Houston Music

Kristal Cherelle Has "Only Love" For Houston

Maybe you’re not feeling so great about Houston right at this moment. It could be because your local sports team tanked, or maybe because someone haphazardly cut you off on the freeway. Until this week, it might have been because felt like you live in a city where it never stops raining.

Whatever the reason, there’s an antidote for these Houston blues, something so uplifting it’ll remind you in just three minutes that you live in one of the best places on the planet. It’s called “Only Love,” and it’s the recently-released video for the song of the same name by Houston songwriter, Kristal Cherelle. The tune is from Cherelle’s 2014 album, Fighter.  The video began production in September of last year, wrapped in late April and has garnered nearly 30,000 views in a short month. That’s right – an average of 1,000 views daily.

What’s to account for such success? For starters, Cherelle is a natural beauty, on film and on record. You want to see and hear the video from beginning to end. Secondly, the spot features familiar Houston sites, “everything that makes Houston Houston,” according to Cherelle, all tied in “to show we’re a huge city and we’re all unified.” It features Houstonians at their smiling, laughing and dancing best. No one driving like a jerk in this video.

Most of all, it’s a terrific song from an album full of them, with a video that matches its feel-good vibe.

“My idea behind the song wasn’t just about romantic love, but more of a love for humanity – unity, peace, joy, family love, friendship, romance," Cherelle says. "The different types of love, all of that. I wanted that to come across on the video without being cheesy.”

Mission accomplished. Blueprint Film Co. shot the video on a budget financed by label NoisePodium for Cherelle. Primarily shot in Hermann Park, the work became a truly collaborative effort, she says, involving the production team and the everyday Houstonians seen in the piece.

“I saw an event on Facebook called the Houston Kite Festival and it was literally one of those things where I got a Facebook invite and I thought, ‘Okay, what is this?’," Cherelle recounts. "It was so much fun and I thought, oh my gosh, if we could get pieces of this and incorporate them into the video that’s supposed to show unity and people of all ethnicities having fun and enjoying life together, that’d be huge.”
Parts of the festival are included, along with local artists who are fans of Cherelle who lent their time and talent to the video too, including Jacqueline Nalett, whom Cherelle said is a choreographer for the University of Houston’s dance company.

“I’m not really a dancer,” she laughs. “She taught me some really easy, basic stuff and got a few of her students involved and that’s what you see. It was a really fun opportunity.”

Like most musicians, Cherelle has posted performance videos, but this is her first professionally produced video work. She admits she’s been taken aback by its reception.

“I was astounded," she says. "I’ve posted several videos before this and they’ve never got as many views in such a short period of time. Maybe because it’s Houston, or maybe because I’ve tried to have a little more visibility."

That’s an understatement. Cherelle is a go-getter, an outside the box thinker, the kind one needs to be in this day and age of waning big label support. For instance, she and her bandmates, drummer Sidney Jones and bassist Padon Suber, recently advanced as the Houston representative in Hard Rock Rising, an annual competition that sends the nation’s best acts overseas for global competition and recognition. The band fell in the regional round to Minneapolis’ Enemy Planes, but not before making an impact on the competition’s judges.

“My band didn’t even know that I submitted us,” she laughs, explaining she secretly submitted a song to judges, who selected bands for the live competition. “I’m so ambitious. If I see an opportunity, I’ll take it. Then, I’ll forget about it.
If it comes through, cool. But, I’m always working, looking for the next opportunity."

She humbly acknowledges that advancing to regionals was no small feat considering the “amazing bands” in the contest. She’s quick to give them praise.
“They’re like my brothers and sisters, fellow musicians. Anytime anyone is doing well, it just makes my spirit warm inside,” she says. “It means we’re opening doors for other musicians and we’re also setting a good example for the Houston music scene.”

Cherelle talks like a native Houstonian, but she’s a relative newcomer, by way of small-town Georgia and Oklahoma, who set down roots in the Bayou City just a few years ago and came here specifically to perform, she says. I first saw her at Bohemeo’s just a few months after she arrived. She dominated at the venue’s open-mike event that night and has been on my radar ever since.

“I grew up singing with my mom and she’s had a major impact on everything I’ve done," Cherelle says. "She saw that I had a passion and showed interest in music. I had a little toy piano and I’d try to make up songs. They didn’t really make sense." 

She kept writing and her songs are now informed by gospel music and secular influences such as Whitney Houston and Maroon 5. She learned piano and guitar by ear and eventually took some formal music instruction while pursuing a broadcast-journalism degree at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Whatever she did, music was a constant.  Today, she’s learning to treat what she does as a career and not just an artistic pursuit. She listens to indie music podcasts, maintains a list of music contacts and makes her own breaks.

“I know we treat it only as an art and not a business,” says Cherelle. “I think we should treat it as anything that we need to learn in life. I’ve been trying to educate myself. Not only from peers or people who’ve done it before me or doing research, but also just from kind of keeping your ear out to hear how music and music business is changing.”

“You have to basically be a jack of all trades to be even moderately successful as an independent musician," she says. "You have to have that much more grit. It’s definitely one of the hardest things I’ve done, and also one of the most rewarding.”
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.