5 Questions: Tristan Welch

Tristan Welch is not like other DC-area musicians.

(Photo by Cameron Whitman)

For starters, his day job is a little unusual. Tristan works at a funeral parlor in northern Virginia. He is literally surrounded by death on a daily basis. That might sound like a quote from an 80s goth band’s press release, but there’s no artifice about the moody atmospherics he creates. Tristan is the real deal.

Then there is the prolific nature of Tristan’s output. The operative word being PROLIFIC. This is a man who is relentless in his drive to create. “Temporary Preservation,” Tristan’s latest album, and possibly his most absorbing, was released in April 2021, just five months after his previous record, the excellent “Ambient Distress.” That was one of four releases Tristan put out in 2020. You read that correctly. Four releases in one year. Clearly, the pandemic has done nothing to stifle his creativity.

Speaking of creativity, perhaps what’s most remarkable about Tristan is the artistic growth on display with each release he unveils. “Temporary Preservation” might be the perfect encapsulation of his work so far. “Trying to Change the Weather,” the opening salvo on “Temporary Preservation,” evokes stark images of spiraling skyscrapers, empty cities, cold temperatures and grey skies (at least in my mind’s eye). Yet, these cinematic sonic vignettes also feel emotional and personal. It’s impossible not to be affected by Tristan’s creations.

One of the most memorable livestream sets at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE in 2020 was the show Tristan performed last December. The visual component of the performance was just as striking as the music itself. It is evident that Tristan sees this as an equally important part of his overall aesthetic.

With Tristan back to perform another livestream show for WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE to promote “Temporary Preservation,” I took the opportunity to reach out to him and ask a few more questions about his fertile creativity, what he thinks of Brian Eno’s edict on “mistakes,” and how he is feeling about our world at roughly the halfway point of 2021. Read on!

(“Temporary Preservation” album cover art Erik Ruin)

1) Congratulations on the release of “Temporary Preservation.” It might be your most immersive record to date. Clearly, you have an affinity for crafting sonic landscapes that aren’t just atmospheric, but also emotional and personal. Were there any specific feelings or experiences of yours that helped shape the sounds on this record?

Tristan: I actually sat down with this and told myself – I’m just going to make a record. Typically I have some sort of bigger vision but with this I just wanted to create. Having said that I feel the need to create because of emotions and experiences. The idea of Temporary Preservation came from wondering thoughts at the funeral home (my day job). Daily I’m trying to preserve memories figuratively and literally. So that gave me a starting point. Truthfully though, the feelings that formed the record came from generalized depression and anxiety – feeling alone in a crowded room. I didn’t even want to think “big artistic picture” with this. I just wanted full sounds that made feel better. It worked at the time. I struggle with feeling like my life has much meaning, I struggle finding relationships purposeful, I struggle generally being happy… but when I create these big waves of sounds – I get a sense of relief and feel like I have friends.

2) I am fascinated by how increasingly prolific you have become. I suspect many artists look at your prodigious output and conclude they aren’t working hard enough – LOL! What’s your secret? Do you just have an abundance of creative juices flowing or is it about your work ethic?

Tristan: I’ve had some friends mention how they wish they could produce as much as I have – I’ve also gotten criticism. The secret is I just I feel empty without working towards something and ultimately recording – at least currently – is my most obtainable medium. It used to be live shows; but right now putting out records suits me a little better. As much I hate the idea of “work” – I am a worker bee. Once I’m engaged in a process I want it finished. Once I’m finished I want to move on. I’m not a perfectionist… which helps. Not only do I enjoy creating music, I like getting artwork together, I like trying different formats, I like working PR… I like everything about it. It makes my life unmanageable – it gives me headaches – it strains relationships – outside looking in its probably extremely unhealthy. But I’m all or nothing. I need to work on art to feel like everything else I do has a purpose. I have so many projects that need to be started and it makes me sick to my stomach knowing they aren’t in process yet.

3) Brian Eno once said to “Honor Thy Mistake As A Hidden Intention.” Can you think of a time when you accidentally stumbled upon a brilliant sound or idea by accident and it steered you down a more interesting path?

Tristan: On this record you hear my first experimenting with playing “bass”. I stumbled onto a setting on my SY1 synth pedal that just sounded FAT. I’ve never been great at bass but I just tried to use it like any other sound – and guess what… it’s on every track! Completely by chance. I think that little sound helped me create a record which is kinda ambient/ drone but totally not because it has these little riffs guiding the piece. I’m very rehearsed for live shows… but yet I always screw something up- but I embrace it and sometimes get some cool things out of it. What I hate the most though is when a mistake was awesome and I can’t re create it! This record has a bit of that.

(Photo: Cameron Whitman)

4) Visuals have also been a big part of your live music aesthetic – from holding up physical signs with political slogans to displaying vignettes of film sequences. How would you explain your thinking into using visuals as part of the overall live experience, particularly more than a year into the pandemic?

Tristan: Well – I’m a solo performer with low confidence and self-esteem for one. So visuals help with that. Second I think performance is an art form in of itself. I don’t feel just hearing music live carries that much weight… I think it should be performed. The visuals help with creating that experience. Third is a bit like that last part – this is instrumental music… which is beautiful on it’s own.. but some context gives everyone an idea of where it may take you. I’m not a singer and while I’m capable of talking on stage… I feel we all talk enough. I’m still working on my visual skills though – I contemplate working with someone but it’s hard to get on the same page.

5) I recall a recent conversation we had about your music and I commented that there seems to be hints of light amidst the darkness. Since we are roughly at the halfway point of 2021, I wanted to ask – what, if anything, inspires you to feel hopeful?

Tristan: I’m generally discontent. I can be shopping at Safeway and wish I was at Giant – then go to Giant and say fuck this I should go back to Safeway. But I’m able to laugh about it. Even though so much is serious in life – how much does a lot of it matter? I don’t mean that in a nihilistic way (though catch me on a bad day I can go there). I just mean… it’s ok to laugh at the absurd. I can’t tell you how many times I’m arranging funerals for families and we end up laughing. It’s all a process… I’m hopeful that I am learning more daily and becoming a better person. What I’m not hopeful about is anyone noticing that, but at least I know it’s happening.

Listen to and purchase Tristan Welch’s new album “Temporary Preservation” via Bandcamp; follow him on Instagram and Twitter; and ‘Like’ him on Facebook.

Catch Tristan’s livestream show at the June 4 2021 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE. Register at: bit.ly/BigOne_WELCH