NewTracks New Artist: Crystal Chen

NewTracks New Artist: Crystal Chen

Inventive and quirky percussion by beatmakers Yogic and 8een accompanies the velvet voice of newcomer Crystal Chen on her newly released single, Purple Tears. It’s hard to tell that the vocalist started out singing in more classical choir settings before giving her soul to the dark side of pop music. Her song stands out among those selected for NZ On Air‘s NewTracks compilation this December with its strong contrast between instrumental edginess and the smoothness of melody and Chen’s voice.

What’s your name, where are you from and what instruments do you play?

Crystal Chen, born and raised in Auckland, NZ. The voice is my main instrument, and a little bit of everything else (just basic knowledge, haha). 

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

I was deeply involved in classical singing and choir in high school which was extremely intense, you had to grasp certain vocal strategies, languages, muscles, breathing, projection and really treat the voice as an instrument. The amount of rehearsals and practising is nothing like the music I do now. Now I’m focusing on the sound I’m creating as a whole, but it did teach me a lot about my voice and body, which is so important for singers – I cannot stress enough.

However, if I’m going to be honest about high school, it really didn’t teach kids to become inspired by music or showcase the opportunities available for students. It was very much curriculum-based and took a lot of the creativity away from me, it wasn’t until I drifted away from that I really started to discover my sound. 

Any other projects we might know you from?

I’m very into analogue photography and film-making, so you may have seen pictures/films that I’ve taken for artists and musos floating around. 

What’s the background story of how you as a musical entity came to be? 

One time I got so bored during choir I tried harmonising and got told off by my conductor! So I was like, “You know what? I’m sick of singing from a score written by musicians 100 years ago. I’m going to write my own music.”

Since then, my desire to prove people wrong fuelled me creatively, and my musical entity started developing. I was a baby bird when I first was introduced to the music industry and one of the first proper artists I met who inspired me was Sam V [Verlinden], who’s a big brother to me now, and helped me along this interesting journey that’s only beginning. 

There’s so much room to grow and learn in this industry and I’ve taken a slice of cake from everyone who’s inspired me. My knowledge of contemporary music has broadened and you will definitely see that in my upcoming releases!   

Why and when did you decide to go just with your name as an artist?

When I decided that I want to embrace my Chinese last name. My culture is something I represent proudly. 

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date?

As a growing artist not just musically but also visually, I’m very excited to be co-directing a music video with Connor Pritchard that will be a part of my upcoming EP!

Aside from that, I was lucky enough to be involved as an artist in Parachute‘s song week this year which brought me the opportunity to work with some very exciting people. There’s a song we created that week with Jamie [Pyne] from Dual and producer Timon Martin that will be the main single within the EP. 

What makes Purple Tears stand out for you as a single?

The authenticity. I wrote this within a couple of hours as it was like writing in a diary that day, except my feelings came out better translated into a song. The melodies, tonality and writing I incorporated really reflected how I felt as it resembles feelings of both hopelessness and hopefulness towards my future and ambitions that seem so close, yet so out of reach. 

What is the story behind Purple Tears?

Why am I crying purple tears? This girl is confused! She’s frustrated and there’s so much she wants to do but doesn’t know where to start, she is unmotivated (especially during lockdown) so she decides to write a song. Sometimes you feel like you’re in a competition, sometimes you’re proud of your achievements.

The reality is that everyone is in their own lane and going their own speed. I was noticing that I was going a little slower than usual and was scared to be left behind by the people around me, hence the feeling of hopelessness.

In Purple Tears, I sing about wanting this “boy” to take me wherever he goes, and make me “smile”, however, this “boy” is actually a metaphor for myself. Self-encouragement and self-belief mean everything, especially when you’re hopelessly crying purple tears!

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

The chorus, because it doesn’t feel like a chorus. Listeners will expect it to be the biggest part of the song, however, it actually dials down with fewer instruments, and the vocals go high. I also love the lyrics, ‘Let’s lie here forever, but I can’t stay for long, my legs need standing on’, as I often feel like this with my boyfriend.

Sometimes I want to be in that space of love because it’s so nice to have no worry or care (or no motivation), but there’s always this little voice in my head telling me to get up and wake up from this dream and start moving girl! When I do get moving, that space of being inspired and creating feels even better than dreaming. 

Who did you record/produce the single with?

The beat was produced by Luke Johansson and Francesco Busi, otherwise known as Yogic and 8een. I recorded my vocals by myself in lockdown and Aidan Fine mixed and mastered the track.

What would you like listeners to take away from the song?

I would like listeners to relate in the same way I felt whilst creating the song. It’s that feeling of being stuck in a rut, but also the feeling of confidence toward yourself that comes from being proud of your achievements, when you’re inspired and when there’s hope.

Everybody cries purple tears sometimes, and that’s okay. I want listeners not to feel discouraged when things aren’t working out the way they may want them to be, just keep going forward on your lane. 

How do you generally work out what would make a good single?

I’m not sure! I feel like every song I make are singles as they are written in different stages of my life, but probably the ones that stand out to me the most. 

Who else is in your team?

I don’t have a team… yet. I’m always working with new people on different projects and songs that suit their style. Currently, I’m producing a lot myself and getting musicians into the studio. I’m also working with Danya [Yang] from DRM with the publishing aspect of the two singles and EP coming shortly after.

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for? 

Yes! An EP is coming out involving some very special people. The visual aspect of it all with also be sure to catch your eye, involving shooting on vintage 16mm film. 

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song.

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others out there? 

Yes, almost always. The best advice I can give for others is to keep trying, there’s no harm in trying. What’s yours will be yours and you can be grateful for that, but what’s not yours doesn’t put you in competition with anyone. Instead of feeling discouraged you can use it as creative fuel to better your work, because there’s always room to grow! 

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

On Youtube I’m really into Colors show and NPR Tiny Desk concerts – there’s something about watching a live performance. I also love reading up on Sniffers, Coup de Main and The Luna Collective. 

Any last words?

Just want to say thank you for this opportunity, really grateful! 🙂