New York-based artist Crystal Joilena discusses her latest single and how she plans to come back stronger than ever after a rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease diagnosis.
For New York-based genre-bending artist Crystal Joilena, music is life. Channeling a majestic, otherworldly sound that transcends genre, Joilena’s music captivates like a powerful spiritual encounter, shifting the atmosphere and illuminating everything that it touches.
Join contributing writer Cynthia Gross as she connects with Crystal Joilena to discuss how music helped her to process trauma while growing up, the most important lesson she’s learned as a rising independent artist, why she believes introverts have a secret power, and her favorite memory of the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area.
Crystal Joilena always knew that she was destined for a creative career. She got her starts singing in church choirs, attending Broadway productions, auditioning for school musicals, and performing karaoke at venues like Hard Rock Café in Universal Studios, Hollywood.
“I’ve had a few different stage names and been in a lot of rock and metal bands in high school as well,” she shared. “Nothing truly clicked for me until I decided to become a solo artist in 2014 and used my first and middle names to make it more personal; that’s where my stage name Crystal Joilena comes from.”
Joilena cites Tori Amos and Sarah Brightman as two of her biggest influences. “Tori is known for incorporating a lot of spirituality in her music to create a very haunting sound that I’ve never heard quite in that way; it sends chills up my spine.”
“Sarah is very operatic, and not only was she the first who played Christine [Daaé] in the Broadway musical The Phantom of the Opera and really owned the role, her original music is absolutely ethereal, and also very spiritual; it reminds me of ancient times,” Joilena added.
Crystal Joilena’s genre-defying sound draws from the energy of Amos and Brightman, but not prescriptively so. In fact, Joilena’s own music prompts a similar reaction from audiences: that what they encounter is distinct and one of a kind.
While she was exposed to a variety of musical styles while growing up, Crystal Joilena notes that everything changed when she discovered heavy metal.
“I was someone who had a lot of trauma happen in my life at an early age,” said Joilena. “There was never really a moment of rest, and I could never process my emotions. Heavy metal helped me cope with everything that was happening and gave me a light to look forward to.”
Joilena felt a visceral connection to heavy metal, stating that she “felt called to it,” and the underground scene provided a place of shelter from a society that is all too often judgmental and even cruel toward individuals whom it classifies as different.
“Like those were my people, after not feeling like I fit in anywhere and getting bullied in many different schools. To be able to lose yourself in the loud music, let all the anger and sadness out, go to the concerts, scream as loud as you can, and not care about what was happening in the outside world, is truly invigorating and therapeutic,” she added.
For Joilena, a self-described “autoimmune disease warrior,” rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease are illnesses that she navigates daily. “With RA, all of my joints will constantly hurt me, and everything feels so inflamed during a flare-up,” said Joilena. “Sometimes it is super painful to walk, painful to move around, and since these issues tend to get worse starting around the late 20s (everyone is different), I have been suffering a lot more over the past few years.”
In January, Joilena was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease after battling a debilitating health crisis for consecutive months that affected her stomach and esophagus.
“I was constantly vomiting and had horrible stabbing pains in my stomach, which in turn aggravated a hiatal hernia, and my stomach pushed up to my throat, so eating became difficult (I had to change my diet completely as well, and couldn’t have anything acidic),” explained Joilena. “Singing became difficult because every time I would try to, I would just vomit instead, and my front teeth eroded from all the acid and food coming up, so I had to get veneers.”
To manage her symptoms, Joilena takes medication prescribed by her doctor and also looks to holistic forms of wellness, realizing that physical and mental health are intrinsically connected. “I’ve tried to destress myself a lot. I’ve let go of people who cause me stress, or I keep them at an arm’s length.”
“Meditation helps, spiritual, crystal and reiki healing helps definitely. I still have surgeries on the horizon; one will control the acid and bile reflux I suffer from because of Crohn’s and the hiatal hernia, and I will also get this hiatal hernia closed up completely this summer,” explained Joilena. “Right now, it’s just being managed with the medication and new diet.” Thankfully, Joilena’s Crohn’s disease seems to be on a gradual path to remission.
It goes without saying that creating music is healing for Crystal Joilena, offering her a space to process complex emotions within a liberating art form. In June, Joilena released her latest single, “The High Priestess,” a standout track that explores what it means to connect with your higher self in the midst of forces that seek to usurp your power. Knowing the challenges that Joilena faces on a day-to-day basis makes the beauty of her offering even more remarkable.
