With her debut album set to be released on August 19, 2008, Crystal Shawanda recently took the time to sit down and talk with Roughstock's Matt Bjorke. Topics discussed ranged from her admiration for people like Wynonna Judd and Tina Turner to what country music and the fans mean to her. Without any further delay, here's the interview:
Matt Bjorke: What does country mean to you?
Crystal Shawanda: To me, it’s a way of life. It is how I’ve always dealt with everything in my life, good or bad. Ever since I can remember, that’s how I grew up. I watched my parents listen to country music. Even as a kid I could see them finding comfort in certain songs, depending on what mood they were in. When they were happy, I noticed a pattern, what records they’d put on when they were happy. What they listened to when they were down in the dumps. I am the same way, I have certain CDs that I carry with me everywhere, they’re like only in case of emergency. That’s what country music is to me, the passion.
MB: Kind of like “As Good As It Gets” when Jack Nicholson has the CD for “emergency.”
CS: Laughs, yeah that’s kind of like me, stuff for different things.
MB: Who are some of your musical heroes?
CS: Everybody! (Laughs). That’s really hard to narrow down. I grew up on nothing but old country music. So my first heroes were Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline. So if they were legends, they were my heroes. And, as Time’s moved on, Dwight Yoakam is right there on top. so Dwight, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis. Tina Turner. I just love everything about her. How could you not?
MB: I can hear a little Tina in your voice…
CS: Well, thank you! I love her. For me she’s my hero in different ways. Her life story and what she’s had to come through. For the rest of my heroes, my family. My husband. Everybody in my family is musical, even though they say they’re not. I grew up listening to them sing all over the house. Since I started working with my husband five and half years ago, he’s just influenced me to not be afraid of the things I want to try. He’s given me the confidence to say, “yeah, this is me,” or “What’s wrong with singing this way” or dancing around on stage or jumping around like a maniac on stage.
MB: It’s better than standing still…
CS: I used to be a singing tree…(laughs)
MB: What inspired you to record “Your Cheatin’ Heart” the as a bluesy Bonnie Raitt style rocker?
CS: For me, I’ve been singing that song since I was a little girl. I stepped on stage at six years old. It’s been nonstop ever since; it’s a song I’ve always performed. I don’t know where it came from. I remember hearing someone performing it and they sang it a little slinkier one time, and the next time I sang it, it just naturally came out that way. I didn’t think it out it was just like when I was learning guitar that’s how I sang it.
And as I started playing more live shows, in particular honky tonks like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, it kind of evolved into what it is on the album. The more I’d sing it around there, around the party atmosphere, it got more out there, I guess, well different than it is. Then I started collaborating with my husband and when we took it to a big live band show, it just exploded to how it is on the album. I guess just went back to the influences that Hank Williams and how a lot of his heroes were Mississippi blues men. So I just took it back to there. It felt natural that way, it felt right.
MB: I think it could be a single the way it is..
CS: Thank you! It’s a fun one. I actually had a lady come up to me as we were ending an acoustic show and they requested that. She said it made the album. It’s an honor to have my hero’s song on my album.
MB: So your album came out in Canada already,
CS: Yeah it came out on June 24 (2008) and it’s been doin great. From what I hear people are having a hard time buying my CD because they can’t keep it on the shelves. So, WOO HOO! Hopefully that keeps happening!
MB: How does it feel to have your song on the radio?
CS: It’s amazing! Every single time I hear it, I pretty much cry. It’s a happy cry though! It’s kind of weird, when I hear it on the radio when I don’t expect it; I see my life flashing before my eyes. I think about my mom driving through blizzards and snow storms to get me to my gigs or think about driving with dad in his rig singing to the radio. And all of the time down on Broadway trying to pay the rent with a tip jug. I think of all the amazing things that are happening to me now and I feel very thankful.
MB Where were you when you first heard it on the radio?
