Since emerging on the California club scene just a few short years ago, Tristan Prettyman has been acclaimed as one of today’s most remarkable new artists. The 23 year old singer / songwriter’s Virgin Records debut – dubbed appropriately, “t w e n t y t h r e e” – is an uncluttered, heartfelt wonder, an utterly contemporary modern record that also rings out as something truly fluid and timeless. Tracks such as the lighthearted first single, “Love, Love, Love” and the moody “Electric” are sun-dappled acoustic pop delights, buoyed by Prettyman’s playfully sensual vocals and simple – yet richly textured – lyrical approach.
“I don’t really think much about writing songs,” Prettyman notes. “Like everything else in my life, I try to just let it happen very spontaneously. I basically sit down to write and whatever comes out, comes out. I don’t really begin to understand what my songs are saying until much later, when I can look at them from a distance and think, ‘So that’s what I meant…’”
Born and raised in the laidback SoCal beach town of Del Mar, Prettyman grew up surrounded by music…though not necessarily the kind of music that would go on to inspire her. “I was always around tons of records,” she laughingly remembers. “But they were my Mom’s records that she was using to make workout mix tapes. You know: Janet Jackson, Bobby Brown, Debbie Gibson, lots of ‘80s stuff.”
At the tender age of 15, Tristan’s musical perspective was irrevocably altered when her half-brother’s friend passed along a cassette of Ani DiFranco’s 1993 “PUDDLE DIVE.” She played the album constantly, almost to the point of wearing out the tape. To this day, the cassette occupies a prominent place on her desk at home, a reminder of where it all started.
“Ani was like a savior to me,” she says. “I was right at that stage where you’re confused about why your parents are still treating you like a kid. Then of course, there were boys…
“But what was more important to me was that before Ani, I had no idea a girl could make music like that. It exposed me to the idea that a songwriter could be completely honest about her life in her music.”
Her infatuation with Ani’s music – as well as a self-professed nature as a “nosey kid” – led her into her parents’ bedroom, where she “borrowed” her dad’s old acoustic guitar.
“My parents got mad when they first found out I had taken Dad’s guitar,” she recalls. “But they noticed that I had taken an interest in it – and I had never really taken much of an interest in anything!”
Though she had not a moment’s musical training, Prettyman slowly learned her way around the fretboard. Her mother bought her a Bob Dylan guitar book, but Tristan couldn’t concentrate long enough to get through the instructions.
Prettyman was initially sheepish about playing music for others. However, like any dedicated musician, she eventually overcame her shyness and started jamming at her friend’s house.
“We’d spend the whole day at the beach surfing and barbequing. People started to realize that I played and would ask me to bring my guitar over.” Friends and acquaintances were knocked out by her emotive voice and heartfelt performance.
People began encouraging her to start writing songs, which turned out to come quite easily. An inveterate diarist, Prettyman found that she was comfortable blending her personal thoughts with melodies. Meanwhile, people began turning her on to such songwriters as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, artists that floored her with their frank, expressive lyricism. All of a sudden a previously unheard world opened up to her, an exciting expanse of music ranging from rock and pop to soul and folk
“I was hearing these people talk about emotions in a way that was completely new to me,” she recalls. “But they said things in a way that made perfect sense to me.”
Songs began flowing though her, though she still viewed her music as little more than a hobby to go along with other extracurricular activities such as surfing and a brief stint as a model. Everything changed when Tristan’s spontaneous performance at a friend’s house caught the ear of Joe Guglielmino, an employee of filmmakers Taylor Steele and Chris Malloy, known collectively as the Moonshine Conspiracy. “I was over at a friend’s house sitting on the floor playing to the room when he came in to find me serenading everyone. Not knowing why he never met me before through this mutual friend, he freaked out and immediately wanted me to be on the soundtrack for the film they were putting together – ‘Shelter.’” Prettyman recorded a handful of songs on a friend’s Mini-Disc player, one of which “Anything At All” was selected for the soundtrack.
“Even though I was playing music, I never thought I’d make a career of it,” Prettyman says. “’Shelter’ started a chain reaction. People were calling the guys who made the movie to find out who I was, whether I could be booked for shows and where to buy more of my music. It was pretty crazy.”
