Christina Cramer: Beautiful Genius
The Upstart Seattle indie band In Cahoots is lead by guitarist singer song writer Christina Crammer. The group recently released a new EP on Critical Sun Recordings made a second trip to SWSX and did a west coast tour. We sat down with Christina over coffee to learn more about the power house vocalist and her great band.
Rick J Bowen: Hello Christina.
Christina Cramer: Hello .welcome to Starbucks, Cheers.
RB: Can we start by getting more of your back story, your web site bio only gives us a little: saying you grew up in a small town, are classically trained, and now you’re a rock star. Ok, fill in the gaps.
CC: I grew up on Mercer Island, which is the small town, that doesn’t really count, but I spent a lot of time in the south with my mom. We would go down for summers to South Carolina and Georgia and be with the southern people. My mom and her family are very southern and conservative. She put me in children’s choirs and church choir, where I learned about singing. I learned early on I wasn’t good at sports. I hid my soccer shoes because I loved to go to choir right on through high school. I went to Cornish for jazz studies briefly and I loved it, but I got a backup singing gig and I had to drop out.
RB: You had to drop out of music school to become a musician?
CC: They had work study programs, but at the time this was to Rock and Roll and not a part of the curriculum. So I sang back up for (a well known artist who cannot be named) she had a solo record out and she went on a small tour for that and I did some shows. That got me into rock and roll.
RB: What? Embarrassing not awesome?
CC: My first show was at the Hollywood Bowl, my first real show ever, opening for Jane’s Addiction with her and she yelled at me the whole time. Telling me I was off key, you suck, blah blah; she was raging. Someone put a bootleg of the show and I found it way later and was like “oh no” but now it’s a laugh.
RB: What did you learn about the industry doing that gig?
CC: Well I learned about copyrighting. I sent down some demos to L.A. of my song writing and singing and that is how I got hired, but I didn’t get paid and it was horrible. I learned how horrible everyone was in that scene. A couple years later she released a memoir with all her journals and hand written songs, and all of the songs I sent down were in the book. So I had to sue her. But we settled out of court on the copyright infringement and she paid for my college.
That shocked me, but then I thought “I must be pretty good if she want to steal my songs.” I learned that writing “copyright,” on a package doesn’t mean its copy written: go to the office of the United States government and pay the stupid thirty dollars to get your stuff done properly.
RB: What happened next?
CC: I kept writing songs and did a solo gig for a while. I would take my acoustic and plug it into a Marshall half stack at open mic night, also embarrassing. After a while I had amassed enough songs for a full set and a band. I was tired of lugging my half stack around by myself, so I found some people in the classified ads.
RB: So you went that route to build a band?
CC: Yeah and over the years I replaced everyone in the band a few times except one: Dave (Crossett) my drummer.
RB: The lineup has been three or four crazy guys, you, and Dave.
CC: Now we have a for-sure permanent lineup with a good vibe going on, with Brad Judy on guitar and Rich Huston on Bass.
RB: Was it In Cahoots from the beginning?
CC: I had a lineup called Hatteras; we played one show at The Crocodile and disbanded.
RB: Such a typical Seattle band story, you get it together and only last for one show.
CC: Yeah. We did it! And now it’s done. But I kept looking for more musicians. We practice in my mother’s basement and I love it.
RB: Wow in the conservative lady’s basement?
CC: Yeah, she loves it. She told off the neighbors when they complained about the noise.
RB: Ok typical rock journo question: where did the band name In Cahoots come from?
CC: It’s a southern thing. You know about small town gossip,”so and so is in cahoots with somebody else.” I had always heard that growing up and I though “that’s kinda catchy it would make a great band name.” I had all these bad band names planned out, so glad that one came along.
RB: You named the band, put the band together, write the songs, and you’re a woman leading the band. Do you feel like you’re a pioneer or following in the footsteps of your heroes?
CC: I feel like I’m very clumsily figuring it out. My band dudes are very busy, one of them is a Dentist, so I have to do all the booking and the business- all of that stuff is just on me. I find that some people that work in the music business can be douchey to ladies. I was called the “C” word by a big club guy. I have my guys behind me if something needs handling. I think I turn out to be the big bad witch sometimes to people, but if it were a guy doing it I would just be assertive. But to them I’m “bitchy.” I have to call more often and lay down the law more often to get stuff done than a guy would, that’s my perception.
RB: Have you ever thought about having other women in the band?
CC: I’d love to have other women in the band, that would be great. I’d love to work with other women musicians; I’m an admirer of all these women around town, and their strengths and talents.
RB: Is it just hard to find female instrumentalists?
CC: We looked for a bass player that was a woman for five months and couldn’t find one, so we moved on to the testosterone.
RB: Who is on your hero list?
CC: Oh, I love Joan Jett. I worship Rachael Flotard from Visqueen, that is my favorite band of all time. Neko Case, and Heart, we are covering “Crazy One You,” and I am discovering how bananas Ann Wilson’s voice is. Yeah all those women.
RB: You draw instant comparisons to Joan and Chrissie Hynde, maybe Debbie Harry.
