Featured Guest is where I interview actors, authors, artists, musicians and various types of really cool people I have crossed paths with over the years. Today we had the honor and the pleasure of having an interview with the one and only brilliant artist Karyn Crisis. Karyn and I discuss many interesting and in depth topics from her life: music, painting, her spiritual work and interests, history, upcoming projects and more. Karyn is a true pioneer front woman in metal and an incredible artist in so many, many ways. I was really psyched to interview her and truly appreciate her taking the time to share her thoughts and experiences.
1.Hail Karyn how are you today and hope you are doing really well. You are known for many forms of art from painting to music to spiritual work. Let’s start with music. What inspired you to want to start a band and sing in your early days?
KARYN: Hi Gideon, I’m doing well, thank you for asking and thank you for your questions!
In my early days I loved to watch my mom play piano, dad play guitar and harmonica, and had aspirations to become a gypsy traveling around Europe with my violin. Instead, I found college radio and Chicago area record shops with great import sections and live venues in the city. I always liked music from the past, like folk, and also music on the cutting edge. From those early years, I always wanted to make music and be in a band, although I always referred to music as my “siren song” because it didn’t come easy to me…I should say, making music didn’t come easy, but my voice was already there waiting to come out.
2.Are you from New York originally? You have lived in California a long time now is that right?
KARYN: I’m originally from an Indiana town near Chicago. I lived in NYC for almost 11 years and moved to California in 2000. I moved to the Bay Area at the beginning of 2006.
3.What were some of the albums you listened to that inspired you the most? I know you liked industrial, experimental music styles like that.
KARYN: I suppose the most influential albums I listened to were: all of the early Neubauten vinyls, the first album by the Sugarcubes, all the very early Cocteau Twins, and some other random organic industrial music like Z’ev and Gerechtigikeits Liga and a Japanese noise band called Gerogerigegege (relying on metal scraps, bells and chimes, guitars rather than electronics), also many Wax Trax bands, British bands like Lush, the Cure, Irish folk music. I’d say in all those days Einstuerzende Neubauten’s early music and female ethereal vocals had the most impact on me. When I joined Crisis, my bandmates introduced me to a whole world of metal that was unknown to me, so that was exciting. I like a wide variety of metal, as long as I connect with it. Over the years I’ve listened to Dinosaur Junior as well as Behemoth, Triptykon, Celtic Frost, Fever Ray, Cult of Luna, Goira, Cattle Decapitation, Zola Jesus, Bjork, bands considered “local” like Earthbound and one-woman metal band Adore, Between the Buried and Me, binaural music,and I can also listen to Tibetan singing bows for hours. In recent years, the album that’s had the most impact on me is Wardruna’s Runaljod-Gap Var Ginnunga, and Ephel Duath’s “Through My Dog’s Eyes.”
4.Sometimes I wonder if you were an artist before you decided to sing in a band, perhaps you had been involved in other forms of art and music was the next step at that time? Did you paint a lot back then?
KARYN: Since I was very young I have been an artist. Art enabled me to communicate emotions and thoughts that I felt I couldn’t speak to other people about. Early life for me was like “how did I get here?” I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I played piano and violin, listened to the strangest music I could find on the radio (whatever had minor notes), and visited the Art Institute of Chicago as often as I could. The less structure music had and the more emotions it expressed, the more it made sense to me. Art and music have always worked together in my perspective. I preferred researching bands in import magazines at bookshops in Chicago and going to the museums to socializing.
I’ve always liked using art together with words, images and text. I was a fan of early art zines and created my own. Sometimes I wrote plays,and I loved making things and selling them, always learning something new that pushed me outside of my introverted comfort zone. My passion and the light in life for me was artwork and seeking answers to life’s biggest questions: questions about life and death and what else is out there. I have made music by myself since I was very young , began recording with 4 tracks in middle school, and eventually joined my first band, Crisis, in 1993. It was a very big deal for me to be able to sing in front of other people.
