|Song of Solomon: The Music of Meshell Ndegeocello
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Meshell Ndegeocello: Sacredly Profane
Sensuality and religion make good bedfellows.
by Saby Reyes-Kulkami for the Seattle Weekly on October 20, 2009 at 9:05pm
"If you could lick your balls," chuckles Meshell Ndegeocello, "you would!" With that playfully indelicate visual, Ndegeocello illustrates a point she's been making through music for the better part of her career: Spiritual growth need not preclude sensuality. In fact, as far as the renowned bassist/songwriter is concerned, they may as well be one and the same. Where Al Green and Prince have built careers on walking an inexplicably jagged line between sexual and religious themes, dichotomizing them to an absurd degree, Ndegeocello continues to make bedmates of God and desire. Throughout her work, the results of their union are often messy, but always insightful.
"I've never seen them as separate," she explains. "Especially in heterosexual lovemaking, just the possibility that through that act, you can make another fucking human being... that's some pretty God-like shit. Also, the fact that you want to make another person feel good, that's pretty divine to me. That closeness, those exchanges of endorphins and hormones and chemicals, are an amazing way to bring people together, and hopefully it creates a bond that makes less violence."
Ndegeocello sailed the cosmic vistas of that chemical exchange on her 2003 album, Comfort Woman, a buttermilk-smooth slice of futurist down-tempo soul that, with its breathlessly enamored lyrics and oceanic dub grooves, depicts attraction as blissful out-of-body transcendence. She's in Seattle under the umbrella of the Earshot Jazz Festival, just weeks after the release of Devil's Halo, which in some ways returns to the casual sound of Comfort Woman. Given Ndegeocello's tendency to swerve wildly among styles from album to album, Halo's stripped-down, straight-ahead soul-rock sound and kinship with Comfort Woman (think of it as the latter's troubled, spiky-haired adolescent cousin) comes as something of a surprise. Since 2003, for example, Ndegeocello has ventured into experimental jazz on the mostly instrumental 2005 album The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel, then followed that with the ambitious, hyper-eclectic sprawl of 2007's The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams.
But if Devil's Halo provides evidence that the bassist and songwriter is feeling less need to make sharp turns into new genres or invent new languages out of her vast range, her lyrical approach remains as direct as ever. Who could forget the taunting, mean-spirited homewrecker protagonist of "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)" from her 1993 debut, Plantation Lullabies? Since then, Ndegeocello has kept her lyrical tongue sharp on matters of race, tolerance, homosexuality, and of course religion. Never one to shy away from bluntness, some of Ndegeocello's religious imagery can make even the most secular listener blush. To name just two: the song "Leviticus: Faggot" from 1996's Peace Beyond Passion, and the (eventually scrapped) album cover for 2002's Cookie that depicts the openly gay Ndegeocello wearing a hijab. But beyond the sheer provocative daring of such juxtapositions, Ndegeocello has a knack for inverting sacred symbols to underscore her questions about other, more human issues.
The simple contradiction in the new album's title announces the music as yet another foray into the spirit realm, but it also acts as a kind of keyhole view into the basic longings that dog us day to day. For all her fascination with religious iconography, Ndegeocello has never lost her grip on religion's implications as a matter of the heart. As she returns to it again and again on Devil's Halo, isolation—even more than the sexual charge the songs exude—serves as the linchpin that pushes her narrators to strive for connection in the first place. And whether that connection arrives in the form of God, another person, or both, in Ndegeocello's music all forms of communion are eventually followed by a lingering sense of uncertainty.
"People really don't know anything," she offers. "With my friends that are really attached to religion and all the dogma of it, and feel that their way is the way and that they know it for themselves... I don't use any of my consciousness to even try to understand or critique it. My love means we hang out, we eat, love our children, do things together... I have great empathy and understanding for everyone, and I hope they have it for me, but I'm not invested in their hope for me. That's what I think it means to become an adult: Without God and the devil, I only have myself to blame."
Meshell Ndegeocello: Like a Real Revolutionary
“I’m no longer subjected to the Top 10 or the Top 100. I get the music from the last 100 years”
by Ernest Hardy on October 21, 2009 at 5:09pm for the LA Weekly
Meshell Ndegeocello’s eighth studio album, Devil’s Halo (Mercer Street Records), synthesizes her varied influences as they’ve played out on her often brilliantly, at times, bafflingly, varied previous albums — notably Bitter, Comfort Woman, The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams, and Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel. At press time, the 41-year-old singer-songwriter-bassist-producer and her partner were awaiting the birth of their baby; that domestic equation is perhaps the most powerful element in the new music’s composition.
