rystal Peterson’s story has all the elements of a compelling movie — success at an early age, a fall from that lofty pedestal, the realization of a true path, the struggle to actualize that path and a satisfying resolution. Peterson’s ostensible happy ending, her debut album Spell with her new Blues/R&B/Pop group, the Queen City Band, is actually just another beginning, the launching point for everything that is going to result from the heartbreak and triumph of her journey to this point.
“One of the characteristics of this band, other than the wildness I like, is a sincerity and heart that I’m happy to see there now that we’re playing shows,” Peterson says.
Peterson began singing at a very early age. At her mother’s direction, Peterson started studying with vocal coaches to learn legitimate techniques and soon began doing studio sessions. In 1999, when Peterson was 17, music industry attention was high. A demo led to a discussion with Kevin Richardson from The Backstreet Boys; the group was looking for artists for its own label. Although Peterson had designs on college, the offer of an album and a tour opening the Backstreet Boys’ 2000-2001 international tour was too good to pass up.
“I wanted to go to Julliard and be a successful singer,” Peterson says. “But I’d already done what you would do if you went to college to become a professional singer. I thought, ‘Why go to college right now when this opportunity is here?’ ”
Peterson — then known as Krystal Harris
— moved to Los Angeles, signed with Backstreet’s label and recorded her debut album, Me and My Piano. With her opening slot on Backstreet’s tour, Peterson was becoming a Pop star. But she quickly learned there was a downside to her new career.
“The systematic way things were done in the Pop world, it was something dissonant,” Peterson says. “I was raised in a musical environment. My mom’s a Jazz musician. Everything for her is right now. I learned to tune into musicians and to the audience. I felt like the Pop world was putting obstacles between me and the (audience), and that broke my heart.”
With pressure to change and succeed mounting, Peterson signed with an agent from William Morris, which led to soundtrack and acting opportunities with Disney. But with increasing unhappiness with the way things were going and a falling out with her manager, Peterson decided it was time for a change.
“I learned a shit-ton from this, better than college could have been,” she says with a laugh. “My bullshit meter is so sensitive now that I can see it and feel it. I can protect what’s sacred to me.”
At 22, she returned to Indiana, broke ties with music and got a job as an administrativeassistant. She found a therapist and spent over a year feeling self-defeated, wondering if she’d squandered her big break.
Slowly, she returned to music. She scored a role in an Opryland Christmas production in Nashville, Tenn., which also featured the young daughter of renowned bassist Victor Wooten. Wooten asked Peterson if she’d be interested in recording a song with him at his studio. She tracked the song “Overjoyed” with Wooten, then finished her run in Nashville and headed back to Indiana.
Through a friend, the singer met drummer Daniel Peterson (eventual member of Cincinnati bands like The Newport Secret Six and DAAP Girls). The pair eventually got married and moved to Cincinnati.
“Daniel’s totally different from me,” Peterson says. “He has no training. He’s just passionate about music, and for me that was inspiring. It just felt authentic.”
Inspired by her husband and friends’ musical explorations, Peterson began writing and recording music again. As she broke through the frustration and doubt, she decided to quit her day job.
In 2012, Peterson sent a message to Wooten’s wife, just to see how the family was doing. Unbeknownst to her, Wooten had been actively trying to track down Peterson that same day to check her availability for a possible project, which included “Overjoyed” appearing on his next album and Peterson co-writing a new song (which became “A Woman’s Strength”). After heading to Nashville to record the new song, Wooten offered Peterson a gig singing on his upcoming world tour. She was still feeling less than confident, but a pep talk from Wooten’s drummer, Derico Watson, gave her a boost.
“He said I was there because Victor wanted me there, so I utilized the things I learned in therapy by relaxing and embracing the chaos,” Peterson says. “There was a part of the show that was just Vic and I, and I never knew what we were going to do. And I felt like I was getting closer to who I was. After Vic’s tour, I wanted to make a record of my own and I wanted a band that could go with me.”Peterson eventually assembled what would become the Queen City Band, with her husband Daniel on drums, Ben Franks on bass, Collin Thompson on trombone, Brain Gilronan on sax and, the most recent member, Stephen Kuffner on guitar. The first year the band spent in rehearsals resulted in the recording of Krystal Peterson & the Queen City Band’s debut album, Spell.
The last hurdle for Peterson was getting Spell released. The label she had signed with wasn’t satisfied with the album and wanted her to record another studio album and a live set. But, given her experience, she preferred to buy out her own contract and self-release Spell, which has set her on the path she believes she was always meant to travel.
“This is a huge victory for me,” Peterson says of Spell’s release in April. “I have no time to waste and I’ll make any decision I have to make. We’re going to put out every record from this point on. I’m not going to be perfect, but I’m going to be a real person and keep walking my dog. I don’t want to disconnect. I don’t want to be isolated because of my talent. I want people to feel like they can embrace something real.”
KRYSTAL PETERSON & THE QUEEN CITY BAND perform Sunday at Southgate House Revival as part of the benefit to help rebuild the Rabbit Hash General Store (see this week's Spill It). Visit kyrstalpeterson.com for more on the band and new album.