Terra Lopez is Sister Crayon
It was the rainiest winter evening of 2008, a late-January night almost one year ago to the day, when I first heard Sister Crayon. A loyal crew of music lovers had sought refuge in a small Oak Park house, cramming into a living room, dripping wet, watching Sister Crayon, one Terra Lopez, gently finger a nylon-string guitar and intone scribbles from a notepad. Her voice possessed soul that was an instant head change, taking very simple guitar harmonies and dressing them up with unique, deep, unexpected resonance.
As a music writer, it takes a serious cuff to kill the boring-ass-show-after-boring-ass-show malaise. That evening, Sister Crayon was the swiftest of jabs.
During the rest of the year, like never-ending happenstance, I’d bump into Lopez around Midtown: at gigs, in the back of taxi cabs, at Gallery Horse Cow. (Full disclosure: She eventually appeared on an SN&R cover and, a barista by day, she often pours my morning coffee.) That said, Lopez is no scenester: She no doubt spent the bulk of ’08 hunkered down recording, every few weeks unveiling a new song on MySpace—demo tracks, Lopez fiddling with loops, samples, layering vocals like soft gusts of wind against your face, honing her sound.
This month, these songs’ final versions are Sister Crayon’s first album, Loneliness Is My Mother’s Gun.
“All of the songs are a mess, but I like them that way,” Lopez explained in an e-mail back and forth last week. “I like that the album has songs from different time periods in my life, about different relationships and things I was going through. It’s vulnerable.
“I am not a very sociable person, so this album is me expressing myself the easiest way I know how.”
Lopez’s introversion is evident. The tracks, like restless afternoons stuck in an empty apartment, often lack melody and instead hinge on textured harmonies and beats. But each track offers inspiration, like “I’m Still the Same Person”: a simple backward guitar loop, quarter-beat drumstick clicks and Lopez’s alto buildup: “Take sides, take sides like everyone / Take mine, take mine like everyone.”
Lopez is dynamic.
Her lyrics, often honest, heartfelt pleas for reconciliation and acceptance—“How we all fall in love with lavender / how we all fall in love with liars,” she sings on the album’s second-to-last song, “Lavender Liars”—hint at the aforementioned vulnerability. And the beats—lo-fi drum-machine samples, odd instrumentations like looped accordion—compliment this openness, rooted in trip-hop and no doubt inspired by the sounds and scenery of her late-’90s teenage upbringing.
Lopez, now 24, was born and raised in Sacramento but moved around a lot, spending her youth mostly in Rosemont and the ’hoods of south Sac. “Depressing as fuck,” she admitted, noting she really didn’t have an outlet to deal with discouragement until a stint at college in Long Beach. “I was lonely and had nothing to do at night, so I would listen and study Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald,” she recalled.
They, along with Björk, Elliott Smith and poet Fernando Pessoa, were her muses.
Now, when Lopez performs as Sister Crayon—and it’ll no doubt embarrass her to read this—she’s got a burgeoning cabal of loyal followers, groupies en masse, whom she enchants. Also, one year after solo gigging, she now has a full band: Dani Fernandez, a.k.a. Wishing Well, who noodles bass and programs beats; Genaro Ulloa, who mans the samples; and Leon Smith on drums. “They make all of my simple songs epic. They make them what they are,” Lopez says of the full box of Crayon.
The four-piece will drop beats (and hopefully not rain) this Saturday night at their CD release show. Lopez, a shy performer, still would rather sing in the dark, only the trickle of candlelight illuminating the autumn bangs that cut across her eyes. You’ll have to coax her to flip on the stage lights.
With a new album and a fully realized sound, perhaps now’s the time?