Speaking by phone from her Upstate New York home, Ndegeocello is lighter in spirit than she’s been in the dozen years I’ve been interviewing her. On Halo, that translates into vocals frequently delivered with a playful theatricality (first glimpsed on Man of My Dreams) that adds a jagged twist and a countercurrent joyfulness to sometimes emotionally bleak lyrics. All that serves as both complement and counterpoint to Ndegeocello’s patented mack-sexiness, which simmers through her remake of Ready for the World’s R&B classic, “Love You Down.” She talks about her love for RZA, the effects of downloading on indie artists, and what she has in common with black revolutionaries of the past.
Ernest: Press notes state that Halo has “no click track or electronic synthetics, with a focus on musicianship and live band energy.”
Meshell: The wording is strange. I just really wanted to stress that there’s no Pro Tools. We recorded the initial tracks over a five-day period — me, [guitarist, co-songwriter and Halo co-producer] Chris Bruce and [drummer] Deantoni — to 24-track tape. Everything you hear on the CD is pretty much the first or second take.
Ernest: How did you decide to co-produce with Chris?
Meshell: The only past producer I’d ever wanna work with again would be David Gamson, but that hasn’t come up. I haven’t found anyone else I connect with, except for Chris. I’m a true believer that unless you’re Prince or Stevie Wonder — and even Prince is showing that he needs help — not everybody can produce themselves. I’m definitely not that person. Chris is a brilliant musician, amazing to work with, and just got the best out of me.
Ernest: How did Spirit Music affect your approach to creating music?
Meshell: In touring to support it, I got to play bass two and a half years straight. It improved my bass playing. It made me respect pop music. I know that’s weird, but I got to play with people who improvise seven days a week, 24 hours a day. That is an amazing skill. It made me appreciate songwriting because you need something that sparks their imagination to allow them to do that. On Devil’s Halo I was really concentrating on writing songs that would be inspiring to the musicians ’cause we’re gonna have to play them over and over again. They still maintain their form, but we all can have some personal self-expression.
Ernest: You’ve said that the influences for Halo range from Human League to Wu Tang. Describe the Wu influence.
Meshell: The track that’s Wu Tang–inspired is definitely “Love You Down.” I just love RZA’s programming, simplicity and space. He’s one of the greatest songwriters, and I don’t think he ever really gets credit for that. People keep him in the hip-hop genre, but I think he’s just great at these audio collages. I’m a big admirer.
Ernest: Why “Love Me Down”?
Meshell: Because it’s good. I love that song. Everyone remembers it from high school or junior high. It just brings back a flow of memories for everyone, so I knew I had to do it. And I hope to make a covers record.
Ernest: It’s one of the longest tracks on the record. Most cuts are two minutes and some change; one is less than two minutes .
Meshell: I guess I’ve purchased a few albums where I just go, “Wow. These songs are really long.” [laughing] My favorite period is when we lived in the land of the three-minute song. The Motown thing — I though they were genius in knowing that’s as much as a listener can take. I guess I was just really in that less-is-more, austere vibe.
Ernest: One of Halo’s best tracks is “White Girl,” which reminds me of British artists from the ’80s experimenting with dub and reggae rhythms, groups ranging from the Police and Culture Club to...
Meshell: English Beat, especially.
Ernest: It also suggests Comfort Woman pushed out of its comfort zone.
Meshell: Definitely dub is in my body forever. I think I hear everything through a dub filter. Even when I play rock music, I play through a dub filter.
Ernest: How much was the hard-left turn of your last few albums — the experimentation in production, the genre-hopping — a conscious decision to burn down the tower in which critics and fans had placed you?
Meshell: I made the first record when I was, like, 22. I’m 41 now. My son is 20. I’m just in a different place in my life. My partner is having a baby in a month. I see the world differently. I think the consciousness comes from that, with the artistic choices. I guess the world of the Internet also changes things. I’m no longer subjected to the Top 10 or the Top 100. I get the music from the last 100 years. That influences my filter, my consciousness.
Ernest: Speaking of the Internet, chime in on the effects of downloading on the indie artist.
