Crystal Bowersox Bows to Patsy Cline

American Idol Runner-Up Talks About Broadway Musical and New Album

“Busy is a blessing,” says Crystal Bowersox. “I love being busy.” She’s on the phone from Los Angeles, where she is writing songs with a group of fellow musicians. The results, she says, may end up on her next record, or they may not end up anywhere.

“I’m not even really writing songs with an album in mind — just writing to write and we’ll see what happens,” she explains.

It has already been a hectic year for the American Idol runner-up, who released her second album, All This for That, in February via Shanachie Records. Since then, she’s been touring with her band, only taking a break for her current writing session and to announce she’ll be co-starring on Broadway in Always … Patsy Cline, a musical based on the life and songs of one of the most iconic women in country music. Bowersox, who will play the title role, has big shoes to fill.

After Always … Patsy Cline debuts in the fall, she will release her first holiday album, which she hints will feature “amazing guests.” It’s a small miracle she found time to talk to CMT Edge about her own idols, her new-old tunes and a toy saxophone.

CMT Edge: Do you remember when you first discovered Patsy Cline?

Bowersox: I’ve heard Patsy my whole life. My mom would take me around to karaoke bars when I was 9 or 10, and some of the first songs I ever did were Patsy tunes like “Crazy” and “I Fall to Pieces.” Those were my earliest experiences, I guess. But I think I’m rediscovering Patsy now. I’m listening to her now in a way that I never really have before. This is really intense, intent listening. I had only known her hits, but I’ve been listening to her older records. I’m in the middle of making a holiday record, and I was thinking, “What did Patsy do? Did she release any Christmas music?” She did a duet of “Let It Snow” on television. That was it.

How does someone prepare to portray one of the most recognizable women in 20th century popular music? That has to be intimidating.

I think there are a lot of similarities between us, so I can relate to her. She was a mother of two young children and was trying carry on a busy career at a time when it was very uncommon. That’s rougher than I have it, of course. I did my research and talked to people who knew her. I watched a lot of movies, listened to a lot of music and found ways to throw myself into the role. The producers do not want an impersonation. They want me to sing her songs with certain of her mannerisms but not to try to really fully be Patsy.

One similarity that I see between you and Patsy Cline, musically at least, is that you both mix genres very naturally. She had the expressiveness of a soul singer, but she resides right on line between country and pop.

I would agree with that. I think Patsy had a tremendous amount of soul in her voice. If she had lived on and her career continued, who knows what kind of lines she would have crossed? She would have been all over the map. As far as I’m concerned, I just don’t think anyone should limit themselves to one particular genre or sound. Music should be whatever you feel in that moment. If I’m feeling funky one day, I’m going to write a funky song. If I’m feeling like putting my toes in the sand, I’m going to write a beach song.

All This for That sounds like a major departure from your previous album, Farmer’s Daughter.

The material on this new record is much older than the material on the first record. I gave my producer, Steve Berlin, access to all of the demos that I’ve had since I was a young ‘un, and he picked songs that I never thought would see the light of day. “Movin’ On” was a song I wrote in 2008 or 2009, and the demo is dramatically different from how it turned out on the record. I would never have heard the potential or made it into what he turned it into. It’s been a lot of fun digging back through that stuff. There are also some new songs that are very positive and bright, and they reflect where I am now in my life.

There seem to be a lot of new sounds on here, a lot of studio experimentation.

I’m not a buttons-and-dials kind of girl. I’m pretty simple that way. But there are a lot of new fun things on this record. We did a drum loop on the song “Someday,” which was fun. We ran some vocals through a Leslie amp. I had never done anything like that. And the saxophone solo on “Someday” was a child’s toy saxophone that we tweaked to work with MIDI.

What did you learn from these sessions that you would apply to your next record?

On my first record, I was not as open to new ideas. I knew exactly what I wanted it to sound like. But for this record, I thought, “I’m going to walk into the studio every day and try to say yes more than no.” So that’s what I did, and the process was a lot easier when I wasn’t always trying to shape things. If something cool happens, just go with it. If nobody’s feeling it, move on to the next thing. I think just getting out of my own way was a lesson I learned, and I will apply that to every record I make in the future.

How had some of these songs changed for you in the years since you had recorded the demos? Did you identify with them differently now that you’re older?

I would say “Movin’ On” was dramatically different from the original demo, which I recorded in a tiny room while I was sad and drunk. Now that I’ve been able to step away from that situation, it’s found a new light. When I recorded it, I didn’t think about the person I wrote it for. It can be applied to anything in my life — I’m movin’ on from anything negative.

I want it to be a reflection of the positivity and the hope that I’m feeling about my future. I’m not as angry about things anymore. Everything’s cool. I sound like such a hippie, but everything really is cool. That makes it hard to write angsty songs, so I guess I’m going to write happy tunes from here on out.