Sunday, November 9, 2014

Exclusive Interview With Songwriter/Singer Crystal Nicole

I AM Crystal Nicole 
By Belinda Trotter James
The Self entitle “I AM Crystal Nicole” is the heavily anticipated debut album from the dynamic Grammy award winning songwriter who has stayed hidden from the public to manifest chart topping hits for major artists such as  Beyoncé's Grammy award winning album,  “I AM Sasha Fierce” and Rihanna’s Grammy for best dance record of the year,  “Only Girl In The World.”  The first release single on this album as an artist is "I Don't Belong To You", which is an accumulation her journey.  "This song was inspired by my life,” says Crystal.   “I'm from Decatur Georgia and I've always been that girl who wanted to sing and be famous in a lot of different ways. I was always told I couldn't do it for different reasons whether it was that I was overweight or I was too dark or my hair wasn't long enough. I mean, it was always something and I kind of let those things run my life in a lot of different areas.  This song was just me redefining some of the words that have been spoken over me throughout my life whether it was about music or other types of things. I just wanted to come at it from a different angle and take those words and inspire myself instead of letting it continue to rule me.”

It just puzzles the mind how people can let their words feed into others without knowing how they are affecting the journey or delaying a divine plan. For people to tell Crystal that her hair was short or she was overweight  was cruel because there are a lot of singers who are full figured beauties, dark skinned and have stunning short haircuts. "The way that society views what's considered beautiful affect people in many ways.  We live in a blind society where we look at what the magazine covers says and a lot of it is not necessarily true,” explains Crystal.  “The pictures are altered and a lot of things are not as they appear.  In our society we grow up looking at these images and we say, ‘I want to look like her… I should look like that’… and no one really looks like ‘that.’ The people who are on the magazine covers don't normally look like ‘that.’  So we have to be careful who we’re listening to and what voices we’re taking in and knowing how to decipher what is a lie and what is the truth."

Fans can look forward to a lot of inner soul searching from Crystal on this album.  "This album is very transparent; it is me in audio form.  Everything I have done whether it's good, bad or ugly I like to talk about it on this album,” says Crystal.   “I believe with music it’s supposed to come from a place of reality and it's supposed to be authentic; not just in the sound quality, but also in the concept and the lyrical quality of what you are saying.  I feel like when you sing a song, it should mean something to you and it shouldn't be just words.  On this album people will definitely get to hear exactly who I Am and I'm not perfect, but I Am Crystal Nicole and that's what they will get on this album.”
If you think you don't know Crystal Nicole, think again. She has quietly been the mastermind songwriter behind some of the most sensational, prolific music for some of your favorite artists such as Mariah Carey, Monica, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, Brandy, Ciara, Jennifer Hudson, Natasha Bedingfield, Tiffany Evans, Teyana Taylor, Janet Jackson and the list just keeps going.  I told her this is basically the same story as the husband/wife songwriting team of Ashford and Simpson.  Then I realized I was telling my age and should have used those more current such as Babyface or Neo as examples.  Sheesh!  Since she is traveling along the same path, we are definitely in store for some of the most memorable music in history. 

Why did she decide to come out and play for us now as a solo artist?  "It's so crazy,” laughs Crystal.  “The interesting thing about being a songwriter is that you’re being introduced to the world as one thing and when people meet you in one capacity, they don't think you exist in any other capacity and that’s because no one knew me.  Actually I've been singing forever; songwriting came later. I never wanted to write songs. I just wanted to sing, sing, sing until I die.  I was singing in talent shows and I even met my husband singing at a talent show. He was in a singing group and later we both sang together. It's been years of me singing. The world got to see me first as a songwriter and now I get people who say, ‘What made you want to become an artist’, but actually I was always singing and I put out my first initial single in 2011.  I was signed to Blackground/Interscope records and I put out a single called, “Pinch Me” and that was really my first single as an artist.  Ever since then, I've been trying to find my niche as an artist. Even though I am writing for other people, I still didn't know who I was; I still didn't know what I wanted to do,” she laughs.  “You know artist are schizophrenic.  We don't know what we want to do, we think we know everything and we have no clue.  I'm glad I wasn't able to fully come out with an album at that time because I didn't know what I was doing or how I wanted to accomplish it.  Now I feel like everything is aligned in my life to the point where I feel it's time to say who I am and this is what I sound like.”