Meshell: If you can afford it, please buy it. And just know that when you buy it, it allows that artist to have a chance to make something again for you. But if you can’t afford it but you really like it and you’re sharing it with your friends and spreading the positive sounds, I can’t really knock that. But your buying it allows me to take care of this next child and it allows me, hopefully, to make something else.
Ernest: Let’s talk more about “White Girl.” A few years ago I interviewed you and you joked that you should do like all black revolutionaries and get yourself a white girl.
Meshell: [Laughing] Yeah, I want a T-shirt that says that, but people won’t really get it: Like a real revolutionary, I married a white woman.
Ernest: So you embraced the cliché?
Meshell: It’s been an interesting thing in my life. I think I’ve always been post-race and I’m hoping that with Obama in office ... well, to bring up the lyrics to another song, the common thread is that we’re all gonna die. So find joy. I’m hoping these [bigoted] ideas we all have will fall apart. It’s very limiting to us as a species, the concept of better-than/less-than. It just seems to be at its end. I’m like, this all fades to black, and it’s gone. It’s dust. Choose carefully what you obsess about.
The full Ernest Hardy piece can be found on his website here. Enjoy!
Check out this glowing review of the Boulder show
(From Reuters on October 23, 2009 at 10:02pm EDT - reviewed by Billboard)
(No name of reviewer (that I could find) and the review wasn't found on billboard.com)
ARTIST: MESHELL NDEGEOCELLO
ALBUM: DEVIL'S HALO (Downtown Music)
Though not as sprawlingly ambitious or experimental as the 2007 "The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams," Meshell Ndegeocello's eighth release, "Devil's Halo," neatly straddles a line between challenging and accessible, with some of the tightest and catchiest compositions she's yet brought forth. Listeners might not get that from the opening song, "Slaughter," which moves from liquid-like verses to crash-bang choruses with a Radiohead-style progressive vibe, but tracks like "Mass Transit" and "Blood on the Curb" channel melodic, if slightly subversive, New Wave influences -- and the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde would pay large for the leathery attitude of "Lola." Ndegeocello lays jazz overtones atop of "White Girl," employs old-school synthesizers through "Die Young" and brings out front-porch Americana for "Crying in Your Beer." She also uses a big beat and subtle dissonance to turn Melvin Riley's "Love You Down" into a Joni Mitchell-flavored tone poem. "I transform myself for maximum attraction," Ndegeocello sings in "Mass Transit." It works. (B+)
Meshell Ndegeocello Puts Life In Rhythm
by NPR on October 28, 2009
(Please click on the above link for the audio from the in-studio performance and interview -- or you can read the transcript)
Meshell Ndegeocello may be one of the most novel recording artists alive: She's made a career challenging the conventions of music and much more.
While many female musicians feel forced to cling to industry standards of sex appeal, Ndegeocello shaves her head and plays the bass. And even though injecting themes of race and sexuality into music can be considered taboo, Ndegeocello has been rewarded for pushing the envelope; she's received 10 Grammy nominations. And then, when many artists tried to earn credibility by shunning mainstream music, it was Ndegeocello who scored widespread praise and commercial success for her collaboration with a wide range of artists, from John Mellencamp to Chaka Khan.
She recently visited NPR's Studio 4A to perform songs from her latest album, "Devil's Halo," as well as a song from 1999's "Bitter."
"Devil's Halo," out earlier this month, is her eighth studio album, and it often juxtaposes Ndegeocello's velvety singing with darker themes. The project features song titles ranging from "Slaughter" to "Blood on the Curb" to "Die Young."
Ndegeocello — born Michelle Johnson in Berlin, Germany — says her music is often a reflection of how she sees the world around her.
"We sort of romance violence and feel war will bring peace, and it's kind of just about sometimes your anger and your evil is captivating, and it just takes you over," she says.
In spite of her music's messages, Ndegeocello says she eschews lofty goals with her music.
"I just try to tell a story with a song, and be able to try to transmit the emotion to you," she says. "That's all I'm really trying to do."
Often credited with being a pioneer of the neo-soul genre, Ndegeocello has made a career of weaving in and out of various worlds, all while maintaining her identity. Her music has appeared in several films, including "Love and Basketball," "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" and "Batman & Robin."
"I love making music to accentuate the visuals," Ndegeoocello says. "I like when they add to the process."
Her advice for budding musicians: Decide early on what career path you want and make choices accordingly.
