Chris Szajbert Teams Up with Mourning [A] BLKstar Co-Founders on New Project and Album

click to enlarge Chris Szajbert - Photo by Robert Banks
Photo by Robert Banks
Chris Szajbert

Multimedia performer Chris Szajbert has partnered up with Mourning [A] BLKstar co-founders RA Washington and LaToya Kent to form the eclectic trio Children of Artists. Their forthcoming album, Ballad of the Liar’s Tongue, is being released by Kent and Washington’s Cleveland Tapes as part of the label's 20th anniversary slate of work and will be available as a digital release through Bandcamp on March 4.

Written and recorded in RA Washington’s home studio, Ballad of the Liar’s Tongue is a 10-track album understated in its minimalistic arrangements, loungey with a Portishead ambiance.

“Washington’s distinct bass and grounded beats, and Szajbert’s lead vocals and distant guitar create a mysterious and enigmatic sound, full of tension and release. Evocative lyrics and melodies by Washington and Kent, combined with Szajbert’s ability to transform and voice characters, create a project that is both a time capsule and a future-lean, a fusion of genres charting a woman’s ongoing search for spaces and places within herself," the band says of itself in a press release.

The production is stripped down and the listener feels as if they are sitting in the kitchen with the players. The album offers a jazz aesthetic and a poetic soul, with the daringness of the Kent and Washington’s lyrics all over, for example in the lines on "Unisex Flex."

I got me a pistol
but I’d rather use my knife
You wanna’ hold me
but I’d rather take your life

“When writing the lyrics for the songs, I sat as the music was being crafted and connected to the energy I felt coming off of Chris,” said Kent about the process. “I traveled through her mind, heart and experience. It felt like all the songstresses of the past looking over my shoulder asking to be represented in the words and performance. All the angst and softness all bold and open in its expression.”

“The work conjures cinema. We sometimes would inspire each other with scenarios and characters to communicate the feeling of the song, like: a giddy skip through a sexy garden of Eden ("Garden Juke") a dusty soul search road-trip ("The Westerns"), a jilted lover in a sweaty South American bar ("Ballad"), a white room futuristic make-out party ("Unisex Flex") but people are free to go wherever they want to with this bad boy,” added Washington.

The project came about organically with two creatives getting together.

“During the pandemic I called RA to watch my experimental films and give feedback, which sparked a conversation about soundscapes and soundtracks,” said Szajbert. “The idea solidified when LaToya Kent came on board to help produce.”

“I talked to RA about this friend of his that could play guitar and sing that was also doing some cool performance art pieces,” added Kent. “When we sat down to talk about her making a music album it felt really good and so I was like, I’m in.”

Szajbert is a director, writer, filmmaker, and multimedia performer based in Cleveland who has put out more than 15 original collaborative and solo works.

Many notable Cleveland musicians make appearances on the record, like Ed Sotelo and Neil Chastain on the title track “Ballad of the Liar’s Tongue” and Smith Taylor, Pete Saudek and David McCluskie elsewhere.

“When the pandemic hit I didn’t really know how I was gonna record, Toya [Kent], and I had always recorded at other studios, so I slowly built a live tracking room and began to invite musicians to play on projects being cooked up there,” said Washington. “Neil and Ed have always been two of my favorites to collaborate with on different things, and I just knew that since they knew Chris as a performer they would be able to lean into collaborating with her. That collaboration became 'Ballad,' the song. I think it just goes to further demonstrate just how interconnected the music scene is and how many wonderful collaborations that can happen if you take chances.”

RA Washington, in addition to publishing novels, is the co-curator, along with Kent, of the longstanding futurist record label Cleveland Tapes, founded in 2001.

Cleveland Tapes is throwing a revue of the latest projects and celebrating its 20th anniversary on Thursday, March 10, at the Happy Dog. Featured will be Children of Artists, James Longs, Kisha Nicole Foster and Cunt Ranch. DJ A-Live from Muamin Collective and Obnox will kick off the event.

Relatedly, Mourning [A] BLKstar is releasing its new album, Celestial Bodies, on March 4 as well, which represents recent collaborations with Berlin-based dance company Christoph Winkler, Adult Swim and the Cleveland Museum of Art.