Before I caught Sister Crayon’s great last residency show at Piano's, songwriter and vocalist Terra Lopez took a few minutes to talk to me about how the shows have gone so far, what makes a good song, their forthcoming album, and more. Below is a deeper take on some of the roots of the realness behind Sister Crayon’s powerful performances.
Kelly Knapp: This is your last residency show – has it all gone well?
Terra Lopez: Yeah, it’s gone really well. The second show was incredible – the turnout was great, and just the response was awesome. I’m hoping that this one will be similar.
KK: Has it been a different response every time, or different feel?
TL: Yeah, I mean, the first one was a lot more mellow, which was nice. It was a nice introduction to the venue, and New York in general. And then the second night was much more rowdy, a lot of people, which was cool. So, it’s been different every time, so far.
KK: Have you been in NYC the entire time, or have you been skipping off to play other shows during the rest of the week?
TL: We’ve been playing on the weekends in surrounding areas; so Washington, DC, Philly, or Boston. It’s been cool, so we’ve spent time in the city and we’ve spent time outside.
KK: How is that juxtaposition – is it more inspiring for you to be in one place for a while, or is it better to be on the road and seeing different things every day?
TL: I like the balance. We spent a week in Woodstock, NY in the beautiful setting, working on music and having time off, and I was getting really restless by the third day. So, I think having two off days and working on music, and then I want to be out in a different place, or city or town. I get kind of restless if I have too much time in one space. Even in New York, which is really odd to me. I don’t know. It’s been awesome. New York has definitely been the highlight of the tour.
KK: Yeah, I recently watched one of your videos where you did a late night Woodstock session – a cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.” I liked how the video was done; it had a vintage, flickering, late at night feel.
YL: Ah yeah, that was really funny, because that’s one of my favorite Elvis songs, and so we just learned it in like, an hour and we were like, let’s record this. Then our manager was like, just put it up online. So I was like, alright, cool. That was just in the living room of this spot that we were staying in.
TL: Yeah, we released that in December.
KK: What was the impetus for that? Were these all songs that inspire you or that you just wanted to cover?
TL: It’s kind of like a variation of songs that I’ve always loved; like the Bill Withers song’s one of the first songs I remember growing up and hearing. My father got me into Bill Withers when I was really little. The Sufjan Stevens song was just some song that I just got into. I’m now a big fan of his, but at the time that was the only song I’d heard of his, and for some reason it just struck a chord with me and I was obsessed with it. I think I listened to it like 50-something times in a day and then I was like, alright, I really want to cover this song. It just kind of varied from songs I’ve always loved to brand new stuff. I’m random like that, though. I’ll hear a song and be like, I really want to cover this, and I’ll know nothing about the artist or nothing; it’s just the song. Or, it’s just a song I’ve always loved.
KK: What makes a good song for you? Even when you’re writing, what makes you say, ok, this is it?
TL: I feel like it’s just the mood of it that really attracts me to a song. When I’m working on a song, if the mood’s not what I’m feeling, or the right way, I can’t work on it, or maybe nothing will even happen with it. With someone else’s song, I feel like that’s the biggest thing – mood, or someone’s voice can really – by voice, I don’t mean how good it is or how bad it is. Just the register will attract me. I’m really into Charles Bradley, Lee Field…their voices are jus so real and powerful, and Jeff Buckley is my favorite vocalist ever. I think mood is just the biggest thing; just the mood that it provokes. It’s weird, sometimes all I need in a song is just the bass line, or one note. It doesn’t have to be this intricate thing. If it provokes what I’m feeling at the moment, then it’s something that I cling to; like that Sufjan Stevens song. I obsess over songs and I’ll listen to a song or a melody hundreds of times in a day if it’s what I’m feeling at that moment.
KK: And then you have an album coming out sometime later this year?
TL: Yeah, we’re actually going into the studio tomorrow, and we’re doing pretty much all the pre-production right now. We have most of the songs written. I’m excited to just get into the studio and get these new songs recorded and tracked. I believe so much in them, I just want to hear what they sound like that way.
KK: That’s awesome. I know from reading other interviews you’ve done, and things like that, that everyone asks you about the beginnings of the band, and that you started solo with a more folksy project, and then as you added people you focused more on hip hop and then ambient – what direction are you going in with this new record?
TL: This new record’s going to be a lot more heavy, electronic based. I always wanted to focus more on the beats end of it, while being very direct with the lyrics. It’s taken a lot of time for me to be really candid and very honest with my lyrics, so I’m really excited. These songs are much more straightforward and to the point, while also having – they’re dark, but there’s a little bit of light. A lot heavier – a lot more serious, I feel like.
KK: Is it more personal and intimate?
TL: Much more. I feel like with Bellow, I didn’t quite know what I was doing. I just started writing songs. With this, it’s much more direct. These are the most personal songs I’ve ever written, lyrically. People will either get it or not, but either way I’m happy with it, because I’m able to finally express myself without using a ton of metaphors. I can just say what I want to say. So, we’ll see how it goes. We’re all really, really eager to just get this album out, because we feel like it’s a true representation of how far we’ve grown since the last album.
KK: I also read that the name Sister Crayon was something you came up with while pen pal-ing with Coco Rosie.
TL: Well, I was writing one of them a letter, and I was about to go see them play the next night in San Francisco, and I was a little drunk, I guess, and at the end of the letter, I just wrote ‘Sister Crayon.’ I have no idea where that came from, and I had never even heard those two words together, and I was like, alright, that’s going to be my alter ego. It was basically me trying to create another name for myself so I wouldn’t be so afraid of expressing myself. It was a solo project at the time, so I didn’t want to go by name, because I felt like I couldn’t say what I really wanted to say, in a strange way. So, I felt if I created an alter ego that had that kind of name, I could do whatever I wanted to do, because it wasn’t me. And even now, when I step onstage, it’s a different mentality.
KK: Kind of like having a separation between who you are and who Sister Crayon is?
TL: Yeah – I’m much more reserved off stage. On stage, you get in that zone – it’s taken a long for me to get comfortable with – but you get in that zone, and just let everything go for 45 minutes. I’m definitely not like that off stage, so it’s nice.
KK: Where are you going after this? Are you heading straight back west or touring more?
TL: Well, it’s crazy. We were supposed to be done May 4th in Texas, and then we would just head back to the west coast, but we just got offered a tour with Maps & Atlases, so we’re staying out on tour until June now. We’re basically meeting up with them in Chicago, and then doing all of the rest of the dates with them.
KK: Are you coming back here then, for the Glasslands show?
TL: Yeah, we’re going to come back and tour with them for an extra three weeks, so we’re excited.
KK: So you’ve toured with some really great bands.
TL: Yeah, we’ve been so fortunate. We’ve toured with The Album Leaf, Built to Spill – we’re going to so a full-on tour with them in September – and Maps & Atlases. Just these amazing bands that we really like and look up to, and they really like us, so we’ve been really fortunate. It’s been awesome.
KK: Do you have anyone that you really want to tour with in the future, like a dream bill?
TL: A dream bill would probably be Portishead, collectively. They’re probably my favorite band and always have been since the 90s. I mean, that would be insane. Or like, Bjork. Bjork would be insane. But, I really love Fiona Apple, and she’s coming back, which I’m really excited about, and doing tours. I mean, that would be the dream bill. That would be insane.
KK: Well, now it’s on record, so we’ll see what happens! Anything else you want to share?
TL: I just hope people can come out to the shows and see what we do.