Underneath This had the enjoyable experience of interviewing musician and journalist, Cristina Black. In the subsequent paragraphs, please read more about Cristina’s influences, inspirations, and insights about the difference between art and journalism…
Please describe your path to becoming an artist.
I’ve been a writer and musician since I was a little kid, but I think I really became an artist about six or seven years ago, when I started writing songs. You know how you get a song stuck in your head and it drives you insane? That started happening to me all the time, except the songs didn’t exist yet. They were mine! I was writing them in my head and they were killing me from the inside. They were so heavy. I had begun taking ukulele lessons on a bit of a lark, and those tunes made their way out of me through that little thing, that instrument that everyone thinks is so twee. It was scary and painful and almost didn’t happen. I’m so grateful I got there, even to the people who made things hard for me so I would figure it out, because it’s the dreamiest dream.
Who and what are your creative influences?
Lately I’m really into Angel Olsen and Kendrick Lamar, but I always come back to the same people: Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Fiona Apple, Eminem, and anyone who just totally fearlessly puts their bloody heart on the chopping block like, here, take it. I don’t care if people think I’m a diva or a drama queen or a crazy bitch or what. I take it as a compliment because that’s what they say about everyone I look up to.
Your music has been described as similar to that of Nico and Joni Mitchell. What is it like being compared to those classic musicians?
Oh, it’s amazing, of course. But not at all surprising. Classic songs and quirky vocals are my thing.
I really enjoy all of your songs on the “The Ditty Sessions” and “Purple Houses” is especially powerful to me, especially the line, “We will never been children again.” What was it like making that song?
That song is about a conversation I had on a weekend trip in the Catskills with my very best friends at the end of the summer of 2005. My life, at that moment, was as close to perfect as it ever has been before or since. We were watching the news and Hurricane Katrina was in the Gulf of Mexico, swirling toward New Orleans, where all of us had lived or did live. And I just remember thinking, no, please no. But the next day, we woke up to a yes. I actually wrote the song a couple years later, when I was driving around New Orleans appreciating the colorful homes there. I remembered how scared I was that it would all go away.
That line, “catalog of emotion revealing the notion / we would never be children again” refers to the horrible loss of innocence you feel when you see how unfathomably wrong things can go, like a very intense “party’s over.” I remember feeling like that when 9/11 happened too. It’s the kind of instantaneous growing up where you realize things aren’t going to be okay for a long time, or maybe never.
What inspired “Summer’s Over”?
That’s a funny one for me because when my friends heard it, they assumed I’d had an affair with my married surfing instructor in the Hamptons. But it’s a story I made up where summer is a metaphor for romance: an ephemeral season where things get real hot, and you lose your mind and do things you wouldn’t normally do. You feel free to do silly, sexy things and not think about the consequences. Then it ends and you’re supposed to go back to regular old life? That’s hard to face.
There is a palpable pathos on “When I Think of Christmas.” What was it like recording that song?
Recording it was super fun! I got to work with such cool LA musicians, and we really went to town making it sound like a classic holiday tune. I wrote it for anyone who ever had to get through the holidays with a heavy heart, which is basically everyone.
Is your work feminist? If so, how?
Absolutely. I think gender equality happens when men and women both feel free to be, at turns, powerful and vulnerable. That’s what the characters in my songs, and my life, are like. Complicated. I love it when John Boehner cries. I just think it’s so beautiful. I wish Hillary Clinton could do the same without people bringing up PMS. I mean, I doubt she even ovulates these days.
One person who really bent gender-specific behavior in music was Kathleen Hanna with Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. I love the way she always wore that fire engine red lipstick. She took a product that was invented to please men and used it to draw attention to her mouth, like I HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY. I always wear red lipstick when I sing, even if I’m recording and you can’t see me.
How do your different social identities influence your music?
In college, my friends called me “the withdrawn observer.” So, there you go.
You are also a music journalist. How does that process differ from writing songs?
In journalism, you’re supposed to tell the truth. In art, you can make shit up.
What feedback do you have for aspiring musicians?
If you’re afraid, that’s good.