There’s a feeling that in order to achieve something—anything—you need to be inspired first. As if some divine light will find your brain and plant the seed of something great that you only need to act on. This of course is silly. One can wait around for a lifetime for such inspiration. A better way, then, is to begin something—anything—and then see if, while already moving, a bit of inspiration finds you to further fuel your push.
Texas-based artist Chrystabell knows this well. She waits around for nothing. Instead, she’s always moving, working, flying to some foreign land to return with more in hand. She creates her own inspiration rooted in what she finds stellar. It’s an alchemy all her own but one she’s always willing to share. She does so on her forthcoming album, Midnight Star, which is set to drop on Friday (January 21), and in her latest music video for “Silent Scream,” which American Songwriter is premiering today.
“I’m going through my own, I would say, awakening in myself,” Chrystabell tells American Songwriter. “It is my effort to do the work myself. I’m not looking for someone else to do it for me. In some ways, that’s Midnight Star. She’s maybe who I would look to in order to find inspiration.”
Midnight Star, though, is a character of Chrystabell’s creation. She is the star of her new album. An amalgam of many keen and beautiful observances Chrystabell has amassed along her way in life. In this way, Chrystabell has manifested her own role model. From that, she has written and created a new record that she then hopes will inspire others in their continued journeys. With that inspiration and the oomph that goes along with it, Chrystabell says she hopes clarity will find herself and her listeners. And while that clarity may not last, given the world’s oddities and inherent randomness, that only means there’s room for more.
“I look to make the best choices I can in every moment,” she says. “And I do get a lot of inspiration from the possibility that others look to the choices I’m making. It’s easier to love humanity than it is to love myself.”
For Chrystabell, the creative act involves reciprocity. It’s reciprocal. So, for her to love humanity means that she’s giving to it, and thus, gets more back from it for herself in the long run. It’s a lovely circuit. And it’s been fruitful. The 43-year-old, San Antonio-born artist has been at it since an early age. Her mother is a singer and owned her own singing telegram company. Chrystabell saw her industrious matriarch work hard, write unique songs for each client, dress up and play the part. Later, Chrystabell’s mother and stepfather started a recording studio that grew to be of major import in south Texas.
“That solidified my idea that choosing music as a lifestyle, as a career, was possible,” she says.
Her family has always been supportive of her efforts, which is not something every artist can say. Her father, too, was an entertainer and an “eclectic” person, she says. He even founded a “natural burial” funeral parlor that Chrystabell helps run today. She herself began recording early on, the result of her family owning a studio. As such, she was used to the life of a professional artist early on. Yet, just because one is able to work fast and well, doesn’t mean they’ve found their “voice.” Chrystabell knew that, too. She modeled for painters and artists as she got a little older, eventually ending up in Italian Vogue. Modeling, for Chrystabell, was a way of literally and figuratively trying on many hats as a way of finding which one fit. Through the work, she found out better who she was, as a person.
“I just loved the whole word of creating personalities and seeing different parts of myself,” Chrystabell says. “It was a way to get to know myself.”
She also acted. At 18 years old, she was in a Kung-Fu film with Jet Li, Once Upon a Time in China and America. She liked being a part of many forms of expression. But music, through it all, remained her biggest love. Still a teenager, Chrystabell landed the coveted role of lead singer in the Austin, Texas-based band 8 ½ Souvenirs. But it was after that popular band dissolved (after releasing two LPs) that Chrystabell found perhaps her biggest break. Since the early 2000s, she has had a strong friendship and working relationship with filmmaker and artist David Lynch. The two have co-written two records (and an alleged third unreleased one) and Chrystabell appeared in an important role in the recent third season of his hit television show Twin Peaks, as Tammy Preston.
“It’s been this really decades-long friendship and mentorship that started the moment we met,” Chrystabell says.
Lynch is one of those people who makes everyone he encounters feel special, she adds. Yet, the two have undeniable chemistry. He’s humble but a genius. Clear-eyed but varied in his approach. Chrystabell says they worked together in his compound-like home in Los Angeles where there is a recording studio, printing press, darkroom, and more. He likes woodworking, animatronics, and painting, too. When first they’d met, Lynch was working on some music and Chrystabell was perfect for the songs. In 2011, they released the album This Train, and in 2016 they released the EP Somewhere in the Nowhere.
“[Meeting Lynch] was one of those moments that changes your life forever,” Chrystabell says.
Now, though, she is as productive as ever. Her new album is an 11-track odyssey comprised of synths, dark and breathy vocals, all combined with a sense of play and dire realism. It’s part David Bowie, part Joni Mitchell and part NASA. It’s bonded by amorousness and a little camp, too. The idea, Chrystabell says, is that it’s the soundtrack for a futuristic television show that’s not been created yet. Something that might fit in the 2080s. Standouts include the spirited “Suicide Moonbeams” and reflective “Love My Way,” as well as the titular “Midnight Star”
“I’ve dedicated my entire life to music,” Chrystabell says. “It has the fullness and the potential to be something that you can base your whole existence around. It’s what I’m here to do.”
Photo by Mathieu Bitton / Missing Piece Group