Prior to joining Crisis, during my one year of art college, I brought my guitar and bass cabinet to my dorm to rehearse my music that I eventually played at open mic nights at The Gargoyle Mechanique on Avenue B, in New York City’s Alphabet City. But at first, I wasn’t able to sing out loud in front of people. So a friend of mine, a bass player, helped me out by sitting in my room (with door closed) while I, plugged in, screamed out loud in the kitchen. He could hear me this way, but not see me. He was very supportive and started playing me Diamanda Galas and King Crimson and Slint to try and inspire me to sing more. As an introvert, it’s been tough for me to share my voice with people. I began by doing that with art. I suppose with art I was making my voice visible but I could still hide behind the image. With music, there is no hiding, it’s full exposure.
5.I first became aware of your music in the mid 90’s, I think it was 1994. You are one of the great pioneer front women in metal and deserve much recognition for being so original then and now in the heavy music genre. I was really impressed by your stage presence and approach to singing in Crisis, so extremely original yet it seemed very natural to you.
KARYN: Thank you, When I joined Crisis I found myself alone in the music scene. There weren’t other women playing extreme music that was emotionally expressive live onstage. I wasn’t expecting to find myself in a man’s world, considering much of the music I listened to growing up had female vocalists, or at least I was aware of many. People often asked me how I got my vocal style, or how to get a growl going, but it was not contrived in any way for me-just emotions responding to music coming out as textures. I just “expressed,” and that’s the way it came out. It’s still that way-I’m more concerned with how the vocals “feel” to me, the way they sound is part of it, but it’s more about the feeling of the sounds and getting them to feel right. But even that process is about me helping the song that’s already written itself in my mind to be expressed. I’m just a conduit.
6. In your artistic work do you prefer to draw by hand, paint traditionally or how do you approach it?
KARYN: I am largely a painter, I never could get drawing down the way I wanted it: like the classical artists. I have painted in watercolor, ink, acrylic, worked in sculpture, photography and video and even in super 8 film! I have, until 2008, just painted and let come out what came out. I’ve never been traditional artist who works things out in sketchbook prior to making the final piece. I see an idea and strive to make it happen. Most of the time it worked out perfectly as I envisioned the pieces, but not always. I wanted to up my skills at a certain point and couldn’t seem to make that happen on my own. In late 2010 I discussed things with one of my Spirit Guides, deciding to devote my work to witches and shamanism, asked her for help. Through synchronicity, she landed a magazine with an article on the Italian Verdaccio technique, and that became my way to start every painting, and this system advanced my skill level. Somehow, this technique just made sense to me and it didn’t feel like something I had to “learn.” Additionally, she would help me paint in-the-moment: as we created my paintings together in my mind’s eye, many of them had items I didn’t know how to paint well, such as fabrics or animals, but she would tell me to just “keep the brush on canvas” and I would channel the paintings. I had to mix the paint and put my brush to the canvas, but they “appeared” more than I made them happen. In fact, I really don’t remember painting them so much. If you look at my artwork website, karyncrisis.net, you can see a definite change starting in 2011 that lends a consistency to the images and colors. I’ve always been a huge fan of Italian religious art, so I guess it’s no surprise to find that technique working for me.
I heard that you do not listen to music while painting. Do you like to paint in silence?
KARYN: Yes, I paint in silence. In general in life I don’t listen to much music. That sounds weird when I say it aloud to people. It’s not that I don’t like music, it’s that I’m listening to all the sounds in-between the daily life noises.
I tried to paint to music, and I have listened to Gojira, Behemoth, and Zu while paining to get my energy up when when feeling tired, but I find that music is distracting and can affect the painting and move it into unintended directions. I found listening to music distracting, even when painting 15 hours a day for solo shows. Channeling requires deep connection to consciousness, and music has its own energy channeled (intentionally or not) by its creators, so I prefer to keep things separate. There are many times, like when I go through my jogging phases, where I listen to Between The Buried and Me or Behemoth and feel creatively inspired, but for me, I understand very well how different energies affect me, so I try to compartmentalize when I utilize them for most impact.
