The Siren and the Sea Drifts Away

There are multiple sides to Cristina Cano’s Siren and the Sea project, but her most recent album, Gravity Wave, massively expands its aural horizons. Through a series of ambient soundscapes, emotional journeys unfold, and liminal spaces become expressive, intricate worlds. Cano pushed herself to try a different approach with Gravity Wave, focusing on improvisation and collecting those moments. While it’s quite different from her previous album, For Bathing, there are sonic connections woven into each.

Gravity Wave is out now on her new label, Bathysphere Records (co-run by Justin Longerbeam and James Phillips. They have plenty more in the pipeline. Grab the album HERE.

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Going back, what are some of your earliest memories or experiences related to music or sound? What are some of the real formative things from when you were young that have stuck with you?

My mother is a classically trained pianist, so my first memories with sound are her playing the classics and myself doing little interpretive dances to her music. Around age 4, I started tinkering on the piano by ear and thus began my journey into music. Growing up in the multicultural melting pot of Miami, I was also given a very wide colorful palette of musical styles to absorb at an early age which I know has informed my songwriting.

Did you always want to be a musician or play music?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t playing music. It is one of those things that even if I’m having a challenging creative streak and declare, “I’m quitting music altogether,” the feeling is brief, and ultimately there is no escaping music. I don’t have the option to not be a musician. 

Building on that, what first pushed you to start writing your own music, playing, recording, etc.? And when did Siren and the Sea actually begin?

I started writing my own songs around age 13, and I am sure they were terrible and angsty. I had a 4-track Recorder and a microphone when I was a teen, and I would stay up late at night recording my dumb love songs. This passion for making music snowballed into my adult life. 

Siren and the Sea was formed in 2010 when I was living and performing in Portland, OR. At the time, I was playing very different styles of music, a little more dark folk with myself playing piano or acoustic guitar with various accompaniments of accordion, violin, trumpet, etc. In 2017 I released my first official Siren and the Sea album, and through my experience exploring in the studio, I was able to further define my style through synthesis and solid grooves. I’ve recorded and performed with some excellent musicians over the years, and my sound is heavily influenced by all of their talents. 

What’s the story behind the project name?

When I first created Siren and the Sea in 2010, it was an escape from performing under my real name. I was born in Hawaii and raised near the ocean my whole life, so I have a natural connection with the sea. Over the years, I’ve connected “the sea” to the music and the “siren” to my songwriting and voice. 

Listening through your work, it’s fascinating hearing the different styles and approaches you’ve had in recent years, especially how it all ties together. I’m curious how you think about the project as a whole, but if, for example, you set out to do a more ambient style record with Gravity Wave compared to your approach with the excellent For Bathing?

Gravity Wave was an exceptional release from the form of my traditional songwriting in that every song is an improvisation, so I didn’t have to labor over form or lyrics. I could just play and feel it. In a world where there is a lot of noise, it felt liberating to remove words and create something that is meant to soothe rather than provoke. 

With Gravity Wave, there’s a sense of calm and stillness throughout. In the description, you mention it being a ‘means to shape a meditative atmosphere’ – specific to this album, what kind of mindset and thought patterns do you try to go into or pull from when you’re writing music like this? 

I’m a scene setter when it comes to recording. I love to light my candles and incense, open a window, and let some nature into the space. I live in Santa Monica, CA, so I am lucky enough to get to walk to the beach every day. In general, I like to start my process with a little walk to the beach, some cheeb, pulling an Oblique Strategies card, and setting a tranquil space. That being said, I created Gravity Wave in February 2023 while I was traveling a bit for work. “Organ Breath” and “Probably Hawai’i” were both written in a very sterile hotel room in Kansas City, MO, while the rest of the songs were written in my living room at home. 

And then, more generally, how do music and sound play this role for you – and not just as a medium for finding calm and solace, but also as a means for processing emotions and thoughts? 

With ambient music, I am usually aiming to release myself from trying to create anything specific and let the music tell me what it wants to be. Outside of ambient, I tend to seek a bit more control, but I am learning that there is a balance. Without abusing more oceanic metaphors, it’s a bit like steering a ship. It can be unpredictable, but I guide my way through it on whatever instrument I am performing. It can be a meditative practice, and while there are always challenges, it is a very holistic way to process through mental and emotional obstacles. 

What has surprised you most during the process of writing, recording, and releasing Gravity Wave?

Since Gravity Wave are improvised passes, I often would perform a piece, step away and just assume that it wasn’t usable. I was so surprised at the end of the month when I came back to all of the songs, and sure enough, there was this cohesive, beautiful ambient album. My husband, Justin Longerbeam (who recently released an ambient album as Alan Graves), is an incredible artist and audio engineer, and he took the album to his studio in Hollywood and really brought it to life in the mixing and mastering stages. This was also the quickest album I’ve ever created and released! I wrote this in February 2023 and released it in March. Sort of insane what can happen when you liberate yourself from all of the emotional labor of toiling over an album needing to be perfect and just let it go into the world. 

Do you hope to return to that mode and explore those sonic zones again?

Absolutely, I will definitely be releasing more ambient music. Justin and I have a project called Volcano Lazerbeam, and we are set to release an album together in the fall. This year, we also started our ambient label Bathysphere Records, with our good friend James Phillips (Sumner James, Bombadil). Because we’ve set out to release an album a month, we have been fully immersed in the ambient world as we meet new artists, and it is keeping us accountable to our own release goals! 

Really quick, For Bathing has some definite sonic connections to the more ephemeral Gravity Wave but is also such a different record in so many ways. What were some of the biggest challenges you had with For Bathing, and is that a mode you plan on returning to in the future?

The process of For Bathing was the total opposite of Gravity Wave in that it took me 4 years to write, record, and release. I was very keen on self-producing the album, so I spent a lot of time with decision fatigue and processing a lot of different emotions. Similarly to Gravity Wave, I sought out to create an album that people could process their feelings through with a very intentional song order and sonic design. I’ve learned a lot from each project I’ve worked on, and I look forward to applying some of the holistic approaches of Gravity Wave into my next lyrical album. 

And to close, what’s next for you this year and beyond?

I am currently working on my next lyrical album. I have a single called “Still In The Race” that I am about to release very soon. In addition, I’m excited about creating the next Volcano Lazerbeam ambient album! 

Foxy Digitalis depends on our awesome readers to keep things rolling. Pledge your support today via our Patreon or subscribe to The Jewel Garden.