"Either you do it for the music, or you want to be a star," she says. "And those are two different things. And I just like to play music."This message has been edited. Last edited by: matthew,
Not So Bitter
Review of Devil's Halo by Tyler Lewis for Pop Matters on October 27, 2009
That’s always the first word that comes to mind when anyone mentions Meshell Ndegeocello. Her music eschews sentiment for emotion. There’s a stark acceptance that life is rough, passionate, trying, and beautiful in Ndegeocello’s work. She never shies away from how heavy and messy human emotion can be.
So it’s somewhat refreshing that on her 8th album, Devil’s Halo, she opens up a bit and embraces humor and lighter moments. It would seem that on this album, Ndegeocello is less concerned with how emotion strikes a person (be it love, pain, or sex), but how people relate to that emotion. And in the process she creates the tightest, most emotionally potent work she’s produced since Bitter.
Ndegeocello’s emotionally mature perspective here is striking in its simplicity. As the album title suggests, she takes the good with the bad.
On the opening track, “Slaughter”, she says “My love will lead you to slaughter / If you see it coming I’d run the other way / I’m the spawn of a sick mother”. The song, with its alternating melodic plea and raucous funk, is a beautiful acknowledgment that you often run from love because it can be all-consuming and destructive. In that way, it is a love song, but a more realistic one. A few tracks later, on “Lola”, she brilliantly deconstructs the comfort and stability that relationships and marriage are supposed to provide, and questions why anyone would even want such things (“everyone thinks they’re so fuckin' special”).
And on the album closer, a beautiful exploration of loss called “Crying in Your Beer”, she honestly looks at how loved ones can be taken for granted when they are alive – “Sometimes I forget who we are / I forget we’re in love / Don’t let me die alone”.
It would be a mistake to listen to these songs and think that they are sad indictments of love and life’s pitfalls. They are not (her brilliant cover of Ready for the World’s 80’s classic “Love You Down” is weirdly romantic, in fact). What Ndegeocello explores is the somewhat commonplace nature of human interaction, down to the isolating nature of “Mass Transit”.
There isn’t really a bad track on Devil’s Halo. At 37 minutes, it doesn’t run long enough to have any filler. That will make it a relatively easy listen for the uninitiated.
For Ndegeocello fans though, it is tempting to say that the Devil’s Halo and Bitter are just two sides of the same coin—which isn’t really accurate, I don’t think. Anyone who insinuates that this is the happier version of Bitter is missing the point. Devil’s Halo, even with songs like “Bright Shiny Morning” isn’t really a happy album. But it isn’t really a sad one either. It rejects this paradigm as a false choice and as such it is really Bitter with a greater sense of perspective of life’s realities.
Running the Voodoo Down: An Interview with Meshell Ndegeocello
by Claudrena N. Harold for Pop Matters on October 28, 2009
To immerse oneself in the music of Meshell Ndegeocello is to be reminded that the spirits of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Jimi Hendrix still reside among the living. Truly one of the most innovative artists of her generation, Meshell has pulled off the remarkable feat of delivering one aural masterpiece after another for more than 16 years. Notwithstanding the pressures of working in an industry in which fans and tastemakers alike routinely confuse the spectacle with the spectacular, the artist formerly known as Michelle Johnson has not only survived the ups and downs of the music business with her soul intact, but has left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape of black America.
So forgive me in advance for throwing all pretense of objective analysis out the window; but it’s awfully difficult to not engage in hagiography when discussing an artist who on more than one occasion has renewed my faith in the radical potential of popular music, the transformative power of human intimacy, and the ability of the Divine to manifest Herself in human form.
Of course, an artist as supremely gifted as Meshell hardly needs me or anyone else to shout her praises. If you’ve listened intently to any of Meshell’s music, you already know that she possesses an uncanny ability to arouse one’s mental, erogenous, and spiritual zones with her moving bass lines, sensual lyricism, and probing questions. You also probably know that she’s not afraid to rage against the machine of corporate greed, religious orthodoxy, and white supremacy. Arriving on the music scene in 1993, Meshell wasted no time in troubling the waters of political complacency. Wondrous works of art in service of the people, her first two recordings—1993’s Plantation Lullabies and 1996’s Peace Beyond Passion—did much more than assail the deep racial inequalities pervading American society; they also confronted the contradictory currents in black contemporary life. Throwing a middle-finger salute to the entrenched homophobia and “she watches channel zero” sexism spewing from the lips of self-proclaimed revolutionaries, Meshell provided a blueprint of how to get your rage on without alienating half of your potential army.
