One of the great anchors of youth is freedom, to live a life without boundaries or borders, without subscribing to provincial boxes of what should and shouldn’t be. It is what the jaded yearn for, what the aged remember with fierce nostalgia.
That is not to say that freedom is not a life without friction, but rather it is the opportunity of pursuing one’s convictions without restraints. And this is the foundation for KRISTA, a new, 21-year old singer, songwriter and musician whose artistry is built on the rich, layered dichotomy between struggle and expression. She has a life of experiences that belies her age, and which she draws upon to form her singular identity as a vibrant, emerging artist. What she has felt in her life, you will feel in her music, and like her background, Krista’s music brazenly defies categorization: a combination of soaring vocals, big beats, beautiful melodies, and street-savvy raps.
It’s an appropriate sound for Krista, who comes from the mashed-up streets of Brooklyn, New York – Sunset Park, to be exact – where a stroll down the neighborhood streets is a kaleidoscopic merging of colors, cultures and flavors. Krista is herself a mash-up, the product of a Puerto Rican father and Italian mother, and growing up in a neighborhood rigidly defined by cultural identity, she both embraced and was alienated by her mixed-race heritage. “My neighborhood, growing up, was very hard,” Krista explains, “but all the bullshit around me was what I knew I didn’t want to be. I used it as a springboard to try and do everything right.”
Reflecting the diversity of her upbringing, Krista’s music is an amalgamation of sounds. She is as inspired by the boisterous attitudes of early female MCs (Salt-n-Pepa, Queen Latifa), as she is the escapist rock of Evanescence and Linkin Park, or the angelic voice of Sarah McLachlan. Really. One moment her music pulsates with the rhymes and beats of a boastful, savvy, street-reared MC (much like the storytelling of early Tupac), and the next her voice soars with melodious lyrics of alienation and suffering – often on the same song. She mixes live instruments with bedroom beats, and incorporates the sass and fire of her heritage into everything she does.
Krista’s break came at the age of 19, when she met her current producer, musical mentor, and music industry veteran, Camus. They met at a hardcore show for the band Suicide City, a side project of Biohazard’s Billy Graziadei, “(Billy and Ron Reymann, Krista’s first musical partner,) introduced me to Camus that night and told him I was a singer,” remembers Krista. “…a couple of weeks later I was in his office singing him some songs – I think it was Sarah McLachlan’s ‘Angel’ sung acapella that won him over. It’s been surreal ever since.”
Realizing that she was more than just a short-term talent, Camus would take Krista under his wing, making her the hallmark signing of his Vel Records, and working for two years to help develop her sound. “My interests, musically, are extremely eclectic, and I feel I can do anything (stylistically),” says Krista. “So we would just go to the studio and experiment, find a chemistry, just try things out until I felt comfortable with myself. It was a real organic process. And his support really gave me the confidence to just go in the studio and show who I was.”
Once Krista felt comfortable with her voice, she would find the interest in her songs to be widespread. But it was the legendary music executive, Clive Davis, who would ultimately sign her, recognizing that he had a unique talent. Krista remembers her audition for Mr. Davis: “I was in this room with like 30 executives and (Clive) wasn’t there yet. I hear this voice from around the corner yelling, ‘Did somebody say they were from Brooklyn?!?’ He was really amazing and I was encouraged by how much he loved it.”
As an artist, Krista draws mainly from her own hard-knock life. Her parents separated when she was 4 years old and she was raised by her grandmother and father, in a low-income neighborhood in Brooklyn. Says Krista, “I love my father and grandmother. They both escaped an abusive households with my grandfather, so I admire their strength. But it was a hard childhood for me. My father worked all the time, so my brother, sister and I were mainly raised by my grandmother, who was very old school, very conservative.”
Because of that conservatism, Krista didn’t have a realistic role model to shepherd her into adolescence, and she stood out as an awkward girl who found it hard to make friends. “I remember my body starting to change around 11 or 12, and it really made me reflect on not having a mom. I didn’t really know how to dress, how to act like a girl. My dad, whom I love, would buy me stretch pants and put my hair in a big braid.”
When Krista finally did find a group of friends, she would act out. “I got into a lot of trouble,” she admits. “Just Brooklyn kid stuff – tagging, running away from home, getting into fights. I guess I was kind of an angry kid.” She would find salvation in her diaries and poetry books, where she would confess all her deepest thoughts, including reflections on love and alienation, trust and fitting in. “I would lock myself in my bathroom and climb in the tub and just write,” she says. “It was the only place where I felt truly safe.”
Krista would finally realize that art and expression was her only way out. She dropped out of high school at 16 to pursue her dream as an artist. “I think people recognized that I was different, people from my hood. They would come up to me and tell me that I didn’t belong with them – not in a bad way but in the sense that they knew I could do something good with my life instead of being caught up in the streets. That’s when I started to reconsider where I was going in my life.”
Where Krista is now will be reflected on her debut album, tentatively titled ‘Taking Back Brooklyn,’ due in the spring of 2008. “It’s about taking it back to where I’m from – the whole collage of living in Brooklyn,” she explains. “But it’s also about what art and writing and music means to me. How I want to take back from my life what has been taken from me. Music was emotional therapy for me, it IS emotional therapy for me.” That will never change for Krista, and it will always be done with absolute freedom.