Q&A with Karyn Crisis-December 97
Sheila Rene': Hello, my dear. It's great to hear from you.
Karyn Crisis: Is it recording?
SR: I think so.
KC: Where are you calling from?
SR: I'm now residing in Trinity, Texas which is 90 miles from Houston. After 30 years in San Francisco you can imagine my culture shock.
KC: Sure it's not hard to understand.
SR: Crisis is now about four years old with only one member change.
SR: Are you where you want to be in this show biz thing?
KC: No quite. We're a very ambitious band and on our last album we were invited to Europe a couple of times. Metal Blade didn't want to pay for it. We would rather have toured on the album back then rather than now with our second album out. I wish we had more U.S. tours under our belts and more product in the stores...all those kind of things, but with a small label they can't always happen at one time.
SR: That's true. You have to have a lot of patience in this biz. This is the first time you've worked with outsiders. You used four different drummers and several guitarists.
KC: I only had one extra guitarist in Norman Westberg, who played on our '96 album, Deathshead Extermination. He's a good friend of ours and has been jamming with us for a long time. The drummers with the exception of Chris Hamilton were all friends of ours since the beginning of this band. They knew our music well.
SR: I really love the two cuts you sing with Acid Bath's Sammy Pierre Duet. . . "Discipline Of Degradation" and "Surviving The Siren."
KC: Great. He's a wonderful guy. I had fun working with him.
SR: Back again with Steve McAllister and Keith Fulgout, who worked on Acid Bath.
KC: Two great guys to work with. We like having them around.
SR: Have you worked with anyone else so you have something to compare these guys to?
KC: Yeah, we have. For me this is my first experiences but from what I hear Keith and Steve are excpetional. They can fix any problem in the studio and makes everything comfortable for us. He's more like one of the band.
SR: Did your artwork preceed your musical career, your voice?
KC: Definitely. I grew up drawing at a very young age and music was always around our house. My great grandfather was a Gypsy and my grandmother and grandfather always had music going on and my Mom plays piano. I learned piano and violin first, but in terms of rock music that came a little later. I started off in classical music. Art was my first emotional expression.
SR: Your voice sounds many octaves deep. Did you ever have any professional training?
KC: Never, never, never. A couple of years after the band got together I thought about it, but the guys I talked to wanted too much money. I've never had any problems except when I have a cold or any kind of coughing. We did a 64 day tour with no problems and so I guess I just do things right. I learned early on how to treat my voice to keep it working right for me.
SR: Sometimes we have a male sounding voice and other times like a female. I would have to guess that you've been writing as long as you've been painting.
KC: Not quite, but close. The artwork came first. I was always a quiet person and I didn't like words that much. Somewhere along middle school time I started writing poetry and short stories.
SR: On this new album your singing is not as up front as the last album, Deathshead. I'd like to hear you better.
KC: It was probably the mood and in production it was difficult. We'd do a track and then take it home to listen to it. In retrospect, they were harshier. This album was definitely different. The vocals, to my mind, were more reserved and less energetic. Weary. The vocals show where I was at the time.
SR: This album seems to be less railing toward humanity and more toward the individual person.
KC: That's definitely true for all of us. For myself, the last one was a battle against a lot of different things. . . the environment and humanity. The Hollowing comes from a personal challenging place. We had lost our drummer and we didn't know what to do about that. We were just back from the road with a lot of questions. It was time to look inward and we did. We found our salvation through the music and more roots. There was a lot more middle eastern feeling from Afzaal. Gia had come into his bass playing and much more expressive. Same with me on vocals. Instead of writing stores about a bigger picture, I wrote from a more personal level. I was fighting my own ghosts that I had been avoiding for a while.
SR: For me, The Hollowing is more of an album for women. So many things that make me feel that you're writing to me. The whole thing about discipline and degradition. I'm worthless and alone.
SR: So many women will agree I believe. The whole thing about "Sleeping The Wicked." Too many women depend on men too much. You don't have to sleep around or have sex to fit in. I'm sure the men will get something out of the songs too.
KC: Sometimes I write from experiences that I've had with men, trying to fit into that world. Ultimately, of course, I am a woman and I can't change that so I'm going to write from my personal stand point. You hit them right on the head.
SR: I had to go and look up two words so I'm dictionary enhanced with interregnum. It certainly describes society and politics world-wide.
KC: That's a strange one.
SR: Then verity, which is the quality or tradition of being true. Thanks for two new words.
