Interview | Tristan Prettyman: “At the end of the day, everyone is having their own experience.”

All photos by Lauren Ross

You should listen to your heart
it’s gonna tell you what you need
Take care of yourself
and don’t you worry about me

Last September, we were given a demo of one of Tristan Prettyman’s new songs called “Say Anything,” and naturally, we wrote about it. What we didn’t know was that it was part of a larger project called Cedar + Gold, Prettyman’s third album that will be released on September 25th. Let’s have a listen to that demo before we go any further.

On Cedar + Gold, Prettyman does say anything and everything. It’s no secret that the songs are about her ex-fiancé, Jason Mraz, and the end of their relationship. In every painful detail that is delivered on the album, perhaps no other song cuts to the bone quite like “Glass Jar,” which is a direct response to Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up.” On it, Prettyman sings, “you gave up on us.”

The cold truth is what defines Cedar + Gold, and nothing more.

You’ll have to wait a few more weeks to hear “Glass Jar” and the rest of the album, but we recently had the pleasure of talking with Prettyman about the recording of her third album, her relationship with Mraz, and yes, the truth of it all.

Tristan, I’ve been listening to Cedar + Gold for the past few days, and I wanted to start with something I recently read where you said that a couple years ago, you were ready to give up music. And now, with a beautiful collection of songs ready to be released, what have you learned about yourself as an artist between that time and now?

It’s definitely restored my faith. (laughs) I think it’s so human, you know, to get burnt out. The events that led me to this record, obviously, something greater knew that I needed to keep going. It’s weird to think about it — I was thinking about culinary school, or becoming a yoga instructor, but I don’t think anything will ever fill this space of what it feels like to write a song and to sing it on stage and share it with people, and to put it on a record with a collection of other songs — there is no better feeling in the world than that. And, I think I know that now.

In a lot of ways, I’ve had a lot of experiences with me sort of being a brat, and needing someone to say, “come on, you can do this!” And really, like all these things, like quitting music, to go, “okay, quit then.” And then I had vocal surgery, and that was sort of the first thing that made me realize that, “oh no, I do want my voice back, this is what I do!”

And even working with Greg Wells on this record, he is such a genius, and he is also not a hand holder. So when I was like, “well, I like the demo — why doesn’t it sound like the demo?” He would come back with, “I don’t know, why don’t you just go have whoever did the demo do it, I don’t care.” And it was sort of like, “what?” There was a lot of learning with this record, and a lot of experiences that ultimately led me to step up to the fact that I play music, and that I’m good at it, and it was really cool — because up until now, I’ve played it safe, and barely scratched the surface of what I was capable of. And this record opened up so many doors — I just wrote and pulled from such a different place, and from a place that was way deeper, and I had to do a lot of digging. I had to go through a lot of shit to get to it. But I’m so thankful that I kept going through it and surrendered to it.

And the songs reveal that. The depth of these songs — and I don’t want to say this in a bad way — but it’s new ground for your music as far as I’m concerned.

No, it definitely is. I feel like it’s the beginning almost.

Coming from your point of view, is it difficult — because a lot of people are going to be familiar with your story and your past relationship. For example, so many songwriters can write about relationships that weren’t publicized like yours was. Is that difficult?

No, because when I started writing these songs, this was the last batch of songs I wrote — I had like 60 songs that I had written — and all of a sudden, this batch came. And it was right after my relationship sort of fell apart. And there was a moment that I had…I was feeling like I needed to write about it, but do I not write about this because everyone will know what I’m talking about? But you know what, screw it, this is what I’m being drawn to write about. I don’t have a problem with people knowing the personal details of it, because I knew what I was getting myself into. And I’m okay with talking about it, and sharing the whole process about it, really.

Was there ever a moment recording these where…

I had a meltdown? (laughs)

Well, yeah.

I mean..oh, for sure. Have you heard the end of “Never Say Never”?

I have, and I was going to get to that. Probably one of the most heart-wrenching recorded moments I’ve heard on a record this year.

