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INTERVIEW: Crystal Sister

By: Morgan Y. Evans
September 2, 2015

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L.A.'s Crystal Sister's Sonya Bender sings the semi-desperate "Inside My Heart" line "talk to me/torture me/read me like poetry...play on my strings til they break" like she is in the dead center of the experience, seducing the listener to the near breaking point, riding the line between like the most positive comedown music. You feel like she's strong enough to be all right in the end but the emotion is still getting her, and thus the listener.


To be vulgar, it's like the equivalent of doing the last toot of your really good blow and then switching to mellow hash to brace yourself for the next day. I haven't done blow since 1998, but this is some serious next day or late night comfort music.


Smart ass comparisons aside, the aesthetic is kind of Gold Dust Woman-y without any train wreck drama vibes. Yes, please.


Bender manages to open and free your mind via a chillwave and classic late 80's R&B twist up that is one of my favorite go to EPs lately when I just need to feel like I feel amazing and cry at the same time. Imagine the best vibes of The Rolling Stone's slinky slow disco song "Heaven" morphed into synth drenched power assertion/reclamation from a heart on her sleeve yet mysterious mega talent. Like Jesus & Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey" spaciousness was filtered through the female voice of a honey drenched broken heart and the dream was real and we all found a land where romantic Tiffany pop and dramatic powerhouse Kate Bush vibes could be friends and do brunch.


The layering Sonya brings to the record, produced with Daniel Luttrell, is a revelation of indie rock scene hip lo-fi, the sounds just good enough yet a bit vagabond blended with some true pixie hi-fi sparkle and classic 80's or 70's references for the ultimate "cool" experience. I love that Grimes and Lana Del Rey toured together and think next time they should bring little Crystal Sis along.


Please, please, please let's all make Sonya and friends famous so they can release lesser talents in the daily media barrage of pop culture and save us all! It's sexy time! With Gold fucking sparkles!



Spacelab: Hey, how are you? Glad I got ahold of you. Sorry, I was sorting antiques.


Sonya: I'm Good. Your parents own an antique store?


Spacelab: They collected a lot of, I don't want to say "clutter" cuz some of it is amazing, stuff over forty years.


Sonya: Yeah, that's a lot of stuff.


Spacelab: Yeah, it's a lot of mental mojo to sort through it all...but I love your band and have been listening to you a lot lately. I haphazardly discovered you and it was so cool and dreamy. Indie pop. Especially "Inside My Heart".


Sonya: I'm glad you like us! That's my personal favorite song of the stuff we've released so far. "Inside My Heart". So it's cool when people connect to that one, 'cuz it's my favorite.


Spacelab: I love the structure and little descending pattern in part of the melody.


Sonya: It starts high and the chorus goes low so when I wrote it with Daniel we called it our "backwards song." Instead of start low and ascend to a chorus. It's an interesting move. Just personally that one emotionally, every time sing it or hear the recording I'm nostalgic.


Spacelab: It could almost have a bittersweet jazz feeling. Or like that Stones song they used in Vanilla Sky, haha. Nowadays you get to these bright, shitty circus dance music choruses. Yours is sensual and dreamy.


Sonya: I'm glad you like the subtlety. This is a project that was a studio project for awhile. That was the first song we collaborated on. You write songs and start with one idea and sometimes it's a totally different trip. The choruses were the same but the verses were totally different.


Spacelab: That's cool. I find old notebooks of mine of stuff that was two different songs eventually that were at first mashed into one song.


Sonya: Yeah. It's fun to go back and clean out my computer listening to scratch tracks. See the kernels that turned into actual songs. I've been finding my sound for a few years and organically it became more of a band project. Which has been rad cuz we'v been able to play out. Which is newer. It was studio for so long.


Spacelab: I think it's great to wood shed it like that. It's also good to throw yourself to the wolves live and just go there. I was discussing the pros and cons of both with my bandmates in GET OUT. the other day at practice. How do you want to present this from the heart and on stage?


Sonya: Yeah and every show we've done has been a learning experience. A lot of the music is sensitive and I feel exposed. Doing that with this material has been raw and vulnerable but really cool.


Spacelab: Sometimes quieter material has more power to it. Sometimes people go out and are like ,"I just wanna dance at the club!" but with you it's like, wooosh. I can imagine the music sucking them into the stage and just commanding this attentiveness to the dreamy but plaintive soundscape. It's a big release of energy but hits in these flowing waves.


