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Beauty for Ashes

(CD - Sep 1996)
$12.31 - Online Price
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Overview

Nominated Female Vocalist of the Year and Song of the Year. The Beauty of the Cross, Lion & the Lamb, In Return.

Details

  • SKU: 9787015039652
  • UPC: 080688448325
  • Title: Beauty for Ashes
  • Qty Remaining Online: 1
  • Publisher: Metro One Rec
  • Date Published: Sep 1996
  • Format: Album
  • Media: Compact Disc
  • Music Categories: Contemporary/Pop
  • Weight lbs: 0.22
  • Dimensions: 4.96" L x 5.66" W x 0.40" H
  • Category: CONTEMPORARY
  • Subject: Christian - Contemporary
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Interview

It is 9:35 am, and Crystal Lewis is running late. The week has been crazy. Today is Isabella's birthday, and mother and daughter are celebrating with an afternoon at Disneyland. The Southern California sun was hanging in the sky just right, and the car was dirty, and she couldn't resist getting it washed. Her dog unexpectedly died of cancer yesterday, and, oh yeah, she finished the final mixes for her new album, Fearless, late last night. Crystal is tired.

"Making an album is really similar to having a baby," she says. "It's excruciatingly painful, but 30 seconds later you are holding this baby in your arms, and you have completely forgotten the pain. Then, later on down the road, you want to have another one."

Ambitious projects are nothing new to Lewis, who has created some of the most beautiful Christian music--the most beautiful music, period--of the last 10 years. Songs like "Beauty for Ashes," "Come Just As You Are" and "Beauty of the Cross" hold up unflinchingly well against both the best secular pop tunes and the grand tradition of the Church's most beloved hymns and spiritual songs. But Fearless, Lewis' 16th album, is something different altogether. The title, she says, was inspired by 2 Timothy 1:7--God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

"The spiritual warfare was so intense during this project," she says, the experience still fresh. "I think it has to do with the content of the record. I think the enemy knows that I am saying some important things, and he was doing everything he could to thwart those efforts. I was the most discouraged I ever remember being during a recording. The words I wrote to these songs, I really needed to finish the album."

All at once, Lewis was the songwriter, the singer, and the executive producer of a groundbreaking album, in addition to running her record label, Metro1Music, with husband Brian Ray, and being the mother of two small children. "My favorite song on the record became ÔReach Out,'" Lewis says. "It's just about being really busy and having to make the time to spend before the Lord and say, Okay, I have a hundred things on my list today, and I don't have time to do this, but I'm going to make the time. And, it's still a challenge. The recording process is all-consuming. There are all these decisions that are made without me if I'm not there, and I don't like that. And yet, I'm the only mom my kids have."

If Lewis' children, four-year-old Isabella and six-year-old Solomon, feel any ill effects from the unusual lifestyle, it's not apparent. They regularly come to the studio and watch the recording and mixing. When Lewis is touring, the kids tour with her, and it becomes something of an extended family vacation, an opportunity to see the world and soak up the companionship of the other artists on the tour. The children have formed an especially close bond with members of Avalon, and they even critique Lewis' music, asking questions like, Why did you use that word in the song?

That children would begin to explore artistry at that level might surprise some, but it reflects Lewis' own unusual journey. At age four, she started singing in her father's church. A few years later, she landed a role in the musical "Hi-Tops," and her first albums, which she recorded as a teenager, followed shortly thereafter.

She has spent much of her life on the stage, performing at the Grammy awards, singing on Nickelodeon's Roundhouse, playing with rockabilly bands like Wild Blue Yonder and The Screamin' Rays, preaching to thousands at concerts, leading tens of thousands in worship at Greg Laurie's Harvest Crusades and Franklin Graham Crusades. But Lewis admits to a longtime fear of one-on-one sharing about Christ.

"I just turned 30 this year," she says. "That had a lot to do with making this record. I couldn't have made a record called Fearless and stand up and say that I was and do an album cover where I'm screaming without those 30 years of growing. I have had a hard time with that sharing, but God is changing me, taking me out of that comfortable place, putting me in situations where I know I need to share. And I'm trying to be obedient in that."

Musically, Fearless is edgier than anything Lewis has done before. It is partly due to a desire on her part to take risks musically. It also has something to do with the wealth of talent she tapped to perform on the album. "These were musicians I've wanted to work with for years," Lewis says. "They were astounding." The man who left perhaps the biggest imprint on the sound is keyboard player/programmer Jyro Xhan, who also plays in Lewis' touring band. Xhan, best known for his work in the underground band Fold Zandura, filled the album with sounds often more associated with space-rock bands than the smooth brand of pop R&B that is Lewis' trademark. But the marriage of the two works to create an emotion-inspiring effect, one enhancing the other.

Other musical surprises include big electric guitars, and drumwork from the legendary Vinnie Colaiuta, who is best known for his collaborations with Sting. "That was the biggest thrill," Lewis says. "I've been such a fan of Vinnie's work for years, and he is just the king of crazy, can't-figure-out beats, just amazing. And he just became a Christian, and we had such a great time in the studio talking. He's this baby Christian, and he's so excited. It was an incredible experience."

