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LEDISI 2011 SOULMUSIC.COM INTERVIEW
THE SINGER’S SINGER
Phone interview conducted July 28, 2011

Ledisi is back! SoulMusic.com was fortunate enough to, once again, speak with this extremely talented performer who has a new album out called “Pieces of Me”. Ledisi, the self-proclaimed tomboy, explains to Akim Bryant the concept behind her new material, as well as what it’s like to have both celebrity and non-celebrity fans support her burgeoning career...


Akim Bryant: SoulMusic.com, once again you have Akim Bryant here with the incomparable Ledisi. PIECES OF ME is the new album that’s out today right now, so definitely go pick that up, check it out. She’s Grammy-nominated, she’s critically acclaimed for being the outstanding talent that she is. So welcome to SoulMusic.com, Ledisi.

Ledisi: Thank you for having me, I really appreciate it.

AB: So I guess to kick it off, my first question would be related to the album, PIECES OF ME. What pieces of you have yet to be seen by your fans, considering that you seem to give your all every time your new music comes out?

L: Well, on this project I feel like I’ve been more intimate, in a more fun-loving and womanly way. So I think that’s exciting for me because I’ve always just shown that in private or onstage here and there—if you saw my shows live you’d see that part.

AB: Oh yes, definitely.

L: But musically, it’s a little bit even more on this album.

AB: So you just added a bit more fun on this album?

L: Oh, yeah, it’s very uplifting and not so dark—just a little lighter. I’m enjoying the response to it, by men in particular too.

AB: Which is always great, if you can capture the men and the women. That’s awesome.

L: Yeah, the women love it but the men… I’m shocked. I’m like, wow! That’s so cool.

AB: And I think some of the standout tracks that you have on this new album, one in particular called “Shut Up”, if you could explain how that came about?

L: Well, “Shut Up” was my venting song, just expressing the people who said, “You’ll never be anything” or “You’ll never succeed just being you” or “You need to change this about you in order to be successful.” This is my venting song to say to those people—but not even just to those people, but to anything that gets in my way: Shut up. I’m tired of hearing you tearing me down. I’ve got a bigger calling than even you: I’m here to uplift and enlighten and provoke thought, and that’s what artists are supposed to do—represent the times, as Nina Simone would have said. So for me, that’s what I’m doing, and I don’t want anything to get in the way anymore. I always let other people and their opinions get in the way, and it’s not worth it. I’m saying, “I don’t care, I’m just going to be.”

AB: Yeah, the person you are and the person you’re meant to be.

L: Yeah, but it’s also a nice way of saying it. The fact that it’s so uplifting and makes you want to dance or roller-skate or you know you can still do things that uplift you all the way, not just by words but also by the beat. So I love it. Mike City produced that track.

AB: And I see that the only featured vocalist that you have on this album is Jaheim. So how did that duet come about?

L: Well, when I wrote it I was thinking of him singing it with me. Rex Rideout, who is also executive producer with me on PIECES OF ME, he and I wrote that song. And when we wrote it, I totally was like, “I want Jaheim to sing this; I can just hear our voices together.” He’s very manly and I’m very womanly, so it worked. I needed a really old-school but new-school sound, and I just always adored his voice. And when he heard it, he heard it later again and then finally decided to do it. When he did it, it worked out perfectly. And I wasn’t there: we weren’t together when we recorded it, just kind of like we are, and it was just great. I’m so happy he was able to be a part of that.

AB: It sounds amazing. The marriage of your voices is incredible. Like you said, you have the masculine and the feminine thing and it comes together well. I like that.

L: Yeah, and I love a good, old-fashioned love song; again, about just being… we have rough times and things are hard, but we’re going to stay together and really keep this thing going.

AB: “Stay Together” is the name of the track, in case people want to go check that out. And of course, your career in general has been driven by your electric live performances. Everybody knows when you get onstage they’re about to become witness to something great. One of my close friends actually says all the time—and he’s been in the industry for a number of years—and he says all the time that today, we only have two great voices in the industry, and that’s Fantasia and Ledisi. So where does that come from, for you? Is that something that you just came out the gate naturally, and just perform incredibly onstage and everything like that, or did you have to work at it?

