The Extraordinary Krystle Warren

This article appeared on the Gay News Network on 28 February 2012.

American singer-songwriter Krystle Warren can sing love songs to me any day she wants. And with a jam-packed Australian tour happening through March, I don’t have to wait long to make this dream a reality.

Her latest EP, A Time to Keep – Love Songs is a five-song taster of an upcoming double album of  songs, Love Songs: A Time You May Embrace and Love Songs: A Time To Refrain From Embracing, to be released a year apart. It was recorded live in studio, “no edits, no overdubs”, in Brooklyn, New York in early 2011 with upwards of 15 musicians in the room at any one time. They recorded 25 songs in 13 days.

The numbers are impressive, but the final result is even more so: a rich, full sound that draws on creative influences as diverse as Dusty Springfield and William Blake. Warren’s band, The Faculty, along with a mixed selection of vocalists, horn and string players, accompany her. They skilfully create an intricate sound worthy of her deep and soulful voice.

“I had been tossing around where I wanted to take the album stylistically for a good while,” Warren says.

“I’d recently revisited Dusty in Memphis and was really keen on [the song] ‘In the Land of Make Believe’.  [Bill Withers’] Still Bill was also on heavy rotation, especially, ‘I Don’t Know’. Paul Simon’s album, Still Crazy After All These Years, Colin Blunstone, One Year…”

Warren grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, in a family full of women, who she believes influenced her “strong personality”. However, when prompted she cites three words to describe her sound: “Stevie, Withers, McCartney”.

Compared to artists like Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley, and gushingly praised by k.d. lang and countless reviewers, Warren has shared stages with Joan as Policewoman, Rufus Wainwright, KT Tunstall and Teddy Thompson. These references and connections shine through in music that you just want to keep listening to, ideally while working your way through a bottle of red.

Like artists such as Antony and The Johnsons and Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Warren is building an audience through well-chosen collaborations, extensive international touring and participation in events including Way to Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake and The Floating Palace. She got a personal invitation to play with Joan Wasser after playing at the Kate McGarrigle tribute shows in London and New York (the late, great mother of Rufus and Martha Wainwright, and one half of folk heroines The McGarrigle Sisters).

This diversity goes beyond purely musical influences and collaborations. One of her loveliest tracks is ‘The Clod and the Pebble’, a William Blake poem set to music. Although Krystle doesn’t outline a particular creative process or method for writing music, she says, “I try to take in as much information as I can, whether creating or just going about my day.”

Warren has called some of the world’s biggest arts centres home, from New York and San Francisco to Paris, but says she is happy to seek out and listen to live music “wherever I lay my hat.”
She’ll be playing some of Australia’s most popular music venues, including The Basement in Sydney and The Toff in Melbourne.

Beyond the appeal of her undoubtedly beautiful music, Krystle also has a charisma and androgyny that make her live performances compelling and lends a relaxed ambiguity and warm sexuality to her stage presence. But Warren definitely isn’t targeting a specifically GLBTQI audience, with an appeal rooted in fine musicianship and soul.

“Don’t label me. I detest labels… If I have to label myself as anything, it’s first and foremost ‘Krystle’; secondly, ‘Gemini’; and third, ‘queer’”, she says.

Describing herself as a “budding activist”, Warren says, “[I’m] becoming much more aware of the world we inhabit. I have made an active choice in being involved in various movements to keep it turning – from recycling to Occupy.”

A politically aware and label-free, good-looking, talented singer-songwriter with a big, beautiful, soulful blues sound? I am so there.