my thoughts more. With Cedar + Gold, everything was written in the moment, in the midst of it. I think that really lent itself to this record coming out even more authentic and real.
You have a single called “Say Anything.” Most people associate the movie Say Anything with those words, but it’s also a perfect title for a song. What inspired your song, and did the movie played into it in any way?
“Say Anything” was written at 7 a.m. the morning of my vocal surgery. I sort of had this last minute panic moment. what if I could never sing again? What if I lost my voice? What if something went wrong? What would I want to say now? It’s a lot about saying how your feeling, whether or not it seems like a “good time” or not. We’re always waiting for the “right time” but what if you reach the point when it’s too late? Spit it out.
Have you heard from your ex about “I Was Gonna Marry You?”
We recently made amends, and he said he had heard most of the album. He didn’t say specifically about any one song, but he did say the songs feel and sound real when I am singing them.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
Ani DiFranco, Conor Oberst, Ben Gibbard, Merle Haggard, The Avett Brothers and Dan Wilson.
When you’re playing music for fun and no one’s around to hear it, what do you play?
I love learning cover songs.
What’s your typical approach to songwriting?
I usually come up with something on the guitar first, then a melody and then the lyrics.
When did you start writing songs?
Oh heck no. I started teaching myself how to play guitar at 15, but nothing sounded very listenable until I was about 20.
What was the first song you ever wrote?
It’s a song called “Evaporated.” About liking a guy, that didn’t like me in front of everyone else. He didn’t want to be my boyfriend, but wanted to do other stuff!
Are there any words you love or hate?
We were just having this conversation in the van. Moist, crevice, congeal. Yuck.
What’s a song on your new album you’re particularly proud of and why?
I love “Come Clean.” Vocally it’s very different than anything I have ever written. It’s so freeing to sing it live. It’s got some crazy notes and this one part that is so high my voice cracks, on purpose. It’s also got a very southern gospel feel to it, my grandpa would be proud.
What’s a lyric or verse from the album you’re a fan of?
Maybe the best hasn’t happened yet.
Is it easier, or harder to write songs, the more you write?
It’s as easy or hard as you want it to be.
What’s a song of yours that’s really touched people?
People seem to really love “I Was Gonna Marry You.” I was worried it might be too specific, but it’s interesting the way people can relate it to things in their life that have nothing to do with almost marrying someone. That’s pretty much my favorite thing ‘bout music. It transcends details.
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
Griffin House, Garrison Starr, Charlie Mars.
What do you consider to be the perfect song, and why?
“I and love and You” by The Avett Brothers. It’s amazing. It’s perfect. Because it just is.