And yet, this revolutionary aspect of Meshell’s music was not the source of my initial attraction. What I loved most about Plantation Lullabies was its window into the musings of a hopeless romantic who understood the radical power of love. Lyrics such as “he finds peace when he looks into her eyes” were my reminder that the projects exist not just as a space of conflict and impoverishment (mainly material) but one of love and loyalty. That even under the most trying circumstances, people find ways to assert their humanity/their humanness through deep connections with others. So for me, what Meshell did on Plantation Lullabies and subsequent recordings was put the love ethic back into the liberation equation.
Of course, this important contribution hardly scratches the surface of her accomplishments. One could spend weeks talking about the political audacity of Plantation Lullabies and Cookie, the spiritual beauty of Peace Beyond Passion and Comfort Woman, the brutal honesty and nakedness of Bitter, and the intergalactic funkiness of The Spirit Music Jamia and the World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams. Or just how she’s managed to be so consistently brilliant in a sea of mediocrity.
Speaking to Meshell via phone several days after her amazing show in the nation’s capital, the supremely gifted musician provided me with some clues on her longevity. Showcasing her wicked sense of humor, her deep sense of history, and her glaring humility, she opened up about her career trajectory, her loyal following, her undying love for Miles Dewey Davis III, and the creative process behind her most recent release, Devil’s Halo.
Immediately apparent was her excitement about the direction of her new music. Spectacular from beginning to end, Devil’s Halo covers a broad spectrum of sounds, textures, and emotions. Seductively beautiful ballads like “Tie One On” and “Hair of the Dog” mesh perfectly with pulsating gems like “Lola” and “Mass Transit.” One reason for this is the first-rate quality of the songs. It only took Meshell seven days to record Devil’s Halo, but she spent more than a year writing the material for the record. Much to my surprise, the singer found inspiration from an unlikely source. “I got to go to Ireland,” she enthusiastically explains. “I went to a couple of pubs and there were much older gentlemen playing the guitar and just singing these amazing, simple songs—and I really admired that. I wanted to get to that kind of place where the song could just exist with a guitar and a vocal.”
So does this mean that Devil’s Halo is Bitter, Pt. II? Not hardly. The truth is far more signifying of our culture’s warped ideas about love and marriage this time out. Consider the grippingly sad yet wickedly funny “Lola”, an engrossing tale on how our society—or at least popular culture—deals with “love” and “heartbreak.” To my complaint that the song, particularly the lyric “a wife’s just a whore with a diamond ring,” could be interpreted as a rather harsh take on love, commitment, and marriage, Meshell quips, “Truth hurts.”
Meshell explains further: “You see that show The Bachelorette, The Bachelor, A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila. It just seems like relationships are being presented like this really clear exchange. I hear young women going ‘well if he can buy me something.’ That song—“Put It in the Bag”—which is based on ‘can you buy me some things?’ And then the male counterpart, all he can really talk about is sex and if the woman can cook. And it’s funny to me. That you’re no more than a whore, you just have a wedding ring.”
Our brief moment of collective laughter quickly turned serious when the conversation shifted to the subject of loyalty, obligation, and duty. Much—though certainly not all—of Meshell’s music has dealt with questions surrounding issues of fidelity, commitment, and dedication. “Will you comfort me?”, she moans on “Relief: A Stripper’s Classic”. Will you love me unconditionally (without shame)? Will you accept my imperfections, my shifts, my changes? It seems to me that this issue of allegiance and devotion, particularly now, is not just related to matters of the heart or the bed. The chameleon-like nature of Meshell’s progression as an artist has also brought up the issue of loyalty and obligation with respect to her relationship to her fans (for a brilliant take on this, see Reg Jones’ recent commentary on Devil’s Halo ).
Commenting on one of Devil’s Halo standouts, “Bright Shiny Morning”, I asked Meshell if the rather snarky tune was a message to her fans. One line in particular, “If you think I owe you something, get in line” seemed tailored made to longtime followers pressing her to record another Bitter or another Plantation Lullabies. Quickly, Meshell lets me know that my interpretation is off base. Noting that the title derives from James Frey’s book of the same name, Meshell explains how the song derived from her deep meditations on the humbling and cleansing process that comes about when one is forced to confront their own lies and embellishments.
