A half dozen years ago when Terra Lopez starting making music as Sister Crayon, she never imagined that one day she'd be touring with acts like the Deftones and Tricky and working on music with folks like Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of the Mars Volta. Back then, although music was her passion, making it was more a means of therapy.
Then she met Dani Fernandez and Sister Crayon—a name that was inspired by a salutation she randomly wrote on a note to Bianca Casady of Coco Rose—became a full blow artistic endeavor for the two of them. Since then, the Sacramento-based pair has covered a ton of ground, releasing a trio of terrific trip-hop tinged records—Bellow in 2011, Cynic in 2013 and Devoted in 2014—and making countless trips across the country in support of those albums.
A remastered version of that last release is set to be issued with new artwork and additional production by Warner Bros. this Friday. We caught up with Lopez and spoke to the gifted vocalist and songwriter about the new version of Devoted, touring with the Deftones and Tricky, why the group changed its name from Sister Crayon to Rituals of Mine, and what music shaped her early on.
The Trusted Ear: The new name of the band comes from a line from your song “Into Solemn Hymns.” I know you’d been wanting to change the name for a while. What made you finally decide to make the move? Personally, I loved Sister Crayon, but I know you wanted to change it for a while.
Terra Lopez: We’d been wanting to change the name for quite a while, actually, for a few years. When I started Sister Crayon, it was just me, a solo project. You know, I felt at the time, like, I was really shy, and so, creating an alter-ego with a name like that—kind of outlandish—seemed fitting. But as the years progressed and as the band actually became a band and progressed, I felt for a few years it wasn’t my intention. And so, it kind seemed a little odd to me, at least.
And it was last year, my father passed away in September, and then six months later, my best friend passed away, and it just felt very, very wrong to keep going as the name that they knew me as, and the project as. It didn’t feel right to continue like that with them gone.
I’ve always loved the texture of your music. I love listening to your music at night, especially when I’m driving. There’s a cinematic element to your music that creates this certain romanticism for me that makes these moments seem so much more impactful. Is there music that makes you feel that way, and if so, what is it?
Yeah, definitely—and thank you, by the way, because I feel like that’s the best compliment. That’s what you kind of hope for, at least. Definitely music that evokes the same emotions for me is, like, Sigur Ros, Bjork—a lot of Icelandic artists, actually, evoke that kind of cinematic nature aspect—and Portishead, Massive Attack, Jeff Buckley, even.
I feel like I’ve always been drawn to music that … you know, my favorite thing to do is to actually take night drives and listen to music and kind of get lost in that, as I’m driving. I guess that inherently filters into our music, because that’s one of my favorite things to do.
You know what’s funny, a lot of the music I hear in your music is a lot of the stuff you mentioned. I hear elements of Bjork and Portishead and Sigur Ros. So you actually kind of answered a question for me. I was wondering where the scope of your writing comes from. So that makes sense. I hear a lot of that stuff in there, especially Portishead. I hear a lot of Portishead.
Yeah, when I discovered trip-hop, I was a teenager, and it just kind of showed me that I could make the music that I had in my head, even though I didn’t know that there was a genre at the time. So when I was introduced to trip-hop, it kind of opened my mind so much, and I kind of just … I was obsessed with learning about trip-hop and an education of trip-hop and and electronic music. My whole world kind of flipped. It was a huge experience for me.
One of the other things that struck me about you: I was really surprised when you reached out personally about Rituals of Mine. But then I discovered that you do publicity for other acts. What’s your experience been handling your own press? Speaking from my perspective, I would’ve devoted coverage regardless, because I’m a huge fan of your work, from the first time I heard you and definitely from the first time I saw you at the Larimer Lounge. But when I forgot to follow up with you this time, I felt some personal responsibility. I was like, ‘Dang, man! Terra took the time to reach out personally, and I dropped the ball.” That made me think, man, I really need to follow-up here. I’m wondering: When you’re doing publicity, has that personal touch made a difference for you when you’re doing your own press?
