After years in the spotlight and a heavy touring schedule following her 2013 Juno Award win for Aboriginal Album of the Year, country blues musician Crystal Shawanda is still writing and recording prolifically.
Consider her latest albums Fish Out of Water and Voodoo Woman – released one year apart, almost to the day. Her fourth album, Fish Out of Water came out on October 21, 2016, followed closely by Voodoo Woman on October 31, 2017. In this interview with a Nashville music reporter, Shawanda says more is on the way: “I’ll put out a blues one. I’ll put out a country one. I’m going to kind of be weaving in an out of different genres and just having fun with it, loving it.”
“I like to think that I’m a blues singer that grew up on country music,” says Shawanda. She’s been making a living performing country music since she was a teenager. And she’s had hits which charted both here in Canada and on country radio in the United States. “But it seems like ever since I was a little kid people have been telling me I should be singing the blues, you sound like a soul singer.”
Shawanda moved from Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island to Nashville at a young age, where she worked her way up playing in Music City’s famous country venues, blues bars, picking up gigs wherever she could, and was soon on stage of the Grand Ole Opry.
Alongside studio sessions and touring, Crystal Shawanda curates Under the Influence, a popular and long running YouTube series of live acoustic cover sessions. “When we did the sessions it was about me being under the influence of my favourite singers, my favourite songs, songs that inspire me, and then fans… started requesting their favourite songs.”
Crystal Shawanda has an immense talent for seamlessly bridging the country and blues worlds. She is neither and yet she’s both. Her repertoire is a survey of both songbooks and then some. Shawanda is a gifted artist and interpreter, which is sure to translate into a fantastic holiday concert at the National Arts Centre. Crystal Shawanda and her band play the NAC Azrieli Studio on Thursday December 21 at 8pm.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: For how many years have you been performing Christmas concerts? Is this the first tour?
Crystal Shawanda: I’ve been doing Christmas shows since 2012, after I released my first Christmas album, I’ll Be Home for Christmas.
Who plays in your touring band?
I always use different musicians, depending on whose available. The only consistent feature in my band is my guitar player Dewayne Strobel! When playing Canada though, I love to take advantage of the amazing crop of musicians here. So for my show in Ottawa we will have Caroline Cameron on bass and Al Webster on drums. Seriously a couple of the best in Canada, hands down!
What’s your favourite holiday tune to perform?
“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” because it seems like every Christmas I am trying to find a way to spend the holidays where I grew up, on Manitoulin Island, with my family. Thankfully my husband insisted this year, so our baby can spend her first Christmas with her grandparents.
Where do you feel most at home?
What has living in Nashville done to your sound?
Nashville has helped me take my sound to the next level. To challenge myself, and never stop raising the bar. It can always be better – otherwise someone else will be!
The Crystal Shawanda Christmas Concert is happening at the National Arts Centre (1 Elgin St) on Thursday December 21 at 8pm. Tickets cost $36.50 online and at the NAC Box Office. $15 Live Rush tickets are available for ages 13 to 29.