Since her excellent 2010 release, How I Learned To See In The Dark, singer Chris Pureka has gone through a lot. Crippling writer’s block stalled her followup efforts and an ill-advised move to New York City resulted in a failed relationship that left her emotionally exhausted. For a while, it seemed as though we might have heard the last from the talented Americana songwriter.
Fast forward six years later, Pureka is celebrating the release of her new full-length studio album, Back In The Ring, a project she lovingly describes as her “anthem of resilience.”
What changed? She moved to Portland and started worrying about herself for once.
Chris Pureka chatted with opbmusic’s Jenn Keenan about the new album, her move to Portland, and her path as an accidental musician. Listen to the full interview above and read excerpts from their conversation below.
On how moving to Portland changed the tenor of her new album:
I had about a half of a record’s worth of songs when I moved to Portland. And those songs were all really dark because I had been living in New York and I had a really hard time there. I didn’t really enjoy living there. When I moved to Portland I needed to round out the record and the first song I wrote when I moved here was [the title track] “Back In The Ring.” It’s a new beginning kind of song. I also just needed an anthem of resilience myself. I had gone through some rough stuff and needed something that would help lift me back up.
You can kind of listen to the record and tell which ones I wrote in New York and which ones I wrote in Portland. As I’ve sort of developed a community here and a home here and have been working on writing from a more grounded place, the songs have shifted. They’re a little more playful. There’s a lightness to them that wasn’t there when I was in New York. The most recent song that I wrote that’s on the record is “Betting on the Races,” which is kind of a pop song. Which is funny. For me it’s kind of a pop song. For a pop artist it’s kind of a dark folk song. [laughing]
On her surprising path to becoming a musician:
It was an accident. I started out very much interested in science. Even when I was a little kid I had an interest in the natural world—wildlife, plant and animal science. I studied that in college. My degree is in biology. When I graduated, I worked at a microbiology lab for four years. I really enjoyed that a lot. At the same time, I had made these connections in college with political activists and artists. And I collaborated with Alex Olsen, who was a spoken word artist, on her poetry by backing her up with my music. I was inspired by other role models in my high school and college experience to try playing out at open mics.
When I first started playing guitar at 16, I started writing songs right away. It felt like something that I was very compelled to do. I just really needed an outlet. I was a closeted gay teenager having a really hard time in a conservative town. Just being able to write about it and express it, just for myself, was extremely, extremely important to me. And then when I started sharing the songs, people responded well and that cool, and surprising, and hard. I was also very, very shy. That’s the other accidental part. To be a performer, it’s still a challenge for me. I’m more of an introvert. I find it still continues to be a challenge to perform.