When I lived in Brooklyn, I often took walks with Chris Pureka. I’d wait for the sky to engage in paralysis–mid-blink–where darkness decorated the sidewalks and stoops. She would hide inside my ears and we would walk until we got tired or cold, depending upon the season or day of the week. I am not into comparing, so I won’t. Her voice is a unique declaration of love and lost relationships, color coded memories, and instrumental letters. I caught up with Chris, before her show at the b.side lounge in Boulder, CO.
You’re from the East Coast. Massachusetts. My second favorite state.
There was a time when I was living with my dad in Connecticut and I would often venture off to Northampton and just soak in everything.
Yeah, that’s good. That’s where I live. I live in Northampton. I actually grew up in Connecticut.
I grew up in New Canaan. Where’s your dad?
Bloomfield. Just outside of Hartford.
I went to school in Middletown. I went to Wesleyan.
Where you studied biology. I wanted to ask you about that. The title of your new album, Chimera, I looked up to find out if there was a particular meaning. It is two or more–
Well, there’s multiple definitions. The reason it came up, was that I worked at a biology lab and there was a girl in my lab working on the Chimera project. It’s a general term that people use, that’s just what we called it in the lab. Basically, when you splice genes from one species into the genome of another species. You might take a gene that produces a protein from one kind of bacteria into another species of bacteria. That product is called a Chimera because the traditional definition of it comes from mythology. Chimera was this monster that was made up of a lion, a goat and a snake. So, the concept behind my record is that it’s made up of songs that are all taken from really different experiences, that are like, different animals. There are three live tracks, an instrumental, an old song that we re-recorded, a new song that I recorded myself in my apartment, there’s a cover song.
What cover song?
“Wagon Wheel”, which is a Bob Dylan-slash-Old Crow Medicine show tune. And the live tracks were all recorded from different shows with different people. One of them was recorded in Denver, actually with Girlyman. One of them was recorded in Ireland with Peter Mulvey. Then, another one was recorded at the Iron Horse in Northampton. So, all the songs don’t necessarily go together but that’s why it’s called that. And I like that it was kind of a shout out to my biology stuff. A secret shout out.
Does biology still play a part in your life?
Only that I’m a gardener. That’s the most active that I am in the biological realm right now.
Are you growing anything interesting right now?
You know, I left for tour right at the beginning of April, so it’s too soon in Massachusetts to put too much in. So, I put lettuce and kale, they do well in the cold weather. Soon they’ll be like, little babies when I come back. I’m having people water them for me.
When do you plan on going back?
So, we have these four shows in Colorado and then we fly to New York and we play in New York. We fly on Wednesday or Thursday and then we drive to Northampton and we play a hometown show there on Saturday, a week from tomorrow. So, that’s when we’re officially done with this tour. I’m actually only home for three days and then I have another show and then I’m home for a few days and then I fly out again. So, I’m actually going to be touring a lot in May. I’m doing four shows in the Midwest, like middle America Midwest–Omaha, Kansas, and stuff. Then, I’m flying back and I’m doing shows in upstate New York, some colleges. A lot of flying.
How does that feel?
It feels good. I hate flying, so that feels terrible. (Laughs) I’d rather not have to do that part of it. Airports are such a drag and now that they’re charging for every bag. It costs us a hundred extra dollars just to get from LA to Denver because of our bags, which we have to bring. So, I don’t like flying. But it’s good that there’s a lot going on for me. I was relatively home for most of the Winter and I’ll be home for most of July and August so it makes sense that I try to do as much as I can now before the summer.
When you go back home, are there any rituals that you do or things to relax to bring you back to comfort mode?
Yeah, the garden is definitely a part of that. I’m really excited about it. Lyndell (Montgomery) and I, who’s my bass player, are like, kind of nerds about the garden. We talk about like, and then we are going to plant squash! (Laughs) But, it’s our thing, it makes us excited to go home. And I really like to cook, actually. There’s just certain places in Northampton that I love to go. There are some good bars there that feel like home. I have a great apartment that’s really quiet. That’s kind of like, one of the great advantages in living in Northampton–when I’m done with all the jet-setting and stuff, I can go home and have it be quiet and pretty relaxing. The other thing that I’m going to be doing this summer is working on finishing the record. I’m gonna be spending a ton of time on that, which is not relaxing. It’s the opposite of relaxing.
Do you enjoy the recording process?
Yeah, I mostly do. This record is happening in a really different way and I don’t like that.
What do you mean by that?
Well, it’s really broken up. We went into the studio in February and did seven songs and those songs aren’t even done yet. Then I have to go back and record more songs and finish the ones we started. It’s a haphazard way to do it. There are reasons that caused me to do it that way, and I think it’ll work out okay, but it was a little more stressful to do it.
You said you like to cook. Do you have a favorite meal that you enjoy cooking? I’m a big eater, so I get excited about food talk.
Yeah? You’re a foodie. Totally. There are some good restaurants here in Boulder.
A few. I’m a big breakfast person so they have some good breakfast places.
Dot’s Diner. Really good.
Really? I haven’t heard of that. I’m a vegetarian too, so.
That’s okay. You’re in Boulder. Everyone is.
I really like Hapa, too.
Oh, I’ve never been there.
It’s totally like, over the top. It’s kind of bourgie.
Don’t they have some (sushi) rolls that are called like, sex in your mouth or something like that?