I think so. I always done our press. And now that I’m a publicist, it kind of just makes sense. I mean, we definitely are getting help from the Warner Bros. side. They have their own publicists, too. But it’s important to me to reach out and be very personal with our music and with our approach to everything, and I love it. I kind of thrive off reaching out to local and regional writers and editors and just saying, ‘Hey, come out to a show, if you like it, and let’s talk, and let’s build together on this.’ I just really enjoy it. I always have.
How have you changed as you’ve gotten older, and how has it affected your songwriting? There’s always been this kind of darkness that tinges your music, lyrically. Your lyricism is very forthright, and I noticed from record to record, it’s changed a little bit. On Cynic, it seemed a little more introspective, and on Devoted, it seems like there’s been a little bit of a shift. So I’m wondering, how have you changed as you’ve gotten older, and how has it affected your songwriting?
That’s a really great question. I think, for me, as I get older, I don’t take it—it’s going to sound weird—but I don’t take it as seriously as I used to. I’m much more open to just saying and expressing how I feel at the moment. With Cynic, I would painstakingly spend months and months on lyrics. And with Devoted, I just kind of said, you know what, I need to write what I’m feeling at the moment and just let it be.
And so, a lot of those lyrics were just written off the top of my head while we were in the studio recording. It was very refreshing in a way. I was going through a very hard breakup. I stood with someone for five years and I kind of just needed to create something off the top of my head, in the moment, in order to heal.
Definitely as I get older, I just kind of write and create more on the fly than when I was younger. And you know, I kind of loved that, as well, like really honing in on the craft and being very deliberate and diligent. And now, it’s more of how I’m feeling at the time. I just want to document that, right now, at least.
I kind of picked up on that on songs like “Ride or Die.” It felt less labored over and more visceral and in the moment.
Yeah, that’s cool that you picked that up. That song, I wrote literally in one take, while I was laying down in my bed. Literally. That album, Devoted, really has a lot of moments like that, where it was like, ‘Alright, cool. Here’s the song. We’re done.’ There’s a lightness to it, which is really nice, for a change.
We touched upon this a little bit, but I’d like to delve a little deeper into it. What music did you listen to growing up, and how did that shape your sound? I know that you’re a hip-hop head, and I know that Fiona Apple was a big influence on you, but who else inspired you? How did you get introduced to music? What was played in your house, and what was your reaction to it, and what made you want to make music? I guess I’m asking you about seven questions at once. [laughs]
No, no. That’s awesome. It’s my favorite thing to talk about … ‘50s music, actually. It was a huge influence on me as a little kid. I remember being three years old, and my grandmother introduced me to Patsy Cline and Elvis Presley. That changed my whole perspective on the world, even at three years old. I became obsessed with music. I became obsessed with knowing every little aspect, learning the songs.
Before I could even read … I taught myself how to read by looking at lyrics of Patsy Cline. My dad was a huge influence on me, because he got me into Led Zeppelin, Bill Withers, Lead Belly, old blues, and classic rock. He was a huge, huge influence on me. He bought me my first turntable when I was five years old, and that kind of changed my life, really.
I would run into my room every single day after school and just listen to this AM ‘50s radio station, up until I was, like, twelve years old. That’s all I listened to. And then, when I was twelve, I discovered hip-hop, that and R&B. Aaliyah was a huge influence, and then Fiona Apple, Jeff Buckley, Portishead, Tricky, Massive Attack, Bjork. I mean, it just kind of exploded from there and really helped shape my palette.
The remastered version of Devoted, that’s going to be your first Warner Bros. release, right?
I understand it’s going to have some new mixes and additional production. How, specifically, is this version going to be different from the original?
It’s actually really different, and I didn’t think it would be, but sonically, it’s a completely different album. It was mastered by Tom Coyne, who’s done everything from Adele to Beyonce to Led Zeppelin. This guy’s just incredible and knows what he’s doing. We also added additional production and kind of tweaked different aspects of a couple of songs.
