Behind the piano: Tristan Eckerson
A while back I Spotted Tristans song For Natalia and now it’s time to get to know the artist behind it a bit better!
Where are you from? And where do you live?
I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio. I was born and raised here although I moved around a lot- Charleston, SC, San Sebastian, Spain, San Francisco, CA, Seattle, WA, Asheville, NC, and then back to Cincinnati.
How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
I’ve been playing the piano since I was 6. I’ve had brief forays into trombone, drums, and guitar. My trombone skills are gone, but I’m still pretty passable on drums and can play a little bit of acoustic guitar still.
Tell us about how you started playing music.
I’m not exactly sure where I was at this point, but when I was about five I found a piano in someone’s house where I just happened to be, and I started messing around with it. Playing the really low keys and the really high keys. That’s my earliest memory of playing piano, and from there I just started taking classical lessons.
How long have you been making piano music?
I’ve been leading and playing in bands since I was in college, back in 2001. But as far as solo piano music, and the type of music that I’m currently producing, it’s been since 2016. I released a full length album with 1631 Recordings that summer and then did a tour through the U.S. and Canada to promote it.
Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
The first songs I ever actually wrote were when I was in college in Charleston, SC and playing in a jazz fusion band called Doublestack. I wrote a few bluesy and fusion type songs on piano, and was also writing a lot of lyric based songs on acoustic guitar back then. At that point there was no plan or method, I was just writing anything and everything that popped into my head.
What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
I’m not a huge fan of genres, and certainly when it comes to solo piano I think it really spans the map as far as what people are doing out there. If I had to pick one contemporary pianist right now, I’d say Tigran Hamasyan comes to mind. He might be categorized more as jazz, but I find what he does to defy genres and it is just really engaging to me. His album A Fable is pretty amazing.
Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s?
Not really, no. At this point I don’t even practice most of the songs I’ve written and produced. I mostly just move on to writing new music. But when I sit down at the piano I almost always just go to improvising. And that often leads me to coming up with an idea that I can then develop into a composition.
What rules (in making music) need to be broken?
I’m a big believer in knowing all the rules so then you can break them. I’m always trying to learn more about theory and compositional techniques. My goal is to have the knowledge and experience to then go beyond convention and create something that defies rules- something that people could analyze and categorize afterwards because it’s never been done before. That’s the idea anyway. But mostly I just try to make music that excites me and that I can be proud of.
How do you record your music?
For the past few years I’ve been doing everything in my home studio. I have an upright, and also I do a lot with Logic Pro and Sample libraries. I try to get samples and DAW productions to sound as real as possible. That’s my main goal. For my next album though I would like to get into a studio to record string parts and possibly some other instruments such as tuned percussion, brass, and woodwinds.
What’s your take on sampled instruments?
I like the saying “It’s not the software, it’s the user.” I went to grad school in San Francisco for Music Production and Sound Design, so I was completely immersed in that world. I kind of went in one end and came out the other, so to speak. I still use samples everyday, but I try to use them in the same way I would with real life instruments. I’m much more interested these days in writing compositions than tweaking settings. I have the utmost respect for people who really get into software and its capabilities, but for me at a point it was just overwhelming and really took away from playing an instrument and writing for humans. There was a point where I was producing so much “in the box” that I barely ever played my instrument. And that’s really the point where I decided to start writing solo piano music.
The last question is asked by my 5 year old son: Where do all your songs come from?
Thank you for this Tristan!
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