CHEY ACUNA -
Mystery is a good word to describe singer/songwriter/performer/video artist Chey Acuna (pronounced Shy A-coon-ya). It is the title song on her new, indie six-song release, and articulates her own thoughts about the mixed emotions and misunderstandings that can take place when people try to connect with one another.
Co-produced by Chey with guitarist/engineer Robi Banerji (U2, Rolling Stones) at his Greenbush Studios in North Hollywood, Mystery chronicles her reaction to life's unexpected twists and turns.
"When I write it's usually because something or someone has affected me emotionally," she explains. "When I feel something, I write."
With a dark, rock sound that could be described as alternative with goth overtones, Acuna explores the contradictions that can tear us apart in tracks like "Sweet Poison," featuring slinky, The Edge-like guitar riffs and Chey's husky Chrissie Hynde/Siouxie Sioux vocals, its lyrics bringing out the potential self-destructive nature of desire. "Your love is like sweet poison/Your fingertips upon my lips...There's a voice inside me warning."
The multi-layered "Shadowland" features Banerji's exquisitely chiming guitars, overlaid on top of Rob Taylor's rock-solid drumbeat, and includes such production touches as backwards cymbals and an effects-processed Wurlitzer organ.
There's a Dylanesque feel to "One Less Angel," her meditation on the loss of a loved one, while "The Moon Shines Dark" is a Doors-like ode to nighttime L.A., a musical film noir that includes the sound of a chopper overhead and a chilling piano solo from Dave Schulz (Berlin, Goo Goo Dolls) about the mean city streets. "I lived for five years in a neighborhood where that's what I heard every single night," says Acuna. "The crack of guns, police helicopters. I knew some young kids who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"September Rain" starts off as a gentle, undulating, melodic ballad about the differences in our perspectives on one another, the difficulty of truly knowing what goes on in someone's head. "Things you don't remember/Are things I've memorized," she sings, capturing that conundrum in a single line.
An intensely private person, Acuna puts her deepest feelings, hidden deep inside, into her music and lyrics. She picked up the guitar at age 11, learning the chords by phone from a friend across town, and eventually turned her poems into songs. She also formed an early interest in video earning an MFA from UCLA in Theater, Film and Television, where her thesis was a music video, "Hologram" which premiered on MTV, appeared on the compilation program Underground USA, and can still be seen on YouTube. After graduation, she began collaborating with painters and video artists at the Long Beach Museum of Art, where she once edited a Frank Zappa promotional clip, then earned a fully tenured professorship in television production at Cal State University Los Angeles, where she taught for many years.
"Mixing video and music has always been part of my approach," she explains. She formed her own band, Into the Black, playing the local L.A. club circuit at the Roxy, Whisky A Go Go and Troubadour, garnering positive reviews from Music Connection ("Chey is possessed with a voice that cuts through...like a knife"), L.A. Weekly and L.A.Rocks. Acuna released a solo album, Moment of Darkness, on CD Baby, with one of the songs, "Children of the Night," getting airplay on Internet radio station Live365 on the Women of Substance show "Women Who Rock." Another song, "1492" served as the soundtrack for the opening trailer for the "Dances With Films" independent film festival. That album featured such collaborators as Larry Antonino (from Tom Hanks' That Thing You Do), Scott Warren (Warrant) and Rosemary Butler (Jackson Browne, James Taylor). Her songwriting earned recognition from the Billboard Song Contest and American Song Festival.
An accomplished drawing student who creates arresting portraits in charcoal, Acuna is committed to combining her various disciplines into a whole, but she admits, music is her passion.
"I feel like I need to do this," she explains. "I want to do it. It makes me feel alive." More recently, Acuna has appeared as part of the 100 Voices Choir, recorded at Capitol Records' famed Hollywood Tower studios, for Neil Young's Living With War album. Chey also appears on the DVD CSNY/Deja Vu and is pictured on Young's Living With War website.
Mystery lowers the shroud on Chey Acuna's tightly held secrets, but don't expect her to explain it for you. The answers are in her music, hidden away beneath that enigmatic exterior.
"I keep things intentionally vague," she muses. "My god-given talent may be drawing, which comes more easily, but music is what means the most to me. Over the past few years, my life has been turned upside-down, but at least I got some songs out of it."
"It's a mystery," she sings on the song of the same name. "But it was real to me."
And now, on her new album, it is for the rest of us, too.