Music Bugle Exclusive – Q & A – Tristan Armstrong

Artwork for ‘Periscope.’ Courtesy of Tristan Armstrong.

By Nicholas Jason Lopez

Earlier this year in June, Tristan Armstrong (Stars Algonquin, The Actual Goners) dropped the video for his solo single “Sing In Your Sleep,” a calm and cozy, building romantic number that served as a welcome followup to singles “It Can’t Be Nashville Every Night” and “Periscope.”

His music overall carries on a theme of romantic hope while in isolation, all within the realm of an intense year passed. Stylistically, he gears less towards his Americana roots and more in an orchestral direction.

The Music Bugle had the chance to talk to the Toronto-based guitarist and singer-songwriter about his new music and more.

Music Bugle – How would you say 2021 has treated you so far? 

Tristan Armstrong – Despite the weirdness we’re living through at this point in the century, I’m having an alright time. I’ve really used this reduction in my weekly work hours to develop my home recording skills. The song “Periscope” was recorded entirely through various people’s home recording setups, including the full orchestral accompaniment.

Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise? 

Tristan Armstrong – Spoon has definitely been one of my favorite bands over the past few years. All of their records are good. Something I’ve dug deep into as of late is the catalogue of XTC. It’s a diverse body of work. Relating to that, I’ve recently discovered a fantastic collaborative album by Mike Keneally & Andy Partridge called ‘Wing Beat Fantastic’ that I’d recommend checking out if you’re into XTC. Field Music is another great band in that sort of vibe.

Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Tristan Armstrong – The most notable impact for me is the fact that live music was on hiatus. As a professional musician, that was my main source of income. We’re fortunate here in Canada to be receiving government financial aid. Without that, this would be a much more stressful time for me. What I’m finding is that the days sort of blur into one another. You kind of just hang out… maybe that’s what life really is about – just kind of hanging out and digging it.

Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do? 

Tristan Armstrong – “Everybody gets one chance to do something great. Most people never take the chance, either because they’re too scared or they don’t recognize it when it’s spitting on their shoes. This is your big chance and you shouldn’t let it go by. You’re the one with the rubber legs. Figure it out,” said Babe Ruth, from “The Sandlot” – though, I have a feeling that one’s a popular choice.

Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians? 

Tristan Armstrong – Thinking back to when I first joined Facebook almost 15 years ago, I certainly remember it being an exciting development in terms of providing exposure for indie musicians. Keeping people in the loop in real time with new projects you’re working on is pretty much the expectation now. This can be a time-consuming task, but it certainly keeps people engaged with your work and allows them to observe your evolution as an artist somewhat in real time. This, combined with the fact that fans can reach out directly to artists and have meaningful exchanges, can be a really positive thing. The main negative aspect is the emotional/psychological impacts of the comparison game – the negativity that comes with feeling your accomplishments don’t measure up to those of others.

Music Bugle – How would you compare your solo material to that of The Actual Goners? 

Tristan Armstrong – In The Actual Goners, even though it’s much more difficult to get together physically, now more than ever, we make efforts to have the songwriting be a collaborative experience in which co-bandleader Duncan Symonds and I each contribute. Even if it seems like a small piece of the overall tune, the fact that different people are putting their input into the music is important. Sometimes, it can feel like a process of compromise, but often, it’s a matter of being taken down a road you wouldn’t necessarily have found on your own. In the music I write alone, it can be a bit more revealing of who I am as an individual, because I can take things a bit deeper down the road of my own quirks. I truly enjoy working in both formats. It’s just nice to be able to have the freedom to see a song through, even if it doesn’t neatly fit into the established identity of a band.  

Music Bugle – Did the video for “Periscope” come out how you hoped? 

Tristan Armstrong – Putting together the video presented a number of challenges. Going out and capturing footage of submarines, especially with the travel restrictions we’re faced with these days, was not really an option. Even under normal circumstances, that would be pretty unlikely. This meant I had to find existing footage that was’t restricted by copyrights. There are databases online where you can search through archival footage, so I began combing through those. A lot of what I found there was very old and as such, is not of the highest resolution. In this current age when most people’s smartphones can capture HiDef footage, that’s come to be what people expect to see. I feel the content and mood set by the imagery I found makes up for that fact that it’s not pristine. 

Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need an escape? 

Tristan Armstrong – Toronto can feel like a concrete jungle, but we are fortunate here to have a good amount of green space in and around the city. Being originally from Vancouver Island on Canada’s west coast, finding blue space is equally as important to me. Often, I’ll head down to the shores of Lake Ontario. In the areas it touches Toronto, the shoreline combines elements of nature and urban decay. It’s an interesting combination that can sometimes feel somewhat post-apocalyptic… in a cool way.  

Music Bugle – What makes you the most proud about where you come from? 

Tristan Armstrong – The chocolate, custard and nut-crusted confection beloved around the globe known as the Nanaimo Bar was conceived in my hometown of Nanaimo, British Columbia. That and an annual race of nautical prowess known as the Nanaimo Bathtub Races. I’m proud to be from a place that has its own fair share of quirks.

Music Bugle – What has been your biggest challenge lately? 

Tristan Armstrong – One of the main things I’m finding to be a challenge is to find the drive and self-motivation to actually finish things within a timeline. Maybe this is a carry over from values of the “Before Times.” I found in the past that, in the periods of time when I was busier and had to be more strategic with how I divide my time, I was actually more productive, but is productivity the be all, end all? I’m hoping that this reset we’ve all experienced in the slowing of the pace of daily life is something that will have a lasting effect on the way we view the relationship of work versus life in North America.

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