Interview: Cristina Vane on fuelling her brand of country blues with ’90s indie

How a lifetime of travel can influence and inspire.

Cristina Vane had a late one last night. It might be a civilised time on a sunny spring afternoon in the UK for Paul Gibson, but it’s early morning in Philadelphia for Cristina and she’s feeling the effects of not enough sleep after the previous evening’s gig. ‘It was a really good show’, she says between sips of water from her hotel room over Zoom, ‘probably the best of the tour actually.’ Cristina is currently on a solo run across some of the north-eastern states of the US in anticipation of her upcoming release ‘Make Myself Me Again’. This excellent new album marks a shift of gear into rootsy electric territory, a noticeable evolution from the largely acoustic country blues of her previous long-player, the impressive ‘Nowhere Sounds Lovely’. Next up on the tour is Washington DC.

Cristina is accustomed to a life of travelling; she had a transient upbringing, spending her formative years in France, Italy, and England before moving to America, her father’s birthplace, and she credits this exposure to different cultures and lifestyles with shaping her musical tastes, as well as forging deep connections with the places in which she resided; ‘I lived in Surrey for three years, Walton-on-Thames’, she recalls, ‘I love the UK very much and I think often about when I can go back and tour there.’

Did you start making music when you were growing up in Europe, or did that come later?

I’ve always loved music, I always sang but I started playing music when I was six and had moved to Paris. I learned recorder and piano and then when I went to Italy for middle school, I really wanted to learn the flute and it became ‘my instrument’, I felt a deep connection with the flute and through high school I learned classical, baroque and romantic music on the flute. I was singing in choirs too, and around that time I started playing guitar and writing songs. I focused on the flute as my main thing but I learned some basic guitar chords and I would play Iggy Pop songs with my brother, then I started writing songs and I just went from there.

Your music has a strong blues and bluegrass influence. Where does your love of that music come from?

It came very late in my life. People are sometimes surprised by that because a lot of those genres you grow up hearing, you get into it through family, but I never had that. In my family, we listened to a lot of music, but bluegrass was never on the playlist. With blues, it would have been Stevie Ray Vaughan, that kind of rock blues. I picked up slide guitar in London, but I didn’t know anything about delta blues yet. Then I came across Rory Block; she’s an amazing guitar player who makes tribute albums to blues guitarists like Robert Johnson, Skip James, and that really piqued my interest. I went down a rabbit hole that has continued ever since!

There’s a very clear progression in style from your early EPs through to your new album.

I recorded ‘Nowhere Sounds Lovely’ with Wynnona Judd’s husband Cactus Moser and their band, who obviously specialise in country music, but with the songs on the new album my whole bag was putting all the things I love all in one place; country music, blues, hard rock, hill country blues which is a totally different sound, solo fingerpicking, banjo. The songs are cohesive in that they’re all my songs, but other than that I try not to be beholden to genre.

There is a tougher edge to the sound of ‘Make Myself Me Again’ compared to your previous record. The title suggests that you are showing your audience the real you. 

I was listening to my first EP and thinking a lot about how bands get soft as they get more established, everyone complains that their favourite band’s first album is always great but then they go downhill after that…

You’ve got harder!

Yeah! You know, I’m a ’90s indie kid that grew up in the UK on rock music, I was reading the NME, listening to The Libertines… anything with distortion, attitude. I loved punk and metal and I didn’t want to go and make a punk or metal album, but I wanted to show that side of me. I thought I was going to take that chance because people connect the most with authenticity. I love to wear many hats and let myself be influenced by other things but I want to make sure that what I’m putting out is exactly what I want to put out.

The new album has some songs where you’re vamping on one chord which creates a hypnotic groove. It’s got a great live sounding vibe.

Yeah, we recorded pretty much all live takes, with all the studio doors open and lots of sound bleed. I mentioned hill country blues and that style is based entirely around a riff over one chord the whole time. We had a lot of fun.

Who was playing on the album, were you recording with musicians you’d worked with before?

The producer Brook (Sutton, Blackberry Smoke) is also a bass player and he shares his space in Nashville with Jano Rix the drummer from the Wood Brothers, so when Brook suggested that Jano play on the record I was like ‘yes please!’ It was such a gift, and then the string band was my friends, my bandmates. Kyle Tuttle is on the album too; he plays banjo on a song we wrote together. He’s a really incredible player.

You’re out on the road now, pretty much for the whole of the summer.

Yes, I’m taking the band out on the road for some of these runs, and a few festivals I’m excited for, and hopefully, I’ll be able to get to Europe next year. Europe’s like my stomping ground, and since the pandemic I haven’t been back. My first gigs were in London and I would walk around with a resume and a CD and go to bars to try and get gigs. I played in Camden, I played at the Half Moon in Putney… It would be nice to come back and play again someday.

Tell me about that gorgeous National resonator guitar that you’re pictured with on the cover of your album.

It’s a custom model; I worked at a guitar shop in Los Angeles who were National dealers. I got to know the National people so I asked them to build me a custom guitar with a white top and a blue back. It’s a steel single cone Reso Rocket with a cutaway. It’s a great guitar, I’ve had it for six years now and I’ve never needed to get it serviced. 

To finish up, what are you listening to at the moment?

I think Amythyst Kiah is an amazing performer and I love her songs. I heard some really great Kelsey Waldon stuff recently as well, and I’ve been listening to Arlo McKinley too as I’ve been opening for him on tour. He’s a great songwriter.

‘Make Myself Me Again’ is released digitally by Red Parlor Records on 20th May 2022.

http://[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=139352645 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small track=2706219715]

About Paul Gibson 18 Articles
I'm a singer-songwriter based in Warwickshire, influenced by Americana, country and folk. I gig regularly around the area and when not making music I'm listening to or writing about it.
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