Evoking the spirit and grit of Janis Joplin and the contemporary delivery of Beth Hart, Church House Blues showcases one of the most powerful new female voices in the Blues. Crystal Shawanda is an Indigenous musician, who grew up on the Wikwemikong reserve on an island in Ontario, Canada. Her parents taught her to sing and play guitar and encouraged her to play country songs, but she grew up in a home filled with the music her oldest brother loved most: the blues. She was signed as country artist to RCA Records in 2007 producing a Top 20 hit on country radio, sold over 50,000 copies in the US, went Top 20 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, but left Crystal feeling like a fish out of water.
While on the road promoting the album, visiting radio stations she wrote “The Whole World’s Got the Blues,” inspired by the music she loved to overhear in her youth. She told RCA Nashville she wanted to make blues albums, formed her own label and began making the blues music that to Crystal, is her true calling. Now signed to True North Records, Church House Blues is Crystal’s fourth blues album. Still consumed by the desire to let the world know just how much she adores and is influenced by some of the most timeless blues songs ever written, her originals are written as a love letter to the blues Crystal grew up with. There is also her updated modern take on “New Orleans Is Sinking” by Tragically Hip.
1. What passion project are you working on these days?
I’m just about to release my new album Church House Blues on April 17th, the album took longer than planned because we wanted to get it right, and wait for the right songs. As a result, it’s soulful, passionate, fun, rebellious, and better than I ever hoped for. On the side, I’m also working on a children’s book/lullaby album.
2. What first inspired you to become a musician? What was your training?
When I was a little girl I used to watch my mom sing along to her favorite songs like someone finally understood, and I wanted to grow up to be that for someone too. Music always came to me naturally, and it was my way of connecting. I started performing when I was 6, getting paid when I was 10, it’s really all I’ve ever done. Other than working with a touring theatre company when I was 9 on and off through my early 20’s. My first teachers and mentors were local musicians, and in high school, I went to a music school and took vocal classes, musical theatre, guitar, and piano. I also took one year of classical voice after high school. I spent years playing in Nashville, and have worked with multiple top producers in Nashville and countless hit songwriters who helped me take it to the next level. I also credit all my years of performing, heavy touring and having the good sense to pick myself apart and the will to keep evolving, as my greatest teacher.
3. What are some challenges that you have faced while building a career in the arts and how did you overcome them?
I think the biggest obstacle has been racism, and always being pigeonholed as an Indigenous act rather than a mainstream artist. I overcome it by continuing to raise the bar for myself and make sure I’m running just as fast as the main steam artists, and I pick and choose how I present myself. I’m not an Indigenous artist who plays blues music, I’m a blues artist who is Indigenous.
4. What lessons have you learned that has proven the most valuable?
The biggest lessons I’ve learned are to follow your heart, work hard, never stop learning, be teachable, never give up, if you hit a wall be like a bumper car and go another direction, be genuine if someone drags your name through the mud just keep your focus because you know your truth, trust your path and wait gracefully for your turn, and never lose the joy and love for what you do.
5. What is your WHY? (why do you do what you do?)
Because music saved my life, and it continues to do it again and again. So when I make music I hope it will save someone else’s life, or at least get them through a bad day.