CrowJane interviewed about her first solo album, ‘Mater Dolorosa’

Photo by Jenny Nirgends

Known for her work with such bands as Egrets on Ergot and Prissy Whip, CrowJane has made her solo debut with Mater Dolorosa. Featuring material written over the past 5 years, the album has an experimental, highly percussive sound to it. The mood is dark and often eerie, with unusual arrangements balanced by strong melodic elements and powerful vocals. CrowJane (real name Heather Galipo) is also an accomplished effects make-up artist, a skill she was able to put to use with the music videos that accompany Mater Dolorosa.

Having been involved with several bands, what made you decided to put out a solo album now?

Well, I wanted to do something that was a little bit more personal, where I would be writing more. In Egrets, I mostly write my guitar parts. I’ll sing vocals on various songs and a couple of them I wrote. And then I play in this band called Prissy Whip, and I write all the lyrics for that. But I wanted a project that was totally my own. I wrote this album like five years ago, and during the five years, there were additional songs being written, and I was playing around with the other songs that I wrote at the first point. But it was also just the point in time when Paul Roessler, who’s a dear friend and my music producer, said, “Let’s use song writing as a therapy session.” Because of the point in time in my life, the best thing to do was art and writing songs. I put my thoughts, feelings and emotions on paper, in these songs. And so that’s what I did.

Did you have a sense as to how you wanted it to develop in terms of sound?

At first, when Paul was like, “Write some songs, you sad sack,” it was me and my guitar. I was just going to do songs like that. I just wanted to write to like get shit out, and then it started to take a turn when I was like, “Oh, this is going to be a fucking album. I’m going to write an album.” And I didn’t want it to be like a folk album. I feel like with so many people, when they do solo, it’s like them and an acoustic guitar. I just didn’t want to do that.

So then I thought, okay, well, how can I make this more interesting and something that’s more like my cup of tea? My inspiration was The Creatures, the Siouxsie and the Banshees side project. I liked how percussive that was. And also Tom Waits, like “Rain Dogs.” I was listening to that a lot then and to different experimental types of things that Tom Waits does, too. And so I thought like, oh, I want to mess around with a lot of percussion. I want it to be kind of like tribal-sounding. And then it got more experimental. We were just doing regular drums, but then we heard things. I was walking out of the vocal booth and the mics were still on and recording and the sound of the sliding glass door to the vocal booth when I opened it and closed it made this really cool sound. It sounded like wind.

And we were like, oh, that sounds cool. Paul and I like to experiment with different sounds and noises. So we used that, and I think that sparked something in us that was like, hmm, what else can we experiment with around the studio? He lives in the back of his studio. So there were things like metal bed frames and his rolling tobacco tins. We just gathered all these things to make different beats from. I’m not much of a drummer, but I can keep a rhythm. So it transitioned a lot over the years. And then in terms of my experiences and my state of mind at that point in time, releasing this now is kind of bizarre. When I relisten or reread the lyrics that I wrote at that point in time, I see how I’m just so different now. And my state of mind is so different, and it really tells a lot about myself, to me in reflection.

The album really seems to balance being experimental but also accessible. Were you thinking about this as you made it?

I feel like sometimes it’s like you say avant-garde and experimental, and people want to run for the hills, or they think that it’s going to be unlistenable noise or whatever. But in really, everything that I do, even the bands that I’m in, are experimental in their own way too. It’s like I can’t be a part of any sort of musical project that is easy to categorize into a genre. And there’s something to that. I guess it’s just what I like, but it’s s definitely a common theme. And with this album, I really like to try to portray a feeling, and I think that I can do that melodically. So I wanted to do that as well as just make something interesting going on in terms of the experimental stuff.

As there was a somewhat long timeframe in making it, did you keep Mater Dolorosa completely separate from your other projects? Or might there have been musical ideas that didn’t fit something else that ended up being used on the album?

It’s kind of its own thing. But I did use a song called “Ergot Journey” on the album. I used tracks from my band Egrets on Ergot. The singer is also a saxophone player. Since Egrets recorded at Paul’s studio too, I sampled his saxophone playing in that song. And my guitar style really developed in Egrets, and there’s hints of that in there too.

Do you see yourself continuing as a solo artist?

The process, the experience in releasing this solo album has been totally different for me, as opposed to my bands and what we’ve released before. It’s really inspiring to me to do more in this realm, because it’s just cool to be able to do whatever you want without having to ask the group. And it just goes by so smoothly.

Were you able to perform this material live at all?

I haven’t performed it live on a stage yet. I’ve had ideas on how I’m going to do that. But the release of this all happened during this COVID time. But I do want to perform it live, and hopefully venues and shows come back into existence. I have mixed feelings about live streaming. I think I almost prefer making like a cool video and releasing it as opposed to playing my guitar on the couch. But some venues are doing record release shows and recording it live. And that could be cool if I found a venue that was willing to open and do it. That way you have the whole set up, and I could even do cool visuals to make it look like a live performance.

What type of instrumentation and live line-up would you use?

I’d want to do backing tracks, but I also want to make the percussion come to life. It doesn’t have to be the exact same, because for instance, with the tobacco tin can that I recorded, the best way to capture that sound was to make the microphone really loud and to play it right by the mic. And so things like that would be done differently. I do want a lineup of at least three different percussion players. Someone playing toms, somebody can be banging on metal railings, somebody can just be doing different percussive stuff in the background. And then Paul on keys at the beginning. I think having Paul do the keys would be cool, and then later probably transitioning to somebody else playing keys and doing live guitar.

There’s acoustic bass on one of the songs, but it will still sound cool with electric bass. The other members of Egrets are totally willing to back me up. In fact, we’ve already talked about it. We almost played Echo Park Rising with this project; they were doing a live stream. But it was just happening too soon to get everyone together to learn the music for the first time. Daniel, the bass player. would play various guitar parts and do the backing tracks probably. Adam from Egrets can actually come on stage and play the sax. And for the “Terminal Secrets” vocal loop, we could use the looping pedal, but also it could be cool to get singers possibly doing that live. So we’ve got some plans.

The first video from the album, “Terminal Secrets,” was done using stop-motion. What inspired that, and what was the experience like?

I am a fan of stop-motion animation, like Brothers Quay and Tim Burton and various others. My friend Jenny was the animator, and I helped direct it. I asked her if she wanted to do music video for this project and she said that she’d always wanted to do a stop-motion animation. And I was like, that sounds cool. And we looked up references; Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” was one of them. I was really excited about it, as it was my first time doing stop-motion animation. It was a real learning experience because you’d work for six to 10 hours a day and walk out with like 10 to 15 seconds of footage. I realized how long my songs were!

So it was a lot of work. I made all the masks for that video. So even prep was a lot of work. I like the way that it came out. We did 12 frames a second instead of 24, which makes it look more artsy and kind of glitchy, especially my mouth movements and stuff like that. It took so much time to do 12 frames a second; I couldn’t imagine what 24 frames a second would have taken. And I was doing music videos back to back. So right after I finished “Terminal Secrets,” I started on the next one, which is “The Pharmacy.” When that was done, we started on the next one, which was a “It’s a Man’s World.” And I made all the art and props and did all the makeup, as I’m a makeup artist.