CS: I was actually in Spokane, Washington. We were in the middle of a radio tour when it came on. It was awesome, we were all cheering. There was me, my husband, my RCA regional promotions, Matt Galvin and Keith Gale.
MB: What kind of jobs did you have to while trying to make it or was singing the only thing you had to do?
CS: Well, the first time I moved to Nashville, I was 16 years old. I went back and forth between Canada and here for five and a half years. At that time I was doing morning shifts, like 1030 in the morning to 13o in the afternoon. I was everything, a waitress, a hostess; I worked at Dillard’s, a video store, sold jewelry for Service Merchandise. That was my best job. And then over traveling around, not while in Nashville, I worked in a casino as a janitor. That was the worst job ever, cleaning toilets. I took off from there as gast as I could and said “never again.”
But then six years ago I was living back home in Canada and thought “why do I keep moving back here.” I have nowhere to sing. So I moved to nashivlle to sing full-time. So I worked at Dillard’s for a while. By the grace of God I was fired. The whole time I was working there, I’d do a morning or an afternoon acoustic shift at Tootsie’s. So when I got fired, I went to the owner of Tootise’s and asked for him to give me any gigs that would pay my bills. He said OK and that was it. He started throwing all these jobs at me. I sometimes did four mornings a week from 10 to 1. I’d work an afternoon shift from 2 to 5:30 and split the evenings with somebody and then hang out at the late shift and sit in with my husband’s band. I did that for three and a half years before I got my record deal. Once I got the record deal, I cut down to four gigs and one shift a day.
MB: It probably felt like a vacation then…
CS: Yeah! It was. It was a lot of fun. Singing was my main source of income, even singing on the street…
MB: Ahh, good ol’ busking…
CS: Yeah, when I worked my day job, because my times conflicted with the bar’s schedules, I just took my guitar to a street corner on broadway and made extra cash?
MB: Where is your favorite place to play?
CS: Anywhere. Give me a microphone and I’m happy. I can be a big stage or a small stage. It can be many fans it could be five people in the crowd. I’ll sing it the same way. I just love to sing.
MB: What makes country fans different?
CS: I don’t know. Maybe it’s because they’re so loyal. It’s what I love best with them, they connect personally I think. They don’t just connect to the music but with the artist themselves. They learn their stories and they let those stories and the music inspire them. I think just the way I grew up, using the music as cheap therapy. I think that’s what a lot of other people do. (laughs) I think. I could be wrong.
MB: Oh yeah, you think of Kenny Chesney’s “That’s Why I’m Here” and I related to that song with my own family issues…
CS: Yeah, my own family had the same problems so I could relate to the songs…
MB: Do you have any favorite on the record?
CS: It changes daily. They’re all my favorites. I feel very that on lucky on this album, it wasn’t like, “OK I got a record deal, lets put out an album.” I felt blessed that the whole team was taking their time finding all the right songs. For me, if I had just once chance to say something what would I say? I think I did it. I wouldn’t change anything. It’s like asking someone who’s your favorite kid, you like them all for different reasons.
MB: You’re voice has a bluesy sound to it. Has anyone compared you to Wynonna yet?
CS: No! That’s a first time, thank you!
MB: How does it feel to be compared to someone like her?
CS: It’s amazing. It’s always different. That’s the first time that I got her. That’s the funny thing, It’s always different I don’t think I can compare one person I’ve been compared to the most. I’m always excited to hear what people compare me to.
MB: That’s probably a good thing…
CS: Yeah, she’s definitely one of my heroes, from The Judds right on to her solo career. I actually got to meet her in California and someone introduced us. She asked, are you open to suggestions? And I’m like, are you kidding you’re Wynonna, Of course!”
And she said “when you get on stage, don’t worry about making mistakes because God loves imperfections.” I thought it was so cool that she took the time to say that because she didn’t have to and not many people do.
MB: As a songwriter what is your favorite song to write?
