Interview with Chrysta Bell
Photo by David Lynch
Chrysta Bell Zucht is one of the most interesting singer-songwriter in the American indie scene. With a musical studio experience dating since childhood, Chrysta's musical career was full of surprising experiences: she was a vocalist and composer in the 8½ Souvenirs swing jazz band, with albums released on the prestigious RCA Victor label.
In her solo career she also founded her own label, Meta Hari Records which will be the label releasing her upcoming album "Feels like love". Crysta is not only a musician, she is also an actress. One of her latest achievements was the role for the new series of the iconic Twin Peaks movie.
| The video for 52Hz is very nice. It reminds me of Robert Palmer and that fashion is a very important aspect of music. What is your perspective on this? How did the song come about?
Thank you! I absolutely love this music video and this song, too. My songwriting partner, Chris Smart and I had written 52 Hz for the 2017 album ”We Dissolve”, produced by John Parish, but John was not interested in using this track for that particular record. Nevertheless, the song remained close to my heart, largely because the inspiration behind it is the well documented tale of the “world’s loneliest whale”, which was endlessly fascinating for me. This whale lives a solitary existence (other whales mate for life) because of the unique frequency it uses to communicate - 52 Hz - a frequency that is, unfortunately, undetectable by other whales as means of conversation and connection. There was a certain marine biologist who fervently followed the migrations of this whale using sophisticated technology developed by the US Navy and I believed he truly loved this creature. He died of cancer and the song is about his love for the whale, in my imagination, and how he wanted to hear the singular frequency one last time before he passed away. The music video is the creation of the fantastically talented director and animator Joseph Skorman. I asked him to do this video and I knew he would hit it out of the park. I am a big fan of his work and our past collaborations on music videos (he also made an epic video for my song Night Ride) are some of my favorite music videos I have ever put out. I have been very fortunate to work with such incredibly talented and visionary directors.
| Please walk us through the process of making your upcoming album "Feels Like Love". How did you start writing the songs?
"For Feels Like Love", Chris Smart (my producer and song writing partner) and I started making songs that didn’t strictly adhere to anything that sounded like something I had previously released. We wanted to “feel out” the sounds that were coming naturally at this moment in my musical and artistic reality. As a friend and collaborator over the course of the last two decades, Chris knows me well as a person and as an artist. We both felt, even though is was initially unspoken, it was time to take risks, break free from the box that maybe some have put me in and kind of freak out a little.
A few songs from "Feels Like Love" were started four or more years ago, but transformed and matured as we wrote new songs specifically intended for a new album. It’s always something of an organic process to cull together a body of work. You just have to start things, even if you are unsure of the direction, massage the ideas that come up, walk away, go back, change things, step away again, until you feel like something is taking a real shape and standing on it’s own. The songs come together in many ways. They each have a personality. A bit of a new song that isn’t quite lighting you on fire can remind of something you did years ago that never quite fully became anything, and you have the idea to put the two pieces together and suddenly you are really cooking something. I have likened the song writing process to tracking an exotic animal in the wild. You are just creating the opportunity for creativity to happen by setting the stage - never forcing something to come but always facilitating the possibility of a strong song by consistently going to the studio and seeing if a great idea can be teased out - like sitting for hours in a dark jungle, and being patient enough to stick with it to catch a glimpse of this creature in it’s natural habitat. Songs are elusive, ethereal, but when you finally feel it crystalize, it’s worth all the patience and dedication.
| What format will you use for this release?
I am going to physically release "Feels Like Love" through my record label, Meta Hari, on limited edition vinyl and limited edition CD format. The packaging design is so beautiful for both the CD and the vinyl that I want to keep them all for myself! Ha! I am joking but it’s been such an ordeal to bring to life the complex and stunning vision of my designer, Todd Gallopo, that I am already coveting the finished products as we could only make 500 of each. The design is really quite special and sophisticated (Todd has been nominated for a Grammy award for his previous package designs) and I am very proud of it. It involves several different textures of paper and the vinyl is color in color.
The digital album will be released worldwide on April 5th, but as of now, I will have a small quantity available at my shows during the next weeks, and the rest of the first edition vinyl and CD packaging will be available exclusively from my website.
| You said earlier that your next album will be released at your label. How do you feel about the need of independence in today’s music industry?
It’s such a big discussion, but I can give a few thoughts. I started Meta Hari Records to release my own albums, because the record deals I was being offered were asking for too much and giving too little. The music industry, from the perspective of the independent artist at least, is fundamentally broken. Or maybe better to say it never worked in the first place except for a small fraction of the people in the business. This is no great revelation, but the idea of landing a “deal” is so seductive that often artist succumb to the proposition and end up disappointed. I have been signed to major record deals, independent record labels, and experienced the positives and negatives of each. All things considered, at this moment, the way I have found that is best to put my music into the world is to use the team I have put together and the tools I have available and do it myself. This is not to say that I am not open to a great record deal that stands to greatly benefit all parties
involved, because I absolutely am - this deal just hasn’t been offered yet!
I continue to dream about and visualize an industry oasis - a situation of mutually flourishing artists and music industry professionals. I am a believer and an optimist, but I am also not waiting for this. I am doing everything in my personal power to make the most of my career with the great network of management, booking agent and PR professionals I currently have, while taking care of the rest of the work on a record label myself. It’s a tremendous effort, but it’s necessary and ultimately extremely fulfilling.
| In the past, with 8½ Souvenirs you have collaborated with RCA Victor, a classic label. How was that experience?
We were the exciting new signing getting all the attention and accolade until we didn’t sell the records they hoped we would, then we were unceremoniously discarded and all but forgotten. Yet the contract remained in place, keeping us from moving forward in other musical projects. It was by great luck I was able to be released from my contract because I had a very powerful manager who asked for a favour on my behalf to get out of the contract I eagerly signed as a young naive artist, but many artists in my position would have languished for years still under contract, given no support by the label, cut off at the knees when trying to pursue other projects.
| How is your experience touring the world? This tour is taking you to Eastern Europe and even Kosovo. Is it all about business or the craft of being a hard-working musician?
Touring the world is the ultimate experience for me as a musician. Being on a stage on front of a new culture is the greatest thrill, and returning to countries where we have felt welcomed before to perform new music is incredibly exciting. There is really nothing else like it and this is why we put so much effort into the records, so that we can have the opportunity to go on tour and see how people receive this music. "Feels Like Love" is the first time that my live band is also the band contributing to and performing the songs on the album, so it’s the next level of band fulfillment for us to be presenting songs we have all written together.
The show you will see in Bucharest is the culmination of a group of musicians doing what they love and have dedicated their lives doing it. We will be much easier to find than an exotic animal in the wild, but, hopefully, it will still feel very exciting and rewarding!
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