“At one point in my life,” she confesses, “I found out that I was a liar. It’s just something very cleansing about that. And once you get through that and find out who you really are. You sort of have this attitude of ‘if you think I owe you something, get in line.’”
Now, after coming to grips with her strengths and weaknesses, Meshell simply strives to grow as an artist and a human being.
“It is not for me to try to please other people, but to be true and honest and good with myself. Especially in the music industry, it’s like people change themselves almost in the sense of creating mental anguish in order to make other people happy and to obtain celebrity and fame. That’s why the lyric is ‘you do anything.’ Some people do anything for their big dreams of sunshine.” Counting herself among those who once strove for acceptance, Meshell proudly announces that she’s “no longer in that place. I have tried to make people happy at my expense and I just don’t do that anymore.”
Contentment with self, however, does not mean that Meshell no longer concerns herself with artistic growth and development. In fact, one could argue that since the release of Comfort Woman she’s been aggressively following the creative path blazed by her idol, Miles Davis. Listening to Spirit Jamia, The World Has Made Me, and Devil’s Halo has always conjured up thoughts of Bitches Brew and a personal favorite, Agharta. Not so much because of these albums’ sonic similarities, but mainly because of Meshell’s and Miles’ incessant flirtations with the many spiritual dimensions of darkness.
The indebtedness and admiration Meshell feels for Miles became abundantly clear when asked about Bitches Brew: “Nothing comes close to that recording,” she excitingly tells me. Detailing how the historic recording exposed the listener to the new possibilities of sound, Meshell went on to explain how Miles’ artistic example still pushes her to new heights: “I know he has a difficult personal life to account for, but in terms of music, he is my true inspiration because he always tried to challenge himself and meet new people—and try different things. And I hope to stay on that path.”
Small surprise given her intense study of Miles’ career, Meshell has worked hard to surround herself with immensely talented musicians. In fact, she credits much of Devil Halo’s success to her amazing band: guitarist Chris Bruce, bassist Mark Kelly, keyboardist Keefus Cianica, and drummer extraordinaire Deantoni Parks. “They keep me clear about what is the real focus—in life and in music.” Anything but yes men, Bruce, Kelly, and Parks provide Meshell with endless inspiration, encouragement and critique:
“Chris Bruce is as amazing a person as a player. I think it is important for artists to have someone around them to say no. And to be a good cheerleader for you as well. And to be open to new ideas. And I found that in him. With Deantoni, the drummer, he is just a blessing. He’s basically my musical inspiration. Just being around him is exciting. As a musician he really trusts himself and that really leads me to being clear about my ideas as well. Keefus, the keyboard player, he’s just a painter. He’s like the most amazing colorist. Mark Kelly is my friend, and to me one of the greatest bass players in the world. I am humbled to be around him.”
Surely Meshell’s comrades would return the sentiment. Not only because she’s an incredibly gracious human being, but also because she represents the continuation of a tradition of black artistic excellence that reaches far beyond many of our collective memories. Quite frankly, to a degree she doesn’t even fully recognize, Meshell matters. Not just to her fans, but to her peers as well. In fact, her admirers run the gamut, from rapper Talib Kweli to the brilliant young pianist Aaron Parks (who mentions her among the likes of Keith Jarrett) to cultural critic Greg Tate. She tries to take all the love in stride, but the mention of “Ironman” Tate gets her talking:
“Wow. Greg Tate. He believed in me before anyone else did. He was the first person to give me a gig. Always the person to say check this out read this. More so, he’s a really kind man. And I didn’t know a lot of those in the early part of my life. So I am very indebted to him and any kind word he has to say about me, I humbly appreciate.”
All the while appreciative of the love from friends and fans, she works hard to stay level headed: “I take a critique like a complement and a compliment like a critique.”
Toward the end of our conversation, her rationale for such an approach made perfect sense after she shared her opinion on an artist, who, like Charlie “Bird” Parker and Dinah Washington, shares her birthday: Michael Jackson. Noting quickly her two favorite Jackson tunes (“Push Me Away” and “Heartbreak Hotel”), she unflinchingly admits to identifying with his pain and his struggles. “I relate to him a lot. I know what it’s like to not be necessarily happy with your acne or your presentation ... people judge you by your presentation. I hope he found peace.” Ending our conversation with Michael, she solemnly notes: “There’s a price for fame. There’s definitely a price.”
