10 Questions: Cyndi Harvell

With her sophomore album, From the Echo, fresh on store shelves, Southern songstress Cyndi Harvell has set out on a multi-month trek that will take her from Texas on to the East Coast and jogging through Colorado and California by December.

She’ll be at Austin’s Ghost Room on Wednesday but first she took some time to answer our questions via email about her music, mix tape and an outline for a perfect day.

Q: What was the first instrument you learned to play and how old were you?

A: My first love was piano. My family moved into a house when I was about 10 years old, and the former owners left a piano there. So I played it all the time, made up songs, learned to play the basic part of Beethoven’s Fur Elise, but a year later we moved and couldn’t take the piano with us. I was devastated. At 17, I picked up guitar and taught myself to play.

Q: Besides your instruments, what are the top 5 things that you must have while on the road?

A: 1. My iPhone. I would be lost without it. 2. My sunglasses. It’s bright out there. 3. Music. Gotta have road tunes. 4. My printed out tour schedule. I need organization in my life to function. 5. Water. Dehydration sucks.

Q: How do you come up with ideas and new songs?

A: Life is the greatest inspiration for me. A lot of my songs are personal – what I’m going through or what I’ve been through in the past. Sometimes I wrote more in “story” fashion so its not directly about me, but it comes from a mood or feeling or an urge to tell a story about what someone else is experiencing.

I wrote a song called “Life that I would Miss” (on my last record) about a guy who gets to be old and realized he didn’t do what he wanted to do with his life — but also realizes that its never too late to start.

One of the songs off the new album was inspired by an article I read in New York Magazine about a guy who broke out of prison on more than one occasion.

Q: How has your music and style evolved over the years you’ve been performing?

A: As I’ve gotten more experience playing and writing, I’ve really tried to tap more into other genres. I’ve been told that this new album has a lot of variety — one song has almost an R&B flavor, which is totally unusual for me.

There’s some folk, pop, country, rock, etc.. I never want to write the same song twice. I’ve also experimented with other instruments on this album. I wrote 2 songs on banjo and 1 on piano, in addition to the others I wrote on guitar. I hope to continue to branch out with other instruments and other music genres.

You know, in the beginning — and maybe this is true with a lot of people who learn an instrument — you learn a lot of other people’s songs in order to practice and figure out how chords work, how other people compose songs, and your first songs tend to be modeled after those people. At 17, I was listening to Jewel’s “Pieces of You” and learning a lot of her songs, and my first songs had a lot of the same chords. Once I got comfortable with what chords worked well together and how to craft a song, I started developing more of my own style.

Q: What’s on your mix tape?

A: I love this question. Ok, the mix tape of my life starting from childhood…. Bear with me here. “Part of your World” – The Little Mermaid. “Straight Up” – Paula Abdul. “Release Me” – Wilson Phillips. “Glorified G” – Pearl Jam. “Amazing” – Aerosmith. Anything from the Empire Records Soundtrack. “Who will save your Soul” – Jewel. “Hey Jude” – The Beatles. (We’re going to skip over my country music phase.) “Demons” – Guster. “All Those Days are Gone” – Jump, Little Children. “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” – Rufus Wainwright. “Tangled up in Blue” – Bob Dylan. “Silent all these years” – Tori Amos. “Everybody Knows this is Nowhere” – Neil Young. “Sweet Ones” – Sarah Slean. “A Wolf at the Door” – Radiohead. “For the Widows in Paradise…” – Sufjan Stevens. “I Wish I was the Moon” – Neko Case. “Fidelity” – Regina Spektor. “Hang on” – Dr. Dog. “Cliquot” – Beirut. “Boy with a Coin” – Iron & Wine. “The Clockwise Witness” – Devotchka. (There you go. The abbreviated version.)

Q: If you weren’t a musician – what would you be doing with your life?

A: I love graphic design. I do all my own album art, t-shirt design, website, posters, etc… It’s a creative outlet, and I would definitely need that in my life if I didn’t have music.

Q: If you could sit down for an hour and play with any musician, alive or dead, who would it be and what would you ask them?

A: I would love to sing with Patty Griffin. She’s influenced me a lot, as a female singer/songwriter, and I’d love to know what her path has been like, how she started out and to hear other artists’ stories of the ups and downs of the music world could potentially be really inspiring.

It’s a tough business out there. It can be amazing and beautiful, as well as frustrating and challenging. To get someone’s advice (who’s more experienced and who has achieved what I would love to achieve), well that would be invaluable.

Q: Describe a perfect day in the life of you.

A: Big fat breakfast. There’s definitely bacon there. A walk by the water. Playing some music outside on a porch or a blanket in the grass. Picnic style. A good book. Preferably something fantasy or sci-fi or otherwise imaginative. Home cooked dinner. Small group of good friends. If there’s a board game, I’m in. Lots of laughing. And then a good sleep in my own bed.

Q: Is there anything people listening to your music need to know about you?

A: My birthday is December 26. I like gift cards to book stores and Target. *wink wink*

Visit CyndiHarvell.com for more tour dates and info.
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