it was a sunday night. it was raining. i had made a wrong turn in the crowd at the montreal festival international de jazz and was completely disoriented, trying to find the bell stage, where electro jazz soul singer krystale was performing. i had been standing at the wrong stage for a solid 5 minutes before i realized it was past 8 pm. i was soaking wet and dragging around a broken umbrella. the crowd of tourists was rowdy, and i was a bodycheck away from giving up and going home, but i soldiered on in the rain to catch krystale’s performance. when i got to the stage, finally, i’ve never been so relieved – not only to finally be in the right place, but that her music seemed to erase the past half hour. i’d listened to her debut album machine a couple times through before attending the show, but live, she absolutely took my breath away.
a native montrealer with dominican roots, you might recognize krystale off “sweet tooth,” a collaborative effort with fellow local hero kaytranada. her vocals ooze so much heart, you’re sure it can’t be real – she’s only 22, after all. but every note was effortless, and her performance had every (soaking wet) person in the crowd smiling the kind of smile they didn’t even know was on their lips. i know, because i caught myself at times smirking, at times grinning throughout her performance. one of those inexplicable sensations you get from really soulful music.
i caught up with krystale to talk about machine, her infatuation with music, and the nitty gritty of electro jazz.
so, tell me a bit about jazz. if “jazz” were a person, what would he or she be like? would you be friends with him or her?
jazz is a style of music that started and evolved in the 1920s in the southern united states. since then, the definition has become much broader, but the main elements that have stayed are the language, the chord extensions, the rhythm. and…hmm..if jazz were a person, i think it would be someone who was very spontaneous and liked to improvise in social situations! i would definitely be friends with her!
tell me about your own personal connection to jazz? did you listen to it growing up?
actually, i only started listening to jazz when I was in my early teens. billie holiday was the first jazz singer i’d ever heard and i was completely blown away by her fragile voice and honest lyrics. it was actually a billie holiday record called “solitude” that influenced me the most when i was first starting out. i listened to it constantly and it was my go-to jazz standard to sing. the song is so tragic and beautiful at the same time.
let’s talk about electro-jazz-soul, which is how you’ve defined your own genre. what does that mean to you?
my music doesn’t necessarily fit into any of those genres, so i figured i would specify what styles of music inspire my compositions and arrangements.
to help some of my readers better understand the genre, let’s play a little game. if ___________ , ____________, and ____________ made a record together, the result would be electro-jazz-soul.
fiona apple, little dragon and radiohead!
great choices! we’re big little dragon fans at little city. let’s talk about your own musical history, tell me a bit about how you got into music.
i’ve been singing ever since i can remember. my parents are very musical people and always played music around the house. they noticed that i took an interest in performing – i would often organize concerts in our living room for their guests – and enrolled me in singing, guitar, piano and dance lessons. and since then, i’ve never looked back. i owe a lot to my parents.
tell me about singing at the jazz fest?
performing at the montreal jazz festival was one of the best musical experiences up to date! i had a great time and feel so honored to have been invited. the opportunity came about earlier this year when i opened up for montreal rapper jai nitai lotus at divan orange. a representative from the jazz fest was actually in the crowd, unbeknownst to me, and i received an email a couple of days after the performance asking if i’d be interested in playing the jazz fest.
you must have been ecstatic! but you seemed so relaxed on stage – what was going through your mind?
i was very focused on giving the best show I could possibly give! performing, for me, is both liberating and exhilarating at the same time. i feel completely in my element when I’m on stage. it’s incomparable to any other feeling!
congratulations on your debut album, machine, which i really love. what is the title “machine” all about? the lyrics of the title track are “i’m a machine, don’t you know?” – what’s the significance of those lyrics?
thank you! “machine” is my description of someone who is very guarded when it comes to love and opening up to others. the line continues on with “but you soften me up ‘til I’m warm hearted”, which refers to when you finally decide to not be so cold, you realize how worthwhile it is.
those are beautiful lyrics. what’s the hardest part about songwriting? what’s the easiest part?
the hardest part is actually getting started. sometimes i need to force myself to get in the mindset and just focus. the easiest is once i’ve convinced myself to do so…then i can let my mind take over and just improvise, write all my thoughts down, put everything to paper.
you wrote all the songs on your album, which i think is incredible. can you share a snippet of lyrics that are important to you, that you are proud of, or that you really love? what makes them special?
i think the lines that i like the most would be from the song “closer” where in the bridge i sing “when you’re not around i’m the text book definition of the blues/i’m afraid i’ll think there’s nothing to lose.” these lyrics are special to me because i feel like it’s the breakthrough moment in the album where i admit my vulnerability. i’m no longer in denial…and it’s a relief!
what’s your favorite track on the album?
hmmm…right now, i’d have to say my favourite is “arrows” because it reminds me of when i used to listen to led zeppelin every day.
so, what can we expect from you in the future?
you can expect more music for sure! i hope to organize a mini tour of north america, so shows in new cities are definitely in the plans.