Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Krystle Warren: Clear for take off

Krystle Warren
Krystle Warren Krystle Warren Krystle Warren Krystle Warren

Seamlessly blending influences as varied as Seventies soul legend Bill Withers, contemporary folk/rocker Martha Wainwright and Civil Rights blues/folk pioneer Odetta, ‘Circles’ - the debut album from Kansas City-raised singer/songwriter/guitarist Krystle Warren - has already seen the now-Paris-based androgynous troubadour being imaginatively dubbed “Nina Simone meets Bob Dylan in the age of Obama”!

Indeed, with its passionately-delivered melodies and intriguing lyrics combining with tight instrumental back-up from Krystle’s New York-based band The Faculty, the acoustic, boho-flavoured ‘Circles’ has recently seen Warren prestigiously performing at The London Jazz Festival’s ‘Jazz Voice’ evening as well as supporting country songstress Diana Jones at Islington’s Union Chapel. Both of which appearances directly followed the huge international buzz created by Krystle’s September 29 performance of her glidingly-acoustic forthcoming single ‘Year End Issue’ on flagship BBC 2 music show ‘Later With Jools Holland’.

Mixing earthy, emotive soul vocal influences with the quirky lyrical integrity of indie and folk, one-time busker Krystle first attracted the attention of Emmanuel De Buretel’s Paris-based Because Music (home to an eclectic range of international artists like African duo Amadou & Mariam; French chanteuse Charlotte Gainsbourg; plus British indie icon Jarvis Cocker) back in 2007.

Having recorded her said debut LP in New York’s legendary Electric Ladyland Studios with two-time Grammy-wining producer Russell Elevado, a be-hatted, visually-boyish Ms. Warren enjoys an enlightening and laid- back introductory chat with Pete Lewis while relaxing in the pews of North London’s aforementioned, atmospheric Union Chapel.

PETE: What did you want to achieve musically with your debut LP ‘Circles’?

KRYSTLE: “Well, once my band and I went into the studio and hooked up with (producer) Russell Elevado - who’s an analogue freak - it was clear from that point on that we were gonna do something very warm. Plus it was also obvious we’d be creating something that very much stemmed from both Russell and me having a big love of classic rock like Steely Dan, Harry Nilsson, Queen... And I basically think we ended up purposely trying to make something that resembled our influences, while at the same time still trying to sound like OURSELVES.”

PETE: Your lyrics are intriguing to the point where their meaning is often not obvious. What inspires them?

KRYSTLE: “A lot of the tunes come so quickly that it’s hard even for ME to really describe what they’re saying! You know, while I have ideas of what they’re trying to address, at the same time I’m not really CERTAIN! For example, with the song ‘Circles’ I was actually at JFK Airport about to fly to Paris; I was looking through a music mag and I came across this interview with Jools Holland, where they asked him ‘Do you see the glass as half-empty or half-full?’… To which his response was ‘It doesn’t matter to me if the glass is empty or full, it’s about what’s left in the bottle!’… And, because I thought that was such a brilliant statement, I actually took it and put it in the SONG - along with a little Shakespeare quote plus a little reference to Jeff Buckley’s ‘Last Goodbye’… But then it doesn’t ALWAYS work like that. Because with (forthcoming single) ‘Year End Issue’, for example, the lyrics are completely circumstantial and based on what was happening in my own PERSONAL space at the time… So overall I guess it just varies.”

PETE: How did double-Grammy-winning producer Russell Elevado get involved with the project?

KRYSTLE: “My band - The Faculty - and I were all living in Harlem, and we decided to throw a Halloween party. We played live as ourselves, and Russell showed up because he knew our friend and engineer Ben Kane. He instantly took a liking to us - but, because a year earlier I’d worked with another producer in New York who was very controlling and had left a nasty taste in my mouth, when Russell said ‘I’d like to work with you - I KNOW people’, my immediate response was ‘I know people TOO! There’s my mother, my father, my brother my sister...’! But he became very persistent, and wouldn’t let UP! So, with us recording an EP at the time, he came in one night and said ‘Listen, I really wanna work with you guys. How about you let me audition for you? I’ll finish up the mixing for this EP, and then we can talk about a full-length album’… So that’s how he came to produce ‘Circles’! Basically he just wouldn’t let up! And in the end it turned out a great collaboration!”

PETE: So what were your early musical influences?

KRYSTLE: “Before you’re really able to create your own personality, you’re mirroring what you parents or your elders are doing. So, with my mother constantly playing artists like Anita Baker, Randy Crawford and Bill Withers around the house, those became the first people I started listening to. But then obviously, as you get older, your ears get wider. So, once I got into Junior High, I became immersed in the Beatles catalogue; I was reciting the lyrics of The Kinks; I was slowly getting into James Taylor, which then got me into The Doobie Brothers... You know, just soaking up all these different influences.”

PETE: How did that then lead to you starting out as a performer on the local Kansas City jazz scene, and what long-term impact did that have on you?

KRYSTLE: “That happened after I met my friend Solomon Dorsey. With him playing bass in a jazz band, he convinced me to start doing jazz gigs. And, though being a jazz singer in the vein of Sarah Vaughan - which was very much the local tradition - was never really my forte, with Kansas City having such a strong and impressive artist community, during that time I was lucky enough to get taken under the wing of many of those phenomenal people. Who in turn ended up exposing me to even MORE stuff! And to this day, I still do listen to many different artists from many different genres. But the one thing that always ties it all in and remains consistent is, I still have the same appreciation for LYRICS that I had even when I was a kid! You know, if someone is singing a song, then I do have to relate to it and it does need to be sincere.”

PETE: So how have you ended up being based in Paris?

KRYSTLE: “Well, I’d lived in New York for five years. And, by the time I left, I think I was at that cutting-point of paying an enormous amount of rent, and was just DONE! So, once I signed to (French record-label) Because Music and got a nice little healthy chunk to hold onto, I split and moved to San Francisco. Where I lived for about eight months, though half of that time I was actually in Paris doing promo. Then from there I decided I wanted to go back home to Kansas City. So I found myself a bungalow there right in front of the woods - you know, deer would come up, and it was AMAZING!... But then the record label called again, and asked me to come back to Paris to start doing promo for the album! So for a while - ‘cause I like Kansas and was really wanting to get back home - I tried to juggle both. Which is why - up to like four/five months ago - when people would ask if I lived I Paris, I’d say ‘No, I’m just here doing promo’… But the fact is, it’s now been OVER A YEAR since I’ve actually been living there! So yeah, I guess Paris has now become my new home!”

PETE: And how do you personally feel about becoming a Parisian citizen?

KRYSTLE: “The biggest thing that’s kept me in Paris is my job - you know, my record label is based there. But then the SECOND thing that makes me want to stay in Paris is that it’s beautiful, and I’ve made really good friends there who I know I’ll have for the rest of my life… Plus there’s just something really inspiring about walking along those cobblestone streets! I mean, for a kid who grew up in Southside Kansas City it doesn’t make any fucking sense whatsoever - and I’m completely flabbergasted by it! But, at the same time, I am definitely ENJOYING it!”

Krystle will perform a free solo showcase at Ray’s Jazz Café, London on January 19; before appearing on the ‘Way To Blue - The Songs of Nick Drake’ January UK tour at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (20); Brighton Dome (21); Barbican Centre, London (22); and Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (21)

The digital single ‘Year End Issue’ is released November 30. The album ‘Circles’ is out now, both through Because Music

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