If you have ever seen a live performance of Chrissi Poland, the image of a young girl innocently tinkering little tunes on her grandmother’s old, cobweb-filled upright piano seems somewhat surreal. This passionate songstress tears up every stage she steps foot on, attacking her songs with a vengeance and commanding audiences with her precision, confidence, and presence. Currently on tour with international sensation the Scissor Sisters, Poland will be performing in some of the grandest arenas in the nation as part of Lady Gaga’s opening act.
Prior to this opportunity of a lifetime, Chrissi was yet another up-and-coming artist in New York City. All of her work was centered on original music, studio sessions, and whatever gigs she could play. “By whatever gigs, I mean whatever,” Poland emphasizes. “I would do anything just to get my name out there and make sure I could support myself. When I moved to New York I didn’t know anybody… I had no money and no work. Over time, you network and get into that mentality that you just always have to hustle. I did everything from corporate events to Jimmy’s bar mitzvah in NJ.”
Pursuing the dream was not a question for Chrissi, who always knew there was more to get out of the life she was currently living. In 2006, Monday night’s “Open Jam” at The Cutting Room opened up a new opportunity for Poland, where she was able to meet tons of people from TV, film, and radio personalities to producers and those connected with live shows. Through the “Open Jam” she scored more session and studio work, and landed a gig with the Tran Siberian Orchestra. From there she ended up working with Moby, singing on some of his records and projects. “It all stemmed from people that I met at the Cutting Room jam,” Poland recalls.
In addition to her first instrument, piano, Chrissi has also wowed audiences with her impressive command of the drums. Learning by ear and observation from her dad, who is also a drummer, Poland can recall being in the car with him as he drummed out beats to The Beatles on his steering wheel. “Rhythm has always been around me, and has always been my approach as a musician. It’s what’s going on inside, and what I feel connected to,” she explains. “In college I dated a drummer, and would go to the practice rooms with him. Sometimes I would sit down and found it pretty easy to play a beat. I loved it! But it wasn’t until I went to a Nikka Costa concert about two years ago and saw her play a kit on her set at the Bowery Ballroom, and sing that I thought to myself, if she can do it, I’m going to try to do it.” Well people, she does it, and she does it amazing.
While drums influenced certain tracks on her last EP, Songs From the Concrete, Chrissi’s next album is seriously rooted in rhythm and soul. “The last record I approached as a jazz record, even though its not, in that we recorded everything live and it really breathes musically,” Poland clarifies. “You can feel the movement of the music and the swells. This next set of music will be more rhythm based and up-tempo. There will be more strains of funk and rock, playing with sounds, and doing things production-wise that I didn’t do on the last record, which was completely organic.”
In the meantime, Chrissi is headed out on tour once again with the Scissor Sisters, this time touring all over the US. Early last year their tour manager called her up, explaining they were interested in adding background vocalists to the act and wanted her to audition. Referred to him by Nicki Richards, an amazing singer and artist who has toured with Michael Jackson and worked with Madonna, Chrissi recalls feeling flattered and thinking, “I didn’t even know she knew who I was. I was so blown away and thankful to her for this recommendation.” At the audition she was paired up with one other girl who they also liked, and after singing together the two were hired the next day. Originally only brought on to do two NYC gigs and a SXSW show, the two girls were signed up for the long haul of US and European tour dates after personally and professionally clicking with the team.
The Scissor Sisters tour has provided Chrissi with some of the most influential moments of her career, one which occurred during a performance on the main stage at the Glastonbury Festival. “The sun was setting and the flags from all the different nations were waving and as far as I could see it was a sea of people,” Poland recalls dreamily. “It was so powerful to be standing on a stage in front of that many people, presenting music, and having them present back to us their love, energy and excitement. It just went through me, and took my breath away.”
In addition to her latest run with fame, this Berklee alum has also had the honor of singing a duet on stage with Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave), one of the last great living legends of soul music. “To stand on stage with him and sing ‘Knock on Wood,’ look into his eyes and have him allow me that privilege… I still pinch myself to this day. I still can’t believe he even knows my name.”
So what does a well-traveled, ambitious, and dazzling performer look forward to the most? “Coming home to see my friends and hear them play music,” she admits honestly. Poland specifically cites fellow NYC artist Martin Rivas with providing inspiration and fulfillment to her career and her personal growth.
“I’ve only known Martin a little over a year, and I’ve been a singer for a long time. But I’m always threatening to write a book or essay called ‘The Martin Effect.’ I think it should be a studied topic, the way he inspires people and brings them together, not just through his presence but also through his music and his writing. A lot of times what stimulates us so much about music is something that we can’t really describe or dissect scientifically… we just feel. Ultimately that’s what it is- we are vibrating beings, music is nothing but vibrations and rhythm, and it starts to gel with us somehow. When I was first given his music it was the way that I felt when I first had Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder’s music handed to me. Sea of Clouds changed me as a writer, it changed the way I heard music. I consider him, as a NYC-based singer-songwriter, someone who changed me for the better as a musician. He’s a magical light that shines on everybody… and not self-appointed. He just is.”
I’m confident many fellow songwriters and musicians would issue the same sentiments about Poland, a force onstage that pulls you in so powerfully you feel a mixture of envy, awe, respect and adoration. Her movements are fluid and rhythmic, her vocals are flawless and her love radiates from the tips of her fiery red hair to the heels of her fierce knee high boots. If you haven’t had the distinct pleasure of being entertained by Poland, do yourself a favor and get to her next show. You are guaranteed to leave with your mind blown, your soul healed, your heart full, and your ears ringing with the pure essence of the NYC music scene.
For more on Chrissi Poland or to purchase her music, please visit her website www.chrissipoland.com.
Category: Exclusive Interviews