L: Like I say it all the time, I grew up watching my mother perform, and all the people she loved, I would watch her admire and talk about them and listen to the stories. So watching her, even at rehearsal she would give a hundred and twenty percent like there was a full audience. And if there was three people in the room, she’d still perform the same way as when there were over a thousand people in the room. So I watched her and that’s who I wanted to be like, and so what you see is the passion and conviction and the love of words and people and all of that onstage, and the respect towards the writers; or the person, if I do a cover, the person who wrote it—all that is all intertwined, and, of course, putting my own self into it. It takes a lot to perform. It takes a lot. Afterwards I’m wore [sic] out, ’cause I take it that seriously and I take it that spiritually for me.

That’s why if there’s anything crazy onstage, I have to say that thing, or whatever it is, has to go. I can’t have it, because it’s a direct connection between so many forces: the audience, the deliverance of words from whoever wrote it… it’s so important to me. I want people to feel when they leave my show. And my mom did that; she made chills up your spine. When I was little I didn’t understand all of that, but I knew I wanted to have my audience bakin’ and shakin’ like she did. She always had that feeling, so I always want to capture that. And watching my mom do that, and other great performers—that’s what they do.

AB: That is what they do. So you mentioned—

L: You gotta study. You’ve seen them.

AB: Oh yeah, I’ve seen plenty.

L: Performers that make you go, “My God.” Prince does that for me. I went to his show in L.A., and… oh, my goodness. I was in the front and I got to see him and he called me up there, so it was a lot of energy. I absolutely enjoyed that.

And I already know him, but I’m still like [screams]. He’s still Prince and he’s playing the crap out of his guitar and singing, which is ridiculous.

AB: So do we see a Prince and Ledisi collaboration coming soon?

L: Oh, I would love it. I do not know. But for now I can live through my memories through my favourite CD, SIGN O’ THE TIMES. So there you go.

AB: You mentioned that it’s exhausting when you finish a show. I know a lot of times performers have a routine that they go through before they step onstage. Do you have a routine that you go through once you get offstage?

L: When I get offstage I don’t have time to do what I would like to do, which is just fully unwind and just crash—meaning a nice hot bath—because I can’t immediately come down from all of that; it’s a lot. But I would like a hot, warm bath and to relax and to sleep. I usually have to go sign CDs ‘til the very last person, take pictures, hugs; all of that ‘til they shut the building down. The owners can’t stand it but the fans love it. I’ve already performed over my time, which is usually an hour and ten minutes: I perform an hour and maybe thirty to sixty minutes. They’re like, “She gave way more.” And then another hour or two, usually it’s two hours, of signing CDs. A lot of performers don’t do that.

They just perform and then they’re gone right after the show. But I’m out there looking and talking, and people are crying to me about their life, and I’m there doing everything to listen. All I can do is hug them and say it’s going to be all right, because I can’t fix everything. I try to, but I can’t. But through just being there and being accessible, I think… it’s hard to do, but it’s worth it in the end, because my fans… they’ve been there since the beginning. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.

AB: And you mentioned your fans, and I want to touch on that a bit. There’s a difference between just being a singer and being a singer’s singer, and I know you have a slew of celebrity fans who follow you just as much as the regular public. Who are some of those who have been most supportive in your career?