Tristan, a former intern at Transworld Surf / Biz, was tapped by the company to come play at their Transworld Stance booth at a Las Vegas trade show – her first official live gig. She was more than a little nervous. “It was booked 4 months in advance so I agreed to it knowing that making that commitment early meant I couldn’t get out of it.”
To test herself in front of a crowd, Prettyman decided to play a local open mic night. “I was addicted to it instantly,” Prettyman admits. “I realized that wanted to play all the time, because I loved watching everyone get so excited, myself included.”
Prettyman became a regular performer around North County’s local bars and cafes – though the fact that she was still under the legal drinking age meant she wasn’t allowed out from backstage in any venue that served alcohol. She began recording her demo. Half was done at a surfer friend of hers’ house and the other in a friends living room. Tristan pressed the four acoustic tracks herself and began selling CDs at shows. But demand quickly outpaced her ability to burn CDs, and she often found herself in the awkward position of having to apologetically tell new fans to try picking up a CD at her next show.
Before long, Prettyman was drawing crowds at Solana Beach’s renowned Belly Up Tavern, though being underage; she had to wait in the back before going on stage. In the summer of 2003, she returned to the studio and laid down tracks for what would become “THE LOVE EP.” The seven song collection went on to sell remarkably over 10,000 copies, despite being sold only at shows and through her tristanprettyman.com website.
That fall, Prettyman was invited to support San Diego-based singer/songwriter Jason Mraz on his national tour. All of a sudden, Tristan found herself playing in front of 1500 people a night. She followed the Mraz trek with a number of tours and support dates, including gigs alongside John Mellencamp and G. Love & Special Sauce. Her fanbase grew with each show and pretty soon, fervent interest from a slew of major labels followed.
Tristan left sunny California to spend winter 2004 in New York City, where she took up studio residence with producer Josh Deutsch (Jason Mraz, Lenny Kravitz). The nasty weather and big city attitude didn’t change her artistic focus – the arrangements might be fuller, the production slightly more complex, but “ t w e n t y t h r e e” perfectly captures the organic splendor of Prettyman’s very sincere sound.
Though still acoustic-based, the album features a down-to-earth yet multi-layered sonic texture which serves as an ideal musical accompaniment to Prettyman’s captivatingly honest songs. Inspired by such personal heroes as Jack Johnson, Ben Harper and Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Tristan was determined to create an effortless and live-sounding record, one where the straight-up sonic approach matched the uncomplicated emotions expressed in the lyrics and melodies.
“Most of the songs on the record are first takes, recorded live to tape,” she notes. “I think people are going to be very surprised at how simple it sounds. It’s very basic – guitars, bass, pedal steel – but I didn’t want to make a major label pop record. I wanted to fill out the sound but still keep it raw and honest. I didn’t want my fans to think, ‘Uh-oh, she sold out. Now she sounds like everything else on the radio!’”
She need not have worried – the songs of “ t w e n t y t h r e e” are very much in sync with Prettyman’s own idiosyncratic persona, a fresh and upbeat perspective that is more than evidenced in such songs as “Love, Love, Love” or the jubilant “Always Feel This Way.” The final song written for “t w e n t y t h r e e,” the charming “Simple As It Should Be,” truly serves as a statement of purpose for Prettyman. Over an irresistible back porch folk melody, Prettyman sings, “We should never feel the need to worry, ever get ourselves in a hurry,” a pure articulation of her belief that life is meant to be led in the most joyous and unstructured way possible.
“I was thinking about the relationship I’m in,” she says, “about how nothing is difficult, everything is easy. I don’t have to think about it – it just flows, it just comes naturally. That’s how music should be. I’ve been so lucky. Everything in my life, from surfing to writing songs to playing music, has come to me so easily, like it was exactly what I was supposed to be doing.”
With its unaffected beauty and undeniable charms, “t w e n t y t h r e e” serves as an ideal introduction to Tristan Prettyman’s natural talent. But for this gifted young artist, the album stands as but the first step on what she expects to be a long journey.
“I am really proud of writing an entire album. I feel as though this is my golden year,” Prettyman says, explaining her album’s title and theme, “My birthday is on the 23 rd and this year I turn 23. That’s why I had to call this record ‘t w e n t y t h r e e’ – everything in my life has been leading up to this.”