Sitting in my apartment with Meshell’s music and her commentary cluttering my mind with new ideas and images, I thought about the price of not only fame, but commitment to artistic excellence. What does it mean to sacrifice oneself for the love of the tradition, for the love of the art? To concern oneself more with souls than sales? One can hardly imagine the ways in which such a commitment taxes the body, mind, and soul, but I deeply believe, that Meshell Ndegeocello—our generation’s revolutionary soul singer—wouldn’t have it any other way.
Reviewed by altsounds.com on October 28, 2009 at 1:24am
I have been a fan of Meshell Ndegeocello since “Peace Beyond Passion” in 1996. I saw her touring that album in Boulder, CO and I was hooked. She is an amazing singer who has put out several stunning albums (“Peace Beyond Passion,” “Bitter”). She has just released a new album, “Devil’s Halo,” and I am happy to report this album is no exception.
I was surprised when I listened to “Devil’s Halo.” Ndegeocello has always played a soulful R&B sound, breaking out the occasional danceable track, but always firmly fixed in R&B. The new CD has a few tracks you would expect: patient, minimalist R&B songs with her signature high, passionate voice and low murmurs. On this, her tenth release, however, she does some things I’ve never heard from her before.
The opening track, ‘Slaughter,’ starts out sounding like something off of “Bitter,” but jumps quickly into a guitar-heavy Rock n Roll chorus. The third track, ‘Lola,’ has a Pop-oriented verse and a New Wave/Punk chorus. The whole disc jumps around and though there are plenty of songs with Ndegeocello’s signature sound she branches out in surprising directions. A few songs are dull and forgettable, but the songwriting is mostly very strong.
‘Crying in Your Beer’ is a beautiful, if sleepy sad song about loneliness that features sweet harmony vocals and a little banjo. 'Die Young' is a meandering, trippy song with layers of percussion and spacey keyboards. ‘Mass Transit’ and ‘White Girl,’ are high-energy Rock songs with electric guitar that she does really well. Even when the lyrics are sad, the music is often joyful and uplifting. The production, as usual, is tight and pleasing.
I was very impressed with this release. Ndegeocello continues to write beautiful songs and to grow her repertoire. I highly recommend picking up this one, particularly if you have liked her music in the past.
Soul Tracks review
by Reg Jones, Soul Tracks, Oct 29
One can only imagine how an artist receives the lukewarm reception of a supposed loyal following to what is critically considered their pinnacle work. In the case of Me'shell N'degeocello, the body of work in question could best be captured as B.C. and A.C., Before Cookie and After Cookie, at least in terms of the project's lackluster fan reception and the artist's subsequently estranged response. In the years A.C., there has been a progress and then departure of N'degeocello's sound and synergy, garnering this critique. The hip hop, spoken word, funk, R&B, rock, reggae and jazz metamorphosis of her first five albums remain a traversing body of work that is astoundingly unique. The later unclassifiable, however musically complex, Dance of the Infidel and The World Has Made Me... challenged and lost a significant portion of her already confused fan base. Seemingly ready to forgive her fans' betrayal, N'degeocello's latest effort, Devil's Halo, may bring some of the bothered and bewildered back into her fold.
Devil's Halo brings focus to what a diehard fan might have seen as a misguided, misdirected Me'shell on previous works. There are many reasons one can surmise why the other N'degeocello projects were so detached from what came B.C., and why Devil's Halo proves a stronger return. Not that the underrated genius didn't show brilliance even when disconnected from her origins, but the Lake, Pena, Cato and Gamson family members who contributed heavily to her first five albums, and perhaps her musical soundation, were missing much more from the two works preceding Devil's Halo. The Devil's Halo proves a more consistent work than many N'degeocello efforts in the A.C. years. With a new family in a wife and new band that includes Deantoni Parks, Keefus Ciancia and Chris Bruce, ...Halo's cohesiveness may be attributed to N'degeocello's personal and professional cultivation of those relationships over the last three years. Whatever the reasons, Devil's Halo returns us to more of what we've been missing from the enigmatic performer.
The sexiness we've come to respect N'degeocello for, and have only gotten flashes of in the last two recordings, I am happy to say is back. She can still undress any man or woman with her voice and instrumentation. While the spoken word segues haven't returned, the pick-up artist from the club scene does with "Tie One On" and "White Girl." The instrumental bedroom invites, "Hair of the Dog" and the title tune still arouse, as always.