Crystal understands life’s situations because she has lived it and she is truly a  natural singer/songwriter who has found her niche which allows us to peek inside her world.   "I started writing because they wouldn't let me sing,” says Crystal.  "I didn't really believe it when people said I couldn't sing. I mean I heard what they were saying, but I know when I go home at night, I hear myself singing. When I look in the mirror, I see myself singing. I know that God gave me something so there was no way you could tell me that I couldn't do it.”  

“I was in a singing group for years and after the group broke up, I was just so frustrated. I was sad about the fact that I couldn't break through those  barriers so I just started writing my feelings down on paper and those things became my early songs that were really bad and horrible. They sound so awful that you will never hear them."  We both bust out laughing and of course I suggested she tweak them a little bit and she replied, "They are somewhere hidden in a volt from me and anyone else who tries to find them. Those things became my very early records and I was still fighting it. I was fighting God. I said, ‘Look, I don't want to write no songs, Lord. Quit giving me lyrics. I don't want to write; I want to sing.’   I didn't realize that songwriting makes you more of a complete singer. Now I am whole and I am complete. I write it and sing it as opposed to just singing it or just writing it. I now have a right and a left hand.”

Crystal is not the only singer in her household; her mother, sister and husband sings and they actually battle each other. “It's a crazy musical house,” adds Crystal. Her husband actually produced the first single, "I don't belong to you” on her latest album.

Now that I look back on everything Crystal has told me it will sound crazy, but she should thank those people for stopping her from singing because she was able to put her thoughts in words.  She was able to experience life in many forms.  She is not the only one going through things, however now she is able to put it in words for others to sing.  For Crystal the words she writes come from a powerful inner place; they become hits and that’s why she is so successful.  No matter what the outside world told her, she never stopped believing what her inner spirit was saying.  People need to understand that life is an experience and when you have things happen in your life that you don’t understand, just sit still and the answer will appear sooner or later.

What type of child could she have been growing up? Ms. Crystal Nicole takes a moment and says, "Well from my perspective I was a very good and obedient child.  While all the other children were skipping school and being evil, I was probably somewhere reading my Bible and praying for my enemies.” She laughs and continues,  Honestly, I was the complete opposite.  I was very stubborn, I thought I knew everything and I was very opinionated.  I played around in school and I just couldn't stay focused in school to save my life. I was in school with my, "All You Need To Know About The Record Industry" book underneath my social studies book.  I was supposed to be studying what the teacher was teaching and instead I was flipping back-and-forth reading that book. That was me as a kid in high school. I was just so focused on being in the music industry.  I really didn't have a lot of friends because people thought I was too serious. They would say,  ‘Yo, you need to calm down.  You’re only in the ninth grade and you're talking about careers and living your life in the music industry. You need to just chill out and go to lunch.’” 

Crystal continues, “I was always on stage somewhere, always in the music industry even as a kid and because of that I couldn't focus in school. I would skip school to go sing at different places.  I actually got kicked out of school because of that.  I never graduated and that was part of why people said certain things to me when I was younger. People were calling me stupid or the girl that can't spell and different things like that which I kind of carried with me for years.  I started to feel that maybe I should have taken school a little bit more seriously. However, in my mind there was no plan ‘B’. I was going to be a singer, I’m going to be in the music industry and if I allow myself to think of a plan ‘B’, I've already accepted that I might fail at plan ‘A’. I can't even go that route and because of that I just went full force into this music thing.”

