Sister Crayon prefers to color in darker shades
Sister Crayon got its start in Sacramento, California, in 2010 when Terra Lopez and Dani Fernandez met and bonded over '90s-era hip-hop. The pair teamed up with various bandmates in the past few years and produced music that sounded like the perfect fusion of soul and trip hop -- a darkly inflected, emotionally stirring soundscape.
Currently a three-piece and based in Oakland, Sister Crayon made its recorded debut in 2011 with Bellow, and the album reflected the band's early organic sound elements and its increasing obsession with electronic beats. With the release of this year's Cynic EP, the group has expanded its sound while retaining a certain rawness of honestly articulated emotions, revealing a real and personal strength in being vulnerable. We recently spoke with Terra Lopez, the band's singer, about Fiona Apple, Jeff Buckley and Lopez's embrace of writing music with a dark vibe.
Westword: What got you started playing classical guitar?
Terra Lopez: I started playing classical guitar just for fun maybe seven or eight years ago. That's kind of how Sister Crayon started -- me playing guitar. I always heard more to the songs, more electronic aspects to it, like beats and heavy bass, but at the time, it was just me. Then I met Dani Fernandez, and she and I kind of bonded over beats and bass and low end and all of that. But my grandfather gave me his classical guitar.
With nylon strings?
Yeah! That's the only kind of guitar I like to mess around with and play. I just love how it sounds.
It sounds like you had an MPC pretty early in life, too. How did you get a hold of one of those things? It's kind of a higher-end piece of gear for a young musician.
You know, one of the first pieces of gear that I purchased was the MPC 1000. It was actually the only item I've ever purchased in my life on my credit card. I completely maxed it out. I think I was maybe nineteen years old when I bought it. I actually sold it to Dani before she joined Sister Crayon. I sold it for rent money or something ridiculous. I'm just glad it stayed within the family because it was one of my favorite items I've purchased. It's kind of become our signature sound. Really it was the only percussive instrument that we had at the time, so we kind of wrote our entire first record based around that.
What is it about the sound of the MPC that you like?
For me it was really easy to write to. When it comes to electronic beats, I'm very particular about tones and Dani is, too. We've definitely grown over the years, and since we've grown as songwriters, and we have explored more into electronic tones, but at the time, I was drawn to the harshness and rawness of those early '90s snares and 808s. They're all soft tones, so anyone that gets that MPC has that same sound. But we were pretty selective about which ones we used.
You mentioned how when you met Dani you had bonded over certain music. What hip-hop did you bond over specifically?
I'm a huge fan of '90s hip-hop, '90s R&B and '90s music, in general. For me, it was De La Soul, Biggie, Tupac, Nas. A Tribe Called Quest is by far my favorite hip-hop group of all time. It wasn't necessarily that Dani and I bonded over specific acts but it was just the overall beats. She had never played the MPC before we had met each other.
She's a hand percussionist, and she plays congas. She's been playing since she was six because her father was heavy into that. It was remarkable to me how good she was with her hands, and to me, it was a no brainer to think she could easily play the MPC, and I wanted her to play it. I think we bonded more over that aspect, and it was fun to hear songs I had written with beats behind them with her influence.
On your Facebook bio, it says you're an on and off recluse. What is it about seclusion that you feel helps you personally and helps your creativity?
I think with being alone that's when I do the most writing. I tend to get into my head. It can be a negative thing, but at the same time, it's where I mainly come up with lyrics or at least ideas or just themes. So being alone, outside of tour, especially now that Dani and I moved to the Bay Area, I'm alone a lot of the time.
It's always been an important thing to me. Ever since I was kid, that's always how it's been. I have a younger brother who would always make fun of me because he always wanted to go outside and play basketball and play sports, and I would stay in my room reading or writing. It kind of hasn't changed too much. I prefer to be alone most of the time. Over the years, that's just how songs have come about.
Sometimes being alone and serenity allows what you want to express to come out.
On Bellow you have a song called "Ixchel, The Lady Rainbow." Is that a reference to the jaguar goddess?
It's really funny you mention that because we just listened to that song for the first time in years. It's really a reference to the sun goddess. It also references new relationships and being in love wholeheartedly. That was actually my favorite moment recording that entire record. It was our piano player at the time and I recorded it in one take. It was really moving, and I was totally crying during the recording. It was the most moving time in the studio for me so far.
Obviously earlier in the band you played guitar but now you use more electronic instruments to craft beats. What made that a more interesting approach to songwriting?
Dani and I still want to go way more into it. But we wanted to take a more electronic approach to Cynic, and for the live show, we wanted to strip down the elements. We're now three members live. We just wanted to dive more into electronic music because we're obsessed with it for the heaviness and rawness of it. From the start, that's what I've always wanted to make, and she was on the same page, and now we've invested a bit more into gear and learning about that side of things.
In what ways did your father inspire the songs for Cynic?
My father is a huge influence on Cynic. I have very turbulent relationship with him, and my entire life, it's been that way. To be honest, I feel like he's the reason why I am a cynic, and why I even felt the need to write Cynic, or any of the lyrics on any of those songs.
Having the person that should be closest to you and having him absent and feeling that absence every day -- he really has shown what true loneliness is. It makes me almost feel like at least no one can hurt me as much as that, like I've already dealt with that. In that way, it's really great. There are a lot of references about him on that EP.