With over nine years in the cultural spotlight, Crystal Murray’s latest release is unusually assured for a debut album. Media trained and matured by the Parisian fashion scene at just 13, Murray takes the pressure of the media’s gaze  in her stride. Navigating headlines  as the poster-tween of Paris’ fashionable youth has hardened her against the genre labels now endlessly assigned her in the music industry. Flowing through genres (namely alternative pop), Murray builds a sound that is uniquely hers. By turns it drifts, heavy eyed, through her most vulnerable emotions and emerges, in the club, to empowering dance beats.
Crystal Murray is a London-based Franco-American musician. Her debut album, Sad Lovers And Giants is out now via Because Music.
Your debut album was released on the 31st of May — congratulations! How are you feeling after its release? Do you have any more nerves now than before your previous EP releases, given this is your debut album?
It’s out now! I have this warm feeling in me. Like I finally [can] present my music the way I want it. The EPs before were a lot of research I think. Especially on the sounds, I was still looking for this hybrid sound I wanted to do, but I think it sounded quite hectic. On this album it’s a choice.The duality, the hybridity, every choice was made with love and passion. But I have this syndrome of always needing to do better. So I can’t wait to work more.
For those that might not have listened to your music before, how would you describe it?
Right now I think I would just say alternative pop because it mixes lots of genres together, but the main thing is emotions. I believe that emotions are universal, and you can touch any kind of people through them. Being pop (populaire) would be that everyone could connect with it — does genre interfere with these feelings? The alternative pop I like makes me feel like I don’t need to choose.
What are some of the standout themes, either musical or lyrical, that you think define your new album? Are those themes encompassed in the title, Sad Lovers And Giants?
Sad Lovers And Giants is the overwhelming feeling of being consumed by someone, as if they are a giant in your life, towering over everything else. A sense of being small or insignificant next to it. The place that love can take in your life. A giant place.
The album begins at my first heartbreak, having emotions fighting with each other and feeling so much. I just wanted to tell a story of how emotions can take over your body, and make you feel contradictory feeling love and hate, pleasure and pain, I think the album is about that. The duality of our emotions, and same for the music. We can start with an RnB melody and melt it with a ruff guitar riff. I really didn’t want to choose sonically, but wanted to do just what we were feeling in these moments of creation.
Do you feel like your music has evolved on this album since your last releases? In what ways?
Well I think I grew up, and my music is really instinctive. So it grows with me, I feel like this album is a first step. I feel like I was just navigating on the two EPs trying to find who I was and what I want to do. This feels like the first step of discovering who I am. For sure.
I read in an interview you can find the studio quite daunting compared to live performance, do you still feel this way? How does the studio setting change the way you listen to and make music?
Definitely, because the stage feels so easy for me, it’s how I connect with people. In the studio [it’s] hard to find the right people to feel super comfortable to let myself feel. As I say my music is very instinctive, based on the emotions I’m feeling, so to be sad and vulnerable with someone it takes time. I finally found that the last years with the producers of this album. Being vulnerable in the studio without looking at myself. It was a journey but I’m finding my way step by step.
Musical collaboration seemed like a really rewarding experience on this album. You worked with producers Eliot Berthault, of post-punk band Rendez-Vous, and Kyu Steed (Amaarae, Kojey Radical), as well as Canadian artist, Ouri. Are there any characteristics that unite all three of these collaborators that might explain why you were drawn to them? What, to you, is the key to a successful musical relationship?
I was searching for years before doing this album, the exact way I liked to do music. I came to the conclusion that I loved a session where you are comfortable enough to cry, to smile, to feel sad when you want to. I choose all these very different artists because they brought out in me the different energy I wanted to create that hybrid sound that I was looking for. Elliot for the roughness and darkness. Kyu for the emotions and truth. Ouri for the beauty and light.
You must be excited to finally start playing these songs live! What new song are you most excited to perform? What do you love most about performing live more generally — is it the audience interaction or a sense of freedom, perhaps?
I love playing Frenzymess and Whispers (so loud). In the live show I bring them in so many different places, I added a guitarist to the set and we’ve been having so much fun bringing mp3 to the actual show bringing in some shoegaze outro, guitar solo, [it’s my] first time using autotune on some songs. Just fully playing around and exploring that we can go in so many places musically if you don’t put boundaries, it’s infinite. I’m redefining a sound that is hybrid with so many different references.
What is the best live performance you have seen of another musician (if it’s possible to choose)?
I saw the band Htkr at Cafe Oto and the singer has such a mesmerising voice, so laid back I love a low energy that makes you travel.
Could you talk to us a bit about your relationship to genres and labels in the music industry? On this album, you really emphasise your desire to break free of any predesignated moulds and personas. Do you think being a black female musician makes you more susceptible to these kinds of forced characterisations?
Yes I think as a black artist you always have this pressure to fit a mould. I started with an EP that was very soul, and the fact that they put me in a category at such a young age really made me want to go somewhere else. I don’t know if it’s the rebellious teenager in me, but I didn’t like it. I felt like I was stuck to that, and at such a young age you start discovering new kind music.
Two years ago I started listening to music made by white people, it wasn’t in my culture I didn’t know it and it opened my mind to Led Zeppelin, Jeff Buckley, Cocteau Twins, Cowboys Junkies’ music I thought wasn’t mine to listen to. I don’t know if it’s because I was raised in a very African American household but it just wasn’t in my circles. And then it just clicked in my head when I started travelling to London it really opened my eye, there are no boundaries. You can be a punk rock band with a lead singer with Jamaican heritage. Because you are black does not mean that this is not your culture, we are what we become. Our generation is multiple, we are a melting pot. Seeing artists like Lava La Rue and Connie Constance is so beautiful to me. They just are. And I really relate to that.
What role does fashion play for you in defining your own sense of self?
Dressing for me is a ritual, it’s fulfilling, therapeutic. It makes me feel like my body is a canvas and I can dress and express what is inside of me. My emotion, my power — it’s a form of emotion and it evolves with me.
Is it important to you to expand your creative direction across other mediums (like music videos, fashion, album art, etc)? How does this inspire and influence your music?
Yeah you know I really love a good visual as I said before it’s expressive of the interior, what’s inside of my head. The feelings I feel. Being able to put it on screen it’s hard, but when you have the right teams to make something that is true to you it’s so fulfilling. I work on image with Stephy Galvani together we always try to show something that is striking but still bizarre. We try to do something theatrical but still try to tell the truth. We love a dystopian visual.
You’ve been involved in the music and broader cultural industries since you were 13 years old. What are the most significant effects, both positive and negative, this life experience has had on you so far?
While the exposure brought me lots opportunities and experiences it also comes with its own set of challenges and pressures. I think I felt a sense of uncertainty [of] my purpose in all the glamour and attention when I was only in fashion and not doing music. But that’s also how I knew that if people were talking about me, it could only be for my music and nothing else.
It prepared me to understand what I didn’t want to do at a very young age. I’m 22 years old now and feel like I already had a journey and can still live multiples ones. I am feeling blessed.
Finally, what can we expect from you next? Have you started working on any new projects?
Yes I’m already working on some new things and I’m going to LA soon to go do some music.  I also have lots of live shows this year.