Photos courtesy of Chrissi Poland
Chrissi Poland is a consummate singer, songwriter, and musician who has just released her third album, Waking Hour, with a release show at Joe's Pub on June 22nd. Waking Hour presents eight superb new Poland originals recorded with the cream of New York's session musicians, co-produced by Chrissi and Jamie Siegel (Joss Stone, Lauren Hill, Blondie and Sting).
Since the 2010 release of her first album, Songs From The Concrete, she's been mighty busy. She joined the Scissor Sisters as a backing vocalist and spent about three years circling the globe playing live and also recording with them. In 2013, Chrissi released her second record, The Reckless Ones EP. In 2014, she formed a bossa nova band, Bluebirds of Paradise, with singer-songwriter Ari Hest (now her husband), releasing a single, "Snow", for the 2014 holiday season. In 2015, the Bluebirds wrote, recorded, and released a six song EP, In a Night.
Somewhere among all of that she found time to perform in a pop/theatrical show in Las Vegas, to write the Waking Hour album, perform with Bette Midler, appear occasionally with jazz guitarist Vinny Valentino, to sing with the Fab Faux and with Blood, Sweats, and Tears. She has had a longstanding relationship with singer Sam Moore (Sam & Dave), to sing with him wherever and whenever he performs, including a memorable appearance at one of the 2009 inaugural balls for President Obama, which also included Sting and Elvis Costello. Chrissi has toured the eastern US, the UK and Europe, and the Caribbean. She has opened for the likes of Susan Vega, Tower of Power, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears.
Poland describes her time in Las Vegas, a move that proved most fortuitous as she not only found the inspiration to write the songs that became Waking Hour, but she also worked there with Jamie Siegel who went on to co-produce the album.
"So I decided to take a gig in Las Vegas last year. ...to take a break from living in NYC and try something different. When I arrived, I promptly freaked out.
...This wasn’t like going on tour. This was moving to a new place, not knowing anyone, not really understanding what my gig was, all in a city that I had professed to hate for years …not being the champagne poppin club type. ...This was November of 2013.
And then a funny thing happened… I started to find my footing, make some friends. I found an apartment up near Red Rock National Park and was stunned by the desert beauty every day. My creative ideas were realized in the show, and it began to take shape. By New Year’s Eve, I had found a routine, a new day to day life, and I was enjoying crisp, lovely southern Nevada weather, while the East Coast had already begun to suffer under winter’s oppressive thumb.
...I started writing these songs in January of 2014. For the next nine months, I would continue writing the songs that would become this new record and head back to the East Coast to start tracking at the beginning of 2015" (PledgeMusic).
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While she prepared for her album release show at Joe's Pub, Chrissi took time out to answer a little Q & A, regarding the new album, for this article.
M & M: Let me say first that your new album, Waking Hour, is a mighty terrific piece of work. Reading your description of the recording process, considering that all the songs are new originals of yours and listening to the end result, it's abundantly clear that this project was a true labor of love. Now that the album's all done and ready to present to the world, what is foremost in your thoughts?
CP: Of course I'm super excited for people to hear the whole record, and I hope that the music finds it's way to many ears and hearts around the world. I hope it speaks to people, that's my foremost thought right now.
M & M: In retrospect, did you enjoy recording at Mission Sound in Brooklyn? Talk a little bit about the process of co-production with Jamie Siegel.
CP: Our day at Mission was great. We went in there specifically to track the drums and bass. I ended up using the grand piano there for some arrangements on "Dawn" and "Silhouette", and Oli Rockberger came in for some B3 organ. After we wrapped up there, the rest of the production was done in Jamie's small studio in Manhattan. We spent many days together there laying down the rest of the record. I wanted to make something that sounded modern yet classic. Jamie really understood the sounds I wanted to use for arrangements I'd written, so laying down the parts was easy. Recording all the vocals at J Rock was really great as well, I got the sounds I wanted and the vibe really comes across as warm, pretty nice on the ears.
M & M: So, which track is your favorite? Just kidding. Would you make a comment on each track and I will offer a few comments or questions as we go?
Tracklist: To hear the album, click track name. To see the live performance at the album release show 6/22/2016, click "Live at Joe's Pub".
1. Dawn Live at Joe's Pub
M & M: Right up front I have to say that although the pure pop of Reckless Ones was thrilling, I love that you've taken a more soulful approach to this album, blending genres such as rock, pop, soul, folk, and more as only you can. In one of your PledgeMusic updates, you teased the audience to guess who the choir is that appears on "Dawn". Is that all you?
CP: I really love the soul that comes across in "Dawn", thank you! Singing that song makes me feel emotional, so I know I tapped into something very real there. As for the choir, as much as I loved the idea of getting a whole group in to record, time and money were a priority to save, so I laid a good deal of the parts down myself and doubled them. I tried to change the tone of my voice to create the illusion of different people, but I needed a male voice to really counter the tones. So I had Ari Hest come in and do a few parts and lots of doubles, using different characters to his voice as well. I love how it came out, it really sounds like a choir! Just from two vocalists.
2. Why Lie Live at Joe's Pub
M & M: Singer-songwriters draw a lot of songwriting inspiration from personal experiences. I would think that this cuts both ways on Waking Hour, most songs coming down on the good side of love and relationships.
CP: Yes, I agree. This was one of the earlier songs I wrote for the record, I wrote the music first and really liked the groove. The story is bits and pieces of past loves gone awry, and moving past it all. I love singing this one.
3. Shaky Man Live at Joe's Pub
M & M: A lot of Waking Hour, but especially this track, has the quality of sounding both brand new and at the same time recalling those great soul singles of the sixties.