Are there times of day or year you find most inspiring or does inspiration strike when it comes?
KARYN: I find myself naturally ready to focus and channel and accomplish a lot in the early morning until 3-4pm, where I then need a break. Those morning hours to me are precious. I supposed that’s the energy of the day anyway: the day starts, the sun comes out and grows in “strength,” and as the afternoon and evening approach, the light dims and the energy is about slowing down and going within in a different way.
I always find the fall most creatively exciting, because I feel an energy reaching out towards me and my creativity, as if the whole world is vibrating around me, playing creatively with me. Even though I know the Universe is always reading to meet me creatively, I love the feeling of that in the fall.
I find myself inspired at different times in terms of projects. I can go a year or two (or ten) without painting, but when it’s time to paint, the paintings come out and fast! “Salem’s Wounds” was like that as well- I hadn’t regularly rehearsed singing for 7 years before singing on that album. I did have some rehearsals for the Ephel Duath ep “On Death and Cosmos” and album “Hemmed By Light Shaped By Darkness” but in all those years, I sang for perhaps 3 months in total. Yet, when it was time to record “Salem’s Wounds,” my whole vocal range was there-and more..I just reached and it was there.
7. I have always told people writing songs were like word pictures, telling stories, and painting audio pictures. Do you feel like your songs and your paintings are one in the same?
KARYN: I feel like they are just methods of expression and come out as they appear be it a song, poem, painting, instrumental piece, etc.
I think the writing process is different for everyone, and that’s what makes music so exciting. Songs are methods of expression, as you said, that convey not only words and pictures but also thoughts and emotions. It’s an art form that conveys such a full physical and energetic expression that we’ve found to be truly universal.
8. Are there artists in history you were inspired by? Some of your favorites?
KARYN: When I was in grade school, the artists who impacted me most were: Van Gogh, Anselm Kiefer, and Matt Mahurin, and all Italian art like Caravaggio and the Byzantine religious art, and Frida Kahlo. Those inspirations have remained constant. I tried to get into modern art, in terms of what is getting publicity, but so much of art these days isn’t for me. It doesn’t say anything. Looking at Juxtapoz magazine I find many artists just paint the same portrait for 5-10 years, never developing beyond painting that same face and shoulders or the same landscape. When I was showing in galleries I spent some time going to shows, trying to get to know the art scene, but all I found was that I didn’t really want to know the art scene, at least in the bay area. I do like to support other people in their creative endeavors, and I find that the most interesting work is found outside of the spotlight and the artists that galleries take on are predictable and often lacking in emotions that touch me. It’s interesting that as much as I find the business of creativity interesting even in its commercial form, the works that resonate with me longer are more grounded.
9. What are some of your paintings that feel are the great representations of your creativity?
KARYN: Oh my, this is a tough question for me. I leave the past in the past, even if the past is just a year ago. So I’ll have to take a look at my paintings and get back to you. Once I create something, I truly let it go.
And I suppose I feel that each painting I create represents my creativity well at that time, and my creativity changes all the time. I made a decision in the 2000s when I started painting again, that each painting would matter-I wouldn’t waste time on sketching or paintings that weren’t working out, that I’d only release pieces that I felt mattered…so on those terms I’d have to say each one was the greatest representation of a certain creativity at that time.
10.After the breakup of Crisis you took a break from music and then you began making music with Ephel Duath. What effect did taking the break in making music have on your personally? Did you step back to refresh or simply just follow a different chapter in your life at the time?
KARYN: I wanted to take a deeper journey into my self, in a metaphysical way. Beyond the question “who am I” I wanted to know who I was beyond my career, beyond my name, beyond what I identified myself with at the time, beyond what I thought I already knew. So I didn’t look for a human teacher, I asked for a Spirit Teacher. I engaged with many spiritual practices and began to make sense of my life from an energetic/Spirit view point.
11. I know you mentioned you connect with the drums when singing more than you do with guitars and chords initially. I think from what I see in your work this totally makes sense as you approach it from a more shamanic and tribal point of view which would be more drum based to begin with. A very fascinating statement. That totally makes sense to me. How did you approach the new music you make with your solo album?