CC: I hate Debbie Harry. I think she’s just cute and can’t sing very well.
RB: She is more like a female front vs. a band leader. Do you think there is a difference?
CC: Yes I do; a band leader is someone up front who is playing and singing, not just standing there as an advertisement of the music.
RB: And you’re a guitar player so that makes it easier, tell us about your gear.
CC: I play a Paul Reed Smith through a Fender Reverb.
RB: A PRS is a testosterone filled guitar.
CC: Yeah, but it’s a semi hollow body, so I think that adds some femininity to it.
RB: And it’s definitely not pink.
CC: No. I hate pink guitars. This happened to me early on, I went to a “major chain music store,” and I knew what I wanted, the exact guitar model. They said to me “oh you should look at this Stratocaster, it’s lighter with smaller fret board and all your guy friends will be jealous. But I said I don’t want a Strat, I want an SG, and who care what the guys think, so no thank you.
RB: Let’s talk about Boxed Wine Country. It is album number two.
CC: Its EP number two we have a full length in the can that we recorded with Bubba Jones waiting to be mixed. We are hoping for a fall release.
RB: Tell us about the title.
CC: I have all these friends that are getting married and going on vacation to Napa and saying “we’re going to wine country.” I’m saying “I’m a musician; I can only afford boxed wine country.” So it’s a joke about where we live. And you know we’re classy with a K.
RB: How did you get hooked up with producer Andy Park.
CC: We played a show with his band at the Blue Moon in Seattle. He is a producer at Studio X and offers a discount once a quarter to bands he likes and is interested in. So he called us down and gave us a tour of the studio and offered us a deal, we we’re like “yeah let’s do this.” It’s the finest place to record, I want to live there. There’s gold records from Nirvana and Heart, Alice in Chains, The Singles soundtrack. It’s got a lot of history. We played on the Pearl Jam rugs they recorded on, so we were like rubbing our feet on them. We did it in two days, we just muscled through. We were sick and exhausted by it was costing real money so we pushed on.
RB: Let’s talk about the songs.
CC: A lot of the songs we wrote just for this EP. I feel like songs are friends, and when they are new it’s like you don’t know them that well yet. So when we play them over time they develop, it’s like I’m getting to know my new friends.
RB: “Secret Handshake” is a standout track, did you write it for the EP?
CC: That song was already around. I do a lot of writing in my bathroom, it sounds good in there and I have privacy. Oh you know we had played some show with some band they were jerks and the club were jerks, and we try and get airplay and get shut out. I was just really whiney and pissy that afternoon. So I went into the bathroom and wrote this bitter song about the Seattle music scene. And I now I think it’s funny, with just nuggets of truth, and when we play it people are like”yes we get it! We’re mad too!” we’re saying no.. it’s just funny.
RB: You wrote it about the music business but it could fit any cliquey scene; music, art, sports.
CC: I find Seattle incredibly cliquey, but I’m a part of that too, I’m in a clique. It’s hard to meet people and make genuine relationships.
RB: What is the story behind Carolina Throwaway?
CC: It’s about me, I dated someone from North Carolina and he wanted to get married at the cape Hatteras lighthouse. He took me there to see it, and when we got there all these ambulances and fire trucks were there, because some guy on his honeymoon had just jumped to his death from the lighthouse. From there everything just fell apart for us, we broke up a couple days later, he stole my cat and left me there stranded in North Carolina with nothing but my car. I was the Carolina Throwaway.
RB: Wow crazy story! Truth is stranger than fiction. Anything else on the album that strange?
CC: Oh No. There just fun rocking out songs like “Waking Up” it’s about a one night stand, so when we play it out and my mom is there or anyone‘s mom from the band I’ll say “this song is for you, Martha, I know you had a bunch of one nights stands.”
RB: You did a mini tour this spring, tell us about it.
CC: It was the funnest ever, eight cities in two and half weeks, I recommend it. I got a Honda mini-van and packed all our gear and all of us into it and drove down the west coast. No one fought or strangled each other; we went down a good band and came back a great band.
RB: Booked it yourself?
CC: Yeah I did it all, not that I recommend that, it was tough. We did get some sponsorship to help us along the way. Some great little independent record stores, café’s and companies, who we wanted to help spread their message of being great independent little companies just like us, who are indie band. They gave us food and beverages, supplies and discounts, and we had their logos all over our stuff.
RB: Beautiful, genius idea! Did you think of that? And how long did it take?
CC: Yes, cause I’m a beautiful genius. It took like six months, setting that up and all the press and booking, but you know it can be done.
RB: What is next for you and In Cahoots, any big goals?
CC: Our goal is to play out of Seattle, put out the full length album in fall, tour more, and make a music video. I have an idea for a video for a song called “Sweet Tooth,” it’s a song about getting over a guy though binge eating, a catchy fun song, I’m excited for that come out. A break up binge song you can dance to. Oh man and to make some money to break even.
RB: That is the dream, making some money.
CC: Yeah just enough to break even on all this would be a dream.
Rick J Bowen