It’s just after 6 p.m. in Novi Sad, Serbia. Texas-based singer Chrystabell is settling into the city, where she’s set to play with her band at the Church of the Name of Mary the following night as part of the 2022 Capital of European Culture Festival. “We weren’t exactly sure if it was going to happen, but things are on track,” she says. “The band made it. We got here from different cities. All the flights were on schedule.”
The concert will mark Chrystabell’s second performance of music from her album Midnight Star, out on January 21 via San Francisco-based label Love Conquered Records, and her first gig since a December show in San Antonio.
“Everything is just dripping with uncertainty and there’s no guarantee for anything that’s going to happen at this particular moment, especially where touring is concerned,” she continues. “I have to say that, as a performer, I can’t imagine taking another show for granted at this point, after the experience of the last two years.”
Pandemic aside, it’s also a moment of evolution for Chrystabell. Midnight Star, a synthpop explosion centered around science fiction and fantasy narratives, is a departure from the dark, sultry rock of previous albums like We Dissolve and Feels Like Love.
“The big difference for this one is that there were no guitars, no bass, no drums,” says Chrystabell, who worked with her longtime collaborator Christopher Smart on Midnight Star. “This was a very new territory for both of us.”
In December of 2019, Chrystabell and Smart began work on what would become Midnight Star. “We’re both pretty connected to and associated with that world of drums-bass-guitar and that was comfortable and we knew it really well,” she explains. “So, this was like jarring ourselves into new sonic terrain and the sounds that were happening and what we were coming up with was like science-fiction, but it was also intergalactic spy music.”
The two decided to lean into the science fiction and cosmic connotations that the synths sounds evoked. “That cosmic intrigue has always been pretty thick in my world, so the sci-fi fantasia that was unfolding was beautifully aligned with all the stuff that I like to think about and dream about and the ideas that I conjure in my mind,” says Chrystabell.
The singer’s other interests— like reincarnation and parallel universes— began to creep into the work as well. “The story was writing itself,” she says. Meanwhile, as they worked on what would become Midnight Star in between other projects, the COVID-19 pandemic also left them with more time to play around with the concepts and music. “It’s not a pandemic record in that we were writing it with all these feelings that were happening. We were writing it and then we actually had time afforded to go deep into this world,” says Chrystabell.
She describes a “very loose narrative” forming where the album was a soundtrack to a television series from the 2080s. While they referred to the songs as “episodes,” they weren’t the scripts for the imaginary show. “The songs were the soundtracks to the episodes. We got pretty meta,” Chrystabell says with a laugh as she adds, “Did I mention that we had time?”
“It just got thicker and richer and then with more and more layers,” she says of the project. “Then everything dissolved and whatever was left, the juiciest morsels from all of this space-conjuring was where we got to Midnight Star.”
The conceptual nature of Midnight Star brings to mind Chrystabell’s connections to TV and film. She’s collaborated multiple times with David Lynch over the years, including on the song “Polish Poem,” which featured in the film Inland Empire. She also played FBI agent Tammy Preston in Twin Peaks: The Return. “At this point, David’s influence is cellular on me as a human being,” says Chrystabell. “He’s been a part of many rites of passage for myself as a person and as an artist that the impression is indelible – not so much on the kind of art that I’m making, but certainly in the way that I go about expressing it, which is definitely leaning into my intuition versus what makes sense in general.”
The sound and story of the album has also brought about changes in Chrystabell’s performance style and aesthetic across media. You can see that in the science fiction worlds the singer inhabits in her recent videos for songs like the title track and “Suicide Moonbeams.”
“There was a level of technicality involved because I did want there to be this through line in relation to Midnight Star and her process and her journey, even if it’s only in my mind and no person could potentially map it out,” says Chrystabell. “There was that intentional process within this particular world.”
These narrative and visual themes may impact her live performance as well. “When I get on stage, I have a thing that I’m intentionally walking into with Midnight Star,” says Chrystabell.
In February, Chrystabell is slated to begin touring again with a jaunt through Europe.
“As far as the tour, it’s really felt so far away,” says Chrystabell. “For a long time, it felt like this fantasy and my fantasies have been strong, but bringing it in to action, some of that only happens when you walk onstage and do the music.”