Chrissy Strong Gets Raw About Her Addiction, Recovery on Debut EP ‘Bones’
Singer-songwriter Chrissy Strong spent 2020 getting serious about her music after focusing for years on her sobriety.
She said moving from Ashtabula to Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood allowed her to immerse herself in the local music scene and make new connections that have elevated her as a musician.
Her debut EP, “Bones,” was released in April 2021.
It was recorded live at The Rialto Theatre in Kenmore. It is a raw, unfiltered look into Strong’s struggles with addiction and her road to recovery.
Struggling with drug addiction
Strong grew up interested in playing piano and enjoyed listening to Janet Jackson on her Walkman.
But pursuing music took a backseat as she began experimenting with drugs as a teenager.
Her parents divorced, and she dropped out of high school at age 16.
Strong said she became a “true addict” at the same age, and music wasn’t a part of her life anymore.
“From there I just kept going pretty hardcore,” Strong said. “It progressed to homelessness, and I’ve had guns to my head. I’ve been in robberies.”
The song “24” on Strong’s 2021 album details a moment when she found herself in a crack house, and a dealer told her substances are her “daddy” now.
The lyrics of the song state, “Smoke in my lungs, dirt underneath my nails. I walked these streets over and over for miles and miles. I consistently tried, and I consistently failed, to set this thing down and rise out of hell.”
She said in that moment, she realized she did not want to live as an addict any longer.
“I weigh almost 150 pounds right now, and I got sober at 89 pounds,” Strong said. “It was really gross, and it was really gray and sunken in. I made the detective cry by the sight of me. He told me I didn’t have to live like this.”
Strong got sober in 2006.
“In the middle of getting high and having that addiction lifestyle, I also would go back and forth with Alcoholics Anonymous,” she said. “I wouldn’t stick around, but there were seeds that were planted I didn’t know at that point in time.”
Strong said growing up in Ashtabula did not provide many opportunities to connect with artists or musicians, and because there wasn’t much to do, it was easy to keep using.
“It’s home, and I don’t want to talk terribly about it, but there are no outlets artistically in any kind of way,” Strong said. “There’s like churches, and then there’s bars. And there’s a couple red lights. Very small town, like nothing going on.”
The song “Dis-Ease” on “Bones” was written about the father of Strong’s child, a man she was dating and also using drugs with.
Strong said she wanted to keep the family unit together after she got sober.
“I waited around for him to get sober. Through the years, it was really tough. There were moments where he literally was like overdosing in front of me,” Strong said.
She said she confided in friends about the state of the relationship, and someone close to her told Strong that she didn’t hate the man, she hated the disease of addiction.
“I wanted this sort of picket fence in a way with him, and I just was never able to have that with him,” She said. “There were moments where I just wanted him to know that I’m right here beneath you. Just stay strong.”
"I started thinking about my past life, and I just wrote a song."
Focusing on sobriety
All tracks on “Bones”, except “24,” were written while Strong was initially focusing on her sobriety and being a new mother.
“There are several times I should not be alive, just by the people I was with,” Strong said. “Right now at this point in time. I will literally do anything to not die. It’s really a great life once you start practicing that kind of way of life. Now that I’m here, I could never imagine such a slow death, and so scary all the time.”
Though newly sober, Strong was still living in Ashtabula and working to figure out her next move.
“I remember the people around me being like, ‘Listen. Don’t try to rush everything when you get sober. You don’t need a job right away. That’s going to trigger you. You don’t have to go back to college right away. So I was like, ‘Well what am I gonna do?’” Strong said.
She was encouraged to journal through her addiction treatment in 2012 and 2013. She would write down thoughts and memories of her past during this time.
Eventually, she began turning those written expressions into songs.
When she began attending AA meetings again, a new program called “Music and Message” was created.
Strong said she was able to tell her story through music to others in recovery.
She received positive feedback from others and encouragement to record these original songs. This was when she began honing her music skills.
“The first recording I did on my laptop with no mic, placed it up on YouTube, I think it was 2012, but dad thought I had some talent,” Strong said. “So he bought me a laptop with GarageBand, and he bought me my first real, real keyboard. It kind of started from there.”
Moving out of her small hometown
Strong moved out of Ashtabula when she entered into a relationship with a man from Cuyahoga Falls.