CS: That changes all the time. It depends how I’m feeling when I’m writing. Really, I can’t choose. I love all the ballad, the mid-tempos. The sad songs, the happy songs. I love them all. It depends on the day it’s being written.
MB: Country music ebs and flows and now seems to be a good time to be a country singer. Do think the success of a Gretchen Wilson or Taylor Swift helps artists like yourself to get a shot?
CS: Definitely. It’s always evolving. I mean, every single person who comes to Nashville, whether they make it on the radio or not. They’re influencing everybody else in town. One artist can go into a club and hear somebody else singing, they’ve just taken something away from that, whether they realize it or not. I’m a firm believer that you can learn something from everyone you know, everyone you meet or listen to.
Women have constantly been evolving from the beginning, even the men, the whole country music industry, like you said, it ebbs and flows, and it comes and goes. I think no matter who you are it helps to get in the door of country music. You have the best and the best of the best here in Nashville.
MB: And you’re signed to a big label...
CS: Yeah I have to pinch myself for that. Thank you for recognizing that! You wouldn’t believe how many interviews I’ve been to where they didn’t know RCA was a big label. Particularly in Canada, they’re like “um, so got a deal here in Canada and then you went to Nashville.” I was like, “NO! I’ve been living in Nashville for six years!”
MB: Like Terri Clark.
CS: Yeah, exactly. Actually, she was a huge influence on me moving to Nashville and working hard at Tootsies. She’s genuine and cool.
MB: Some people may not know that you’re Native American…
CS: Yeah, I always say that when there was the trail of tears, a lot of people may not even realize that they don’t have Native American in their bloodlines, so I always encourage people to find it out. No matter what your background is you should learn your history. It’s one more thing to add to your life, it makes you stronger as a person. It adds pride and self-respect in who you are, no matter where you came from whether your Native American, Chinese, Japanese, or of European ancestry.
It makes you better, The more you know.
MB: What are your thoughts on the internet and it’s relation with music nowadays?
CS: For me, if the internet was there, I don’t know if I’d be hanging in there and doing as good as I am here and in Canada. What I’m most thankful for is that I’m actually getting to know the fans through the internet. I’m getting to hear their thoughts about the album and the live shows and how they feel connected to me or my my music. To be honest, it inspires me to work harder to be stronger in certain situations. It’s so cool what the internet has done for everybody.
I know it has caused some troubles with some people burning stuff for free and all that. I think it eventually will evolve so we can figure it out so the industry and we can all keep our jobs.
MB: There’s the saying “if you focus on the music the business will take care of itself.”
Absolutely, it’s amazing (the internet) for me, I can remember having my favorite country singers and their fan clubs. There wasn’t that straight line of connection. Whereas, on the internet, I may not be able to answer every message but I can at least see their comments. It makes personal relationships. The fans get to form friendships through the music.
MB: Yeah, those relationships among country fans are pretty unique, I think...
CS: Yeah, absolutely, it’s way cool. There’s definitely a community out there when you go out to all the festivals and shows and stuff, like CMA Fan Fest week. They share photos and videos and stuff together, it’s so cool. It’s great.
MB: You have a second single out in Canada () will it be the second single here?
It’s going at a different pace, they’re not necessarily what we’re gonna put out here. We’re so focused on “You Can Let Go” here that we haven’t even thought about what it will be here. They have a different promotional team than we have here so. Different recipies for different audiences.
MB: What advice would you give to anyone interested in being a singer?
CS: You have to love it because it’s not gonna always love you. You have to do it. No matter where it is. You shouldn’t worry about what people think. Believe in yourself. Carry yourself and that respect will come to you.
MB: What would you like to say to people reading this?
CS: I hope they really give my music a chance. Besides checking out the music on MySpace, they can go out and buy the album and listen to the rest of the songs. It shows a whole ‘nother side. I really believe that you gotta buy the album and listen to the whole thing to get the whole message. Each song on there is a message of hope in its own way and it’s something that everybody can relate to no matter what your background is.