Hey, Cristina. Tell us briefly about who you are and what you do.
Hi! I am a musician currently living in Los Angeles, and I work part time at a concert venue aside from playing shows both solo and with my band. I just graduated University on the East Coast about a year ago and have spent the last year pursuing my musical career out here. I sing and play guitar, specifically I play slide guitar and make blues style rock with folk influences.
You moved to LA fairly recently. How are you liking it so far?
I am surprised that I actually really really like it here. I grew up in Europe and the idea of a sprawling city where a car is pretty much vital (didnt' have my license until I moved here! or a car!) as well as one where the nightlife by and large closes pretty early had me skeptical. But I knew this was the right place for me strategically so I did it anyway. And I have to say I am so glad I did - I love these things about LA now that I have been here. It's like a huge playground, each neighborhood seems like its own city. I love getting to know the new areas, and driving around in my new car. Not to mention people are far more relaxed and friendly than they are on the east coast. Not trying to make a sweeping generalization here but the daily interactions are far more pleasant on average.
Was your move inspired by your desire to pursue music?
Absolutely. I knew that this city harbors creative talent and energy, as well as physical resources and networks that would be that much more helpful in pursuing my dreams. It wasn't all strategic though; I also wanted a breath of fresh (sunny) air, to get away from the staleness of the Tri-State area after 4 years there, but also to continue my stay in the United States before returning to Europe just yet.
Why music? What makes it special for you?
Part of me doesn't even know, and that's how I know, if you know what I mean. Ha! What I mean by that is part of how I feel making music is so unconscious, so instinctual, I do not even know "why music". It just has to be so. And that is how I know that it is very special to me. I have many hobbies and interests (photography, poetry, languages, literature, etc.) but music has never seemed like a pass-time. When I was a baby I would sing myself to sleep, as I (inexplicably) threw everything out of my crib and proceeded to undress until I was in my diaper, humming, and finally asleep. My parents figured I was going to be a singer as they watched on in confusion...
What made you decide that you want to take music seriously? What was the tipping point?
I was already in college when I decided that I didn't want to be scared away from trying this. I had just spent a summer in London, where my father lives, playing small gigs for several months, and I knew this is what I wanted to do. Many people seemed surprised or even skeptical that I might seriously consider pursuing music; after all, there's no internship for that, there's no roadmap, there's no easy 1-2-3 formula. What about all the other people trying to become successful? How do you go about it? Basically, when I was on those stages, sometimes to rooms full of people, sometimes to empty ones, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. And that I could. I decided it was now or never, I have the rest of my life to find another way to live. Why not try the one that would make me happiest now?
With that said, how has your life changed once music became something more than just a hobby? Do you find that you encounter more resistance?
Absolutely. I felt a lot more free, after the initial doubts that this was just a nebulous dream. In LA, I didn't feel much resistance, because it seems like everyone you meet is a creative trying to make it. People seem to understand. But back in school people would meet me with raised eyebrows, insinuating that it wasn't a "real" job, pressing about what I was "actually going to do" after graduation. Fuck that.
Resistance can be internal like writer’s block, but it can also be external like lack of time or resources. Do you work to support yourself and how much time, realistically do you have left to dedicate to music?
I do work to support myself, and I work pretty infrequently part time. I am lucky enough to have a supportive family and a boyfriend whom I live with and therefore split costs with. This makes finances easier, but the tension of making funds last the month is definitely there. Working for a concert venue means sometimes shifts are frequent, other times, they are not. I am looking into getting another part time job, however as you mention, the more one works, the less one has time for their real passion. So I am looking at this as an investment. Right now, I have little money for extra things I might like to have later in life. But soon I will be getting paid for gigs and for my work, hopefully, if all goes to plan. Right now, luckily, I have enough time to practice with the band, book gigs, and find time during some days to write.
A lot of artists prefer not to think about this, but it is kind of a serious topic - I am talking about making money. You started fairly recently, but do you already see any money-making opportunities in the near future for yourself as a musician?
Yes, and no. Sadly, musicians don't get PAID for many things. Session work and lessons are usually the go to for musicians who need to have some sort of income. Unless you gain popularity and can attract a large crowd, it seems that many of us are doomed to play poorly paying gigs where we are asked to bring an audience and we get some of the cut. It's kind of absurd really, LA has this whole crazy "industry" side of the music touring area that I didn't encounter so much in London or in New York. These promoters and bookers who have the power to offer gigs but also the power to demand you bring, like, 20 people or else you don't get paid or in some cases you have to PAY the difference (pay to play). It's bullshit! Most of them don't really promote the shows (which is supposed to be their job) and rely on the artists to draw big crowds, and end up booking people who can bring audience, not good musicians.
