How a Pandemic and a Stranger’s DM Led to Christina Jones’ International Album
Most people came out of the COVID-19 pandemic with a few extra pounds and some unfulfilled resolutions. Christina Jones emerged with an album.
Released over the summer, You Were My Compass is a contemplative, jazz-inflected LP filled with sensuous vocals and ruminations on romance. Written by acclaimed composer/pianist Kimiko Douglass-Ishizaka and executive produced by her husband Robert Douglass, the project is the end result of reflection, international collaboration and a few Facebook and Instagram messages.
At the time, the married couple had been looking to create a jazz album when they heard Jones sing in The Boston Conservatory at Berklee’s viral cover of “What the World Needs Now” in March 2020. Recorded from separate locations, the production played out like a much-less-cringey version of that “Imagine” video from last year, with everyone here being a trained musician. But getting back to the point, after hearing Jones’ small solo in the clip, Douglass had an inkling that she might be the perfect collaborator.
“Robert contacted me through Facebook and Instagram,” recalls Jones. “At first I thought it was a scam and I was like, ‘Who is this?’”
After doing her Googles, the 22-year-old former American Idol contestant realized that the messages were, in fact, not a scam. Soon, she was in talks with Douglass and Ishizaka to create the project. Because they live in different countries — and because of international travel restrictions imposed during the global crisis — they weren’t able to record in person. And yet, there’s an intimacy and connectedness to the release, qualities largely made possible by Jones’ own expressive vocals.
“Music for me was like where I felt the most connected to myself, where I felt the most clear-minded and, and there’s just something about singing and music and performing,” she shares. “It just makes me feel like I have purpose and I’m doing what I was meant to do.”
Recently, Jones sat down with The Wide Shot to talk about her own musical background, You Were My Compass, voice acting aspirations, and more. Check out the conversation below.
So first off, how did you get into music?
I’ve kinda been singing all my life. I started out in school plays and things like that. And then in churches around middle school, I started auditioning for things like I started auditioning for singing competitions and musicals and anything that I could get myself on a stage for. That eventually led me doing things like American Idol and singing at the Apollo and doing gigs and stuff in high school. It’s just kind of been, it’s just been something that I’ve loved to do and that I want to continue to do for the rest of my life.
Let’s talk about your style. Who are some artists that sort of influenced your sound?
I think right now for the time being on, I’m definitely being more influenced by jazz artists. I keep it like Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson. I feel like I steal a lot from their mannerisms and the way that they would improvise and phrase things in music. When I was younger, though, I would have told you my influences were like Gladys Knight.
Years ago, you auditioned for American Idol. What was that like?
That entire process felt like a dream. Like, it really did not feel real at all. , especially when I kept going further. It was very surreal standing in front of these stars, especially Lionel Richie, like somebody who I grew up with. Like, it was just surreal, but they were just right there in front of me. I remember like I was stressed, but I had the time of my life. I think in that process, I learned a lot about myself, mostly that I wasn’t ready for what I was getting myself into. , because at that point I was just an 18 year old that loves to sing, you know, like I didn’t really have a brand.
I was there because I wanted to sing. Lionel told me before I was voted off that I was a flower that hasn’t bloomed yet, essentially saying that once I figure out who I am as an artist, then come back.
Would you say you’ve bloomed now?
I would say I’m blooming.
What what was some evidence that you were growing?
Well, to tell you the truth, I always had doubts on [American Idol]. Like there were a lot of times where I thought, why am I here? Because I didn’t really feel like I belonged, but after talking with the other contestants, like these people that I looked up to, even if they were younger than me or older than me, people that I really considered really good artists, I would talk to them and I would sing with them. And I remember thinking like, “I feel like I have a place here.” I think it was when I just started surprising myself and finding out that I had a lot more in common with these musicians as far as musicianship goes.
Let’s get into the album, which is dope by the way. How did you guys come up with the title for your project?
So Robert and I talked about a title for a long time before we even considered recording it, was this is called Heartbreak, but then we had to ask ourselves, ‘What are the themes?’ Like, what are the themes of the album? Because we really, really wanted to emphasize just like a certain theme and put it in a more interesting way than just Heartbreak. We found that the whole album is a literal journey, and there’s a lot of symbolism for that journey in the form of trains and boats and modes of transportation. And so we thought that one of the songs, “You Were My Compass” was the best fit for it. It just made sense.
Everyone always says ‘They’re all my favorite,’ but I want you to narrow it down. What was your favorite song to record for this project.
My No. 1 favorite song from the album was “Just a Moment Ago.” I just really, really liked the groove of that one. And also I just liked the playfulness that I didn’t really lean on in the other songs.
Are there some other things you’re into besides singing?
Hmm. Well, I’m in, I’m in a show at a regional theater here, um, in Boston right now. Um, I’m going to be Janet in Rocky Horror at Moon Box in Cambridge. So that’s gonna be fun. Then hopefully if COVID isn’t bad, I have two other shows that I’m doing in 2022. Um, one of them is Ain’t Misbehavin’ again, like in Cambridge and then I’m not allowed to talk about the second one.
On your website it says you’re a voice actor. Have you gotten into that at all?
I think it is like something that I’m aspiring to be. I have done a few things here and there. Like I did something through my school, , is like an audio visual experience called Dream Machine, I believe. I also voiced the character for a demo for a video game for some UCLA students. That was really fun.
Were there any cartoons you saw that made you want to get into that?
Oh my God. Yes. I think it started with Looney Tunes.I just remember absolutely loving Looney Tunes. And then when I got older, I found out that it was all the same guy and I really didn’t believe in, I was like, no way they no way. , so then I started like, why did, it’s not like that led to me watching more cartoons. I love cartoons and I’ve always loved cartoons. , but I started really paying attention to voice acting when I would, when I got older, when I would watch things like, you know, like Adventure Time or Steven Universe or like, , even like watching family, I think Family Guy.
Right. I can see how that would influence you. You’re into a lot of things.
I have a lot of interests, um, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a problem just because if I really take my time with them and I’m not just kind of running around like a chicken with its head cut off, I can still do what I want. I can still do what I want. I just don’t have to do one thing for the rest of my life, you know?