You can’t judge a book by its cover–but we all do it. It’s just human nature. You see a recording artist with a quirky stage name and outrageous publicity photos, and immediately the assumption is made that she’s a novelty act. At best, maybe the potential to be a one-hit wonder. However, very quickly into the conversation with Crown Jwlz (or “CJ” as people call her), one realizes that nothing could be further from the truth. She is neither flighty or flaky, but extremely articulate and dedicated to her craft. A graduate of Musician’s Institute, she speaks with dedication and determination.
“I grew up listening to everybody from Bowie and Freddie Mercury to Blondie and Gwen Stefani, and I take hints from all that. If Blondie and Gwen and David Bowie had a baby, you would probably have me. So, I mean, I grew up doing musical theater. I have a very theatrical side to me that’s always been there. From a performance aspect, I like entertaining; I like putting on a show. Within that, that performance aspect is the persona of Crown Jwlz, and yeah, it is obviously over the top because Crown Jwlz is opulent, it’s a statement with an album called California King. It’s saying a woman can be king, too, which is a very strong statement.”
“So I think it needs to come with a strong visual, an eye-catching visual, something to back it up, and I think that we’ve definitely–the creative team that I’m working with–we have achieved that. I really love the vision of where it’s gone and it’s exactly what I’ve always pictured. So I think it’s done exactly what it’s supposed to do which is catching your eye. I think that you can have a pop-level stage show with the off-the-cuff live performance that isn’t choreographed like a rock show, and it’s kind of what I’m doing. So, it kind of lends to…it takes from multiple genres, it takes from multiple…everything is kind of fusing into everything at this point. I definitely take influences from multiple genres, from different areas of my life, and you can kind of see that in the whole concept.”
CJ’s musical roots go deep; they trace all the way back to her upbringing in Texas. “I grew up in Texas; Dallas is kind of its own world, you know, and moving out here to go to music school and study at MI was really eye-opening. It showed me a whole different side of music because it was different from anything I’d ever seen. I’d kind of planned on–more so in high school–going into musical theater and was doing that because that was my avenue to do music, until I kind of started getting really into punk rock and that led me into where I am now. I’m really thankful that I discovered punk because it changed everything for me. That led me to MI, and it was such a great school because it’s known for contemporary music, so we’d just study…I took a class that was Metal Vocals, stuff like that. That’s really cool to have a metal vocals class, to try to learn techniques of how they achieve what they achieve when they perform, because metal singers, it’s a whole different dynamic. To be able to sustain that on a tour is crazy. I’m always so impressed by my friends that sing so hardcore. I’m like, wow, because I used to scream and sing in my last band. It was intense! I couldn’t imagine screaming the whole time. So MI was so cool. I had everything from the…you learn extensions of theory and all that stuff from what I already knew by singing and all the normal stuff to blues vocals and there’s metal vocals and there’s jazz vocals, and there’s all different kinds of genres, and contemporary rock and there’s alternative rock and different workshops. It was just a great place to be, honestly. I loved it.”
For the songwriting process, CJ worked with several creative partners. “I collaborated with three different producers. The first producer, Max Coane and I, we did five of the songs. We did all the songs but California King and Cool, so it was Party Past the Sunrise, Without You, Free, Make It Back, and I don’t know what I’m forgetting here. Stay, there you go. Those five, me and Max did together. We wrote those over a course of a few weeks to almost a month. We would get together multiple times and just write and have writing sessions for hours at a time. We’d just sit there and he’d play piano or guitar and I’d bring in melodies and different stuff that I had, or I’d hit some chords and he’d expand on that, or whatever we did; we would come up with everything.
“I remember when he came to me, he was like, ‘we’re going to do a piano ballad’ and suggested we do something like Make It Back and I’d never done it like that before. He explained, ‘we’re gonna showcase your voice a little and do this,’ and it was fun. It was a new process in that sense of doing ballads, and then Free came out amazing. Free came out of this process, so I was really excited about Free because David Bowie’s always been such an influence. So yeah, working with Max was amazing. And then I worked with Maxwell Moon and Erik Belz on Cool and California King and that sort of was the bow that tied everything together, the bow on the present. It tied everything together, and that’s probably where the concept started to really come out, on the tail end of it. I hadn’t really found…I really was leaning towards a really strong concept, and I just didn’t know how to convey it, and then with California King when I wrote it, it was just clear.”
With her EP having just been released on February 23, CJ is planning the next steps in promoting the music. “We’re gonna have a few shows coming up here in March. I’m currently looking for some gigs, but right now I’m using the month of February to get the album out, to push out some online content. I’m sitting on a ton of music videos, so we’re gonna start releasing some other videos and stuff, and the video I did for Without You, that was actually an interesting thing because that wasn’t your true-to-form music video. That was actually a live video that we did all in one day, shot at NRG studios; we did a few of them. Actually, we did five songs that day. We shot them all live and it was really, really awesome and the band was amazing, and so we did them kind of in the format of the old AOL/Time Warner sessions; the AOL sessions they used to have happen back in the day. We kind of wanted that live feel, so that was actually a live music video. That’s kind of different, I think, with the way music videos are normally done, and this is actually a live performance, so we were really happy to capture it. We were really excited about how it turned out.”
With the explosion of online content, it has become more difficult for a voice to be heard; to rise above the competition. People’s attention spans have gotten shorter—a recording artist may only have a few seconds to grab a listener’s interest. “I never really think of it like that. I am more excited because of the fact that there are so many people and there’s so much art being put out and so much music coming out, and we’re hearing so many different types of music. The combining of different genres and the way everything is kind of like fluidly moving into everything else, that drives me; the more I hear, the more it drives me to do more music.
“So I’m actually driven by all of the other stuff that’s coming out, and I don’t see it as scary or a competition. I think if you’re true in your vision and you know what you’re putting out and you really stand behind your art and you’re really conscious of who you are and what you’re trying to convey, it will stand on its own, and you don’t have to worry about anything else. Just do your own thing. I think that you just keep doing it properly and you gotta keep on keeping on. I know a lot of people that don’t continue on and they give up. You have to believe in yourself; it’s a tough industry. There are a lot of people that look at it as competition. Look at it as fuel to drive you because of the amount of talent out there. You just gotta work that much harder.”