ARTIST INTERVIEW: Cristina Black

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Photo by Olivia Jaffe

Just because a story doesn’t have a happy ending, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be told: that’s the main message I got from the music of harpist Cristina Black. As well as choosing a unique instrument, she offers a unique perspective as a storyteller. Her songs range from satirical on “Drunk Rich People,” where she pokes fun of those who have replaced real joy with wealth and booze, to tragic on “Alvarado,” where she uses a lullaby-like melody to piece together the story of a man murdered in her Los Angeles neighborhood.

Cristina took a break from music to answer some questions about her introduction to music, how she learned to incorporate the harp into modern songwriting, and her personal style. Check it out:

AudioFemme: The harp is such an amazing instrument, but not often used in today’s popular music. How did you start playing it? 

Cristina Black: It was my mother’s idea. I think she just wanted to be soothed and amused on a daily basis, so she put me on the harp at a pretty young age. I’ve gone in and out of playing it seriously since then. At times, it has been a bit of an albatross. I most recently picked it back up about three years ago, when I moved to Los Angeles, and it’s been propelling me forward and upward in this insane spiral. My mom was onto something, because this thing is cool. It is a healing medium… I didn’t realize that until relatively recently. Now, I am obsessed with it. We’re together every day, me and my harp. My friends get jealous.

AF: What about playing music, in general?

I started banging on the piano and begging for lessons at age four. That’s how it started. I studied classical piano, voice and harp up through high school. I also play baritone ukulele, which served as a cheaper, smaller stand-in for a magical instrument when I was separated from my harp. The ukulele made it possible for me to write songs because I could think about music on a much more basic level. Restriction can be inspiring… ask Jack White.

AF: What are your thoughts on fellow harpist Joanna Newsom? 

CB: I idolize Joanna– not just because she’s one of the greatest songwriters of our time, a virtuosic harpist, and superhuman vocalist, but because it really never occurred to me that I could, as a classical harpist, be a modern singer-songwriter. They don’t tell you that when you study classical harp. They’re just like, here’s the repertoire, practice it until you die. There is very little creativity involved, and you certainly don’t learn to sing and play at the same time. Joanna showed me it could be done in a cool way. I’m going to see her live next week by myself because I get so emotional at her shows, it’s too embarrassing for anyone to go with me.

AF: Your website states that you are often compared to Nico, Fiona Apple and Joni Mitchell. Are these your main influences? 

No, not really. I love those ladies, but I think people like to compare female artists to other female artists, like it’s a category. I get it, but my musical influences are much more diverse than just cool ladies. I am actually influenced by the moon, mostly. I’m a double Cancer, I can’t help it.

AF: Alex Chilton played on your debut album. How did he get involved in the recordings?

CB: Alex was a friend of a friend. I’d been seeing him around for years when I lived in New Orleans. So when I went to make my first record, The Ditty Sessions, I had this crazy idea that he could play bass because all the other bass players I knew were more jazz or funk oriented and he was obviously a master of the modern pop song. So my friend talked to him for me. He saw that one of the songs was called “Drunk Rich People.” He said, “Well, that’s a good title, anyway.” And then he showed up at the studio and played on the whole record. I was almost crippled by gratitude. His blessing was this beautiful shield for me. I felt protected from criticism because Alex liked my songs.

AF: You’ve already worked with well-known artists such as Father John Misty, but if you were to start your own all-star band, who would be on the roster?

CB: Lately I’ve been dreaming about writing songs for Lana Del Rey to sing with me playing harp. Richard Hawley producing. Please, Universe?

AF: Do you have any upcoming projects or shows you’d like to tell us about?

CB: I’ve been working with a young LA artist named Melusine. She has this angelic voice that makes all your hairs stand straight up, and she writes songs that sound amazing on harp. We’re going to record and perform together really soon.

AF: You’re also a fashion writer. How do you describe your personal sense of style? Are there any fashion trends that you feel strongly about?

CB: I’m like a crazy witch who wandered down the darkest, most expensive alley in Paris and got lost. Onstage and off, I’m the same. I’m always in ghostly gowns and high heels. I wear a shit-ton of black. Perma-red lips. Jewels out the ass. Label whore. That’s the real me.

https://soundcloud.com/cristinablack/alvarado[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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