Lewis was so enthused about working with Colaiuta that she called her children into the mixing room to watch him lay down the drum tracks. "I was like, You guys, do you know who that is? That's Sting's drummer. And we listen to Sting a lot at the house, and they know who he is."

The songwriting process was more collaborative than on past records. Lewis has always co-written with her husband, but it has always been a separated process, one writing lyrics and the other writing music. This time, almost by accident, the two worked together more intimately on the songs. "We had these two songs pretty close to being completed. I just had a lyric, and he had these two melodies, and I didn't like them at all. We don't have a studio, so we record all of our songs on our voicemail. So Brian walks into my office one day and puts the voicemail on speakerphone, and he started singing me my lyrics to one of these melodies, and I was like, Brian, wait a minute, that kinda works. And then he sat in my office for a few hours, and we wrote more lyrics. It was really neat. We rarely write like that." Lewis also collaborated with brother-in-law (and Metro1Music artist) Chris Lizotte and Xhan on album tracks.

People are starting to notice Lewis, even beyond the Christian culture. Kirk Franklin asked her to sing with him on his Nu Nation project, and he returned the favor by producing one of the songs on Fearless and singing background vocals. The Franklin collaboration led to a Grammy nomination, and Lewis performed with Franklin, U2's Bono and R&B diva Mary J. Blige during the awards show, an event that Lewis describes as the "highlight of my life."

Lewis found a role model in Franklin. At one point during the recording sessions, the two werein the studio with a studio engineer and a technical crew that didn't share their faith. As one of the songs was being performed, Lewis watched Franklin, who was raising his hands and worshipping God in the engineer's booth, talking about how the song was "ministering to me." She says, "At that point, I thought, Ooh! This is what this record is about, this is Fearless to me. To just be totally unashamed, to say, yeah, this is what I believe. It's real, it's true. I admire that enthusiasm, that excitement."

Interscope Records picked up Lewis' albums for mainstream distribution, and that alliance forced Lewis to make one of the most difficult choices of her career last year. Female artists had become very big sellers in the secular marketplace, and Lewis was the only female artist on a record label largely populated by loud, aggressive male bands.She was offered a near-irresistible offer. If she would put together a pop album in a month's time, Interscope would push her as the next Celine Dion-esque star, capitalizing on the Grammy momentum. "Brian and I lost sleep over that," she says. "Interscope is huge, and they were right, they didn't have a female artist. But I didn't want to be that poster girl. That kind of fame comes too fast and crashes too hard. I had no songs written, and I definitely wasn't going to do someone else's songs. I had to tell them no.

"I refuse to compromise, to alter the lyrics at all," Lewis says. "The bottom line is, real Christian music is not going to be embraced by pop radio because the world is not into 'one way,' especially when everyone is into the idea that 'what's good for you is good for you.' If Interscope decides to push a single, that would be great. But, obviously, it would have to be something off the record, because I'm not going to change anything just to have a single on the radio."

It is a conviction that Lewis can back up, because she is one of the few artists who owns and operates her own record label. In 1992, Lewis and Ray started Metro1Music. It was a decision birthed out of a desire for a higher standard, both musically and spiritually, than what the Nashville-based labels were offering at the time.

"We refuse to conform to Christian music standards," Lewis says. "That sounds weird to some people, but there are a lot of things that go on in the Christian music industry that your average listener doesn't know about. We are a little isolated from the things that go on in Nashville. I don't read the magazines, I don't really know all the little details, and I don't want to know. There's a lot of competition that goes on in Christian music, and I don't want any part of it. I also see a lot of people wanting so hard to be part of the mainstream, and I don't understand it. People say things to me like, Oh you're on Interscope, you must be huge. It's kind of offensive. I don't need a big record label who doesn't even believe what I believe to tell me I'm doing a good job, that I'm a success. Success, to me, is that letter I received last week from someone who said, I just listened to your Live at the Woodlands CD, and I rededicated my life to the Lord. It can be really hard to keep your eyes on that. There are opportunities all the time when you see you can make more money, and it's good for me, it's good for my kids, my family, my company. But a lot more comes with it than the money."

By all accounts, Lewis and Ray have stayed true to that vision, often signing artists who are highly talented but less than marketplace-friendly. Metro1Music artist Chris Lizotte, who helps Lewis sign and locate talent, loves the family atmosphere at the label. "Brian and Crystal aren't like bosses," he says. "They're more like friends to everyone." The office clears out nearly every day at lunchtime, when four or five employees make the five-minute walk to the Newport Beach shore to surf the Pacific Ocean together.

Crystal Lewis isn't all business. She has a playful side that rises up every five minutes or so. She is a smiler, a toucher, constantly affirming the people around her. She loves to tell stories about the unconventional, like giving radio interviews while driving through fast food joints and interrupting the interview to order a burger and fries. She has spent years doing concerts, then going backstage and changing diapers. There is a real humility in the way that she carries herself that is reflective of a faith that focuses the attention off the celebrated aspects of her life and onto other people.

Lizotte says it best: "Crystal Lewis is the real deal."



Pick up the latest issue of Release Magazine at your local store or check out their website for more artist interviews.

Used with permission, Release Magazine

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