The conviction within Joilena’s vocals throughout “The High Priestess” is palpable, and the song makes you feel as though you have happened upon the divine. Joilena describes the recording process for her latest single as a “spiritual encounter,” especially in terms of how her lyrics and melodies are inspired – perhaps not unlike The Muses, Tori Amos’ storied co-creators. “Usually, a song will stay in queue in my head for years before I decide it’s time to record it,” said Joilena. “That is definitely what happened with ‘The High Priestess.’”
Like the best of the best, Crystal Joilena’s music that draws from her personal experiences has universal appeal. Not only are the songs healing for Joilena, but they are also a remedy for all manner of hurt, pain, and doubt for all who listen.
Crystal Joilena is a proud introvert, and she notes the secret power associated with such traits in terms of how she sees the world and approaches her art. “There’s a lot you can learn from stepping back and viewing the world from a different lens,” she said. “It’s wild how much the imagination can roam just by staying quiet. Sometimes, I’d like to think I can read others’ minds, though not always true.”
To take it all in, Joilena tends to people-watch, enjoy an occasional dinner alone, and sight-see. “Small talk isn’t my favorite thing, but it takes me a while to open up, so sometimes, all anyone will get at first is a few words here and there.”
Whenever Joilena finds herself at a loss for words, the expression flows effortlessly into her music. “I write more than I say, I have so much in my head, but it’s so hard to get it out there, so I tend to just write it in songs.”
Additionally, Joilena, a dual U.S./Australian citizen, destresses by traveling often. She visits Australia, her “second home,” annually, where her mother, sister, and maternal side of the family reside. Joilena’s most memorable experience in Australia to date was visiting The Twelve Apostles, which she describes as “the most beautiful place I have ever been to.”
“The Twelve Apostles are caves in the cliffs that eventually became arches,” she explained. “Those arches collapsed and left towering rock stacks in the ocean. There are only eight rock stacks remaining, and the beach that surrounds them is amazing.”
Stateside, Joilena is no stranger to the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area. Last year, while visiting her boyfriend’s family in Frederick, Maryland, she fell in love with the city’s small-town feel and “vintage stores” with “quirky items.” And as an added bonus, she noted, “the prices are so great compared to NYC.”
In the coming months, Crystal Joilena has a number of projects planned, including releasing a new cover, dropping a merch line, and returning to the studio to record her next single. Health permitting, she also looks forward to playing live shows again this fall.
“My comeback will be bigger than my setback,” Joilena declared confidently, exemplifying the exceptionally strong woman she who will not let anything keep her down. To younger artists trying to find their way, Joilena wants them to believe the same: that they are resilient, powerful, and unstoppable.
“Do everything in your power to not let this industry ruin your mental health (it can get very hard) and be careful who you trust. When someone promises you something, take it with a grain of salt until it’s a reality,” she cautioned, adding that “getting your hopes up can be a poison for optimism.”
“Keep having faith in yourself and your talent, do the necessary work, and you will love the outcome. Be patient because opportunities will come in divine timing, and sometimes that can take years.” And above all else, “never lose yourself or let anyone make you think you are less than incredible.”
Cynthia Gross is a freelance writer and award-winning spiritual pop artist based in Maryland. With more than a decade of experience as an executive ghostwriter, she understands the power of each individual’s voice to create positive, meaningful change.
Flow-bending artist aSanTIS discusses art, culture, and whether sound can solve the world’s problems in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
My interview with Amy Santis aka aSanTIS began in the most unexpected way. The Maryland-based flow-bending artist and lyrical storyteller came prepared to engage in conversation around questions I had posed – and she also brought one or two of her own thoughtful prompts based on her curiosities around my view of learning.
This practice of taking in her surroundings deeply through observation and inquiry has come naturally to aSanTIS ever since she was a young child. In terms of her early starts in music, she notes that she began as a discerning listener. “Just listening to music from my mom, on the radio, just being a consumer in the world of sound. But I think mainly, my mom has always loved dancing and listening to music, so that was sort of like second nature. We play music at gatherings, we play music in the car, and these songs are sort of like diaries that take us into a specific place.”
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