White Poppy


Interview by Daniel Rincon
Photos by Claire Milbrath

 Crystal Dorval has been making music as White Poppy since 2011. The project has become a candid culmination of Crystal’s DIY experiments, and a vessel for constant introspection. Her music lands on a liminal space between pop perfection and enveloping drone. White Poppy is drug music made by someone who doesn’t take drugs.

When I first met you, in 2011, you had just moved to Vancouver from Victoria and were playing as your first solo My Friend Wallis. You were also just starting to get into home recording. What’s changed since then?

I guess the home recording thing has changed the way I make music quite a bit. There was a period of about 2 years where I didn’t have the means to record my music and it was incredibly stifling. Now I record all the time. I guess, over all, I am more productive and have a better vision of what I am trying to do with this project (White Poppy).

You recorded a song a day for a month back in 2011. How did that project affect your transition from My Friend Wallis to White Poppy?

That project really helped me embrace my inclination towards the multi-genre. Previously, I was always trying to compartmentalize my music making. Like, here is my pop project, here is my psych project, here is my ambient project. With the ‘song a day’ thing I just recorded whatever I felt like that day and it was really all over the place, genre-wise. It made me more comfortable with that part about myself, and allowed me to move forward with White Poppy.


How are loop pedals, or loops in general, important to the way you make music? From having seen you live several times, and from being around you in the studio, I’ve noticed you use them quite often.

Loops are pretty vital. I use them a lot when I’m writing songs, and I also rely on them when performing live. My loop pedal is like a member of the band (laughs). Also, I find it helpful to be able to jam along with one’s self. A lot of stuff I write is made that way: I’ll loop a bass line or drum beat, then jam some guitar and vocals over it.

What’s your opinion on music as a meditative or therapeutic tool?

Music, for me, is both of these things. I truly believe in both music as therapy and healing through sound. Playing music at home alone, listening to a song you connect with, or even seeing a show that hits you a certain way can be transformative, with drone and ambient music especially. I have pretty bad anxiety sometimes and it really calms me down.

This thread of healing and therapy runs deep in your sound, too. The blanket of sounds, the effects on your voice, and the use of repetition make your music very soothing and entrancing. Do you consciously explore these themes through your music?

Yeah, for sure. I think it started out unintentionally, though. Those layers and textures and effected vocals are simply what I am inclined to produce. But when I started getting feedback from people about my music having that affect on them, it made me more aware of it, and made my attempt to work with those particular themes more deliberate. It is entrancing and soothing for me to make this music, and I think the fact that other people get a similar experience from observing/listening to it is really great.

Can you tell me about your blog ‘Sanity Soap’ and the concept behind it?

Yeah, it’s essentially an online scrapbook where I share resources regarding mental health. I deal with intense bouts of depression, so I’m often searching for ways to alleviate the negative feelings. I find certain music and music videos particularly effective so I post quite a bit about that. I chose the name because I was thinking the blog would be like soap for your brain. Come to Sanity Soap and get your brain washed.

You’re one of the first people I’ve met who shares my interest in drone music made by electrodomestics (fans, dryers, washers). What do you think makes these sounds so fascinating?

As I am writing this, I can hear my fridge humming in the kitchen, and it’s comforting. It makes the space you‘re in feel alive. I think some people, including me, don’t like complete silence—for instance, I sleep with a fan on just for the noise. Maybe it’s also because those types of sounds can be very subtle. It’s different then listening to music, where you can imagine a person making the sound you are listening to with intention and motive.

The White Poppy sound has a very distinct ‘cassette’ sound, and I know you recorded most songs on your four track when you first started. Do you strive to keep it analogue? Do you think we should keep the ‘cassette feel’ alive?

I don’t necessarily think it’s important, but I do personally like the sound. I have tried to do some digital recording since I got into tape recording and I can’t stand the clarity. I’m too accustomed to the hiss of the tape, so now I need it! I was thinking about how annoying it is, actually. I even have access to digital recording gear and it would be so much easier to use, but I still insist on using the stupid 4 track. I love/hate that thing.

You have complete autonomy over White Poppy. You write and record your own music, produce all of your cover art and press materials, and book your own shows. What inspired you to do it all on your own?

I guess it had to do with getting older and just trusting myself more, realizing I could do things on my own and not have to rely on other people. When I first started playing music, I was terrified of playing live. Back then I would never have imagined myself ever performing solo or leading a band. It’s still really hard for me to do it sometimes, but for some reason I keep forcing myself to do it (laughs). I’ve also always been inspired by people who were able to make things happen for themselves. I’ve never had things handed to me; I’ve always had to work hard, so I find the DIY mentality very empowering.