By Dillon Stewart
Christa Ebert, better known as Uno Lady, has been meditating for years. Yet, like many of us, she felt like she couldn’t pay attention for long stretches and never had the time in her busy schedule to stay consistent.
In fact, on her 2014 album Amateur Hour, she wrote a tongue-in-cheek song called “5 Minute Meditation Guide,” in which she pokes fun at her inability to quiet her thoughts for more than five minutes. “Picture all the crap in your life,” she whispers. “Just poop it out.”
“Even though I would try continually, I did think I was bad at mediation,” she says. “Then I was given the knowledge that it’s OK that you’re still thinking when you’re meditating. That’s just what our brains do. It’s just the judgment we tie to those thoughts that can cause distress.”
This breakthrough allowed her to deepen her meditation journey — along which she brings listeners with her January release Grounded. Ebert’s new record is a much-needed hour of peace in a chaotic world. Recorded at home while self-isolating and often right after meditating, the piece, which features the classic, layered Uno Lady vocals as well as field recordings mostly taken from her backyard, works as well as a guided meditation as it does an ambient background listen.
On Grounded, Ebert positions herself more as a well-read facilitator than a mindfulness expert. Expertise is instead pulled from simple books like 101 Meditation Tips or those in the Buddhist canon or local authorities. “Breathe,” for example, features Mourning [A] BLKstar singer LaToya Kent, who works as a meditation teacher. Meanwhile, cellist and practitioner Erica Snowden-Rodriguez offers an inclusive voice on “Meditacion,” which offers Spanish guidance, that is as comforting as their cello playing, even for non-Spanish speakers.
“I’m not trying to say I’m a healer or that this album is going to cure people of anything,” she says. “Music is just a really great communication tool, and there are these practices that have been around for thousands and thousands of years that you can learn from.”
The sonic elements, though more ambient and less structured than her typical pop heartbreakers, will feel more familiar than the lyrical themes to Uno Lady fans who have enjoyed 2014’s Amateur Hour and 2019’s Osmosis. These lush tracks make Ebert one of the area’s most singular artists even amongst Cleveland’s diverse pop music landscape. Grounded’s “Open Your Heart,” for example, features 69 vocal tracks layered, harmonized and manipulated with effects such as reverb (think singing into a cave) into an unrecognizable wall of sound. Only the occasional synthesizer, bell and meditation bowl flourish the 54-minute album.
“These are some of the biggest songs I’ve ever written,” she says. “It was such an exploratory process. They might have been bigger if my computer could handle it.”
The project, which was supported by Spaces Urgent Art Fund and by a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, was also accompanied by an experimental film of the same title, which Ebert shot mostly in her backyard. The film’s animation was created with the help of illustrator Sequoia Bostick.
”I left my one full-time job a few weeks before the pandemic to promote another record and go on tour,” she says. “So, I wanted to stay true to my mission of, you know, having creativity is my core value and my purpose in life.
In making the record, Ebert realized that she was actually pretty good at meditating — even if some of her versions of the practice looked a bit different from tradition. The hypnotic flowstate she reaches while singing (which she compares to traditional chanting) and making music does much of the same things to her brain that meditation sets out to do. She hopes Grounded can be a similar bridge to mindfulness for music fans.
“[Making music] is when I am able to disconnect and process my emotions and thoughts constructively,” she says. “People think meditation is one thing, but really it can be anything that helps you disconnect from worry for a brief moment.”