This sounds almost like that classic nerd story where there was always that one kid who had dreams and goals that no one else believed in and everyone would just laugh and not take them seriously. Fast forward to the adult years and name some of those kids or young adults… Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, the Facebook boys, yatta, yatta, yatta.  They had faith enough to defy those negative voices to beat the odds and live a life of freedom. Today Crystal Nicole lives her life free to do whatever the heck she wants to do. If she wants to sleep in bed all day for a month, guess what?????  She’s living her life to the point where she can do just that.  
In looking back at those who tried to strangle her dreams I asked what she would say to them today and she replied, “I would tell them ‘Thank you’ because I had to learn.  I learned a lot about what people would say to me that I didn't agree with. I had to learn that there is some validity and truth to what people say about you however, I don't think it's true that I'm ugly, but someone had to call me ugly in order for me to find the truth that I wasn't. I was gauging myself off the looks of other people. I thought if I didn't look like her or if I didn't look like that, then I must not be good enough. So, even in the mist of all the negativity I was able to decipher and navigate my way through all of that stuff. It was actually friends who would call me stupid and different names.  I'm still friends with some of them to this day. I have grown to know that a lot of people will say things about you because it's really reflecting off of themselves and unfortunately, we do gossip and we talk about people.  It’s just like when we sit at home on our computers and we just dog people out, but what really matters is what we see when we look in the mirror.  So when I think about people who have done that type of stuff to me, it’s a little sadness that I feel for them because I feel like it's almost them lashing out.  They are really saying what they feel about themselves, but you say it to me because you can't say it to yourself.  So I have no grudges or anything, but I'm not going to lie; I used to walk around with it for years even after I was writing songs for people. I had a chip on my shoulder and I felt like, ‘Yeah, I made it! Y'all said I wasn't going to make it.  Look at me now.’  That was my thing. I carried it around and it was a heavy load. I had to take that thing off because it was like carrying around an extra 30 or 40 pounds. I was carrying around emotional weight and those people didn't know why I was walking around mad at everybody. They didn't even know or care. I had to let that stuff go.  I can grow and I can live now.”

Take a good look at Crystal Nicole's picture…  I want to know who called her ugly?  Somebody beat her face and whipped her hair to perfection! It is flawless.  “My hairstylist is JJ and he is awesome. He has been keeping my hair healthy,’ reveals Crystal.  “I had a really short haircut. I cut all my hair off a couple of years ago because I was trying to do something different and I had it super short and shaved in the back.  It took a long time for that to grow back to the point where it is now. The person who did my make up is Dayhill.  She is amazing and has been doing my make up since 2008. I’m a loyal type of person. I like for all of us to start at the bottom and go all the way up to the top together so that we can remember ‘back in the day’ stories.”

No matter what industry you start to pursue, there will be someone who will give you your big break. Crystal says she feels like she had a few big breaks… "The first and the biggest one was probably Jermaine Dupree”, remembers Crystal.   “I was signed to him/EMI music publishing as a songwriter in 2007.   It was a joint venture between him and EMI. It was my first publishing deal as a songwriter.  After that things just started to fall in place and he actually put me in the studio with Mariah Carey; that was pretty huge.

Being a songwriter can become difficult when artists don't agree with your song choices or writing styles. With the long list of artist that she's written for over the years, which was the most flexible?  Her answer… Beyoncé.  "First of all she's a machine,” starts Crystal.   “I don't even know if she's human. She is just that amazing. She would come in the studio on-time actually. She would come in maybe around 12 in the afternoon and stay until about six at night and she would record about four or five songs in one day in that time period and she just let me have so much freedom. She would go in one room to record and I would be in another room writing. When she finishes recording, she would come to the room where I was writing and she would listen to what I wrote and say, ‘Aww, that sounds really nice. Let me know when you're finished with it.’ Then I would finish it, send it into the next room and she would record it. It was just like a well oiled machine being in the studio with her. I would say she definitely gave me a lot of freedom in the fact that she just kind of let me fly and if I flew in the wrong direction, she would say, ‘Ahh… I really don't like that; can we change it?’ However, for the most part she just let me go."

Wait a minute… let's back up so that we fully understand what goes on in the studio. Songwriters have to write a song on the spot.  This is not the first writer I've heard this from and I guess it is standard because they all do it. I'm just an outsider looking in.  "Oh yes!”, says Crystal. "That's a whole other conversation. Everything was done on the spot and she would record so fast I would have to have a new song within the hour. Mary J Blige was the most pressure because I was such a fan and I was in the studio with her. I was writing her first single and she was sitting in the studio watching me as I was writing the song on my iPhone; she was sitting right next to me. I was sweating bullets and she didn't even know it.”  We laughed and Crystal said she told them she had to go to the bathroom. She needed to leave the room in order to compose herself.  “I was on the bathroom floor saying, ‘Oh My God! So, yeah I had a lot of those moments." 

