Ottawa songstress, Crystalena, has been busy building herself a name in this town as a serious singer/songwriter over the past few years. Her efforts have culminated in the recent release of her single, “Water”, inside her headlining show at Bar Robo. Her set included a mix of other originals, along with some creatively rearranged covers, which were given her dark, indie/pop style treatment. The single was initially released to attendees that signed up on a mailing list at the door, but is now available for purchase on CD Baby. It is also scheduled to appear on her upcoming debut EP.
Crystalena lives her life with a healthy dose of constant self-improvement when it comes to her life and her music. Once she gets to the next level, she’s already looking onto greener pastures. She is now in her fourth year studying music and sound engineering at Carleton University with the ultimate goal of being able to produce her own music. But the seed that started it all goes back to the age of ten, where she began writing poetry:
“This is a project I’ve wanted to do my whole life. The songwriting started when I began learning how to put emotion into words. Getting what a song is really all about… listening to something that really hits me hard and I think how can I make people feel that way. So I wrote poetry actually way before I even thought about songwriting, since I was about ten… just writing random poems. My mom and I used to make fridge poems… that was our thing to do.”
She began her solo career as a serious singer/songwriter four years ago, about the time when she decided to study music. For the past two years she has been collaborating with her guitarist, Seven, who she met by chance during an open mic at Atomic Rooster. The two quickly discovered a great musical chemistry together and started developing songs she had written. “Water” marked the first of their recordings together at Raven Street Studios in September of last year, and so was fittingly chosen as her first single release.
Outside of school and trying to catapult her own solo career, she is also a member of the very popular hip-hop/R&B/pop Ottawa-based band, Blakdenim. Being in a band with a serious future and heavy touring schedule has been demanding for Crystalena, but has given her invaluable experience in stage presence and versatility as an artist.
“I joined Blakdenim in September as lead vocalist. It’s taught me a lot about interacting with the audience. The lead rapper is so amazing to watch and learn from. He’s got this crazy connection with the crowd… he just submerges himself right into it. It’s so high energy that sometimes I need the whole day afterwards to rest. It’s been a real learning process being in this band… I’m part of such a gigantic project, and we’re going on tour this August. I’m crazy busy with that, with school, and trying to start my own thing.”
With her long auburn tresses, dressed in a gorgeous sheer summer gown, she stood behind her keyboard looking every bit the medieval princess and gave listeners a taste of her well composed originals, laced in poetic, emotional, and honest lyrics. The cover material was a varied selection of classic numbers from the musical world of pop, blues, and psychedelic rock. Joining her onstage was her band of three: Zac Sedlar (alto/baritone sax), Seven (acoustic/electric guitar), and Kira Montfort (cajone/percussion).
The cover material was a varied selection of classic numbers from the world of pop, blues, and psychedelic rock. Jefferson Airplane‘s “White Rabbit”, at first almost unrecognizable, was enveloped in a pretty darkness that gave the song an even more exotic tone. “Dirty Diana” displayed more drastic intensities of soft/strong instrumentation and vocals, in one of Michael Jackson’s grittier and rockier throwbacks. Blues/R&B torch favourite “Damn Your Eyes” showed off Crystalena’s strong higher vocal range, embellished with a touch of sweetness. Zac kept up the challenging changes of the material with varied styles in his sax playing.
Her original songs mapped their way through minor chorded melodies, intense rises and falls, and her signature vocal jumps into long sustains. I loved the slow burning sensuality of one called “Impulse” that flowed from soft verses to strong choruses and showcased Crystalena’s lower/higher register vocal versatility. She came out from behind the keys to sing during her very R&B flavoured “August Rush”. Kira played out a steady, infectious beat on the cajone, while Seven’s rhythmic strumming on the acoustic heightened the groove factor even more. One that gripped me with its emotional content was “Beast”, written in the aftermath of some very trying high school years. She dug her teeth into words that were filled with passionate throes of anger and self-degradation, yet revealed the sunny cracks of perseverance and hope.
She dug her teeth into words that were filled with passionate throes of anger and self-degradation, yet revealed the sunny cracks of perseverance and hope.
At this point, she had loosened up completely and felt very connected to her audience, especially when she came out to sing at the front of the stage and immersed herself in the crowd. She described her single “Water” as symbolizing the more challenging phases of life and emotions that inevitably wash over us. “A little darkness, a little dirt, a little hurt…”, delivered a moving message of life’s calm and rough currents. Her voice delved into grittier tones, and she allowed herself to become increasingly unguarded, which lent to the added power in her delivery. By the end of the show, I was impressed by this budding talent, whose musical melodies were so well composed, and whose words fearlessly exposed the depths of her personal life. A young woman who wears her heart on her sleeve, Crystalena has found solace and success in her songwriting, and is definitely an artist to watch for.