Discovery: Sister Crayon

Published July 16, 2012

ABOVE: SISTER CRAYON’S TERRA LOPEZ. PHOTO COURTESY OF JORDYN ALVIDREZ.

For Terra Lopez, expression is as simple as a handwritten letter. “Some letters, I”ll just start writing without even knowing who I’m addressing it to,” she says. “I’ll start writing about my day, and I’ll address it to whoever I feel fits the letter.” As the leading lady of Sister Crayon, Lopez writes the kind of songs that achieve an unspoken intimacy between artist and audience, recalling the likes of PJ Harvey or Fiona Apple—each breathy passage unfolds as dialogue, rather than anthemic gesturing. Even in a gushing cover of The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Going Back to Cali,” what could have been mined for simple punchline irony is instead presented with an odd, endearing sweetness. We caught up with Terra at home to talk alter egos, synesthesia, meeting Fiona Apple, and letter-writing.

AGE: 27 (Terra Lopez), 24 (Dani Fernandez), 22 (Omar Barajas)

HOMETOWN: Sacramento, CA

THE NAME: I wrote [Bianca Casady of CocoRosie] a letter. I was in this really beautiful loft in San Francisco, at a friend’s place, and was describing the experiences I was having that night in the city. I remember my friend had a projector, and we were watching music videos and odd art installations; art exhibit stuff he had filmed. It was just a really cool night, drinking red wine and zoning out… that was when I wrote that letter. I probably drank too much wine—I signed it “Sister Crayon.” At the time, I didn’t realize what I had signed at as until the next morning. I reread the letter and was like, “Sister Crayon? What the fuck is that?” [laughs] It just kind of stuck.

ALTER EGOS: My favorite poet is an author named Fernando Pessoa. He’s this Portugese poet from the 20th century, and he had four alter egos. These were very intricate, complex, multi-layered alter egos—they were completely different people. He was able to write about anything he wanted, because in his mind, this was “Carlos” speaking instead of Fernando. And, that’s always stuck with me. That’s why I created Sister Crayon as an alter ego. I can say whatever I want to say, do whatever I want to do, sing however I want to sing, because this is Sister Crayon—this is not Terra. It definitely opened me up a lot more.

MEETING FIONA APPLE: I went to school in Long Beach, California, and so I would go to Largo, which is my favorite jazz club in A, on the weekends to go see Jon Brion, [Fiona Apple’s] producer back in the day, perform. I went there one night, with this ridiculously like, lame letter that I had written to Fiona in the hopes to give to [Jon Brion], you know? I told him, “I have something for you, but I’m not going to give it to you at the moment. I’ll give it to you at the end of the night.”

And as soon as I said that, I turned around and Fiona Apple was sitting across the room. I was shaking out of my skin. I was terrified. I said, “Excuse me, uh, Fiona, I don’t want to bother you, but, uh, I wrote this for you…” and I kind threw the letter at her and was walking away at the same time, and she stopped me. She was like, “Oh, my God. You have no idea. I’ve had a horrible day, and this has completely redeemed everything.” It was just like, one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had in my life. I told her she was reason that I even got into singing. She was so enamored by that. She said, “Oh, my God! Tell me more!” I told her, and this is true, like, one of the ways that I learned how to sing—because I’m self-taught, was when I listened to When the Pawn… and I listened laying on my back staring at the ceiling, just mouthing out and visualizing the words of every song. I learned how to sing from that. And she was just completely, just “Oh, my God.” She wanted me to keep talking about that. I think it really made her feel good knowing that she still affected people. Which, of course she does! She cried, and I cried, she hugged me, and I hugged her… it was like, this really intense time. I was 17 years old.

FINDING A VOICE: I only sang when I was little. To Diana Ross and The Supremes, or Elvis… I love ’50s music; I always have. I remember being really little, and jumping on my bed with my hairbrush, and singing passionately to my stuffed animals. Like, I would never sing in front of my family, or anyone. I remember one day, my dad was mowing the lawn, and I had my window cracked open. And, I didn’t know that he was listening to me. Once the song ended, he said, “Oh, my God! You have a great voice.” And I was so mad. I screamed at him. “How dare you listen to me sing?” [laughs] I remember vowing, “I am never going to sing again,” because I was so embarrassed.

And so, years had passed, and I didn’t start singing until I heard that When the Pawn… record. I was in high school, and, I want to say I was a sophomore in high school when I discovered that album. It completely revived everything for me. You know how everyone will have that one thing that they’re really into, and they know they want to do with their life? That was it for me. I was 14 or 15 when I listened to that Fiona Apple record, and after that, it was over. I was just like, “I gotta do this. This is what I gotta do.”

GROWING UP WITH SYNESTHESIA: I associate certain words with sound frequencies, and numbers with a color. And I always have. I never knew it was anything different; I thought everyone kind of did that when I was younger. Certain sound frequencies, or… even people’s voices. People’s voices are a huge thing for me. Like, the frequency of it creates color. And it’s really intense! That’s why, most of the time when we play live, I don’t open my eyes. Because there’s a lot of colors, a lot of shit going on. [laughs] I know it sounds really ridiculous. It’s weird.

IF SISTER CRAYON WAS A COLOR: Green.

THE FUTURE: We’re going back out on tour with Built to Spill in September. We’re doing some recording. My goal for this next record is just to completely express myself. [Because] once the album is released, it’s not mine anymore. It’s out there in the world. But right now, it’s my baby. It’s something I’m cultivating and creating. I have an idea for an album title, I’m just not sure what I’m going to go with yet.

SISTER CRAYON’S NEW LP RELEASES LATER THIS FALL. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.