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Lewis In Her Own Words
By Zik Jackson
Crystal Lewis is one of those
unique artists whose perspective on the Christian music industry is not
only enlightening, but refreshing. Having eschewed signing with a major
label, She and her husband/producer Brian Ray embarked on the adventure
of a lifetime --- running their own record label. The freedom of artistry
and the requisite business savvy displayed in Lewisí work shines as an
example of what can be if an artist makes these bold moves.
Tollbooth: Your ďMoreĒ video looked like a lot of fun to shoot, kind of like a movie-style trailer.
Lewis: Oh my gosh. It was so fantastic. We had the greatest time doing that. We talked about making a silly little movie out of it later on, but weíll see.
Tollbooth: What was the songwriting process like? How long did it take to put together?
Lewis: Not long. I really enjoyed doing this album because of the fact that we only did three new songs and the two remixes. It came together so fast because we werenít, putting together twelve, fifteen songs. So it was really a nice break to do a record like that.
Songwriting is weird; I would assume for everyone, Iím sure Iím not the only one. But there are times when songs come together real quick. You come up with an idea, you write the song, itís done. There are other times where youíre working on [it], youíve got a phrase or a paragraph or something that youíve been mulling over in your head for months, but you canít seem to get it to come together, and then finally it does. So, I think it was pretty similar for this record there was a couple songs where I had just kind of been thinking about the idea for a while then finally we got it and it came together. And then ďLike a ChildĒ (the Chris Lizotte song) is one that he had sent to me.
Tollbooth: Who is Chris Lizotte?
Lewis: He is a couple of different things. One, he is my brother-in-law. He happens to be married to my husbandís sister. So weíve been relatives for quite a while, but weíve also been friends for longer than that when I was sixteen and I was with Blue Yonder he was in an L.A. band, so we would just see each other from doing mutual shows and things like that. So weíve known each other for a very long time, but he has done several different albums on his own and heís just a really great writer.
Tollbooth: It seems like you do quite a bit with your family, with your husband producing, your brother-in-law writing songs for you, and your kids in the video. Itís like a family thing.
Lewis: Yes, definitely. And weíre just very into long-term relationships. There are so many other people that we surround ourselves with not just people that are music people but just socially or people weíve known forever for as long as we can remember.
Tollbooth: That makes it feel a lot tighter too.
Lewis: Definitely. I think whatís really great about it too is the fact that for me, when I have my friends that are around me now that Iíve known since I was in high school, they just know a different part of me. They know me for who I was, who I am, rather than the façade or the person that other people *think* they see, but donít really. You know what I mean?
Tollbooth: Sure, yeah, the persona, the image.
Lewis: Yeah, exactly. And itís just so nice to have people that you can feel totally comfortable around and know that theyíre there for the long haul. Theyíre not there for any other reason.
Tollbooth: What was it like for you to start out as a teenager? Youíve been ďin the business,Ē so to speak, for quite a while. You started out pretty young.
Lewis: Itís been a roller coaster, really. Starting out that young, at sixteen, I donít think I had this mindset of, O.K., now Iím on my way. Here we go. I wasnít thinking that Ö it just sort of happened. Each thing that took place kind of just took place. It wasnít me going, O.K., now Iím on my way. Here we go. I wasnít thinking that, it just sort of happened. Each thing that took place kind of just took place. It wasnít me going, O.K., whatís the next step I can take to further my career. Each step along the way was like, I donít know. Is this time for me? Am I to take this step? But now, here fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years later, we still sort of have that mindset. Itís always, O.K., God, NOW what are you doing?
Tollbooth: When did you know this was your calling, this was for you, and this is what you were going to put your life into?
Lewis: After my first solo record. Between my first and second solo records I was dating my [future] husband. I was seventeen. I had done a record with Blue Yonder, I had done Hi-Tops musical before that. I had recorded my first solo album. I was away at college and I was thinking, What am I doing here? I was of the mindset that I needed to have something to fall back on in case the music thing didnít work out. As Brian and I started talking marriage and things like that, I just began to realize that this is something I guess Iím supposed to pursue. After we got married (I was nineteen) and I had done my second record, Brian and I both heard from God. We knew some of the stuff God wanted us to do together. It wasnít O.K., Brian, you just stay [working at a record label] while Iím going to keep traveling and doing this. It was revelation from the Lord that, like being a pastor and a pastorís wife, weíre in this together, side by side.
