Interview: Crystal Brandt

posted October 11, 2004

by Corinne

Crystal BrandtHow are you?

Iím feeling pretty good.

Care to introduce yourself?

Iím Crystal Brandt, and I wonít try to sell you anything.

Your most recent album, "Voter" is noticeably different from your second album, "Bessieís Last Stand" Describe the transition between the two albums.

When I was working on "Bessieís Last Stand", I focused on production and sort of got away from the songwriting. I had a lot of time to play around in the studio, so I layered guitars, vocals, drums, keyboards and anything else that I could come up with. I wanted to do the exact opposite with "Voter". Instead of spending hours in the studio, I recorded most of the album live in my kitchen. I focused on being involved in the lyrical content of the song rather than the process in the studio. I tried to be more specific and subtle this time and try to bring out parts of the melody and instrumentation without overindulging, and I did that by limited myself to a guitar or piano and vocals.

Since "Voter" isnít overtly political, why did you choose that title?

I came up with the title last winter when I was especially frustrated about the limited options we have when it comes to choosing our government. I decided to try to apply the same principles in the studio by recording each song using only two or three tracks to see how these constraints would affect me on a creative level. I also like the idea of attaching the word Ďvoterí to an emotional object like an album. I think that when most people consider politics, they switch gears and think categorically about policy, issues, government, party lines, et cetera. In a way, I titled the album Voter to show that being a 'productive member of society' also means being aware of your own personal politics, and how you govern yourself, whether youíre working out a relationship or walking down the street. You donít have to think about politics twenty-four hours a day to be political. I feel that if you consider your own motives and really take apart your feelings and mind, you will affect and change your environment, community and life more than any ballot in a booth ever will.

You seem to be compared to a lot of female singer-songwriters, especially ones with strong vocals like your own. Do you like the comparisons or would you prefer to be seen separately from them?

I donít mind comparisons, but I think they say more about the reviewer or writer than they do about me. I respect the intentions and work of the musicians Iíve been compared to, which makes me feel good.

Do you see yourself as a singer-songwriter or as something broader?

Writing and performing songs is part of what I do. Iíve been around folks who spout a checklist of various titles and roles they play. Who cares? We are all so many different things to so many different people in so many different situations. ThereĎs a saying that goes something like, "I donít mind what you call me, as long as you do." That's kinda how I feel about it.

How did you get involved in playing music?

I started making songs with my friend Carin when I was 18 or so. We used to crash the local bars and try to convince the bands to let us perform during their breaks. I learned my first real guitar chords from my friend Patty when I was about 19 or 20.

How do you approach songwriting?

I sit down with my guitar and play chords and sort of start talking to myself with melodies. Nine times out of ten I donít know what the song is about until after IĎve finished writing it, and even then sometimes it's somewhat of a guess, like interpreting my own dreams.

I saw on your website that you have a song on the Goddess Within Project CD Project. What is the project and howíd you get involved?

The Goddess Within music project is designed to raise awareness about empower victims of domestic abuse. The compilation album showcases artists songs that were written for or relate to those escaping the cycle of violence, with all proceeds going to womenĎs shelters. I answered a call for submissions and the organizer, Dianna Paige, liked my music. My song "Watch What Youíre Saying" is included on the album.

What are your upcoming plans? Will there be a tour for "Voter"?

Iím taking a little break from performing and probably wonít tour before next summer. Iíll work on local shows and promotions here in NYC and maybe along the east coast, depending on the reception of the new record. Winter is around the corner, and Iím a homebody when it gets cold. The timing probably isnít perfect for a break in the traditional sense of releasing and promoting a record, but Iíve worked really hard on my own music for the last few years and I feel like I need to regroup. Iím also the co-founder of Mungler Winslowe records, so that keeps me pretty busy.

Name an underrated band you think deserves more attention.

My first response to that question was "I could name a lot of overrated bands who deserve a lot less attention," but IĎll stick to the question and try not to sound jaded. The Peppermints put out an album last year that I love. Theyíre from San Diego and I wish theyĎd come to NYC to perform.

What have you been listening to recently?

I get on kicks - this week Iíve been listening to a lot of Heart and Neil Young. My alarm clock is set to play Kiki King every morning, so I hear at least 10 seconds of her guitar work to start my day. We have a CD jukebox that holds over 100 albums so I usually just set that to random and keep it on when Iím home. We change the contents pretty regularly and itĎs always full of every type of music and sound you can imagine...for example, as Iíve been doing this interview Iíve heard Vivaldi, Fugazi, Loretta Lynn, Mates of State, Roy Orbison, Nina Nastasia, Sonic Youth, Edie Brickell and Tomahawk, to name-drop a few...

If you could have written any song, what song do you wish you had written and why?

"New Partner" by Will Oldham. Itís the most perfect song ever written and recorded. If Iíd have written it, Iíd feel like Iíd said what I meant at least once in my life.