She was in this relationship for four years and said she felt “just kind of like somebody’s girlfriend.”
“I didn’t even realize Akron was like seven minutes away. But that’s how invested in that relationship I was,” Strong said. “I didn’t really go to meetings for sobriety, so I definitely wasn’t playing music.”
After the relationship ended, she decided to move to Highland Square in Akron. She lost her job in 2019, and friends recommended she take some time to relax.
“When I moved out and broke up with that dude, I started to play [music],” Strong said.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the region, Strong wasn’t able to tour or play many shows. But this didn’t stop her from making connections within Akron’s music scene.
“I’ve never known a bigger city like Akron where there’s music to be played,” she said. "From Ashtabula, where there’s nothing. There’s nothing creative around. There’s no outlets at all.”
Strong said she was struggling with situational depression at the beginning of 2020 and found it hard to be creative.
“In the beginning of the pandemic, I got pretty low,” she said.
She wrote the song “24” during the pandemic after a friend recommended reflecting on what she’s grateful for.
“I started thinking about my past life, and I just wrote a song,” Strong said. “It was really kind of awesome because I hadn’t been creative in a minute. And I’ve been trying to write songs ever since.”
She said knowing that there’s a local, rooted music community in Akron has fueled her desire to write, play and record more music.
“I’ll just pick 2020 to become a rockstar,” Strong said. “It’s really really hard to become a rockstar in a pandemic. Don’t follow me for more recipes.”
She performed a virtual live stream for Gage House Sessions in October 2020 and released her single, “Send Angels,” a month prior. The song serves as a reflection of her past lifestyle and struggles with addiction.
Recording her songs live
Strong had amassed a catalog of original songs that stemmed from her journaling through recovery.
She had a desire to record an album, but she wanted the songs to sound raw to reflect the real emotions she poured into her lyrics.
“That’s why I call it ‘Bones,’ because those are like the bones of what I wrote like in the beginning of sobriety,” Strong said. “They told me to journal, and they told me to get feelings out and process, so I started writing.”
Strong started recording her tracks at a few different studios in Akron, but she said it was hard to find the right fit.
“These songs are real, super raw. They're the bones of who I am. And I just didn’t want to sit there to a click track. I wanted the dynamics of these raw songs,” she said.
Gage suggested Strong reach out to Nate and Seth Vaill at Just a Dream Studios, which is housed inside of The Rialto Theatre.
Strong explained to the Vaill brothers what she wanted her album to sound like, and they set her up on the theater’s stage to play the songs live.
Her live performances of all seven tracks on the EP were recorded, and moments where strong used profanity or had to restart her songs were intentionally left in.
Strong said she loved this recording experience and that it added to the raw, authentic sound she wanted.
“They’re very important to me. They’re part of my soul, and I just wanted it to be out like that. I wanted it to be raw,” Strong said.
Becoming part of the local music scene
“The musicians in my community have saved my life throughout this last year and a half."
Strong released “Bones” in April 2021. Now that she’s living in Akron and meeting new people, she said she wants to try different things with her music—not write and play alone in a room.
“The musicians in my community have saved my life throughout this last year and a half. They have become my loves,” Strong said. “I struggle for sure, each and every day. Not really with addiction, I think because I’ve had such a really awesome foundation in the beginning, and I’ve made really great people that support me. I think I struggle with everything that’s happened, I mean pandemic wise, and not being able to live life to the fullest in a way.”
As COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted throughout Ohio, Strong plans to play songs from “Bones” live but said it has to be the right venue.
“Unfortunately, the songs that I have out, they’re temperamental. I can’t just like bring them to a brewery,” she said.
Strong will perform at the Music Box Supper Club in Cleveland with Madeline Finn and Brendan O’Malley on July 1.
“I’m from a small country town, and I just started coming out of my shell like an hour ago, and I got a gig with Maddy. I’m super excited about it. The Music Box is great. I remember going to her show last year, and I saw her and Taylor Lamborn. I thought to myself, ‘I’d love to be on that stage’… now here I am sharing a stage with her,” Strong said.
Though Strong has been playing music since she was a teenager, 2020 is when she began taking it seriously, making connections in the local music community and hopes to get her name and songs out to a broader audience.