An Interview With CRYSTAL BRIGHT About Her Band, Favorite Artists and More!
Posted On 18 Oct 2017
Crystal Bright & the Silver Hands, led by award winning singer/songwriter, ethnomusicologist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, Crystal Bright, has played over 700 shows from Canada to Austin, TX and New Orleans to Nashville the past 6 years sharing the stage with the likes of Beats Antique, Abney Park, Voltaire, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, The Love Language, Rising Appalachia, Larkin Grimm, Pearl and the Beard, and many more. Bright performed with the North Carolina Symphony in 2011 on an arrangement of her song “Toy Hammer,” and has performed at various festivals around the country (SXSW, Savannah Stopover, FloydFest, DragonCon, Midpoint Music Fest, The Steampunk World’s Fair, The International Steampunk Symposium, Shakori Hills, and many others.) She took Runner Up for On the Rise at Floydfest 2013 for a return set in 2014, and was named Best Singer in 2012, Best Songwriter in 2014, and Best Musician in the Triad in 2015 by Greensboro’s Yes Weekly.
Bright has an eclectic, haunting but yet whimsical, carnivalesque world folk sound, dubbed “kaleidophrenic cabaret.” She plays accordion, musical saw, concertina, piano, Taiko drum, adungu (Ugandan harp), and various others, leaving people captivated with her operatic & soulful vocals and virtuoso command of her exotic instruments.
The latest visual collaborative album with DividingMe Photography, “The Absolute Elsewhere” (Nov. 2014), has already received great reviews, and “Muses and Bones” (2012) has received press and glowing reviews in the US & Europe, as well as radio airplay in the US, UK, & Canada, including NPR and BBC appearances.
Learn more about Crystal Bright in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! How has 2017 been treating you? Musically, did you and the rest of the band approach this year any differently then you did last year?
I’ve definitely tried doing things a bit differently this year. My guitar player is also a multi-instrumentalist. We have been doing more duo gigs (instead of the full band) with him utilizing a bass box and hit-hat with a foot tambourine, as well as me using a foot tambourine for added percussion. This has allowed me to adapt to different circumstances and smaller spaces and is more financially sustainable. Plus it has enabled me to finally play my first cross-country tour this past August! Jeremy and I traveled all the way to San Diego, up to Seattle and back east over the span of a month. We cut our expenses by staying at airbnbs, friend’s houses, and national parks. I decided that since we’d be passing through so many amazing lands, we would visit the Grand Canyon, the Redwoods, Glacier, and Yellowstone.
Where does this interview find you today? Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it? What music gets you instantly out of a bad mood?
I don’t listen to a lot of music at home. I prefer the sounds of the birds and frogs. I rent a house on a peaceful 145-acre farm. When I do need an audio pick me up it’s usually Salsa, Bossa Nova, The Beach Boys, or Katzenjammer and sometimes Sia. I also have been listening to a beautiful musician from the Faroe Islands named Eivor.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
I was singing often at an early age, and when I was seven a piano teacher moved down the street. I was adamant about taking lessons and studied with her for about 6 years before switching to guitar. During my high school years I began improvising and writing on the piano. No one else in my family was musical, so it seems to have come out of nowhere. I had an extraordinarily stressful childhood and adolescent years so music was my therapy.
If you weren’t a musician today, what else could you see yourself doing?
I would be doing something with animals. I wanted to be a veterinarian when I was young, but now would probably focus more along the lines of animal communication and preservation.
Can you recall the moment that this group all decided that you could be in a band together and play music? Was it an organic process?
I didn’t start with a band. I was laid off from teaching music and dance at a Montessori school during the recession and decided that was an omen for me to pursue music full time. I began writing new songs and found people to play with me. The Silver Hands have been a rotating cast for seven years depending on people’s availability and aspirations.
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your hometown has affected who you are as a musician and the art that you create?
I grew up in a rural area that lacked diversity. Being surrounded by racism and exclusive mindsets led me to seek diversity and various ways to be inclusive. I remember buying CDs on Columbia House and introducing my friends to Bjork and PJ Harvey, both of who influenced my style. I also attended many concerts by bands such as Faith No More, System of Down, Deftones, Machine Head, Soulfly, Neurosis, Tori Amos, etc. These led to other influences on my sound, such as Mr. Bungle. I’ve always been drawn to darker and melancholic music and it’s apparent in my writing. Music is my way to process difficult emotions and experiences.
I understand that you have played over 700 shows and shared the stage with so many incredible performers. So is it possible to pick a couple favorite experiences out of them? How do you think that you have become a better performer because of all these performances?
