This week we had the dream-come-true opportunity to catch up with our dear friend, Grammy nominated and 4-time Dove Award winning music legend, Crystal Lewis. We met at the authentically simple Hopper & Burr in Orange County and discussed this new season of her life + journey over delicious cappuccinos. Discussing her newest self-titled album, available everywhere on 9/11/15 – and also happens to fall on her birthday, we shared many laughs and also got to the heart of what it took to create her 28th album. Afterwards, we walked down the hall to Little Sparrow to an empty restaurant where I pulled out my camera and snapped a few images of this dynamically beautiful soul singer. Below is our interview along with the fun images captured during our time together. Enjoy!
“Crystal Lewis” is available on Apple music
CTL // As we’ve spoken in the past, it was evident that deciding on the title of your new record was a difficult one to make. Can you let fans in on potential titles that didn’t make the final cut, and how you ultimately decided that your newest record would simply be self-titled?
CRYSTAL // I had debated for quite a long time about the title. I had gone back and forth with various song titles, such as “Beginning Again” which is an obvious theme throughout the record that seemed like a great fit. “Love Each Other” was another that I really thought would be a great title. We had talked about “Testimonium” which I looked up and is an actual word! But I have a creative team that I am required to run everything by. It is my husband, my daughter and my son – in additional to a handful of friends whose opinion I trust! While on the one hand, I feel as an artist I really am going to do what I want to do, it’s always a gamble and there’s never really a right or a wrong answer, it’s just the one you pick. Although my daughter was the one who said, “I think it should be self-titled because it represents exactly where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing at this stage in your career – it shows a turning point of some kind and this is a new beginning.” But Izzi said, “The title ‘Beginning Again’ sounds like a midlife crisis and you don’t want that for your title! It’s too obvious.” So, this self-title thing just made sense after I thought about it for a while because I just disagreed for a long time, I just kept trying to think about other titles but I never could settle on one. There are previous albums like “Beauty for Ashes” where I had that album title way at the beginning before I had the song. Eventually I decided to write a song that went with the theme because I was taken by that theme, I was taken by those verses and wanted it to be that. For whatever reason, this record was different. I didn’t come to a complete decision on the title until ¾ of the way through the recording process. I like that it represents, just, me… And where I am, and where I’m going.
CTL // Do you feel that your audience that has followed you throughout the years will be surprised to hear your new sound, or do you feel as though you’ve prepared them along the way to expect the unexpected from Crystal Lewis?
CRYSTAL // To me, I think, yes, this is a natural progression. I didn’t go from one genre to another where I’ll be unrecognizable to the listening audience. I think it’s a natural progression. The majority of the people closest to me, as they have heard these songs have said, “Oh my gosh, this is SO you!” I think that will come across. It won’t be so different that people are taken off guard. That being said, it does feel new at the same time so I like that it’s an interesting mix of something that feels fresh and authentic, but is also familiar.
CTL // Albums such as Beauty for Ashes, Gold, Fearless, and Plain and Simple (just to name a few) have a central theme backed up by scripture. If you were to define your new album by scripture, what would that scripture be?
CRYSTAL // Ecclesiastes 3. There’s a season for everything. Something we’ve learned, of course, from living in Montana, is what to expect from seasons, what seasons are, but the reality that you can’t expect anything from any season. Every summer is different. Every winter is different. We need to realize that there’s a time for everything. Watching fires this last summer – we’ve had insane amounts of fires in Montana – and the firefighters don’t go in and put them all out. There are certain areas and certain times that they just let it burn because they know that’s what the earth needs. There are things that need to be burned up. To us, we’re like, “Ahh, it’s smokey! Put the fire out!” But really, it’s good for it, because it encourages that cycle of death and life. There has to be an ending if there’s going to be a new beginning. Just that realization that there is a season for everything, that the burning is okay for a minute. Although scary and you may lose something in the process, new life will come eventually.
CTL // When you look back on the journey of putting this entire new record together, can you pinpoint a pivotal and defining moment that took place that set an unexpected turn to the direction of your newest offering?
