Cristina Black is a piano, ukulele, and harp-wielding songstress who writes quirkily postmodern ballads that are both endearingly curious and profoundly devastating… She’s often compared to some of recent history’s most acclaimed singers and songwriters, but I think she manages to imbue her quite somber and introspective works with a lighthearted charm that is far more impressive than the average “singer/songwriter.” Her debut album, The Ditty Sessions, which was inspired by her time living in New Orleans and the impact of Hurricane Katrina, dropped in 2010. The album gained quite a bit of praise and some prominent cultural placements, but it’s been a while since we’ve heard from Ms. Black. Well, she recently released (digitally) single “Summer’s Over,” a track about that tragic moment as the sun sets slowly in the west and you must bid summer a fine farewell. Tonight she will be celebrating the release tonight with a live performance at Room 5 in Los Angeles. In addition to songwriting, she’s also a fellow music journalist, having penned things for Paper, Foam, and Village Voice. I recently got a chance to chat with Cristina and she is a bit of a character… lovely, but a bit of a character… just as delightful and intense as her music would lead you to believe. We discussed her Pittsburgh roots, her take on journalism in 2013, and even her love of a certain white rapper (whom she actually considers to be a peer of Satan’s favorite crooner.)
Izzy Cihak: What have been your highlights of 2013?
Cristina Black: Moving to Los Angeles and meeting so many dreamy people. Playing the harp again, after eight pluck-less years. Working with producer Rob Laufer.
IC: You have quite an amazing live band, with quite impressive resumes. How did you all come together?
CB: My drummer, Garrett Ray, played on my 2011 single, “When I Think of Christmas,” which was produced by Lewis Pesacov, who produced the Best Coast record Crazy For You and a lot of other definitive L.A. sounds. Those two are in the incredible band Fool’s Gold together. Garrett introduced me to my keys player, Will Canzoneri, who he had toured with as part of Cass McCombs’ band, and Lewis helped me find April Guthrie, who is on cello. They are all wonderful people and they play so elegantly.
IC: What do you consider to be your biggest influences and inspirations, whether musical or not?
CB: Love, money, and large-scale disaster, particularly floods, are very inspiring to me. Desire, death, and destruction. The changing of the seasons, the tug of time, how wistful that is. Also, the moon.
IC: You’ve drawn comparisons to some pretty impressive artists of music’s history. Are there any artists that you’re a big fan of that you think would surprise your fans?
CB: Eminem is probably my favorite artist of all time. I’m a huge hip-hop fan. I suppose it seems inconsistent with my output, but not when you think my lyrical focus and confessional style. Marshall’s not so far off from my more obvious influences, like Nick Cave or Fiona Apple. They’re all pissed about something. They’re all carving a body of work out of their own sharply dramatized truth.
IC: In addition to music itself, you have a background in journalism. What are your thoughts on the current state of journalism? That’s what I went to school for but, aside from getting to talk to pretty cool people like you, I kind of hate it, haha. (I almost pay my bills by lecturing 19-year-old college students about Marx and Baudelaire.)
CB: Loaded question! Well, there certainly are a lot of voices in the game now, so there are a lot of different styles and approaches. I think maybe it used to be trad or gonzo, and very little in between. Now there’s just every shade, which is both exciting and noisy. Haterism seems to be falling out of vogue, which is nice. I call the mid-2000s the Snark Ages. What a dark period that was! I see a lot more writers coming out now who are really in love with music and respectful to their readers. One development I don’t like is the slow death of real reporting. I know the digital news cycle is tight, but I wish more writers would pick up the phone and ask questions and get perspectives, instead of just sitting in their rooms, writing about themselves listening to music. They’d be more joyful and it would show.
IC: Any tips to up-and-coming music journalists?
CB: Oh dear, you are asking the hard questions, aren’t you? I would say, challenge yourself to be amused, even if you’re writing about the worst band ever. Some people like this music! It’s your job to explain why.
IC: Although I’m a bit hesitant and scared, since you’re a journalist, I have to ask your thoughts on our site. If it seems like it’s been slow, it’s because I’ve been recently injured and ignoring journalism. And if I don’t seem to be overly critical, it’s because I don’t make enough to bother covering artists I don’t actually like, haha. (It’s really just my outlet for interviewing and highlighting people I think are worth checking out.)
CB: You are right to be scared, not because of my journalism experience, but because I am from Pittsburgh and I will fight you!! No, really. First of all, you’re covering my favorite intersection, music and fashion, so that’s rad. And at first glance, the site looks very dynamic. There’s lots of stuff on there I didn’t know about, but now I want to because your headlines are snappy. I like how simple the format is, but I think maybe your reviews and Q&As are a bit formulaic? Have a little more fun…! And I hope you feel better soon.
IC: What are your most significant plans and hopes for the future? Any chance of a full-scale tour? If so, what can be expected of the live experience?
CB: No tour plans at the moment, but in general, my goal with the live show is just to destroy your heart.