The Rocks Off 100: Crystal Toliver, Source of That Yello Echo You Hear
Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.
Who? There is no voice in Houston like that of Crystal Toliver, maybe even the world. Think of it as a combination of Poe and Mary J. Blige, or maybe Aretha Franklin and Nina Hagen. It's a high, powerful instrument that dances the line between girlish and wanton, and Toliver delivers every note through an infectious toothy grin that makes seeing the weird indie-pop/disco thingamajig that Yello Echo does live a veritable hoot.
Toliver grew up around music. Her mother taught her and her sister to sing when they were very young. She performed in the church choir, banged around on whatever musical instruments were lying around, and wrote poetry. Sometime after Toliver's first band, A Temperamental Muse, split, she teamed with Mani Nezami (on his wife's advice) to form Yello Echo. They hit it off musically and have been putting out their particular brand of pop ever since. Their first music video is scheduled to be shot this month.
Home Base: Toliver writes whenever and where her music strikes her, and carries a notebook for the moments the muse appears. She's a compulsive creator who never slows down.
She likes playing the Continental Club a great deal, as well as Midtown wine bar Khon's. The band has always had a good time at both because of the warm atmosphere and the fact that people go there to specifically listen to the music.
Good War Story: "I dunno if this counts as one story, but there was one particular weekend or couple of weekends where we got kicked out of every gig we'd booked!" says Toliver. "One gig was this kinda artsy party that kicked out our drummer Chris [Bassett] and said he was too loud and we couldn't play, before Mani and I had even gotten there.
Then the next night we got two songs into a set and the police shut the whole thing down because of that noise ordinance B.S.," she adds. "Then the next weekend we got halfway into a set and all the power went out so we couldn't finish. It was just so ridiculous you had to laugh at it, you know."
Music Scene Pet Peeve: Like a lot of bands here on town, Toliver wishes there was a more centralized scene. They gig all over the city, constantly running into acts that they haven't heard of or haven't heard of them. The distance makes it harder to support everyone, she feels.
Five Desert Island Discs: "I'm always so bad at these kinds of questions and I'll probably think of better answers later on and be like, 'Awe I shoulda said that instead,'" shrugs Toliver. "But here goes anyway..."
- Stevie Wonder, Hotter Than July
- "any Nina Simone album"
- Outkast, Aquemini
- Queen, Greatest Hits
- "Tracy Chapman's self titled album"
"... I think."
Best Show You've Ever Seen: "I see a lot of good local shows all the time, and I hardly ever go to concerts of big name bands or performers, so nothing really comes to mind as the best show. But I wish I could watch a show with '60s/'70s Aretha Franklin, '80s Stevie Wonder, '80s Micheal Jackson, '70s Nina Simone or go back in time to Woodstock or Monterrey Pop. Any one of those would be the best show to me."
See who else has joined the Rocks Off 100 this year on the next page.