CRYSTAL // This record has taken many twists and turns. We started in January 2012. We moved ahead by faith, hoping that something would eventually feel right. Schedules fell through and it felt like constant dead-ends that I was coming to. Two things happened: Andy Prickett, my musical mentor – I credit him in my album credits as my “musical mentor” – played guitar on “One Man” (from the Fearless record) and he was at a church that I sang at back in December of 2011. We reconnected after a year. I trusted him as a musician, as a person. He connected me with two different writers and we ended up writing three songs together – Beginning Again, Be Alright, and Love Each Other – and it felt like progress! I cried at our first writing session! I couldn’t believe that it felt so right. We did a songwriting boot camp for a week, it was awful and wonderful – hilariously embarrassing! It was such a terribly vulnerable space to be in, you know. But it was awesome! Musically I felt sharpened and better because of them – it was such an incredible connection that acted as a catalyst, creating a big push of momentum. Second, I was in California and got a text from my friend Elijah Thomson, who I hadn’t seen in at least 5 years. So we ended up sitting down together and just catching up on life and he informed me that he was going on tour but had 3 months free afterwards. I immediately called my husband Brian who encouraged the route of having Elijah produce the record. I called Eli back and he agreed to produce my record! That is what changed the trajectory of everything. Once Eli was on board, I was able to just settle in my spirit and relinquish creative control as scary as it was to let go. But he’s the musician; I can’t play or have access to players, that was one of the huge problems being out in Montana. But it was Eli Thompson saying, “I’ll do it!” that dramatically changed our course.
CTL // It’s often been said that a picture can speak a thousand words… What would you say you wanted to convey to your audience with the imagery of your new self-titled album cover? (view here)
CRYSTAL // We actually did an entire photo shoot months before the album was finished and I loved it and will use those pictures at some point, but when it got down to the final product we realized that the pictures didn’t convey a spirit of joy – and that’s what the album conveys – joy. I tend to be on the hyper side and I move around quite often, the cover was very accidental in many ways, it’s not like we set out to make it what it is but it was divinely inspired as all art is, it comes together on it’s own in an organic sort of way. The cover was no different. It’s very autobiographical and it just says, “life is fun and there’s joy to be found even in the midst of the struggle.”
CTL // You’ve always said that as an artist and as a creative, you are never at the end. In a real sense, you are beginning again! Where would you say you see yourself next after the release of ‘Crystal Lewis’?
CRYSTAL // As we talked about this idea of new beginnings and the idea of ‘endings’ in order to have a new ‘beginning,’ which is such a great reminder – I think that I’m excited to see what’s next, too! In the last few years I’ve just kind of been treading water, staying afloat, and feeling like I needed something else. To be at the end of this process and to be looking forward, swimming in big broad strokes instead of being fatigued doing the same thing, I wouldn’t mind seeing what it would be like doing Broadway, voice-overs, more acting – something different. I am really excited about music, though, which is really fun. Obviously I’ve had a successful career doing music. But often it’s out of expectation or duty, or, “I have to do this next thing because it’s my job.” But to think about doing something else, musically, like another Jazz record, or exploring different genres like that. Moving back to California, that is part of the plan – to immerse myself into musical communities that I don’t have access to in Montana. We’re not leaving Montana behind entirely, we’re keeping our place there and everything, but for this next season – whatever that looks like, whatever comes next – is going to hinge on being in California and integrating myself into the musical creative art community between Los Angeles and Orange County!
CTL // If given the opportunity, What words of encouragement, advice, or wisdom would the Crystal Lewis of 2015 tell the Crystal Lewis of 1985 as you look back 30 years on the person and the artist that you have become?
CRYSTAL // I think this question would be more difficult to answer if I didn’t have a teenage daughter right now. I’m able to see things and say, “I wish I would’ve done this differently.” I think that I would tell myself to not care so much about what other people think. To care more about the things that are more deeply at the core, and to be totally confident and courageous in being exactly who you are. I think I was that to a certain degree, I grew into some of that, as evidenced by some of the ridiculous things that I wore back then! I clearly didn’t care. But I think you can get deeply bogged down by the industry and all these sudden expectations that people put on you. Something I’m seeing in Izzi now, that she’s doing – that I didn’t do – is being a little bit more assertive and aggressive musically. One of the first things I would tell myself is specifically, “Get your buns on the piano-bench and practice!” because I wish like anything that I could accompany myself today. I wish I played the guitar or stuck with piano. I took piano lessons through college and cannot accompany myself today because I just gave it up. So I would say, learn an instrument completely, dive into your craft, be passionate about the music that you’re making, and don’t let anybody else tell you what you should be making as an artist because it should come from your heart. We are given these gifts on purpose and we should develop them, nurture them, and take care of them.