CP: This song speaks the most to that, I agree! I'm a sucker for that Stax '60's guitar...when the "hit" is on 2 (beat two, as us music nerds say), I get all happy inside. Matt Beck nailed it with the guitar parts and the sounds.
4. Silhouette Live at Joe's Pub
M & M: Another gem of sixties soul-pop circa 2016. Some super strong rhythm and I just love that Wurlitzer organ in combination with the piano.
CP: I'll be releasing a music video for this song next. I love the production on it, and how it sounds sort of like a hot summer day to me. Lyrically it's about shedding your skin and stepping into whatever's next, all the while knowing that your past somehow stays a part of you.
5. Lonely Light Live at Joe's Pub
CP: Most of these songs I wrote while living in Las Vegas for almost a year. I came home late one night to my house and took notice of the light I had left on, so I wouldn't come home to a dark place. I sat down that night and wrote Lonely Light, which takes on a deeper meaning as the song goes on.
6. Angel Weep For Me Live at Joe's Pub
M & M: "Angel Weep For Me" is the one song I've seen you do every single time that I've seen you perform live. I thought I had heard about every possible interpretation you could do on this song, but this version sounds totally new. Chrissi, you've done it again.
CP: Thanks so much, Bill. I know you've been there to see the evolution of this song. When I recorded it for Songs From The Concrete, I was never fully happy with the final product. I thought the tempo was too slow, and it needed better arrangement. I wanted to give this song the proper platform it deserves, and I think it's finally happened.
7. Airplane Live at Joe's Pub
M & M: I'm wondering who this could be about. I think this album disproves the old theory that the best material comes from a broken heart.
CP: All I'll say about it is that I wrote it as a relationship of mine was starting to get more serious, and I felt that I truly wanted to be with this person. It worked out.
8. Far From Love Live at Joe's Pub
M & M: This one has some dramatic rhythm with some even more dramatic vocals. The lyrics provide the album's title and suggest that there's more going on than meets the eye.
CP: This was the last song I wrote for Waking Hour. I wanted something that expressed a sentiment about the world, society. Something that people could interpret their own way and felt powerful. There are parts of it that almost feel hypnotic to me.
M & M: Overall, I've got to say that the production and sound quality on this record is extraordinarily great. The songs are very strong and your vocals are awesome. This sounds like your best album yet.
CP: Thank you.. I do feel like it's my best work yet, for sure. I hope I say that every time I make a new record.
M & M: Have you played any drums lately? Do you still perform at drum camp every year?
CP: I play cajon pretty often on my shows, and sometimes on others' shows as well. The Drum Fantasy Camp is indeed happening again this year, with a slew of all stars, I'll be there performing!
M & M: You've been beautifully eloquent in your writings about Prince and Michael Jackson. What other musicians would you say are at that level of inspiration to you?
CP: Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, and Carol King are top tier for sure. There are many others, but these are way high on the list. Prince's death in particular shook me deeply, I still feel a sense of unease that he's no longer in the physical world, doing what he does. The depth of Prince is all other artists, performers, writers and producers enveloped into one human. We were blessed to have him.
M & M: You just completed some successful touring in Europe and the UK, tell us about your touring plans for the coming months.
CP: I'll be doing some shows in the states, all dates will be on my website. There's a possibility of Europe again in the fall, and we're already looking at festivals for next year.
M & M: What other projects are you planning for the rest of this year and next?
CP: I've got a few things in the works, including recording new songs with Ari Hest for our group Bluebirds of Paradise. And I'll be writing for my next record as well. I have a bunch of new songs that I'm excited to record, and a covers project that will be fun to tackle. Oh, and always finding time to stand on my head now and then.
Chrissi often posts her yoga poses (photo by Chrissi Poland).
Watch the music video for "Shaky Man".
Chrissi had some superb session musicians from the NY area play on Waking Hour.
Chrissi Poland - Vocals, keyboards on all tracks, grand piano on track 1 & 5, cajon and shaker on track 1
Matt Beck - acoustic and electric guitars, lap steel on all tracks except 7
Oli Rockberger - B3 organ on tracks 2, 3 & 5, keyboard on track 2
Will Lee - bass on tracks 1, 4, 6 & 7
Matt Rubano - bass on tracks 2, 3 & 5
Gene Lake - drums on tracks 2, 3 & 5
Doug Yowell - drums on tracks 1, 4 & 6
Ari Hest - additional vocals on tracks 1 & 6
Jamie Siegel - additional guitar on track 8
"At the end of the tracking day, we took a little group photo. From left to right, Gene Lake, me, Matt Rubano, and producer Jamie Siegel. I’m a bit giddy because Gene is a long time favorite drummer of mine, and I’m kind of freaking out excited right here." (PledgeMusic)
All Songs Written By Chrissi Poland (c)2016 BMI
Produced by Jamie Siegel and Chrissi Poland
Arranged by Chrissi Poland
Executive Producer - Greg Williamson
Engineered and Mixed by Jamie Siegel at Mission Sound and JRock Studios, NYC
Mastered by Scott Hull at Masterdisk, NYC
Album Artwork, Layout by Martin Rivas
Album Photography by Sandrine Lee
Bonus videos: On June 22nd, Chrissi took an all-star band of musicians and singers and performed an album release show at Joe's Pub in New York City. It was a fabulous performance of the Waking Hour album in it's entirety, in track order. After all the thank you's and shout out's, Chrissi treated the crowd to three songs from her Reckless Ones EP. Concluding with an amazing version of "Possible".
09. Tether Me (Live at Joe's Pub)
10. Love Fool (Live at Joe's Pub)
11. Possible (Live at Joe's Pub)
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