Yeah. You know, “Say Anything” was written, and “Marry You” was written, and then “Come Down” was written, and it was sort of an evolution of the way that the songs were written. And then there were songs like “Glass Jar” and “Never Say Never” which were written while I was in the middle of recording. And sure, I had moments where I was like, “wow, you sure are walking through the honesty door right now!” (laughing) Like, I wasn’t leaving anything for anyone to guess. And I think because the last couple of records are kind of left that way, they were left for people to guess, it was cool to make this one really specific and honest. And more than anything, that’s just what came out of me.

It almost got to the point where it wasn’t even shocking to me anymore — a little more honest, a little more raw, a little more exposed, a little bit more like, “oh, did you really just put that into the song? really?” (laughs) And…I don’t want to say I’m numb to it, but I’m just used to it now.

And the end of “Never Say Never” just came out of nowhere, I didn’t think I had anything left to say. We were looking for a spoken word to put over that guitar part that Greg Leisz laid down on pedal steel. I didn’t know if I should make another song out of it, or read a poem…I was just stuck on it. And I just literally sat down and opened my computer, and I started typing. And Greg was in the other room and I go, “I think I have the part to go over the part.” And he’s like, “okay, read it to me.” And I said, “I think I just need to go into the booth and do it.” And he’s like, “okay!” And I went in, and that was the first take of it — you can tell in the beginning, I’m just trying to hold it together, and by the end, I’m a mess.

It really adds to the message of the album.

Thank you. I really tried to do that. I tried to not only have the songs that were the deep, raw emotional songs, but also songs like “Bad Drug” and “The Rebound,” and then the spoken word at the end. And there was a part of me as a songwriter that was like, “I can’t put this on there, they don’t go with the rest of the record.” And Greg Wells was really the one who said, “no, these are all extensions of you as an artist, you have to put them on your record. Your fans have never heard any of this.”

Well, it’s the truth, right?


Like you say in the spoken word, “the heart wants what the heart wants.”

Yes, the heart wants what the heart wants.

There are a lot of lines…there is a line in “Never Say Never” that touched me. You sing, “Am I the only one who remembers?” That is important to that song, and to the album.

Yeah. I wrote that when we were almost done recording. That song just came out. I had a moment where I was like, “haven’t I already talked about this? Aren’t we done? Why am I still talking about it?” (laughs) But, around the time when I was recording, a certain someone else’s songs were being released, and people were hearing that, and it was a different message than what I was writing about.

Honestly, that line really is about…that line is about me saying to my ex, “you’ve just turned this into what you want to believe it is. Do you really remember what happened here? How can you go outside and talk about this, and you’ve made up a whole new story of what everything means. You’ve haven’t honored this, or honored me, or honored us. Have you blocked it out to where it doesn’t exist anymore?” Because that’s what it felt like.

What makes a person do that?

I don’t know. You’d have to ask him. I don’t know! (laughs) I ask myself that everyday. No. Not everyday anymore. I definitely felt like, “why is (he) changing shit around?”

There is another line in your song “I Was Gonna Marry You,” when you sing, “I don’t even know the truth.” That’s really powerful in the context of the song.

Yeah, it’s like in that moment when you’re not sure what happened! The truth can be so highlighted in your head, and then when you hear other verisons of it or others talking about it, you can have a moment when you’re like, “I don’t know. Is this a story that I’ve created in my head? Is it real?” And that came from hearing an interview about the situation and thinking, “oh, now that’s what’s happening? Because we just talked a week ago, and you said something totally different.”

Well…to me, that’s just…a really important moment in that song.

Thank you. I like to play devil’s advocate a lot with this stuff, because there is really no wrong or right side. And at the end of the day, everyone is having their own experience, and it is all valid and it is all real — and in a sense, it is truthful. So, do we ever really know what is going on? I don’t know.

You wrote the song, though, so was there closure for you?

Yeah. I got every last bit out. And that was my goal — I wanted everything out of me that was taking up space. And I knew if I didn’t write fully from an honest place in my heart, there was going to be debris and stuff living inside of me, and I wanted it all out. And there is closure in that, but then it becomes…now I have to go tour it and talk about it.

Yeah. With people like me.

(laughs) But it gets better and better every time. And the way I’ve seen it help people, it blows me away. It starts out with this island of one thing, and then it branches off and it helps other people. And I really love that — you’re giving it up to help other people.

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