I have been fortunate to share the stage with so many gifted performers and perform for so many amazing people. One of my favorite experiences was performing after Abney Park at DragonCon (a huge SciFi convention in Atlanta). On the final night everyone stuck around after their performances. There were at least 2000 people in the ballroom, dancing and many singing along. We fed off the crowd’s energy and performed at the highest level I have experienced. There was so much love in the room. I also had a great experience performing at Floydfest 3 years in a row. The first year I participated in the “On the Rise” competition and was fortunate enough to be chosen runner-up. Consequently I was booked the next two years to play for thousands of more people. The energy there is pervasive and I’ve made so many friends playing there. Both of these events had their share of stressful situations and getting through trying times as a group definitely taught me to be more adaptable and knowledgeable about how to navigate my stress and reaction to adversity.
How has the dynamics within the band grown and changed through the years? On stage and in the studio?
Well, let’s just say that I don’t recommend dating your band members, whether you played together first or were partners first.
Your shows are described as “kaleidophrenic cabaret.” Can you please elaborate on that very vivid imagery?
My influences are diverse and my background in ethnomusicology has led me to an eclectic mix of styles and instrumentations throughout my set. Hence I created the word “kaledophrenic.” I also love to collaborate with dancers, acrobats and other types of performers creating a cabaret style event.
What can you tease about your upcoming EP, “Staring At The Sun”? What was it like making this EP as opposed to your previous collections?
The new album is a lot more minimal compared to the last ones with respect to instrumentation. It’s more cinematic and clear. A few of the songs such as Go Outside and The Edge of Love were collaborations with my guitar player Jeremy Haire. This album was recorded with the legendary Mitch Easter who has engineered Cat Stevens, R.E.M., The Avett Brothers, Wilco, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and other well-known bands. He was a pleasure to work with and we recorded the album in just 4 days. My last project took more than a year to record. Jeremy and I demoed out the songs at home first to save time and went in with an organized plan.
Embed for latest single ‘Go Outside’:
Crystal, I am fascinated by all the amazing instruments that you play. How did that happen to begin with? How did you learn to play them all? Do you have a favorite?
I started with piano when I was 7 and just continued to add them over the years. I learned through lessons, school ensembles, youtube, books, and friends. I started playing the accordion in a Mariachi band at FSU and learned more through accordion books, the adungu in the Ugandan ensemble studying Ethnomusicology at FSU. Then I heard the musical saw in a French movie called Delicatessen, and learned the basics through youtube videos. Even though I don’t play it as much, the saw is my favorite, because it’s interactive, lightweight and transportable. It also grabs the audience’s attention like no other instrument I play.
With the summer being just about over, what was your favorite part about it? What was something fun that this group did or tried? Did you get to play out live much at all?
Definitely my first cross-country tour was adventurous and just plain fun. Visiting the Grand Canyon, the redwoods, Glacier, Yellowstone, Antelope Island near Salt Lake City should be on everyone’s agenda. I saw so many old friends and made new ones. My third year performing at DragonCon was another memorable highlight.
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? Do you think that new music being created today is going to reflect these hard times?
There are so many entities that are trying to divide us these days: the media, the government, etc, and music is the most powerful force that brings people together in love and appreciation. I see it all the time. At one particular house show recently I noticed that everyone came in reserved and standoffish. As I started playing I could see the walls come down pretty quickly and most of them started dancing. A lot of my songs are themed around compassion and love, and I think the stories I tell about them resonate with so many. After the set, we had a lot to talk about and the vibe was now warm and positive. We are living in a culture of fear and music can help us rise out of that.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
There are so many and probably more that I don’t realize have influenced me. Bjork, PJ Harvey, Mike Patton, Yann Tiersen, Lhasa de Sela, Tom Waits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Tori Amos, Gotan Project, a lot of Romani and eastern European music, Katzenjammer, Michael Nyman, Phillip Glass. I would absolutely love to do a duet with Mike Patton. That’s on my goal list.
What do you hope is the message of your music and what do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
One of the messages that keep coming up is about the journey of learning to have more love, patience, and compassion for yourself and others. That is one of the hardest parts of being a human and we’re not really taught how to do it. Something else that comes up often is taking care of the earth better. I try to live a minimalist lifestyle and be health conscious with the resources I’m given. I also believe that all humans are innately musical and the culture we are born into tells us whether we are “talented” or not. If it was a part of our daily lives like some cultures, we would be more immersed in it and the idea of talent would not be such a harsh obstacle.
What advice would you give to someone just getting started on this music path? Or even to someone young that is thinking of becoming a musician one day?
If you know this is the only thing you are happy doing, then don’t have a plan B. It’s a LOT of hard work, all the time. It never ends. You have to put in the hours and the practice and not give up. It’s not going to be sustainable if fame is your goal. You need a message that you want to share with the world. Also, be kind, adaptable but make sure you don’t compromise your values and integrity.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about yourself or your music?
I just bought a 1979 Airstream trailer, which has long been one of my dreams! I’m going to fix it up and eventually live in it so I can save some money to build some sort of dome house. I’ll be able to dedicate a small space to record demos and most importantly finally stop being a slave to so many bills! I’m looking forward to sharing my experience with others and hopefully they can find something that’s useful to them. It seems everything I’ve learned up to this point has prepared me to live my dream more completely and I believe that’s what life is all about.