Unless their last name is Jonas or Cyrus, few aspiring musicians get to blow off tenth grade for recording sessions, but Darien Crossley's debut album, Theorem, shows a maturity beyond her years. Apparently Asheville-based Alive and Well Records saw that, too, because the indie label signed Crossley as its second act (they also represent Dup Crosson of Saint Solitude). "I like being in the studio," says the singer/songwriter (who, on her CD, goes by just Darien). "I especially like it when I get to miss math tests."
Crossley is a rising junior at Carolina Day School, but she's also well-traveled, having lived in the Ukraine and England, among other locales. The singer/songwriter's father manages nuclear site decommissions; during his stint at Chernobyl, Crossley — then age 4 — had what she calls her "formal training" in music. "My style, if I even had a style at that age, was much more classical," she says. Later, while living in the U.K., she began writing songs and performing publicly.
After Crossley's family settled in Asheville, she decided that she wanted to record her music. "It was my dad who found Landslide Studio," she says. "It was a great environment." It was at that North Asheville studio that Crossley met producer Andrew Schatzberg, who also co-owns Alive and Well Records. Schatzberg had the vision both to expand Crossley's songs and to release the resulting six-track EP on Alive and Well.
"We've come to so many ideas that I never would have been able to come to on my own," the musician says. Crosson added drum tracks, Michael Olivier (Pierce Edens & the Dirty Work) played bass and other artists, like Billy Jack Sinkovic and Shane Hartman, added touches. (The end result is a verdant pop collection teaming with buoyant melodies and rhythms that propel each song from introspective singer/songwriter territory into something infinitely more commercial, approachable and even danceable.)
Crossley's lyrics, the image-laden snippets of stories and musings, are the centerpiece of the album. Each song is composed in lush layers around her up-front vocals and plaintive, pretty mezzo-soprano. There's a sweet frankness to the songs ("There's a light in between my fifth and sixth rib, shines brighter when you're standing near it," she sings on "5th and 6th") that recalls Suzanne Vega during the 1980s, but also a free-association fantasy element ("I go out at night with polar bears at my side," she sings in "Mariana's Trench") that edges closer to Björk.
But even as Crossley's subject matter wends between reality and magical realism, there's an evident continuity to the album. "Because of the time that those songs were written, and the similar influences, I thought it would be good to just keep them together and save other songs for the next album," she says. "It was its own project and its own little world for me when I wrote those songs and when I recorded them."
Recording did take the tracks beyond the microcosm stage, though, with the full-band treatment. "When I first write them, they're really folky," Crossley says of her songs. "I had gone into the studio wanting a big sound — I had some bigger ideas that I couldn't achieve alone with Theorem. We've kept the integrity and the ideas, but with the electronic stuff and with the band behind [the songs] it's a really different thing. They've bloomed."
In fact, Crossley is now working with Schatzberg and drummer Peter Councell to reproduce the album for a live show. "It's important to make it sound true to the record," she says. There is also a full-length album in the works, due out this fall. "I'm super-passionate about this whole process," says Crossley. "We're going to be going hard at it this summer." That is, just as soon as school lets out.
Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
what: CD-release party for Theorum
where: The Rocket Club
when: Saturday, June 12 ( 9 p.m., aliveandwellrecords.com)