Tollbooth: Having each other gives it strength, but it sounds like it brings its own new kinds of challenges trying to do a record label and your own music ministry together.
Lewis: Absolutely. Itís hard! Marriage is hard by itself; itís a challenge. It obviously compounds and complicates things when you not only live together and have that part of your life together, but you have a business life too and all of its stuff. Itís hard for this one person sort of in the forefront too, because then, you have to balance that out. Am I making this decision for me or him or us?
Tollbooth: And then you add in children and that gives it even more complexity, right?
Lewis: Oh my gosh. Talk about a roller coaster.
Tollbooth: How do you balance it?
Lewis: I donít know. I just do. Seriously, I donít know. It just works out. I have moments when I think, sorry, I canít do any more. Iím done. And itís usually the moments where God says, ďHere. Let me help you with that.Ē
Iím learning to rest in Him and see things with new eyes. See things differently. I think itís very easy to get caught up in the ďcanítísĒ and ďIím incapable of this.Ē And we are. Itís because itís Godís strength that weíre able to accomplish anything at all. So I know that when I am able to balance everything, itís not perfectly, wonderfully balanced. I think about the circus and itís not like weíre all in beautiful costumes making this wonderful, incredibly miraculous balancing act. To us, weíre barely holding on for dear life. But He does it. It is in His strength that weíre able to keep our heads above water but enjoy splashing around in it.
Tollbooth: how have you been able over fifteen, seventeen years to stay relevant as an artist? It seems like you always have something new to say.
Lewis: Thatís absolutely zero credit to me. Thatís just God I guess. I think part of it is he allowed me to start so young. As a young person, you think you know everything and as you get older you realize that you donít for me, Godís given so much grace and been so merciful to me to allow me to realize I donít know everything. And to allow me the desire to learn, and to want to know more, and to want to know Him better. I think that just comes with growth and with maturity and with life experience; getting married, having kids, having a business, having a career, talking to people, reading letters. All of that comes into play and it all affects your heart, and out of our heart our thoughts come. I think itís Godís doing. Itís allowing me to mature and grow and listen.
Tollbooth: Do you have any time to spend studying scripture, or where do your inspirations come for your songwriting?
Lewis: All over the place. Weíre really happy to have finally found a home church and so itís neat that there is an inspiration. Although thereís nothing like your home church, we travel enough and sit through enough church services abroad that inspiration comes from that, too. There are great speakers and pastors and teachers all over the country and the world. So Iíve been really fortunate to get to hear a lot of different people speak, and I get ideas from that. And I just watch my kids and see God. I watch my kids and see me, and understand God better as a parent. Iím not an extremely disciplined, regimented person, so my quiet times, my study times, I kind of happen upon them. Theyíre not scheduled in, but definitely [my inspirations come from] scripture and just being quiet.
Tollbooth: How about on the musical side? Who have some of your musical influences been and what do you meditate on musically that goes into your songwriting?
Lewis: I am deeply inspired by creativity, when I see other people being creative. One thing thatís interesting is all the guys that played on the __More__ album and are on the video. Their influence on me over the past couple of years has been wonderful. I continue to listen to the same people I listened to when I was growing up, mainly. I have a long list of people whose names begin with ďSĒ for some odd reason. Itís unintentional. Well, Chaka Kahn doesnít begin with ďSĒ, but Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sting, Sade, those people have been a continual influence on me musically. Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson have been major influences over the years. Over the last two and a half years, it is way more eclectic. Bjork has become a favorite and Radiohead, of course. Just letting the buys in the band tell me, ďO.K., listen to this,Ē because they have these bizarre bands that no one has heard of that they just love. I love, love, LOVE jazz.
Thereís such a preoccupation
with pop right now, which is not entirely bad. Thereís a creative force
somewhere in there to write the songs. Youíve got somebody behind the board
making up things. I have a total respect for that because, having spent
many years in the studio in close proximity with people who do that for
a living, I totally respect the creative process.