I discovered the beautiful voice of Miami based musician Tristan Clopêt when searching for cover songs to feature for my song of the day. My very selective musical ear was sort of blown away by his cover of the Cee Lo Green song with that very frank message “F*ck You” which was cleaned up for the radio version to “Forget You”. Oh, it’s so not the same in the context of the song to replace that word, and loving the unedited version, I’m convinced, also has a lot to do with the voice delivering that harsh message as sweet as honey which goes back to my original introduction to Tristan - his voice is just beautiful.
After exploring his work further, you’ll find more to the package than just vocals. Tristan is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter that just happened to be working on his first full length album when he saw that I mentioned him on twitter (note the power of twitter). He thanked me for the song feature and in seeing that I did graphic design asked about my interest in creating artwork for his new album. Um, yeah! I kept telling him that as a passionate music lover this would be the coolest thing ever.
It was quite convenient then that I got an interview out of this pitching the questions as part of my prep for the album design. See the Q&A below. / Thanks Tristan for trusting a stranger with this project so important to you. Tristan starts his “Name It What You Want Tour” tonight in Miami. The album will be available June 6. (Some of my favorite artwork for the album is inside the cd pack which of course you must buy to see.) See the video for the album's first single "A Chat With My Brain" here. See the full tour line-up of cities go here. He’ll be in Nashville June 27 at the Mercy Lounge for a show I’m hoping to attend. If you happen to want to take that trip with me, let me know.
"Songwriting allows me to use me as the instrument. And that’s something no one else has. So really, I’m focusing on practicing and improving the relationship and communication between my mind and my fingertips and vocal chords because that will create sounds that no one else in the world is capable of. That’s what I feel I can contribute to the arts."
~Tristan on the importance of songwriting to his work.
When and how were you introduced to music to have led you to where you are now? I have an almost 5 year old who loves music and wants to learn an instrument, so I always wonder how to create an encouraging experience for him.
I always tinkered with music thanks to an early fascination with sound but I was about five when my mother forced me to choose an instrument to learn. She had played piano and my grandmother was a singer so she believed in music as a strong foundation for children. I chose piano because of how large it was. The low notes were so different from the high notes. So much possibility. I took lessons until I was 16, when I was really into guitar.
When did you begin your musical career? What were the key ingredients in making that happen?
I always planned on being an engineer/producer because I was too shy to perform. Looking back now at my childhood, which was full of performances, that logic still baffles me. It might’ve been just a stage of insecurity coupled with being in an uncomfortable transition to maturity and the real world. I was on a plane to Toronto, my birth city, when I realized that I was crazy if I was to do anything other than perform.
Can you give a rundown of the instruments you play in chronological order? Any others yet to learn that you seriously will soon?
Piano, Guitar, Bass, Harmonica, Violin (for only one year), Voice, Drums, Trumpet. I’d like to get a lot better at horns.
Is songwriting (the more psychological aspect of music it seems) a very important aspect of your music career?
The most important. Because I’ll never be the best piano player or the best guitar player. That’s not really what I care about. Songwriting allows me to use me as the instrument. And that’s something no one else has. So really, I’m focusing on practicing and improving the relationship and communication between my mind and my fingertips and vocal chords because that will create sounds that no one else in the world is capable of. That’s what I feel I can contribute to the arts.
Beyond writing a song because it’s sort of your job, how does songwriting help you personally and mentally? Is there an element of therapy, resolving things in life, or gaining insight?
I went through a phase where I wanted to be an actor. Right around high school. Then I went to acting college in New York. Then I went on a few auditions and realized I hated the process. It was mainly because I never felt comfortable unless I can prepare my art. I’ve never felt comfortable improvising anything. Not because I’m incapable but because its part of my psyche. I need to be prepared at any challenge I take on. I just feel more comfortable. So basically, the idea of preparing something; writing it all down, trimming the fat, adjusting the rough edges then baking it in the oven and adding frosting for one big presentation is really exciting for me. Songwriting allows me to do that.
You write songs about things in your life, correct? So let’s discuss your life outside of music where you draw your inspiration from. Tell about your family, your other passions, and possibly you love life? What makes you happiest? What terrifies you?
Some of the songs are about my life but a lot of those written in first person are not. I just think it will resonate and create a better line of communication with the listener if I tell the story in first person. It’s very comforting to write about things that aren’t myself. All of a sudden, you’re way more proud and a little less worried about people rejecting it if it’s not about you. Performing to a full room of cheering fans makes me the happiest. Performing to a full room of cheering fans that all look like John Malkovich terrifies me.
How much do you think about your audience and what they will think during your music process?
A whole lot. And any songwriter who says otherwise is lying.
How do you prepare yourself for a live performance? Do you interact or meet the audience at all beforehand?
I used to just go up there and do it but now I take it slightly more seriously; warming up my voice, stretching, drinking a lot of water, getting on the same energy level as my band. I like to avoid anything but the people I’m performing with beforehand because I tend to lose my voice easily. Especially on tour. Afterwards though, it’s very nice and important to say hello to the people who have supported you.
Listening to Music
It’s a personal thing for everyone. I really listen to music. It’s mostly the foreground not the background. Can you talk about how you listen to music? Are you analyzing every element of it?
Oh yeah. And there are pros and cons…Now that I’ve pulled back the curtain and seen Oz, most of music isn’t nearly as magical as it once was. But having said that, the great stuff, Mozart, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, that stuff is otherworldly. It’s way better than 95% of the population realize. So I feel privileged that I can connect with it on a completely different level than I was able to before.
What’s your next cover song session going to be?
Not too sure. Maybe something from the Alex Turner solo disc. He’s as good a songwriter as they come these days.
Banner Image and Album Cover Design by Sophorn McRae