KARYN: The music was written as layers of guitars, an occasional effect here and there. “Goddess of Light” had electronic drums written by Davide, but other than that, he presented things to me without drums. This was a huge change for me, because for 13 years in Crisis, I responded to the drums to create all my vocal patterns and rhythms..I only listened to guitars for an atmosphere or vibe. I was like a drummer myself, in a way. So with these GOTW songs, I had to start with no drums at all, which is perhaps how I came up with choir vocals in the songs.they set a percussive back line, like chanting, which is also present in occult ritual: the magical voice, the power of repetitions, to act as a mantra, to draw you in. The songs can be unyielding rhythmically, and I wanted them to be that way: you are confronted by the tempo, where it takes you emotionally, and you either feel the movement or you resist that inner pull.
12.Now you have the new record “Gospel of the Witches” on Century Media records. The music began when you were collaborating with your husband Davide Tiso in Tuscany Italy?
KARYN: The music began initially in Tuscany, Italy, but the songs for GOTW really took shape several years after that. This album was about “sensing” our way into what we wanted to express, and we wanted to express this world of hidden knowledge and the truth of the Ancient Ways of Italian Witches and Druids. However, that directive came later. So while we did develop a specific concept, all along the way we had to intuitively find those creative forms of expression that “felt” right: whose existence is also in that “hidden” place, a realm hidden from the naked eye. There were specific goals we had in mind along the way: creatively, philosophically, devotionally, and Davide and I also had personal creative achievements we wanted to make: he is always topping the emotional pinnacles he reached before, always honing his musical story-telling abilities, and I wanted to express new aspects of my voice.
Century Media was bought by Sony, and GOTW is one of 11 bands to be dropped. I explained signing to Century Media in the midst of a crowd-funding effort in that they allowed us to be able to press the vinyls and cds and get the word out through press. Through the generosity of fans, we were able to raise all the money needed to record and pay for all the various studios, and the recording of guitars and my vocals and mixing and mastering by Jamie King…but then there was still the physical product to be pressed and all the handmade items to be made. So the label literally was the final funder. They helped the album get out there in the world and into the hands of our dedicated fans. It’s disappointing that so many changes happened at Century Media-the man and longtime fan of my work who signed GOTW to the label left, then the label was bought, and their corporate vision didn’t see value in GOTW I suppose.
So for the next album we’ll have to start over.
13. What brought you back to music again and how do you feel at this time?
KARYN: After working as a Healer for several years I felt drawn to make music again, but I didn’t expect, at that time, for the music to sound like it has, and then didn’t expect to find myself giving voice to the history of witches and their genocide in Europe. This is the album I’m most proud of, the one that moves me the most. I’m excited to make more, to find out what will come. I am a devoted fan of Davide’s guitar work and songwriting style, and I’ve been overjoyed to work with him. This process has been full of “supernatural” experiences, as many people would term it, filled with visions and visitations and channeling and wonderful synchronicities and so many times that reminded me I’m not alone in the Universe. Most important of all for me is that it’s a coming -together of Davide and I creatively.
14. What inspired the lyrics on the songs and keeps your passion for music alive during this time in your journey?
KARYN: This album is about the melting pot of pagan practices in Italy in medieval times and even before, and specifically of all the “witches” in Italy, their rituals, Goddess Spirit Teachers, and secrets of life and death.
15. I know you have studied the Japanese art of Reiki. I studied the Chinese art of Chi Kung (Qi Gong) and also I did study Reiki for awhile, where and when did you get into Reiki?