It really is a brand new album. Brand new artwork. We put the lyrics, finally, in a release, which is the thing I’m most excited about, because we’ve never been able to do it. It’s just a whole new thing. And it will be released for the first time in a physical format. It was only available on an ultra limited digital release. So we’ll have vinyl and CDs and everything.
Didn’t it come out on vinyl before? I saw a picture of the vinyl somewhere.
Yeah, it came out on a very limited release on vinyl. If you can find it, you can find it. But it was very limited. I think it sold out. It’s hard to find. I don’t even have a copy.
This next question’s kind of weird, so just stick with me here. I heard the Warpaint remix of "Devoted," and I really loved it. The rhythmic elements are less pronounced and it’s a little more subtle. It struck me that your music—the music you and Dani have been creating—seems like it’s just one remix away from somebody like DJ Snake or Jack U picking it up and becoming a global phenomenon. Is that something that would freak you out, if somebody like DJ Snake took one of your songs and flipped it and it became a global smash? Is that something that you’ve even considered?
No, that wouldn’t freak me out. It would be pretty awesome, actually. I think music is taking this interesting direction. We actually really like dance music. So someone like that working on our music would be pretty interesting.
I can totally hear it. When I heard the remix that Emily Kokal did, I was like wow! And I’ve always thought that to begin with when I first heard Cynic, like this could be great dance music. And the stuff that DJ Snake has done with Alunageorge, taking songs and recontextualizing them, it became this massive thing. I really think what you do would be a natural fit for somebody like DJ Snake and flipping it.
That would be awesome. It’s been really interesting to see what artists collaborate. Artists you never think would make sense together. To me, instead of being freaked out by that, it’s kind of exciting.
That’s dope. I hope DJ Snake is paying attention. [laughs]
So, speaking of collaborations, I was really stoked to see that you did a song with Ichiban, who’s a Denver-based hip-hop artist. I thought that was cool. And that another artist from Denver named Mane Rok actually turned him on to you. Have you been approached by other artists to do collaborations? Is that something that’s commonplace, like people will just reach out to you out of the blue and be like, ‘Hey, do you want to work together?’
Yeah, a lot of artists, actually. A lot of hip-hop artists, which I think is really cool. And I don’t know if it’s because the circle is so small or what, but definitely a lot of hip-hop artists have come along and asked if I’d sing on their tracks or work with the full band. It’s been pretty awesome. I love doing that stuff.
I think that’s rad, especially since you’re such a big hip-hop head. It’s kind of come full circle.
Yeah, it’s rad. And we’re excited. We’re working on some potential remixes as well. So we’ll probably see some people from the hip-hop community chime in on that, too.
So we talked about you touring with the Deftones, and that seems perfectly fitting—beyond the fact that you’re both from the same place. The Deftones are a band that transcended any would-be compartmentalization assigned to them early on when they emerged during the whole nu metal movement. They never adhered to stylistic conventions, and basically, they built upon a core foundational sound, but made it their own. And it resulted in, like I was saying, a distinctive, singular sound. Like when you hear the Deftones, you know it’s the Deftones. Likewise, when I hear your voice, I know it’s you, and your music appeals to a wide variety of music fans. Is that something you’re cognizant of, that you have fans from all different genres?
I think it’s awesome, and I think that’s kind of what we’ve always wanted, to not fit into one specific genre in the hopes that so many people from different backgrounds can vibe with what we’re doing, and I think that just kind of speaks for itself when we go on different tours.
We just did the tour with the Deftones, and it was very successful for us. And now we’re on tour with a more indie electronic artist that’s been around, the Album Leaf. And after this tour, we’re going to be touring with Tricky.
So it’s kind of just always been that way. We don’t want to be in one singular box, when it comes to creating the music or touring or how we present ourselves. And I think that’s just because of the people that we are. We’re just interested in so many different genres and things. And we come from such different backgrounds.
Being from the same area of the Deftones, you had to have known about them and possibly been a fan growing up. Was it weird to be on, like, a peer level with them?
Definitely weird. I remember being a teenager and going to Deftones shows and honestly freaking out whenever I would meet Chino. So now to be a friend and for him to love our band and even potentially working on music together is very surreal to me. It doesn’t seem real or anything, but it’s awesome.
