In Bloomington - and in the Midwest in general - you can experiment without fear of critical backlash. That's according to Krista Detor, a Southern California-born transplant to Southern Indiana, and a singer-songwriter whose new album, Chocolate Paper Suites, was released last month.
"The Midwest offers some of that 'permission,'" says Detor. "This isn't New York or L.A. There aren't a slew of critics waiting around like vultures to shred you if you try something risky, so art has a chance to blossom in a more natural and, possibly, in a gentler way.
"You can cut your teeth here. You can make art and you will find, at the minimum, a cordial audience."
Detor, a classically-trained pianist, began taking advantage of the city's amenable creative climate in 2001, when she met her husband, musician and producer David Weber.
"We teamed up for my first album, Dream in a Cornfield. Much of it was written when I was 19 and in college," Detor says. "I found his studio, and we clicked, quickly writing and playing shows together."
Now living together in a house connected to Weber's Airtime Studio in Bloomington, the couple has ready access to whatever instruments they need in the creative process.
"The bouncing of ideas has been the building up of the flesh of a song from the bare bones I walk in with," Detor says. "Integrity is about all there is. There's less money and less opportunity as songwriters flood in from every crack in the floor boards, so why not make it about the art?"
Detor found commercial success in 2005 with the release of her second album, Mudshow. The album was eventually released on the Dutch label Corazong, and scored a number one slot on a Euro-Americana chart. The success helped launch Detor's first international tour, and she's been on and off the road ever since. The travel alone, she says, has changed her musical perspective.
"What strikes me most about Europeans is that they are less inclined to Type-A workaholism," Detor says. "I tend to relax a bit more when I'm there. I can land, stressed to my eyeballs over some political intrigue or worrisome trend, and the Europeans, who've survived Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and the black plague tend to impart a 'this too will pass' kind of attitude. It rubs off."
Detor made her way to Europe last year to participate with seven contemporary folk musicians on the Darwin Song Project. The collaborative songwriting project, held in Charles Darwin's hometown of Shrewsbury, England, coincided with the bicentennial of Darwin's birth. The musicians performed the songs written during the week-long writing session at a concert in Shrewsbury which was filmed by the BBC and released on CD.
"All of the Darwin Songhouse Suite songs on Chocolate Paper Suites were written while I was cloistered with other writers," Detor says. "The three I wrote are all on the new CD, including 'Clock of the World,' a live re-mix. A couple of the [non-Darwin] pieces are older than that; 'Small Things' and 'Middle of a Breakdown' just couldn't make their way onto an album until now."
With surrealistic album artwork by Toronto artist Hugh Syme, Chocolate Paper Suites focuses, rather playfully, on oranges (they festoon the album's art and drop throughout songs).
"I can't tell you why I became fascinated with them, but they seem representative of many things - summer, sweetness, dreams, the Earth, transience, movement," Detor says. "I had the idea in 'Lorca in Barcelona' of watching oranges falling like rain in a dreamscape, while wearing a chocolate paper gown. I've always been a big fan of the Mexican and Spanish surrealists - poets, writers and painters. It just fit."
Other than the new album, Detor says she feels most proud of choral pieces she's recently composed for small choirs, as well as her work in collaboration with Indiana folk icons Carrie Newcomer, Tom Roznowski, Michael White and Tim Grimm on Wilderness Plots, a CD and stage show based on short stories by Scott Russell Sanders.
"Tim brought the book into a writing group the three of us are members of," Detor says. "Before we knew it, something magical had happened. In its entirety, it was greater than the sum of its parts."