Crystal Murray picks up the video call and we are met with a humble - yet very busy - young woman strolling through the streets of Paris. The mask of the pop-star is shed, and behind it is a twenty-year-old-girl that makes music like breathing. Not to stay alive, but because you just do. She just released her newest album Twisted Bases and, still with the confident creative nature of the songs like BOSS, she can’t wait to finish her run of promotion. “It feels like I’m selling myself”.
She describes herself as a daughter of a black father and a white mother, born and raised Parisian but full of a mix and match of musical knowledge. Inspired by Cuba, Jazz and pop, she delineates a profoundly alternative sound. Nevertheless, she’s still finding herself and Twisted Bases is her coming-of-age album.
Let’s start at the beginning. You first got known as a member of Gucci Gang, a feminist fashion collective. Could you talk to us about it?
Gucci Gang was something that came naturally for us. At the time, it wasn’t something that existed. It was a fashion and music collective that needed something trend-forward and, even though we were posting a lot on social media, it was the brands that became interested in us first. We just went with the flow (laughs). Later on, as I started to DJ we turned into some sort of club-kids. We were very inspired by the 90s French-scene like the ones Christian Louboutin would make during the seventies or the iconic parties at Le Palace. More related to the newer generations, so there would be more of a trap vibe.
Therefore, collaborating with Vogue and Dazed was something that happened quite casually for you. But, what do you think helped to grab that much attention?
I personally think it happened because we were a cool-gang, a cool group of girls. Now I feel like I’m not acknowledging the role of influencers (laughs). In the mind of an influencer, we were cool but, as an artist and a person, I think it should be something for that type of job.
I remember at some point when Gucci Gang grew, I spent most of my teenage years modelling and doing an influencer-like job. Now that I do music, I realised that I needed something that was my passion. That did something more. Because an influencer won’t really change the world and I don’t feel comfortable with that. It feels very scary, like they use others for publicity and I feel weird about it now.
I remember when I started doing music I realised it was different, doing that other type of job didn’t make sense anymore. I don’t know if it’s making sense (laughs).
What I understand from you is that being an influencer is selling a plastic world and escaping reality, that’s why it can be scary?
Yeah! But not generalising. I know that, from my experience, I needed to come back to reality and music really helped me to achieve that.
So, is that notion of selling a reality what lead you to become a singer, then? Apart from your family background.
I always loved music and singing, and I was really bad at school, so music was always what I went back to. Since I was making money from a very young age modelling and being kind of controlled, I soon grabbed this : you can’t dictate my mind! mindset.
In school, I wasn’t really rebellious, but I wasn’t taken seriously, and it felt weird because I would be working nonstop and still I was being treated like shit. Through Gucci Gang I discovered I wanted to make music and here we are!
It’s kind of inspiring to understand that grades aren’t everything and to have that drive to do what you want to do.
It definitely was thanks to it [Gucci Gang and my drive] that I have the maturity that I have know. Which leads me to do what I want to do and to push me into the person that I am today!
During the DJ sets you held with your peers, you established Safe Place – an online forum to amplify the voices of sexual harassment victims. What was that experience like and what made you use your platform for that purpose?
At some point we felt kind of pointless. We didn’t understand why we had people following us or liking what we were doing. So, it came naturally to us to find that something that was us. We did a talk-show with our best friends to experience and talk about what was important for us: sexuality, our contact with sex and overall conversations that blew our minds. It was something that the girls from our generations needed.
It wasn’t a thing to see fifteen-year-olds talking about sex, so it was very interesting to create something for us and about us. Still, at that moment of my life I didn’t need women empowerment, but I needed identity empowerment. To find my people, to hang out with black people.There wasn’t a lot of black people in the fashion industry, and I needed that. That’s why we did parties, and DJ-sets. Now it’s the people that I work with, that I did the label with and the people that help me today.
What would you say are your influences? What empowers you as a woman, and your identity?
It’s the people that I choose to be around with! My friends, the world inspire me. I love art, creating, thinking and inventing stories. I like to seek a lot of energy, and it’s what helps me create my music.
In terms of my identity, I met this DJ called Damawi Ande who mixes afrobeat with techno and UK-garage. We were to London and partied a lot to find that type of influence and identity. I’m a mixed person and I needed that mix of sounds to shape myself. The year I did I Was Wrong [2019], it was a year when I really discovered myself and the energy and people I wanted to have.
About I Was Wrong, I read somewhere you said it sounded a bit one-note. Have you been able to redeem yourself with Twisted Bases?
Twisted Bases really twisted it up for me! The first project, as you said, was kind of flat. Emotions, like alcohol, need time which was something I don’t think we had before. There are emotions like love that include happiness, and rage, and so many things that you can add. That’s what happened to me here. Emotions like toxicity came on the loop and time really helped me to found the sound that I wanted and needed.
Speaking of love, and self-love, that’s something that BOSS, the first single you released from this new EP, kind of does.
