Q&A: Kristina Cottone

This week may mark the release of Kristina Cottone’s debut EP Bow, but as the lead singer of the soul-rock band Honey & the 45s, Cottone is no stranger to music. She has countless experience playing major stages and opening for national acts such as Andy Grammer in Chicago’s Grant Park, but that doesn’t stop Cottone from nervously jittering as she reminisces about her first solo show in New York this past weekend. She playfully laughs about squeezing the hands of her two best friends while riding the subway to her gig; a giddiness that hasn’t seemed to be put to ease quite yet.

“One of the reasons I did the show in New York is because playing completely alone scares me,” says Cottone.

For the first time in her musical career, Cottone is holding the pressures of the show on her own. She’ll be taking the stage on Friday, March 3rd for an official release show at Uncommon Ground. And while Cottone may be reasonably terrified, she’s clearly excited and proud of her new endeavor as she sits down with Listen Live and Local to share her adventure.

LLL: First off, welcome home! You just got back from your first show in New York. How was the trip?

Kristen Cottone: [It] was incredible. The highlight of the trip was something I didn’t even know I would be doing until a few days before. This company Leesta Vall reached out to me. They just started this program called Office Sessions where they record one cut of a song directly to vinyl. I went in and I recorded 16 records on the spot and those will be the only copies in existence. You’re creating this really unique musical artifact.  It was a surreal experience. I actually brought ten of the records home with me. I never thought I’d be able to record direct to vinyl. I always wanted to. My mom use to play records a lot when I was a kid. When [I was] contacted to do this, I was just so excited because I feel like [vinyl] is coming back. I especially love that they’re the 45s. I really want to bring Honey & the 45s there.

LLL: You have no plans on leaving Honey & the 45s. In fact, you guys just started recording a new album this week. So what made you decide to record a solo EP?

KC: I didn’t know it was going to be an EP [and] I wasn’t actually planning on having an official release show. I was just planning on recording a few songs and it just kept snowballing. I’ve always been a songwriter, always considered myself to be a storyteller. [Honey & the 45s] took a break from gigging to focus on writing this winter, [so] I had time to work on writing solo stuff. Since Honey wasn’t ready to record, I took advantage of a good deal with this engineer named Jeff Breakey of Good Wolf Music. I really enjoyed the process, so we kept going and recording. It turned out I had five songs. They’d all been recorded and polished, and I thought, “Why not actually release this in an official form?”

LLL: This first song on the album, “Bad For Me”, is nothing but you and the guitar. It’s an interesting transition when you’re use to being backed by a full band.

KC: The first song was actually just as a live take all the way through, just me and the guitar. We had a film crew there and filmed it at the same time. I wanted there to be a raw energy. We didn’t use a click track because I wanted it to be a natural performance.

LLL: Most of the songs on your EP are different from what fans of Honey & the 45s might be use to, especially “Boston Boy”. What’s the story behind that song?

KC: “Boston Boy” wasn’t even on the EP [at first], but I knew I wanted to do something with a beat maker. I wrote Jeff Breakey, the engineer, and I said, “Have you ever built a beat before? I got this song and I’m hearing a crazy beat.” He’s like, “No, but one of my friends who currently lives in Jamaica is coming into town and he is a crazy beat maker.” Jordan Armond is his name. So I met with Jordan and played him the song on guitar. I [didn’t] even want guitar in the song. I just [wanted] it to be a beat and a bass line. So he sat there with his board and literally wrote the beat around what I was playing. It was amazing to watch. Now that’s one of my favorite songs on the EP, just because it’s something I’ve never done before.

LLL: Your EP wraps up with the title track, a song you say was important for you to include on the album. Why were  you so intent on getting “Bow” recorded?

KC: “Bow” is a song about immense transition, which I [recently] went through in my life. It’s about knowing a time when it’s right to take the bow and let go of things. The song was living with me for a while, but I hadn’t written it. Then I made another life change, this time in career. I came home, the night I made that career change, [and] I wrote the song in an hour. I always feel like the best songs are the songs that won’t leave you alone until you write them, and when you do, it goes so fast because it’s already there in your body.

LLL: Why did you decide to pursue music, and who inspires you artistically?

KC: Well, my grandpa was a jazz singer and he sang a lot of standards. He also lived in Mexico for five years and sang with Mariachis. My mom was kind of a secret songwriter growing up, so we were always making up songs when I was a little kid. I guess the style I play is a reflection of a lot of people I listen to. I’ve always been drawn to soulful singers. I’m about to see Aretha Franklin at the Chicago Theatre. I’m really, really excited cause that may be one of her last shows. I [also] love female singer songwriters. I am obsessed with Jennifer Hall. She just released a new self-titled EP. I love her writing. Jess Godwin is another singer songwriter and amazing musician I look up to.

LLL: Your solo career is just starting, but Honey & the 45s is quite established. Any advice for newer musicians?

KC: Obviously I’m still learning, but my biggest piece of advice is learn to separate the creative side from the business side. There was a while where the band was intensely doing both sides without separation, and it was interfering with our writing and our personal development. They’re both equally important, and until you’re bigger, you have to manage yourself, and it’s a lot of work. Booking is a lot of work. Promotion is a lot of work. Just day-to-day scheduling is a lot of work. Really being able to separate that side of it from the creative process and having the rehearsal room be a creative space without bring in any logistics or negative energy. That doesn’t mean you can’t be hashing out things in rehearsal, but if you do, set aside 15 or 20 minutes. If you’re not having a good time creatively, it becomes a task instead of something you enjoy.

Kristina Cottone’s next performance will be on Friday, March 3rd at Uncommon Ground. The night will also include a performance by Nikki Morgan.

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