Many songwriters and artists migrate to Nashville in search of success in the country music industry, but there’s a lot more to Nashville music than country. Whether it’s the raw blues approach of the Black Keys, the jazz of Jeff Coffin, or the rock of the Kings of Leon and their embracing of technology in selling their latest album as an NFT (non-fungible token), there’s a lot going on beyond the country side of things.
That reality hit folk-pop artist Tristan Bushman several years ago, and he moved to Nashville from a small Illinois farm town just out of his teens to build a career based on a more Americana and Heartland-influenced sound. He recently released his new single “Break Itself,” one of a series of singles that will comprise a full EP coming out in October.
The song was produced by Brad Stella, who is known (especially in his native Canada) as a recording artist in his own right, as well as for being the father of Lennon and Maisy Stella, who appeared for several years on the TV series Nashville. “Break Itself” was recorded in Franklin at the Castle, where countless major artists from Johnny Cash to Snoop Dogg have recorded platinum albums. Some of the session musicians are Canadian as well.
“The guys who play on the album are awesome, they’re some guys that Brad pulled in who he thought would work well with my music,” Bushman said from his home in the Nashville suburb of Hermitage. “Brad was working out of the Castle, and he asked me if I wanted to do some demo-type stuff there, and we started running down some acoustic songs and vocals, talking about what songs would make sense to release. It kind of slowly rolled into him actually producing me in a full-on project. So it’s cool to listen to how it all turned out.”
Bushman knew that, once in Music City, he would have to take a path to success that isn’t quite the same as the Luke Bryans or the Thomas Rhetts of the industry. “I didn’t really have any desire to try to be like [those guys],” he said. “That’s not what I was inspired by. Growing up, my dad is a musician, and he played rock music. But then I really started to get into the Nashville singer-songwriter type of music, started going to shows in small listening room venues in the Chicago area, and those were the kind of artists that influenced me. And on a bigger scale, it was listening to a lot of John Mellencamp and Tom Petty growing up. And even though I didn’t live in Nashville yet, I was kind of inspired by the artists who did the 10 Out of Tenn [music collective] shows in Nashville, people like Griffin House and Andy Davis.”
Bushman, who is also fortunate to have landed a day job as a staff writer for a major music publishing company, played cover tunes as a teenager, but knew that Nashville was the place to go to find a home for his original music. “I lived in a small town and everyone was listening to country,” he said, “and I just wanted to kind of go against the grain I guess.”
Bushman will be performing “Break Itself” (video below) and other songs from his upcoming EP in Illinois this weekend, and will be opening for singer-songwriter Sean McConnell at Nashville’s City Winery on Thursday, August 5.