KC: You've certainly done your homework and that's exciting for me.
SR: I'm happy to have found your music. Somewhere I read that you believe that music is a gift and crisis is a way of life. I like that. You can take that both ways...as a situation and as a band.
KC: As a band and personally, as a way of life. I'm always having these personal crisis problems. Our way of life. Our guitar player, Afzaal gave up a $40K a year salary to go on the road with the music. That's a big adjustment for him even though he has had bands before. To sacrafice his comfort of living to take on a less tangible dream was quite a change for him. For me, I have always done what I had to do to support my art. Gia was a student and a classical trombone player. We all met through common friends. We went from "maybe" to writing and rehearsing, then to playing and now the band is our whole life. We're always involved in doing something for the band whether it's working on the artwork or the performance.
SR: Everyone has found a new way of life. Talk to me about "Mechanical Man." Almost all the other songs stand out to me as being of a different flavor than this one.
KC: Definitely. It was a strange song...one of the newer tunes that came after Deathshead material. It's a song that Norman was jamming on with us. We've played this song live for a while now. I was in a transistion lyrically and I didn't know how to fit in with this song. The song is about two different things. The song starts off saying I need and it's never ending. The song is mostly about needs and not being able to communicate correctly. Maybe it would be easier if I could communicate like a machine. When you feel really isolated you think who am I really?
SR: We all stumble with communications.
KC: I've never been one to lean of vices. At that point in the song I just wanted to be like everyone else.
SR: I've known so many people who are always being "found out." That the world will eventually know who you really are, no talent, no substance. That we're not who we say we are. I always think about Janis. She didn't think anybody listened to her music and that she really had no talent. Of course, we all worshiped her.
KC: I know. We still miss her. It's wonderful that you brought her name into the conversation. When I first met the guys in the band I was reading a book on her life. They all said that I was the band's little Janis Joplin. For me it was kinda sad but also a great honor because she was such a great performer.
SR: I've got an amazing photograph of her over my fireplace. It's about 5 feet something. It's the only picture that shows the bracelet tattoo on her left hand. I've looked for this for many years so I can have one just like it.
KC: Right. That's a great story.
SR: The movie with Melissa Etheridge playing Janis is in the works. Laura Joplin, Janis's sister, doesn't want her to do the part. I don't understand why now? I've heard Melissa sing Janis tunes and she brought me to tears.
KC: I didn't know any of this news.
SR: "After The Flood" the instrumental clocking in at 2.48
KC: That was a happening. I wasn't there when it happened because when we were writing and recording I separated myself from the pack. Emotionally, I was in a diffeent place. All the drummers brought all these crazy instruments they had laying around at home. The drum room was a huge concrete room and the sound was immense. Jamming took place one night late when these crazy musicians were just jamming out. It came out as one organic song.
SR: They say that you have to always know how to leave the stage gracefully...once you're through. The album ends gracefully to me. It's a funny bit with Fred on the phone. It's on one of those hidden track sort of things with the extra stuff around 6+ minutes.
KC: We didn't have that title until the very end. It sounded like an uplifting song. We went from a dark period in the band to coming to finding the light again at the end. We're really really funny people even though we take our music very seriously.
SR: What's the story on your "graphic novel."
KC: It was supposed to be out a whole year ago. It has grown and I'm still trying to find someone to publish it. It's full color. The artwork is very similar to our very first album. It's ink drawn and about 45-50 pages.
SR: Call Hank.
KC: Call who?
SR: Call Henry Rollins. He has a very successful publishing house in Los Angeles. He can help you.
KC: You mean about my comic book? Grand idea. I'll look into it.
SR: What's the tour information?
KC: We just returned from a 10-country tour of Europe. It was fantastic. We didn't know what to expect because the scene over there has much more separation in the bands they like. In Europe hardcore means New York hardcore. We don't fit in that niche as well as we do metal. We won em' over every night, and we sold out of merch not even half way through the tour. It was really exciting and a lot better than we expected. It was a hard tour because some of the bands didn't get along well. We're eager to return. Now it looks like we'll be starting a south, southwest, left coast tour with Stuck Mojo. We're waiting for a confirmation.
SR: I like those guys. Say hello to them for me. Traveling with men is just the worst thing. I don't know how you ladies put up with their sniveling asses.
KC: (laughing) Yep, you're right on about that.
SR: Thanks for your time kiddo. I'll look forward to seeing you live in '98.
KC: I've enjoyed the whole thing. Thanks.