It makes total sense that he would gravitate towards your music. Did you hear the stuff he did with Crosses?
Yeah, yeah, I love that.
It’s very kindred. It makes sense that he would see you in that same lane. It probably would’ve made more sense for you to tour with Crosses than the Deftones [laughs], but tell me what that experience was like. What was the crowd reaction, and was it weird playing … because the Deftones are heavy, and you guys are decidedly not heavy. So what was that experience like? What was the audience like?
It was actually very incredible. What I love about the Deftones is that they have been always able to defy genre [limitations] and make metalheads at least be open to the softer side and more melodic side of metal. So we just experienced Deftones fans being so open and into our music.
I think it’s also because we bring such a heaviness to our live sound. We incorporate a live drummer and that just helps uplift the energy for sure. I’m kind of in your face as a performer. And so it definitely went over really well.
We didn’t know what to expect, and we were kind of intimidated at first. The response was just incredible, though. The band embraced us, and their fans embraced us. It was super successful. We loved it.
Did you start the set out with songs like “Armour,” like, did you come out completely in their face?
We actually opened up the set with “Hell in My Head,” which is kind of a slow burner, just kind of like, here we are, we’re starting. And then we went right into the heavier songs like “Armour.” People were so into it. It was awesome.
That video for “Armour” gave me vertigo. [laughs] It’s a crazy good video, but it swerves in this 360 and makes me dizzy.
Filming that gave me vertigo. [laughs]
How did you get on the Deftones tour? How did you link up with Omar? How did all this come about? Was it just organic? Did they just love your music and reach out? How did that work?
Yeah, it was all organic. We had toured with one of Omar’s projects back in 2013, and when we went to go record the record, he had reached out and was like, “I want to work with you guys on this record. How can we make it happen?”
Was that Bosnian Rainbows?
Yeah, yeah. And then the same thing with Chino. He had come to a couple of our shows years ago and had always been super supportive. Our manager just happened to know Chino and sent him the record, and he was super supportive. So that happened organically. And with Tricky, it was just really cool that A&R rep at Warner knew that he had been such an influence—we’ve talked about him in a number of conversations—and submitted us for this and that was organic, too. We’re very grateful that people have been so supportive.
From the sounds of it, you signing to Warner Bros. was organic, too. Your manager was friends with the A&R person or something? How did that whole thing go down?
That was even crazier, because they weren’t even friends at the time. He had just moved to L.A. and his neighbor was Samantha Maloney, our A&R rep. And they just started talking and she asked, you know, what do you do, and she asked for any of his unsigned bands, and out of the music that he sent her, she picked us out and wanted to know more about us.
At the time, I was living in L.A. and was able to go and meet her for dinners and coffee and get to know each other over the next few months. It happened very organically. Yeah, it was nothing we had ever expected or even thought about, really.
Really, this whole thing until now is something that you never really … you set out to create art and everything else happened. There’s so many other acts out there that start out and start figuring out how they’re going to get to that level. You just focused on making great art and the rest of it just kind of fell into place, which I think is how it should be.
We started doing this music just for ourselves. And I started doing music, in general, literally, for therapy. And so it’s really cool to see how far it’s come and how it’s built over the years in such an organic way with no intention, other than just to create music that we need to create and that we love.
So how has that changed now. Because, obviously, you’re at a place now where you’ll have good resources behind you. Has it changed your mindset, in terms of how you’re approaching things? Are you like, ‘Oh, geez, now I have to formulate a plan,’ or are you just going to keep marching forward the way you have?
Yeah, I mean, honestly, we’ve been so grateful to work with a team at Warner Bros., who are comprised of artists themselves, so they get the creative process, and they really just want us to create music that we absolutely believe in. And so, we really haven’t thought about any pressure or any stress, other than we’re just excited to create music, and we’re trying to create that when we’re on the road or when we get home. That’s just our focus, like, how do we make our music better, make the live show better. We’re constantly just trying to improve on every aspect in this. That’s all we’re focused on.