01 Jan Crystalena on her new single, soup, and positivity:
Crystalena has, without a doubt, positive and sunny personality. Despite the cold, windy day in Ottawa, she’s all smiles – walking on air since her first official single, “Found,” was released the day before. We’re going for lunch in The Glebe, a trendy neighbourhood close to her school, where she’s obtaining a bachelor of music, specializing in voice and songwriting.
We finally find warmth, ducking into Soup Guy Café on 873 Bank Street, her new favourite place. “I love soup, it’s my favourite, ‘cause it’s really good for your vocal chords,” she announces as we sit down. I can quickly tell that favourite is one of her frequently used words. Not that that’s a problem, as Crystalena clearly has a positive people attract positive people mindset. “Nice people will change your attitude,” she adds, and her online marketing strategy is exactly that. “People who are negative online are usually negative in real life,” she explains (although she’s has three Grumpy Cat fridge magnets). She’s making total sense – unless it’s for comedy, no one wants to be friends with or follow online someone who does nothing but complain.
** You can listen to “Found” here! **
This doesn’t mean Crystalena can’t be serious – her Pop of Colour notebook, a small gift from me, is filled with her writing about Aleppo, Syria. Her single, even, was about a “messed-up relationship” she was once in. He didn’t support her art, so she tried to write sappy love songs that never impressed him. The lyrics to “Found” were written in two parts. The first half was during this relationship, where she felt trapped. The first line of the song is you hold me inside your mouth. Crystalena finished the song on the day they broke up; they had been together for three years.
As we eat our mugs of soup and a mini quiche each at the varnished wooden table, we talk about the music. “Found” was written on a 12 string acoustic guitar, the instrument she learned to play. Composing as a self-proclaimed “music theory newbie,” Crystalena didn’t know which chords sounded best, so she just played around, and created the lush complex ones hear on “Found” by complete accident. It was recorded at Vanilla Room in Toronto, the studio who approached her, which specializes in hip-hop. “For some reason, hip-hop follows me,” she shrugs, citing Childish Gambino, Lupé Fiasco and Kanye West as her favourites. “I love heavy hitting stuff,” she continues, recommending Immortal Technique “Dance With The Devil” for me to listen to, a song she first heard at age 11.
“Found” had been recorded in April 2016, with the goal of being released in September. However, when that time came, she decided that there was too much back-to-school stress in the air, and wanted to wait longer. Crystalena is on her holiday break, in between the two semesters of her second year of university. “Seeing other people so motivated, motivates me.” She’s happy about school, but confesses that sometimes it’s hard not to compare herself to all the talented musicians around her. But she’s learnt to looks past that, since “everybody does things at their own pace, so many aspects come into play” and gives the advice that “looking back at your accomplishments makes you more motivated to continue!”
The topic of conversation guides us naturally into talking about Ottawa. “I really like [our city],” she smiles. “The music industry is very supportive, and with all the events taking place in 2017, the city is getting more and more involved.” As she declares that one should never forget where they come from, I tease Crystalena for sounding like a country singer, as opposed to her alt-pop/rock sound. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t want to visit other places – as soon as she gets home after the interview, she’s sitting down to write out grant applications for a Canadian/US tour (as well as RBC Bluesfest 2017). “I love events, entertainment and big production,” she tells me, as if it’s isn’t obvious. For her tour, she’s looking to play with a large band, and her ultimate goal is to perform with an orchestra.
We keep talking, our interview getting even less formal that it already was. We must’ve been sitting at Soup Guy for at least an hour. I was in the middle of telling her about one of my school subjects, when a stranger stops us mid-conversation. “Did you just mention audio-engineering?” he asks. “I’m an engineer!” The three of us end up talking, and it turns out that this stranger is Shadow Young, from 21st Century Bohemian. Shad is a photographer too, and he has no less than four cameras in his bag. I ask him on a complete whim if he would mind taking a photo of my interview subject. He agrees happily, and emailed it to me (you can check out his work here.
After we say goodbye, Crystalena and I turn to each other with a “the people we meet, right?” reaction. Or rather, the people who are found.