Yeah, multiple orgasm roll. Totally. It’s a little pretentious, but I like the food there. Cooking? I really like cooking soups these days. And I like barbecuing a lot.
What do you barbeque as a vegetarian? Tofu?
Tofu pups. (Laughs) Yeah, tofu dogs. I like to do kabobs. Veggie kabobs. I actually eat seafood too, so sometimes I’ll put like, shrimp on there. Delicious.
I was recently talking with the musician, Gregory Alan Isakov, who is also a huge gardener.
He was telling me that if he wasn’t him, he probably wouldn’t listen to his music because the music that he listens to isn’t necessarily the music that he creates. If you weren’t you, would you be a fan of Chris Pureka?
Yeah. First of all, I’m a fan of Greg’s and I think he’s lying. (Laughs) He would totally listen to his music, because the kind of music that he likes is totally similar to what he makes and he’s a fucking brilliant songwriter. There are times where I struggle with that where I’m like, maybe I wouldn’t. You can only create what you create. You can’t be like, well, I’m going to create these kinds of songs, you know what I mean? It’s kind of what comes out of you. I think for the most part, I would a little. Maybe I wouldn’t be a fan.
Would you go to your shows?
Maybe. I don’t know.
What do you listen to?
It’s good to have perspective on that. I don’t really have any way of comparing myself to other people, so it’s hard to say. What do I listen to? I listen to a lot of songwriters. I like Damien Rice, Josh Ritter, Gillian Welch, Patti Griffin, that kind of stuff. I’ve been listening to a lot of more indie stuff lately too like Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s is a band that I really love a lot. I really like Metric, a rock band from Canada. Yeah, I’m listening to a little bit more band stuff and less songwriter stuff these days and it’s influenced my writing a little bit. Yeah, the new record is definitely different. My last record was definitely an Americana record, I would say. And the new one is going to be just a little different. I don’t think it’s going to be as recognizable. It’s not done, so it’s hard to say but it feels different. Production is different. The other one sounded like, there was banjo and some songs that were kind of blue-grassy and folky and it was really focused on lyrics. This record is going to packaged differently.
Are you happy with how it is coming out? Are you satisfied with the turn it’s taking?
Yeah, I think so. It’s definitely like, taking a leap of faith with it a little bit. It feels like growing pains but I am excited to be doing something different. The more that I hear the old stuff, I feel like it’s moving on from that. It makes sense to me. I think it’ll work out.
Outside of music, who inspires you? Writers or artists? Have you read any good books lately?
Yeah, I read The Grapes of Wrath recently. It was pretty amazing. But I wouldn’t say that that’s an influence. I can think of some poets that I go to, that I really like. I think Mary Oliver is really amazing. Sometimes, it’s helpful but honestly, I feel like music is more of an inspiration. Other people’s songwriting. That’s where I get my references from. I don’t really have that much time to read. I don’t read as much as I ought to.
So, I’m not sure if you follow the news much but there was a case recently here in Colorado, regarding a transgender woman, Angie Zapata who was murdered in Greely. The trial just ended and it was the first case of a transgender crime being tried as a hate crime. The murderer was sentenced to life without parole. I’m just curious about the pressures within the queer community to remain a vocal presence when you are in the spotlight. The push to be more politically active and a voice for the queer community. Do you stay on top of what is going on? Do you feel like you are a queer activist?
I used to work with a poet named Alix Olson and I felt like when I was working with her I felt so much pressure to be political all the time. I am a political person but that is not what my art is about. At this point, I don’t feel the need to be a spokesperson. My music isn’t about being queer. It’s about making music and I also happen to be a queer person. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think it’s really important that people see me on stage and see my gender identity and like, identify with that and have intense experiences around that. I think that’s awesome. But I don’t specifically seek that out. I’m not necessarily a part of that dialogue, even. I feel like that’s something that people need. At the same time, a couple of the songs on my new record are more political, for sure. They’re not queer at all. They’re just more political in a broader sense. And that’s a shift that’s happening for me but it’s not a conscious shift. I’m not like, oh, I should write some political songs. It’s just happening for me. I feel uncomfortable with people–I don’t know–that’s just not what I do. You know Andrea Gibson, I’m sure.
That’s what her thing is. But that’s not what my thing is.
Which I like, actually. For me, as a writer, I don’t feel like I’m writing as a woman or as a queer person. I just write. And that’s what you do, which I really respect.
Oh, cool. Thanks. Thanks. Yeah, that’s how I feel about it. This is who I am. And like, I’m political in a lot of ways. It doesn’t have to enter into my music. Good question, though.
Thanks. I wanted to ask if you have a favorite word. Do you have one?
Do you have a word that you use a lot?
There’s some word that keeps coming up on tour.
That you say?
Yeah, I don’t remember what it is. No, I don’t think I have a favorite word. I think that’s funny. I don’t really get it. Like, what does that mean? What’s your favorite word?
I don’t even have an answer for you.
See? It’s like, I think some people come up with something just to have something to say. Is it about the meaning of it or the word?
Could be the letters. Maybe you are just a really big fan of vowels.
But if I think of that other word, I’ll tell you.
It’s really kinda funny. It came up more than once because it was pretty random. I’ll ask Lyndell, she might know.
Okay. Well, Chris, thanks for making the time today.
Yeah, thanks. Nice to meet you.
by Aimee Herman
[Photos: Laura Anne Heller]