By Nicholas Jason Lopez
St. Louis female-fronted alternative rock outfit Crystal Lady released their latest single “Hurricane” on April 2, 2020. The track bears the namesake of their sophomore album, due out later this Fall.
Lyrically, the song deals with the issues one can find while starting something all over again and doesn’t miss a beat, whether it’s the catchy melody or heavy riffs, both of which grab you from the bass-happy intro.
The Music Bugle recently had the opportunity to talk with vocalist Chela Mancuso about “Hurricane” and other topics.
Music Bugle – What was the backstory of the single “Hurricane”? How did it come to be?
Chela Mancuso – “Hurricane” depicts how I felt two years ago when I started working on this second album with my current band members. Before I found my kickass band members that I have now, I always felt like the black sheep within my own band. When I was working on the first album, I was in college for music and I was looked down on by a lot of people, including classmates and instructors, for lacking experience and bucking against the system early on. It felt like there were a lot of people in my life who wanted me to fail. When I restructured the band, essentially starting from scratch after our first album, it was messy. I felt like if I let myself fail, I would only be playing into what everyone expected. “Hurricane” was the first solid song that started to form out of Crystal Lady’s current lineup and I was determined to do things better this time around. I poured all of that emotion into “Hurricane” and it serves as a “Look at me now” kind of anthem and it marked the start of a new chapter.
Music Bugle – How did you come up with the name “Crystal Lady” for the band? What does it signify?
Chela Mancuso – I borrowed the name Crystal Lady from my great aunt, Josephine Mancuso – aka aunt Skipper. My aunt passed when I was about 10, but my memories of her and the stories I’ve been told have really inspired and shaped my music career. My Aunt Skipper was a singer who toured the world doing USO shows under the name “Laura Tracy.” She later settled in Southern California where she started Crystal Lady Publishing. She published her original music under this name and even had a song called “Crystal Lady.” I got to live with my aunt in an artist community in the mountains, near Idyllwild, California, when I was little and we spent a lot of time talking about music, crystals, the stars and a lot of other dreamy themes that have stuck with me. My Aunt Skipper was the original Crystal Lady and I repurposed this name to pay tribute to her through our music.
Music Bugle – How would you describe the “scene” in St. Louis for your genre?
Chela Mancuso – St. Louis is actually a great city for arts and entertainment all around. I feel like a lot of people who aren’t from here or aren’t familiar with STL don’t realize how much they are missing. There are a lot of great venues for original rock and a pretty big following for original music, especially rock ‘n’ roll. St. Louis is a rock ‘n’ roll city and people out here seem to really appreciate what’s happening on the local scene. I put together a few annual benefit shows every year, including the “STL Women of Rock” showcase and there is never a shortage of great local talent to bring on.
Music Bugle – What was the process like putting together your second album compared to your first one?
Chela Mancuso – The first album reflects a completely different Crystal Lady. Since the first album, I have all new band members working with me, so literally everything is different, but in the best way possible. In the first incarnation, there was a constant tug-and-pull within the band. I started Crystal Lady with the intention of being a rock band, but at the time, I was in school studying jazz and working with musicians who naturally leaned more towards jazz than rock. This resulted in a softer rock album that had a lot of jazz influence behind it, which wasn’t what I intended it to be, but I appreciate what came out of it. Now, in this second album, I am totally bucking against all of that and creating real rock, which is what I am most passionate about. I have found bandmates who share the same vision with me and creatively, we are all on the same page, which makes the writing process so much more enjoyable. This album just poured out of us almost effortlessly because we all shared a common goal, musically.
Music Bugle – Has the COVID-19 outbreak affected the band in any way?
Chela Mancuso – Oh yeah. Pre COVID-19, we were playing out a couple times a week, practicing about three times a week on our off-days and recording in our home studio. We have lost a shit-ton of shows and even a few out-of-town runs we were super excited about. Everything has come to a halt, which sucks creatively and financially, but missing out on so much has made me realize how much I appreciate what we get to do. There are definitely times when you feel burnt out or like you are running on E, but I’d much rather be working, practicing and burning the candle at both ends too often, than be in this boat.