L: I’ve had great people be there, mainly Patti [LaBelle] and Chaka Khan, and Rachelle Ferrell was one of the first, was THE first. She really opened up a lot of doors for me, and I would watch her all the time. Every time she came to Oakland I would sneak in the clubs to see her, or just wait backstage, like my people do for me—that’s where I get that from, is from watching her. But she’s always been there for me, and before the whole thing that you see now—before the Grammys and the nominations—she’s been there. She made people play my music on the radio when she was supposed to be promoting her songs. So Rachelle Ferrell’s been a very big mentor for me. Chaka was the first to say, “Hey, y’all need to check her out”—on a mainstream way; another level—and then Patti came. It’s like everybody, you know? It’s just been amazing to have legends like that… to me, they’re all beautiful women who do totally different kinds of singing, but still the same meaning, which is to make you feel something. And I never thought in my life I’d have those women as friends and supporting me. It just blows my mind every time. I’m sitting with them and talking, and I become a fan. They’re like, “If you don’t cut that out…” I’m like, “I’m sorry, but it’ll never go away” [laughs]. I’ll break out into my fan thing, then I’ll go, “Uh-oh, I gotta remember.” You know how you have that breakout moment where you don’t know how to be cool? That’s me. “Oh my God, when you recorded such-and-such,” (snorting sounds)

AB: Start bawling.

L: They’re looking at me like, “Ledisi, what is wrong with you? You done broke out.” “I’m sorry.” Especially Miss Patti—I freaking love her, man. She’ll give you advice on everything from hair, clothes—everything: “I never want to see you dress like that again, ever.”

Because I’m a tomboy, and I’ll wear sweats in a heartbeat. High heels I love, but I love wearing sweats and Nike shoes, or Adidas, or anything that’s straight up hip-hop like a little boy. She’s like, “No, no, no—you can’t do that no more. Those days are gone.”

AB: You’ve got to step into your diva clothes now.

L: You know what I mean? Every day, though. It’s different. I walk down the street now, and it’s a mess. I can’t do what I normally do. Can’t do that.

AB: So let me jump to this last question. There are a ton of singing competitions and stuff on TV right now, reality TV-type shows from “The Voice” to “X Factor” to “American Idol” and all that stuff. Is that something that you yourself could have ever seen yourself doing back in the day before you had your big break?

L: Probably. I wouldn’t say no to it. I would probably be like most new artists wanting to be seen and heard and I would audition and be a part of it, definitely. I would love to be a judge because I think performance-wise, a lot of singers need work on presence. The vocals is [sic] all subject to opinion, but presence onstage is so needed. Overall, I think people don’t come in with the presence, and that’s half the battle.

AB: Yeah, that’s definitely half the battle. You have a lot of great voices out here, but a lot of people who can’t pull it off onstage as well as you yourself can.

L: Right, exactly.

AB: Okay, so that wraps it up for me and SoulMusic.com. How can your fans keep up-to-date with you and everything that you’re doing?

L: Well, lately I’ve been hibernating to get ready for the end of the year—there’s a lot of things happening. They can follow me on Twitter and Facebook, just ledisi.com or Ledisi on Facebook and Twitter. But there’s a lot of great things happening coming up, so yeah, you can follow me there.

AB: Anything that you’d like to mention?

L: I want to say to SoulMusic.com, I love SoulMusic.com. I love the people and always have, and just thank you guys for being there for me from the beginning, before all this. I really appreciate it.

AB: We appreciate you, we appreciate your support; we appreciate your time and the music and your talent—everything.

L: Well, thank you—thank you. And if you need anything, I’m around. So let me know.

AB: Awesome, will do. Thank you again.

L: Thank you. Take care.

AB: Alright, you too.

Born and raised in Newark, N.J., Akim Bryant received his B.A. in Communication from William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. Akim is an entertainment/media professional with over 10 years of work experience as a music programmer (radio & video) for Music Choice and as a freelance writer. For further inquiries, he can be reached directly at akim.bryant@gmail.com Transcription by Penelope Keith - You can e-mail Penelope here for transcription service info

About the Writer
With nearly a decade of experience in programming content for Music Choice (24/7 music channels, cable-on-demand shows, website and cell), Akim Bryant has just begun to scratch the surface of journalism having already written for GIANT and The Source magazines as well as a number of start-up publications. This self-professed R&B junkie also has a strong knack for the art of interviewing. Be on the lookout for his semi-autobiographical debut novel coming out in 2012.
  
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