Sacramento electronic duo Sister Crayon is marking its new record deal with Warner Bros. by being … not Sister Crayon.
Singer-songwriter Terra Lopez, 31, and beat-maker Dani Fernandez, 28, are shedding the name they carried for eight years and through countless local appearances and will release their major-label debut album, “Devoted,” this fall under the moniker Rituals of Mine.
“Dani and I have wanted to change the name for at least two years,” Lopez said during a joint interview with Fernandez at Sacramento’s Old Soul at the Weatherstone Coffeehouse, which sits across the street from a house the pair once shared and where Fernandez first joined Lopez’s then-solo project.
“I started Sister Crayon by myself,” Lopez said. “I never expected a major-label (contract). It’s kind of surreal.”
She’s not being modest. She first wrote her thoughts in song form as “a cheap form of therapy,” she said. She assumed the name Sister Crayon “almost as a way of pushing myself to not be shy: ‘I have this silly name – I really have to put myself out there, and be this persona.’ Over the years, it has progressed so much.”
Loss also inspired the change. Lopez’s father, David, committed suicide last year, and one of her best friends, poet Lucas Johnson, died in February after his canoe capsized on Donner Lake.
“I feel like that name needs to be put to rest along with them,” Lopez said. “That was the last they knew of what I was doing and what we represented, and I feel like it’s time for the next level.”
Lopez and Fernandez, whose new band name alludes to the rituals of songwriting and touring, said they are not concerned about losing brand recognition. Fans have stayed with Sister Crayon’s alluring mix of introspective lyrics and moody yet catchy music through lineup changes, moves to other cities (Lopez and Fernandez are now back in Sacramento) and promising developments that did not pan out as anticipated.
One was last year’s release of the original version of “Devoted,” a collaboration with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of the alternative rock bands The Mars Volta and At the Drive-In. The album did not get the push Lopez and Fernandez had sought.
“Omar was going to release the record on his label,” Lopez said. “Then he got very, very busy with At the Drive-In, and that kind of consumed his time.”
The Warner Bros. “Devoted” will feature additional production, new mixes and will be newly mastered by studio legend Tom Coyne (Adele, Beyoncé).
“It’s a brand new record, essentially,” Lopez said, especially for people previously unaware of Sister Crayon.
With the Warner Bros. deal, “you have to look at it as the whole spectrum of people who never, ever heard of us before,” Fernandez said. Like many of the people who will attend the West Coast shows in which Rituals of Mine will support fellow Sacramento-rooted band Deftones. The closest to Sacramento is Aug. 26 at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre.
The venues will be the biggest in which Lopez and Fernandez have played, though Adam Pierce (Emmure, All Shall Perish), the veteran metal drummer who will accompany them on tour, has played “to thousands and thousands of people,” Lopez said.
Lopez was a “fangirl” of now-labelmate Deftones while growing up in Rosemont and south Sacramento. “To be (Deftones) peers in a way, is insane to me,” Lopez said.
Though Sister Crayon’s music is not as hard as Deftones’ hardest, it jibes with the older bands’ dreamier, more melodic side. Plus, Lopez and Fernandez, previously openers for guitar-riff-heavy alternative band Built to Spill (also now label mates) have shown versatility as opening acts.
“I think if the music is genuine, it will resonate with anyone,” Lopez said.
“Genuine” is a good blanket term for Lopez and Fernandez, whose open demeanors bely their dark clothes and lyrics. Friday, July 22, they will host a monthly DJ set at Dive Bar – the last for a while, because they’re going on tour – at which they showcase their love of ’90s hip-hop. Not just by artists other artists cite to sound legit, like Tupac and Biggie, but Mariah Carey.
“It’s just a fine night to go out in the community,” Lopez said.
“They are just the most kind-hearted people,” Carrano said of Lopez and Fernandez.
Carrano is from Sacramento, but moved last year to L.A. to better serve his artists, and for his A&R gig with an indie label. He happened to move down the street from Warner Bros. A&R Vice President Samantha Maloney, who asked her new neighbor if he managed any unsigned bands. He gave her music from Sister Crayon.
“I sort of hung back from there,” Carrano said, as Lopez, who had moved to L.A. because her partner attended UCLA, and to be closer to the industry, got to know Maloney, who eventually signed the duo. “Since I was there, it was constantly, ‘Let’s meet for dinner, let’s see if we vibe,’ ” Lopez said.
Maloney told The Bee in May that “I am in love with the music, the lyrics, Terra Lopez’s voice, Dani Fernandez’s beats, their passion for making music.”
Lopez also exhibits a passion for activism. As “Hispanic, queer women,” she and Fernandez always will concern themselves with civil rights, she said. Lopez participated in protests of Sacramento pastor Roger Jimenez, who praised the June mass killings at an LGBT-oriented Orlando, Fla., nightclub.
She will not curtail her activism because she’s signed to a big label, Lopez said, but rather use whatever new exposure she gets to spread messages. Rituals of Mine plans to partner with a suicide-prevention group on tour, to help fans battling mental illness, Lopez said. Her father was manic depressive, she said, “but had way too much pride to actually go to a therapist.”
Her relationship to her father, from whom her mother was long divorced, had been such as source of pain that Lopez dedicated the 2013 Sister Crayon EP “Cynic” to it, singing, on the title track, “I was born callous, born into your blur”/ “Father left nothing except a little her behind.”
At the time he died, “we were starting to rekindle our relationship, and definitely trying to rebuild trust,” Lopez said.
The remastered “Devoted,” dedicated to Lopez’s father, and to Johnson, will no doubt be a discovery for many music fans. But it might be most satisfying to longtime fans who can hear the band’s progression.
Though recent Sister Crayon material resembles early songs in slow-build momentum from languid to uptempo to thoroughly infectious, the ethereal-voiced Lopez now holds notes longer. Fernandez’s beats and swells have grown richer, more transportive.
Fernandez is from Antioch, and moved to Sacramento after high school because her sister, Natasha, was here. Natasha was friends with Lopez, who had a room open on 21st Street. There, Fernandez, who grew up playing Latin percussion, started experimenting with electronic beats with Lopez.
“On a musical level, she is just so intense, and so very much arrrghh,’” Fernandez said, provoking a big grin from Lopez. “Meeting her, I was just like, ‘Whoa, this girl is crazy, but it’s awesome.’ ”
“All my life I wanted to find a friend who understood what I wanted to express without me having to say it,” Lopez said. “We fell in love with each other immediately in the friend sense.”
Other band members came and went, but Fernandez and Lopez stuck it out, together. They shared the 21st Street house, a one-bedroom apartment on W Street, then just a bedroom in Oakland (where Lopez wanted to move because she’d never been out of Sacramento). Even with day jobs, they had trouble making ends meet.
“When you’re touring, and you have a job, you have to ask for two months off,” Lopez said. “A lot of jobs would not be cool with that.” Lopez cut costs by becoming band publicist (using her her CSU Sacramento English degree) and booking agent.
Terms of the Warner Bros. deal were not disclosed. But it’s a good bet Lopez and Fernandez did not get rich off it. Fernandez still works as a barista and Lopez as publicist for other bands.
What’s different now is their careers are not all on their shoulders. “We have a team of people who are experts in different departments,” Lopez said, working on their behalves.
“I have never been able to just focus on singing before now.”
Sister Crayon/Rituals of Mine
The Sacramento duo will perform a free DJ set at 9:30 p.m. Friday, July 22, at Dive Bar, 1016 K St., Sacramento, and perform with Deftones Aug. 26 at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre. Tickets: Ticketmaster.com.