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SANDRA ST. VICTOR 2001 SOULMUSIC.COM INTERVIEW
In a music industry in which real artistry was always rewarded and music that touched, moved and inspired was given complete priority, Sandra St. Victor would have had a multi-million selling album in 1996. In many ways the natural predecessor to artists like Jill Scott and India Arie, the former lead vocalist with The Family Stand (remember "Ghetto Heaven"?) turned in quite simply one of the best albums of the '90s with her "Mack Diva Saves The World" on Warner Brothers. In retrospect, one could say that it just wasn't the 'right' time for this powerhouse Dallas-born vocalist (who has sung with such classic R&B artists as Chaka Khan and Roy Ayers) but a true soul survivor, Sandra is back with a brand new album: the superlative "Gemini: Both Sides" is being released initially on the Internet and is the perfect follow-up to "Mack Diva." For those who heard - and loved - that album, the five long years have been worth the wait as Sandra once again delivers a record filled with standouts from her take on War's "Slipping Into Darkness" to the thought-provoking "Child Got A Gun" and the stunning "Holding Out."

Busy in recent times as a songwriter - penning "Like Wow," the first Dreamworks single by Leslie Carter, the sister of teen idol Aaron Carter; the song "I'll Never Be Another Fool" for Chaka Khan's last album; and "Soul Sanctuary" for Prince's "Emancipation" CD - and performer (doing her own shows in New York and paying tribute to the late Jimi Hendrix through the Experience Music Project with Vernon Reid, Chris Whitley and others), Sandra is happy to set the record straight about exactly what happened after the release of the "Mack Diva" album.

Speaking from her home in Brooklyn, she reflects on what it was like to watch the record receive scant promotion and exposure once released by Warners: "Imagine planning to give birth and planning your child's future, of taking care of your body during pregnancy in preparation for the delivery. You conceive and your baby is taking away from you and 'they' decide what to do with it. Just for a joke, they throw the baby out of the window and see if it will fly. Since we live in a world of gravity, it ain't gonna fly… I was disillusioned, disheartened and hurt and very upset at the handling of my 'baby,' my album. There were changes in the regime at Warner Brothers and if you get caught up in something like that you know it's going to be bad. The company hired a head of promotions and he was the one person that did not 'get' "Mack Diva." In fact, I found out later that he told people NOT to work on it. The company was working on Eric Benet's album at the time and this promotion guy told people in the company that everything else had to go. People who loved my record worked on it on the sneak tip but after it took so long for a second single to come out after "Rise Up," I knew something was wrong…"

Before she knew, the folks at Warners who had supported Sandra's album were gone and although she began preliminary work on a second CD for the label, "they told me they were not going to do another record with me. In a funny way, I was kinda happy because no one who was left at Warners knew me. After that experience, I had to heal and the wounds were still sensitive. I had made a solo record at Elektra that no one ever heard because it was never released and then this happened with Warner Brothers. It was just too painful, even doing the songwriting thing. There was a point when I didn't even want to be in the musical arena and I considered all kinds of other options."

Friends fortunately persuaded Sandra not to give up on her creative talents. She recalls, "My web mistress M, my friend Felicia Collins (who plays guitar on the "David Letterman Show"), Lace, a d.j. on New York radio's WBAI-FM, Paulette McWilliams (longtime vocalist with Luther Vandross) and the late Curtis Mayfield all told me 'don't let them get to you,' they said stuff like, 'we need your voice.' I had done a duet with Curtis on his last album, "New World Order" and here he was lying on his back being positive about me continuing on. Same with Jeffrey Smith and Peter Lord (of The Family Stand), who always have been and always will be my backbone. Jeff has a way of saying 'f**k that shit! Out of the game? No way!' I finally talked myself into getting back into making new music. It took a while and I remembered talking to the late Phyllis Hyman about her [career] frustrations and after five albums - three with The Family Stand, the one unissued record with Elektra and then "Mack Diva," I understood…"

Inspired also by her daughter Maanami who Sandra "is my motivation" and by longtime musical associate Marc Batson (who contributed to Sandra's new album), she began working on "Gemini: Both Sides" a couple of years ago: "There are a few songs that are older. "Conversation With G." is from 1998 and was inspired by the book "Conversations With God." I thought of actually having a verbal conversation with God and hearing her voice and wondering what I would say. Then, "Keep Playin' Me" which I did with The Roots was something that I started when I was about to do a second album for Warner Brothers."

The concept of calling the album "Gemini: Both Sides" was, Sandra notes, "based on the real two sides of my personality. There's one where reality is in my face, which can be very bleak and hard. And then, there's the other side which is the sacred part of me which is always optimistic and upbeat, that sees the sweetness in life. Since I decided to put this album out on my own label, I could do it however I wanted in terms of the concept and putting the songs in their proper order…"

The album also includes "Dizzy" which features special guests Donald Byrd and Roy Ayers and Sandra co-produced the set with Tom Hammer, Ty Macklin, Marc Batson and Jeff Smith & Peter Lord. "About a year ago, I had a conversation with my web mistress M (a talented singer in her own right) and she enlightened me about the prospects for Internet promotion," Sandra says. "I trusted what she said and at the very least, I thought I should have my own website to keep people informed of my activities It's also an opportunity to release my music to the world and all I can see is that it's a very liberating experience to have this kind of control over what I put on my record, on the kind of artwork and so on. I'm very excited, psyched and I'm nipping at the bud…"

From the sensual "Act Of Beauty" to the funk groove of "If You Loved Yourself More," the album is a winner and any self-respecting lover of neo-soul, retro-soul or classic soul will find their fill of real singing, real songs and real music on "Gemini: Both Sides," an artistic triumph for the 'Mack Diva' herself.

About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.
  
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