Chris Pureka's album 'How I Learned To See In The Dark' is a majestic and heartfelt journey for Chris. Releasing on her own label Sad Rabbit Records since 2004, Chris walks her own road; not conforming to the pressures of the wider music 'industry' and instead carving a niche for herself as a truly independent artist in mind, body and spirit.
Chris spoke to us about being gender-queer, her album and her greatest influences just before she hits the UK later this month.
Contactmusic: Your album 'How I Learned To See In The Dark' is out soon, is there a theme/story behind the songs?
Chris Pureka: I think that the title encompasses some of the themes of the record. It's about having clarity on, and being able to see, some hope in hard times. Many of the songs are about love and personal relationships and a couple of them are more about global and political themes. But overall there is a sense of seeing some beauty and clarity in difficult times.
CM: What made you decide to start making music?
CP: I was always drawn to music when I was very little. No one in my family was musical or was especially invested inmusic but I really found it something I gravitated towards. I knew that I wanted to play guitar and write songs when I was 7 or 8. It took me much longer, however, to really focus on it.
CM: What's your earliest memory of music or of a particular musician?
CP: I remember that a friend of mine gave me my first cassette tape when I was 5 or 6 and it was The Beatles greatest hits. I also remember listening to my dad's Beatles on vinyl when I was really young. My favourite song was 'I Want to Hold Your Hand'.
CM: What are your live shows like?
CP: The live shows have an intensity that I think people appreciate. This tour I am traveling with three players so the arrangements include violin, electric guitar, bass and harmonies. My shows are usually listening shows so they tend to be quiet and focused.
CM: What's been your most enjoyable support slot experience and why?
CP: The most fun support slots are always when I get to tour with my friends. Last year, it was opening for my friend Gregory Alan Isakov or touring with my friends Jay Brannan or Andrea Gibson which is always a great time. But opening for Ani Difranco or the Cowboy Junkies were two experiences that I will never forget since they are artists that I so admire.
CM: How and why did you decide to start your own label Sad Rabbit Music?
CP: I started out playing music in the late 90s and early 00s and I came out of a DIY folk and poetry scene. I was drawn into the grassroots style of building a following - touring a lot and just using word of mouth to spread the word. Releasing my records independently was a natural extension of that and one that really worked for me. I really enjoy having complete artistic control over my art and also being able to make decisions about what kind of career path I want. That is true to this day. I have released three full length and two EP albums on my own Sad Rabbit Records. That has really worked for me in the US but I am really happy to partner here in Europe, for the first time, with a small label from Germany, Haldern Pop. I am not able to do the kind of grassroots touring here so I think that this is a better approach to the European market.
CM: You identify as gender-queer. Is it important you promote this within your music or do you prefer to keep this aspect of your life separate?
CP: I do identify as gender-queer. It is very important to me that I continue to express my gender the way that I want to both on and off stage. I am very aware of the pressures of the music/entertainment industry, labels and managers on artists to look and act a certain way. That is another reason that I have felt compelled to carve my own path and stay independent. However, my gender identity politics do not enter into my music directly and I do not promote that part of me, as you say. It is also not separate because it is who I am; I am just being myself and staying within integrity of what feels right to me, while trying be a musician in the world. And I think through that and my visibility in that way, it does indirectly help to break down gender stereotypes and to help younger gender-queer people feel supported.
CM: What is the single 'Wrecking Ball' all about?
CP: I went through a very difficult time emotionally through several relationships and I expressed that a lot on my first two full length records. In writing 'How I Learned to See In the Dark' when I finally didn't feel so tortured anymore, I actually realized that I missed the intensity of it. I was feeling rather numb at the time and I found myself longing for some kind of feeling even if it was a rather difficult one. Also, when you are so upset about a break-up for example, you don't have a lot of time or energy to think about other things that are wrong because of that single focus. And there is a beauty in going through something hard and then finding your way; a strength that comes out of it. That is where the title of the album comes from: 'I'm thinking of the night, that all the lights went out, and how I learned to see in the dark, in the dark.'
CM: You're coming to the UK soon, have your toured here before?
CP: Yes, three or four times now. Just last year I came over supporting Gregory Alan Isakov and, before that, two solo runs as well as a support tour for Catherine Feeny.
CM: Finally, tell us what your plans are for the rest of the year?
CP: When I am done with this Europe tour, I get to be home for a while to work on writing. I would like to record a new full length this year and I need a few more songs to finish it up. Hopefully, that album will be released next year and I will tour behind it in the US and in Europe.
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He's certainly not wasting his newfound talents.