It’s funny to talk like that about BOSS because it was a song that I wrote about all the women in my life that gave me the power to love myself. It’s not about self-love itself, I was saying that all my girlfriends are bosses and the finality of it is to say that all females are bosses and that I love myself the way they love me. You know what I mean? It was more like my femininity was talking and coming to places. My mom, my stylist, my fans, my management. It was a love letter to how femininity is strong and sisterhood is even stronger!
Well, a sense of community has that power!
I feel like it's a way of breaking with that version of yourself from the past. Was it important for you to make that differentiation between the 2020 Crystal and the 2022 Crystal?
I don’t really view it as breaking from the past but rather an evolution. I wouldn’t say I break anything, it’s just an evolution. The same person that just grew up.
What led you to experiment more with this album?
I think the fact that I didn’t want to fit in a box anymore is what happened with the sound here. I didn’t want to feel as if in ten years I would make the exact same sound. For me, music is evolution and constant shock.
Too Much To Taste is influenced by 90s girl bands like TLC while maintaining a very clubby beat. Plus, a very positive vibe that then dissipates on the introspective Other Men. What's the story behind the album?
There’s a Side A and Side B. The Side A is formed by the songs that link I Was Wrong with Twisted Bases, and then, the second part, is how all these songs made me lose every comfort zone that I had in my head and lead me to everything I wanted. Go from “A to Z” to B, to D, you know?
There’s no real story, it’s twisted. It’s versatile, and it’s just how I feel and how I’m discovering myself. From discovering love, to seeing toxic things, to feeling the ups-and-downs. If so, I think it’s about the teenage years.
Like a coming-of-age album?
Yeah! Discovering drugs, people you like or not, things you like or not. People that are grounded and then taken away. I see people loosing themselves, and you think, What? Is that life? You just get to where you can. I talk about toxic relationships which is something you can see on my lyrics, which are full of contradictions. I go from “I love you” to “I hate you”. People are insane, and Too Much To Taste is a song I like because it's girlish, but the lyrics are the nastiest lyrics I ever wrote in my life.
It's kind of what happens with Like it Nasty, too! It’s full of techno influences about showing yourself and sounds like Macy Gray, even, and has completely different shapings.
That’s the thing I love. I really like it because I’m the one making sense. I’m the one that links everything together. I had enough things in my mind and, naturally, that’s what I did with this one.
Compared to the rest of the stuff you've put out before, I get the feeling that since you've released Creeps for the Hotel Room Drama series, there has been a shift in your approach to writing and music aesthetic. It’s almost as if you’ve allowed yourself to be publicly vulnerable but also keeping that nastiness we where talking about. Could you talk to us a bit more about this?
I think I freaked out when it first came out. I thought, this is not me. I was eighteen, I just finished fashion, I was partying and I really didn’t know what to do. I kind of freaked out. I did a year of promotion for I Was Wrong and I hated every single day of it. Literally. From the shows I made to the fucking videoclips I’ve done, I hated every single thing. Not because I think they were bad, but because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just lost.
Then I found my stylist, who is called Stephy Galvani and started dressing me, and ever since we worked together. All the visuals for Twisted Bases are done with her, which was something super important because I needed someone that understood who I was and my imagery. This second project is much more curated because I have her, which doesn’t mean that she created something that wasn’t here, but she just took me and drew me into a bigger person. It was very important for me to have that someone to take care of my image the same way I take time to take care of my music. I needed to find a team. A real team.
This reminds me of a conversation I had another singer from Spain who really blew up our of a reality-TV context. She too felt mostly unheard.
I dig that! For me, I didn’t do music that was forced into me. Still, since I didn’t know what to do I did what was told to do, so I just followed until I couldn’t take it back. It’s even boring to see the artists you like being extremely perfect. I feel like mistakes and evolution are the best, although people may ask you later why you did that.
And what you said, unheard, that’s something I completely understand. I actually had my first panic attack yesterday even though I don’t have anxiety, I was doing too much promo and I saw myself selling myself too much. And when you talk about that lady, I understand. I’m going to talk to my label to stop talking about myself for a week. It’s too much, showing too much. I already pulled out an album, people can listen to my music and my lyrics. Promo is getting hard to do. I feel very real when I talk to people and, when you’ve spoken too much, you just want to cry.
It's like a double-sided coin. You can express yourself through music but then you have to deal with the over-exposure of fame.
It’s not even that because I’m not even famous! (laughs). I’m still selling myself and that’s what stresses me out. I don’t actually care, I’m just happy doing my music and my visual. I hate this feeling of having to be like - please love me and my music! My music is not the easiest music and not everybody will like it, and I’m not an artist that does music to be likeable. That’s why I don’t care about this exposure.
Lastly, could you give us a hint of what’s about to come? Perhaps a tour?
I have a videoclip coming out next month about another song from the EP. I have a big show in Paris coming up the 31st of March, and I play in this big festival in Paris [in August] called Rock en Siene. Not much, since then, watch out for the base!
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