How much are songs shaped by your own experiences in life? Do you write from personal experience or do you try to imagine yourself in other people’s shoes?
I think my best self comes out in my songs…they often capture ideals or peak experiences that are hard to live on a daily basis. Songs can be extraordinary…life is most often ordinary; a mundane struggle…like the first line in ‘Considered Delivered’: ‘no one want to hear my sad story, everybody’s got one of their own.’
How do you determine which singer sings on what tune?
When a melody come into my head it usually comes with a voice, and if its not the voice of someone I already know, I try and find someone who captures that spirit, or, as in the case of Donnie and Trina Broussard on this record…I just call ’em up out of the blue and ask. They were both gracious enough to say yes and lend their extraordinary gifts to my record.
Tell us about Jeff Ramsey.
Jeff is a voice I know very well, from when he worked with Lalah Hathaway and Al Jarreau through to the present day. His vocal on the opening cut ‘Celebrate Our Love’ is probably my favourite vocal he has ever done on one of my songs. He has that classic Al Green vibe that works so well with my classic soul approach. He’s a great singer and great person – and so much fun to be around in the studio.
Jill Zadeh features on ‘1000 Prayers’ – who is she and what was she like to work with?
She sang ‘One Good Thing’ on my first record and I always wanted to have her sing another one. I love her voice and vocal arrangements; she’s angelic and I knew I wanted it to be on another spiritual song. She works in LA (tours with Janet Jackson and is always working) so my friend Ian Martin recorded her vocals for me. I am blessed with talented friends like Jill and Ian to help bring my songs to life.
What was it like growing up in Rockport, Massachusetts? What kind of music scene did it have there? When and why did you gravitate to black music and R&B?
Rockport is a quiet Finnish fishing town but full of all kinds of artists…it was really a great place to grow up and dream big. I’m here now living and taking care of mom while I still pursue music and I love it. I have a lot of travelling dreams left in me but I’ll probably always find my way back here.
What was the first album that you bought?
Well, my first album was given to me by my grandfather who has very soulful and had an eclectic taste in music…it was Natalie Cole’s ‘Inseparable’ and I wore that out. After that I remember getting albums from him by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole, Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, George Benson, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Donna Summer…my grandfather had a huge influence on my love for a great singer and a great song!
What was the best time for soul music?
When Donny Hathaway was alive, and Aretha Franklin was making her early records, and Marvin Gaye was making ‘What’s Going On.’
The song ‘RSVP’ conjures up the spirit of Chic – was that intentional and if so, what’s your take on the group and their music?
One of my favourite dance/jazz groups…so creative in that genre…I had the lyric and melody to ‘RSVP’ and thought it would lend itself well to that sound…my friend U-NAM heard exactly where I wanted to go with it and nailed it – and Donnie sang so much life and sincerity in it. Sometimes you make the exact right choices for a song and that is one of the best examples of everything coming together.
How would you describe the process of songwriting and creating music from your perspective? What instruments do you work with? Do you stick to a format? (for example, do you write the music first or the words?)
Lyrics come to me first, then melodies…then I start thinking about do I want to write this on guitar or piano or straight into ‘track style production” if it’s uptempo…that’s when I start thinking about who I want to bring the song to and be a part of that particular song’s team. I do like technique, skill, form, and structure…there are plenty out there over the years and you can always break the rules if you want to and the songs calls for it…but it’s easy (at least for me) to tell when someone’s made a clever choice or someone just didn’t know any better or make the effort. If the verse and chorus melody are too similar, if there’s no rhythmic contrast between section, no lift in the chorus, not real departure in a bridge…and if the lyric just keeps saying the same thing over and over again with different words and doesn’t take the story any further in verse 2 than it did in verse 1. I don’t appreciate singers with great voices who fancy themselves songwriters with very undisciplined ‘artsy-farty’ self-indulgent ramblings who simply rely on their vocals and the production to make a song work. It’s easy to tell that you just unemployed a songwriter you really needed but your ego got in the way of your record being the best it could be. Everyone isn’t Prince or Stevie Wonder as much as they’d like to think so. That is not to say there are not gifted singer/songwriters out there…just far fewer than many would like to think.
Outside of music-making, do you have any hobbies?
Trying to take care of my health, physically and emotionally…I am a hard person to raise lol! And also trying to be there for the people I love.
Any unfulfilled musical ambitions?
Everyday there’s a new one…at the moment I have about three or four great producers who have either sent me tracks or are creating them at the moment. Now, I don’t usually write to pre-produced tracks ‘cos I find it limiting…but these guys are ridiculously talented and I am very inspired by them so I know we’ll come up with something exceptional. I will be doing them all as collabs with Cleveland Jones and at the end of the year we’ll see what we have and maybe it’ll be an album. Who knows? Also, I want to write a song for Chaka Khan…
‘SEASONS & REASONS’ IS OUT NOW ON DOWNLOAD AND ON CD VIA SOUL BROTHER IN THE UK.
Buy the CD at www.soulbrother.com