They were a few times where she could write something at home and let the artist hear it later, but for the most part everything was done on the spot. “Most of my hit records were written right on the spot,” remembers Crystal.  “Janet Jackson was in the studio walking around while I was writing. Oh my God, my stomach was growling in the booth,” laughs Crystal.   “I was nervous and hungry. I'm thinking to myself, ‘Oh Lord, I hope she doesn't hear my stomach growling. She may think I'm crazy or something.’  Yes, I had a lot of those moments.”

Crystal has had an awesome opportunity to tap into her hidden talents as a songwriter and now she gets to also be the artist. It probably would be hard to say which she loves doing most, but I think in her heart it definitely is singing. "Nothing beats standing on stage singing into a microphone for me,” says Crystal.  “I am a vocalist. I will sing in public and just start belting out a Whitney Houston tune. I just love to sing. I've been doing it for as long as I can remember. Artistry is a whole different level because I have to make sure every strand of my hair is in place. When I was writing songs, no one really cared if I was cute; none of that mattered. With songwriting I can't write a song that sounds similar to what I just did yesterday. It's different things that I would rather not concern myself with. When it comes to just singing into a microphone, that's just a dream for me.” 
 With all her experience being in both the songwriting industry and coming out as a solo artist she definitely has tons of advice that would definitely be helpful to those following in her footsteps. “For a songwriter I would say research your work.  A lot of times for me writing a song doesn't come as easy as the one before,” advises Crystal.  I have written a song in about 25 minutes, recorded it and went home. Another day it’s done in an hour or the song is written and recorded and that's a great day. However, there are days when it takes me about six or seven hours and I am literally digging for gold and searching through every verse, every chorus just searching for the right line, the right words, the right melody and the right concept. I would tell every songwriter that you  got to be willing to have those days where it's 25 minutes and that's it you go home or have those days where it's a two day session.” 

Crystal’s advise for artist was a little different… “For artist I would say this is my theory for people who can really sing…  We tend to be lazy because we can do something that really doesn't make a lot of sense to other people. We can open our mouth and this sound comes out and we don't even know where it's coming from and so we can be very lazy sometimes. We can just wake up rollover and start singing. There's no warm-up, there's no preparation, there's no vocal coaching; We just sing.  I've been singing since I was two years old because my grandma said I sound awesome.  I've had to learn things because I have been that lazy person. I have to get up every day and say, ‘Wait a minute… is my craft worth me working on today? Should I try to get my range higher? Should I try to hit this note better and when I'm in the booth recording, am I trying to execute things to a level that is not just enough for me because I can sing, but is pushing me to another level?”   

She continues…. “It’s work in both areas, but in different ways.  As far as being both a singer and songwriter, you have to know who you are. That is so important. I think a lot of people  waste a lot of time and have a lot of frustration because they have an identity crisis. People who don't really know who they are will allow someone to give them a song and not know whether they should sing it or not because they don't know who they are; you just sing whatever someone throws in front of your face.  As a writer, if someone asked you to write a certain type of song, that may not be the type of song you are good at writing and so you are just writing whatever someone asks you to do. I think that all comes back to a sense of identity in knowing who you are and what you are capable of doing.” 

Let's just bring Crystal's brilliant explanation home on why  songwriters need to stay in their lane and know who they are…  Are you familiar with a song called, “Love Song” by Sara Bareilles?  Well, her record company asked her to write a love song and she told them she does not write love songs.  Why?  Who knows… However, what she does know is that love songs are not her forte.  So instead of writing her record company a love song she wrote a song about how she does not want to write a love song and it became a huge hit.  “Yes, I love her and I love that story because she said I don't want to do that so you know what … I’m going to write a song about how I don't want to write you a song like that,”  says Crystal.  “What a great story and it just goes to show you that when you know who you are and know what your limitations are you become a better songwriter and a true believer in yourself. 

Looking back on everything that has happened in Crystal's life she emerged victorious from the voices outside and inside of her head that almost stopped her from achieving her dreams.  She took a few detours, but they were necessary in her path. Crystal adds,   "I feel blessed so blessed and I feel grateful.”

You can follow her on Facebook/Twitter check out her YouTube channel or website at

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