With music and other creative industries being so extremely competitive these days you must have had moments of doubt, moments where you fear that you might not make it. How do you push through?
I push through by reminding myself it takes a long time. It really does. Not a single act happens overnight - even in the quick rising pop stars, there are years of training and work behind most of them. I remind myself that the greatest of the greats were once playing to tiny rooms, and that this is all part of the journey. And then this idea of "making it", for me, is reformulated and easier to digest when I assess what "making it" means to me. I don't consider being filthy rich and famous "making it", I like to think that I would love to be an artist who has the ability to live off of my passion, play to decent sized venues with people who are there to enjoy my music. That's basically it. I also try and surround myself with supportive and visionary people who say the same thing. Believing in yourself is step #1!
If there is one thing that stands between you now and your most ambitious goal as a musician, what do you think it is and how are you going to beat it?
I really think it is just time. I plan to work with it, not beat it. You need to put the work in to get results, and that is what I plan to do. You don't expect people to pay you after a day of sitting around right? Why would anyone expect to get where they are just because they have some talent? You have to work, physically get to places, support other people, be organized and produce great music and things will fall into place.
How about the creative aspect. What do you find inspires you the most? What’s your fuel?
Most of my fuel are my recent emotions. I am not one to write about political themes and rarely do I sit and think back to a specific memory. I usually go off something that recently happened or happening in my life, concentrate on those feelings, and often articulate them towards a figure in my life or an imaginary person I am talking to. Many of my lyrics involve relationships; family, friends, boyfriends. Humans.
How do you go about writing a new song? Do you have any rituals that make it easier to focus and get work done?
I definitely have my little ritual: make some tea, burn some incense, sit down with my laptop and recording microphone, and my guitar. I play out riffs first, sometimes I go through riffs I have already recorded and choose one to work on. I develop the backbone of the song in chords and then I start humming my melody over, and last of all I fill in words. Then I sit down and "really" write, write lyrics that mean something to me. Then I tweak it and record the demo! Ta-da.
What does the word “passion” mean to you? Is passion overrated?
Passion for me doesn't have the usual connotations of chaos, unbridled emotions, and all that jazz. It can definitely be that, but to me it means laser-beam focus. When you want to do something more than you want to hang out with friends, go to a party, eat some food, take a nap, BREATHE, that's passion. I don't think it's overrated at all. I think passion is forgotten cause everyone is so busy following steps to make money. I don't want to be a hypocrite - we all need money and we do what we need to do, but I am saddened to think many people have passions they never pursue because we are not taught that those are "real" interests.
Do you think today’s audiences expect a certain kind of music?
Yes and no. That would be supposing we have a "today's audience". In this time period, we have dominant genres as any time period did, and my music is not one of them (electro, rap, pop). But the audience isn't a monolith. So many people love and appreciate blues, folk, rock, and roots music and actively seek it out. That being said, it is definitely harder to play live music and sell out a show than it is to be a DJ and sell out a show. So yes and no.
Music is transcending other art forms like photography, art, and video because of how easy it is to appreciate. It sort of works according to the instant-gratification principle. People hit play to relax and fine tune their moods. Music seems to be directly connected to peoples’ emotions. No other art form has such immense reach and impact. You don’t see people nodding their heads and singing along to a photograph for three minutes. Any thoughts on this? Is music the ultimate art form and the most direct way to get to the heart of a person?
Music is universal, and sometimes it even crosses the boundaries of species! I don't think it is the ultimate art form, per se, because that implies superiority. I think it is perhaps one of the most basically instinctual art forms. Some more processes are usually necessary to understand visual art, and even photography, than happen when you push play on a track and close your eyes to listen. Of course, if you're critically listening to music, and in some genres specifically, it's not so simple - but on a basic level, you have a drum beat around a camp fire and it touches people. People feel it, people dance, people clap along, people identify. I think it is definitely one of the most direct ways to reach people's hearts because you don't need a language to explain it, and you don't need to know the process behind it to appreciate it.
Cristina, thank you so much for this wonderful interview. How can people connect with you and where can they hear more of your music?
Thank you for your great questions! People can find me on Facebook, and if they just want to listen they can go to my Soundcloud. Feel free to email me if you just want to chat! firstname.lastname@example.org
And last question: Can you imagine your life without art?
Fuck no. Well, yes, I can, and I imagine it would be extremely dull and short.