Music Bugle – Which of your musical influences do you feel shine the most through the band’s work?
Chela Mancuso – This has always been tough for me to answer because we listen to a lot, but don’t necessarily feel like we sound a whole lot like the people we draw most of our inspiration from. Personally, I absolutely love Grace Slick, Amy Winehouse, Lana Del Rey, Janis Joplin and Stevie Nicks, but I’m also very inspired by a lot of 90s and 00s alt-rock and grunge like Garbage, Audioslave, Alanis Morissette, Foo Fighters and Nirvana. The guys have all of their own influences, including everything from blues to metal and a lot more. I hear some of our songs and think, “Oh, that sounds like a band who has heard a lot of Foo Fighters,” but then I’ll hear other songs and think, “I don’t know what the hell that was, but I love it.” It’s almost like we took our favorite elements of 70s rock, 90s alternative and everything in between, threw it in a blender and got a modern take on the familiar sounds we love.
Music Bugle – What are your future plans, as far as the rest of 2020?
Chela Mancuso – As far as touring goes, we are going to have to play it by ear. We have a couple short runs planned for late summer up to North Dakota and back and possibly down to Georgia, but we are all just waiting to hear if it will be safe for us to go on the road. Once St. Louis gets back on its feet, it is uncertain what venues will be able to bring music back right away, so for now, the plan is to hope for the best, prepare for the worst and finish our record with the downtime we have. I’ve been doing a lot of writing with my extra time, so hopefully, we will get to start working on the next album ASAP after we get ‘Hurricane’ out.
Music Bugle – What is your most meaningful song or set of lyrics?
Chela Mancuso – The most meaningful song we have right now is actually unreleased. It is called “December” and we have it set to be on our third album as of now, but since we are all so connected to it, we might do some rearranging and put it on ‘Hurricane’ and release it this fall. The lyrics of the pre-chorus are “I’ve been searching in empty spaces for something to make me feel whole” and it goes on to explain how uncomfortable it feels to be held back by your own insecurities and fears and at the same time, being scared to fail, even when you are giving your all. It’s about how bittersweet it is to want something so much, you are willing to feel uncomfortable and do anything you have to, but knowing that nothing is guaranteed. On the first rough recording we made of this song, my voice cracked on the last chorus because I couldn’t make it all the way through without crying. I still have a hard time getting through the song without getting caught up in my feelings, but it is the most connected I’ve ever felt to one of our songs.
Music Bugle – What has been your proudest moment as a musician?
Chela Mancuso – My proudest moment was at our birthday concert this year, February 29th, 2020. My guitar player Nick and I have birthdays one day apart and every year do a big birthday party show at a venue here in St. Louis called The Duck Room at Blueberry Hill. This venue was made famous by Chuck Berry and has always been my favorite venue in St. Louis. This year, we had our biggest birthday show turnout and had our good friend’s band on the lineup with us. We were just a handful of tickets away from completely selling out the venue and this was the most tuned-in crowd we’ve ever played to. Everyone was jumping with us and a lot of the people in the crowd were singing the lyrics of our songs with us. It was the happiest moment I ever felt on stage in the seven years I’ve been performing. After that show, we got off stage, all looked at each other and concurred “Holy shit.” It was our best show and it was a great way to close out our live performances before we all went on lockdown.
Music Bugle – Have you begun to work on any new music?
Chela Mancuso – Yes! We write collaboratively and at a pretty fast pace. We practice three times a week, under normal circumstances and usually write a new song every week. Not all the songs end up making it to the stage right away. Some get archived, but we already have most of the songs written and picked out for our third album, that we will start after the release of our ‘Hurricane’ album. Writing is what we are all most passionate about and we have a home studio now, so once things get back on track, we plan to be pumping out music at a pretty regular pace.