Sonya: Yeah. For sure. It's funny cuz even cell phone recordings it almost sounds chill and effortless , but it's vocally demanding. Even ones that are rocking, music at its' best looks like it is performed with ease. Like, my friend plus oned me and I saw Boy George.


Spacelab: Yay! I drank champagne with BG once at Beige. Woot!


Sonya: He's amazing. He was playing with Culture Club at The Greek Theater. He blew me away. I have chills just talking about it. Powerful, effortless and graceful yet required so much skill. It must take so much practice for him to have gotten up there and be so flawless. Even if it sounds chill or easy, he was up there working his ass of and it looks like just breathing. That's what I aspire to.


Spacelab: Last week I did this side carpentry gig and was talking to a friend. We were sheetrocking. Working hard. He asked me about a show I'd done and I Was talking about, um... pacing yourself on stage so you don't fucking faint and how even sometimes when it is mellow you can still be putting out such big mega orgone waves of karmic, personal psychic fucking energy or soaking it in from the crowd. Even if you are singing fuckin' Bon Jovi covers! My friend was like, "Yeah, it must be hard to get up there!"


Sonya: (laughing) You expend a lot! After you perform all this energy you're still amped up. I'm sure you can relate. You're probably so physically tired but you stay up til 5 a.m. anyway. It's something I'm so glad to start t be doing with this music.


Spacelab: Had you taken a break from it?


Sonya: Yeah, um...just cuz I was really in the development mode. A body of music that fit this vision of music that I'd had for a few years...also organically coming on, just...coming across band members. I just feel they are so sweet and perfect. One is a dear friend who has been around and been my friend and wanted to help. He was a ground floor live band member and through him we met a guitarist that brought the project a new life. Tada and Chandler. They are great and we're building rapport and stage energy. You can sing all day and collaborate in a studio and I love that, but that feeling where you are on stage and look over at your guitarist and are in it...I'd almost forgotten about it.


Spacelab: Related but different beast. Gaining that trust with them too so you can move like Eurythmy, a group movement. It's sacred, I think. Pretty crazy.


Sonya: Totally! And their instincts are where mine are at. I'm grateful. There's so many different cool bands playing every night in every club. L.A. is oversaturated with cool music and art. We've been playing around the Silver Lake/Echo Park area. We played our first Hollywood show at Dirty Laundry. The cool thing about building yourself into the community is that you meet bands you want to play with or see places you'd like to frequent. At Dirty Laundry there was this guy Ben hired to do projection and we vibed so well with his images and the way he changed the images along with our set, like an instrument. We super vibed and he was into doing something with us again. I think that's the coolest part of the L.A. community. Meeting friends and collaborators while you find your place. It's cool to know that spirit is still alive.


Spacelab: Is your last name really Bender?


Sonya: (laughing) Yeah, it's real!


Spacelab: That's probably a really annoying question (laughing)


Sonya: (laughing) Yeah, my parents are also Benders. It was a longer Russian name that was shortened at Ellis Island. I don't actually know what the full name was and I don't think my parents do either. It's astonishing to think something that important could be lost in a generation.


Spacelab: I'm Estonian and my father's last name is a composite of two family names Vink and Lainas that they hyphenated. It was a wild time.


Sonya: I love hearing people's lineage. I know we are Russian and German. It is Bender but it was also something else in addition.


Spacelab: More Russian sounding. I use my mother's last name Evans because most of my name Morgan Ywain Evans is very Welsh.


Sonya: I have a dear friend who is adopted and... I really do connect with a lot of Russian culture. With her we always guess her lineage cuz she doesn't know. I always wonder if on some deep level I would connect with the things and culture of my heritage and be drawn to people who shared a similar lineage if I didn't know my background.


Spacelab: That's interesting. DNA.


Sonya: A subconscious level. I'm always curious about the way we connect to things.


Spacelab: Some of it is cosmic. I know a time I hadn't talked to my cousins in years who lived in Texas and I grew up in Woodstock, NY amongst the hippies. They are near Dallas. But when we finally talked again, we all loved The Melvins and Slayer! It was destined! I was like ,"We must be related!"


Sonya: That's cool.


Spacelab: Did you ever have Deja Vu or a past life feeling when you met someone and kind of know they are important to you (note: Hi, Darla)? I love that feeling.


Sonya: There's a super Russian area of L.A. and I go there and cat sit. And Whenever I'm walking out in the street in that area of Hollywood, these little old Russian women, they just know. I've had them just sit down and start speaking Russian to me and eating next to me at Whole Foods. If you know L.A., people are weird and spatially aware. It's kind of rare someone would know they could just come and sit at your table and that I'd be fine with it.

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