Tanya Cristina is a London-based singer and songwriter, with a soul album, a twelve-city US tour, and a charity concert at Kings Place under her belt.
I’m a big fan of her debut album Small Woman, Big Voice, so I got in touch with Tanya to see if she’d be happy to answer some questions about singing, songwriting, and her creative process.
Firstly, thanks for meeting with me Tanya.
Thanks for having me… that sounds like we’re at a children’s birthday party and I’m waiting in line for my party bag. Not that I would be opposed to a party bag. Or cake. Always up for cake. Sorry where were we?…
Not sure, you’ve got me thinking about cake now.
I remember, I was going to ask if you could tell me about how you got started in singing and songwriting.
I’ve always been a singer I think, I just didn’t know it, or at least I wasn’t brave enough to admit it until 5 or 6 years ago. I have done a lot of jobs before and since then (to pay bills) but none of them ever fit quite right. I feel like I come alive when I’m writing songs and singing for people, like I’m the truest, bravest and freest version of myself.
I think a lot of performers feel that way; that whole thing about playing a character offstage, but being your true self onstage. What would you say are the best and worst things about singing/songwriting?
The worst thing is that can be a difficult and a lonely road at times (especially as a solo artist). And the pay sucks. Unless you’re Adele. Or Mick Jagger. The majority of musicians aren’t even able to sing for their supper any more. I had to move back in with my dad when I started singing full time. He loves it though because I do laundry! And sing loudly whilst I’m at it. Clean clothes and a show. What more could you want?
The best thing is I get to do something I really love and believe in; something I’m passionate about. Good music connects, unites and inspires us and a world without song is a world I wouldn’t want to live in.
That’s really nice. And I think your next album should be called ‘Clothes and a Show’ by the way. I’d definitely buy it. Ok, so in terms of songwriting, what’s your process? Do the ideas come fully formed or do you get a spark or something and build on that?
Hmmm… ‘Clean Clothes and a Show’ perhaps? The emphasis should be on the clean I feel. Funnily enough there will be a new album out in 2016 although I don’t know if I will definitely go with that as the title…
As for the creative process my inspiration tends to come in short, sharp bursts – a hook in a melody, or a chorus perhaps. Occasionally the lyrics to a verse, but then I have to be willing to sit down and put in the work to finish the song once that spark has faded to ember.
It’s like a relationship. There’s that first rush of excitement with a new love and then there’s the hard slog and commitment needed to make it work.
So basically what I’m telling you so far is that I still live with my dad because I’m too poor to live on my own and that music is my boyfriend #winning
I think that’s true of most people’s creative process – a burst of inspiration then a huge amount of work. I like the comparison with a relationship too, it’s very true. You mentioned your new album, is it going to follow the same style as Small Woman, Big Voice?
I was under a lot of time constraints with Small Woman, Big Voice. I had to record all the vocals in one 8 hour day with no breaks, other than nipping to the loo once or twice. There will be much more time to spend recording the new album and there should be more of a live band as opposed to an acoustic feel with a lot of the songs.
The material will be even more personal this time I think. I’m feeling much more able to be honest and vulnerable in my songwriting these days: to tell my own story and not just other people’s stories. It felt too scary before.
Yes, it can be weird putting yourself ‘out there’, can’t it? Why do you feel it’s less scary now?
For the longest time I was my own biggest critic.
I worried far too much what other people would think of me and I allowed this voice of self-doubt to linger in my mind and tell me that I wasn’t good enough. It meant that fear and insecurity ruled over most of my choices, especially the creative ones. I thought that the more I could distance myself from the music I wrote and the stories I told, the less it would hurt if and when I was rejected.
I have come to recognise that the critic in my head, rather than keeping me grounded and protecting me from failure, was simply holding me back and preventing me from giving it my best shot. It was doing both me and my music a disservice. I have since found a way, through hard work and support from others to evict that internal voice from my head and it’s left me feeling far more open.
I write what I like now and don’t waste time second guessing myself or supposing I know how other people will react to my songs. Obviously I’d love people to connect with and enjoy my new album, but the truth is that right now I’d make it anyway, even if no one did.
That’s when you know you’re making art, when you just have to do it, in order to be fully you, when it’s as natural as breathing and important as eating.
Speaking of eating, I still haven’t been given any cake Angelo. Just saying…
OK, let’s get you some cake. Don’t want this to turn violent. Thanks again for meeting with me Tanya, and best of luck with the new album.
Aww, thanks Angelo. How could you tell I was hankering for cake…?
It really has been a pleasure meeting and chatting with you. And obviously I’ll let you know exactly when ‘Clean Clothes and a Show’ – the name’s really growing on me – comes out next year.
I might even give you a copy.
Depending on the size of my cake of course…
Tanya Cristina’s website and details of her album can be found here
Her music videos can all be found here on YouTube