From the heady superstar company that Christa Borden has been keeping, it looks like those “Empty Bottles” she sings about on her HOT AC AND FMQB AC single are quickly being filled with mainstream success.
She’s done a radio tour for her debut album I Rhyme With Orange (David Carver Music) in 15 states, performed shows everywhere from Los Angeles to South Carolina and opened for Aerosmith in front of 35,000 people. Six of the 11 tracks on the collection were helmed by renowned songwriter/producer Jeff Trott (Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks, Counting Crows) and mixed by Bob Clearmountain (Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stones, Bryan Adams, Pretenders).
“Empty Bottles”’ is currently rising on the HOT AC and FMQB AC chart among some of today’s biggest pop artists: Lady GaGa, Taylor Swift, Black Eyed Peas, Nickelback, The Fray, Creed, Kings of Leon, All-4-One and Jason Mraz.
While she’s enjoying being around big names both literally and by association, Borden attributes the rise of “Empty Bottles” and the strong reception to I Rhyme With Orange to the fact that long before she could drop such names, she approached the writing of the album with an edgy, realistic DIY attitude, centered around the importance of standing out. Kind of like the one word in the English language that is so unique and special, there is no word to rhyme it with: orange.
“In this day and age of widespread digital distribution,” she says, “there are millions of artists creating wonderful projects they’re sending out online without ever leaving home. In this changing industry, aware of the cost of trying to promote myself as an artist, I figured there was a chance that I Rhyme With Orange could be my one album, or at least my best shot. I tried to be a realist and choose songs that were truest to my heart so that in 15 or 20 years someone could look back on it and say this was an honest album, this is who I am and the discoveries that the characters in my songs make are very personal and important to me.””
In a section of her website called “The Journey,” the confessional singer-songwriter makes no bones about being in a very dark place in her life at the start of the emotionally cathartic project. She explains that we need only to listen to the heartrending, penetrating lyrics of “Empty Bottles,” “Drowning,” “Homesick,” “Cut Me Loose” and “I Will Wait” to know what she was going through. At some point after writing the first few songs, it occurred to her that the writing of the project as a whole would be have to be done in synch with her own healing, self-acceptance and desire to reach out and offer help to anyone who connected with her struggles and ultimate triumph over these dark places.
It’s possible that had Borden not been in those trenches with the choice to either confront and conquer her demons or wither away, she might have chosen a different path of musical expression. Her classical training as a kid and the degrees she earned in music (major in vocal performance, minor in ethnomusicology) made her think she might one day pursue a career as an opera singer. Fate obviously had other plans, and now she is hopeful that her songs can motivate, inspire and encourage people to plant “their own orange seeds” and seek happiness in their lives.
“I sometimes like to say that when my heart starts to bleed, there’s no clotting mechanism,” Borden muses. “It just keeps bleeding. When most people are upset, and there is a breakup or death, their healing mechanisms evolve, but mine seem non-existent. Because of this, I don’t know what I would do or how I would survive without the gift of songwriting. Making the songs personal yet poppy and infectious is where my years of musical training come in. To me, being a smart writer means understanding that this world is full of people who hurt, love, laugh and cry. Sometimes they might be hurting so much inside that it’s a relief for them to listen to a sad song that matches their inside with what they hear outside, and creates a release for them.
“With me, they’re always going to be hearing a song from the point of view of a girl who doesn’t always get what she wants,” the singer adds. “I will write songs about how wonderful life is but continue to venture into themes about being broken and learning to love myself even with all the faults and mistakes I have made. I have forgiven myself and by doing so was able to write the album from the point of view of a girl who left her home to find success.”
Borden felt that as a first single, “Empty Bottles” was a good introduction to this inner reality because the lyrics are catchy and witty and the music shows she can indeed write an upbeat song. The topic is devastating, but the video is fresh, beautiful and finds moments in which she can smile. It’s a good example of the way she has forgiven herself—and by doing so, was able to pen the album from the point of view of a girl who left home to find success.
In one sequence of songs, the character doesn’t change who she is, she simply transfers herself and those insecurities, bad habits and crippling addictions to a new place. The girl later looks deep inside and realizes that everything she ever wanted to be was within her reach—she just had to accept herself, recover from her addictions and work on the process of self-forgiveness. “Not all the songs are me, though,” Borden says. “As a writer and artist, I see myself as a tree and the base of the tree is what I have lived and experienced. The branches are the possibilities out there, the good and bad things that could have happened.
“It all boils back down to when I was in school years ago and my teacher told us that nothing rhymed with the word ‘orange,’” Borden adds. “I was a straight A student but a precocious child who never fit in and who found classical and pop music as solace. I always had a thing for the ‘orange’ imagery. It represented something special and unique, but in a good, not socially awkward way. So rhyming with ‘orange’ is ultimately about just loving yourself and wanting to be the best, brightest version of yourself—not accepting the status quo. It’s about having high ambitions and achieving goals one step at a time.”
Among those who have helped her along the way are Trott and Clearmountain, who were so impressed with Borden’s raw original material that they cleared time from their schedule to work with her when she visited Los Angeles. Trott, who loved “I Will Wait” so much that he agreed to produce it even after the end of their scheduled sessions, says: “Positive energy! It’s such a rarity nowadays but it’s the driving force behind Christa. You mix that with a tremendously powerful and expressive voice and you can’t go wrong. For me to work with this type of artist is a dream because she’s not afraid to try anything and is completely fearless.”
Likewise, one of Borden’s fondest memories of making I Rhyme With Orange was listening back to some of their mixes in Clearmountain’s studio in Pacific Palisades and just laughing out loud with him because they were sounding so good. That same positive energy carries stays with Borden any time she goes to one of her favorite places in the world, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. “When I go there, I realize I am in the presence of people’s artistic output of the last 5000 years, and I am in awe,” she says. “We all know that the quality of life for these artists hasn’t always been great, but there is some common muse that permeates them, maybe even all of humanity, and reaches out to every culture during every time to inspire wonderful artistic expression. I feel so at home with the ghosts of these artists. Much like them, what I want to leave the world is an example of a woman who went through a lot, picked herself up and wrote great songs using her formal training and with the help of a great team of people around her.
“In a world of glitz and glamour and pop and bling and fake,” Borden adds, “I want people to know that I put out an album that came from the heart and was about real life experiences…that it reached people and reminded them that songwriting is not dead but alive for people to enjoy through the generations.”