KARYN: In 2006, after I had studied Buddhism, Gnosticism, Affirmations,I experienced a healing crisis: crusty, painful eczema on my swollen eyelids. I went to the dermatologist out of desperation after having to hot-soak my eyelids apart each morning, but was turned away. The doctor said it was too sensitive an area to give medicine for. So I went home, cried, and turned on the computer. I found a script for Guided Imagery Meditation for “Meeting Your Inner Guide.” I tried it out, met several Guides, and 4 days later I had healed without a trace my eye issue. From there, I began to meditate daily, healing many of my own issues from the past. Then one night, when setting into bed with my cat, a cone of bright, opaque white light started forming in the darkness and moved towards me. I opened and closed my eyes several times, thinking perhaps I was just imagining it, but it was coming even close. I thought perhaps it was death and I screamed “I’m not ready yet,” or something to that affect. I soon fell asleep, and awoke knowing that I had to learn “Reiki,” even though I didn’t know what it was. That morning I began to research, and soon after I received my first attunement in San Diego, followed by all the rest.
16.Growing up you said you saw spirits and had supernatural experiences. As you grew you sometimes has premonitions of how you artistic work would manifest like your performances and recordings. That is amazing you asked spirits or angels of four directions to protect your van, protect you from dubious people, etc. It seems like it was rising with you your whole life, very amazing. These forces came to you for a reason in your life and then seemed to guide you along the path you needed. Does that surround accurate?
KARYN: I suppose that’s a way to say it. Ever since I was a child, the spirit world was just as real to me as the physical world. “Ghosts” and Spirit Guides were just as defined as people as flesh and blood people were. I didn’t learn the technicalities of all this until several years ago, but that only made everything come together and make sense in a larger way. Training also gave me the ability to have an operational command of Mediumship and to turn “off and on” the traffic coming towards me.
17. Tell us about your mediumship work and workshops in California?
KARYN: I teach a variety of classes and workshop intensives that are about developing and understanding the psychic senses. I also teach the practice of Mediumship, or being a “medium” between flesh and blood people and spirit world people; the art of channeling. My classes dispel superstitions and tv misinformation and romantic notions, helping people understand the naturalness to all of what us called “supernatural.”
18.It’s true that sometimes spiritual work can come in the masks that appeal to the individual the most, what they can relate to or appeals to them. Are there any in particular you feel most comfortable with as spirit changes form? I appreciated knowing you said that because I have my own versions of experiences like that all over my life spiritually.
I’m not exactly sure what you mean. My particular purpose with the Spirit world is being able to see beyond form into consciousness. At an early age I learned to rely on all my psychic senses, whether dealing with spirit people or flesh -and -blood people to see beyond physical form. Physical form has a lot of information about a person, but not nearly all information. In the spirit world, spirit people can take any form; often they want to be recognized through form (such as a passed on relative wanting to let a flesh and blood relative know they are still alive by “appearing” wearing favorite accessories, specific haircut and posture, etc but also sense of humor, choice words, etc) or a Guide will take a form that’s accessible to whomever they are communicating with (so if you think of angels as white light with wings, they will know that about you and therefore present themselves in a way that is understandable to you)..sometimes there are spirit people, such as “ghosts” which are just people who haven’t completed death transition and are therefore relegated to astral plane who lose their form (through devolvement-like criminal minds) or try to mask their form (such as shadow people or other “bad guys”), or people who have killed themselves and whose energy is so filled with regret and turmoil and upset that when they try to present their form it looks distorted…It’s my purpose to see beyond all those distractions into the spirit of a person, into the consciousness and the intent there. So I’ve experienced a very wide range of spirit people.
19.Do you feel like in the studio and on stage you raise yourself to a higher vibration?
20.So what does the future hold and do you have any last words for your fans and listeners?
KARYN: Do any of us know what the future holds? I choose expansiveness for myself, and I have some ideas of what that would look like, but ultimately I cannot know on a larger scheme of things.
In terms of smaller goals, there’s a new GOTW album in the works now, I’m about to take trip to Italy to complete research on-location for a book I’m writing about Italy’s Medicine Women and Witches.
Really fantastic, look forward to reading your book and hearing some new music. Have an awesome trip. Thank you Karyn for taking the time for the interview today. Fascinating talk and wishing you well in all your endeavors. Take care and stay in touch.
THANK YOU for your support Gideon! Warmest regards - Karyn