Yes, she's still a mack.
Despite waking up in the midst of a Bangles' or Georgia Satellites' rock and roll 80s album, the darkness, funk and "badassness" fans have loved N'degeocello for is restored. And make no mistake, when she decides to rock and roll, it's as exceptional as any other genre tap we've heard from her before.
"If you think I owe you something, get in line."
The sentiment of "Bright Shiny Morning" may very well sum up the last few albums and more importantly, N'degeocello 's stage distance from fans since Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape. The graciousness of Cookie offered multi-dimensional layers while being her most focused and cerebral product. For once she "played the game," even allowing a Missy remix to be included and used for Cookie's lead single; this was as accessible as N'degeocello was ever going to get and the chilly reception deserved every bit of the retreat N'degeocello's next three tours contained. All those demanding an "Outside Your Door" encore, refusing to appreciate the expansion and experimentation of her reggae, jazz and rock offerings, appeared to no longer deserve her grace.
Hopefully, those left out in the wilderness learned something from their "punishment," now that their time-out from N'degeocello is up, and the Devil's Halo can remind them of when they used to love her. Highly Recommended
Meshell Ndegeocello Talks About Creating “Devil’s Halo”
November 3, 2009
When given the opportunity to interview a musician who has forged a career that contains a volume of work that any student of American music should deem as important, you don’t hesistate to take full advantage of that opportunity. Now, when what this musician has to say is on par with her musical genius it’s a serious no-brainer.
Such is the case with Meshell Ndegeocello and it is our pleasure to bring you this discussion in the only way we know how: unfiltered. Devil’s Halo the new album is out and you can read our review of it here. And now without any further adieu we present the interview!
Q: As an artist which process is the most cathartic for you? The writing, the recording or the performing?
A: Being in the studio. I love to record. Inevitably, I get to write, record, and perform all at the same time there.
Q: Can you point to a definitive flashpoint moment where you determined that music would be your calling?
A: When I heard “Soft and Wet.”
Q: What are you thoughts on social media as it relates to how musicians conduct business in the 21st Century?
A: Well, on the one hand it empowers the artist. On the other, I do not have the skills to “conduct business” there and I don’t think a lot of creative people do. It’s an incredible marketing tool but it’s also another extreme.
Q: Is there a character from a book, movie, or TV show that accurately depicts the feel of Meshell Ndegeocello’s bass playing?
A: Radar in MASH. I can anticipate things musically.
Q: How has playing the material live impacted your perception of the project?
A: It’s made me certain and grateful for the choices in musicians I’ve made. It’s the first time I play live with all the people I recorded with.
Q: Was there any particular catalyst that influenced you to record Devil’s Halo without the aid of the ubiquitous Pro Tools and click tracks?
A: I knew I didn’t want to get bogged down in possibilities, editing, and sounds I couldn’t make myself. It was better for me just to play. I just wanted us to play.
Q: What is the balance point that you would recommend to aspiring musicians between the automation/proxy of music technology and good old fashioned wood shedding?
A: I think both routes can lead to good music, but the most appreciation, possibility, and innovation lies at the crossroads. Learn both. Listen to both.
Q: Part B&C of the previous question: In your opinion, how has the scarcity of music programs in the schools and the elevation of the non-musician as the standard in pop music culture affected the music that is being produced and consumed in this era? How do you believe this will affect music that is produced and consumed in the future?
A: Music gets cut from public schools first and I think that’s led to some serious innovation in urban areas. I also think it has amounted to a lot of crap. It’s become more disposable + that makes me sad, but I’m also not precious about it. I’m hoping for and expecting a return to musicianship. But I do think music programs are essential to illuminating alternative intelligence and exercising the brain. I think gym is way important too. Gotta be well-rounded. This is a dissertation of a question.
Q: Finally what does the phrase “Grown Folks Music” mean to you?
A: Music for people who know how to handle their beeswax. Music for people who aren’t swayed by the nonsense. Music for people who think they’re more discerning and not just old.
Meshell Ndegeocello live at the Highline Ballroom in NYC
by David Abravanel for Pop Matters on October 28, 2009
“Yeah, everyone thinks they’re so fucking special!”
It’s a startling enough phrase to hear from as cosmic a presence as Meshell Ndegeocello on “Lola”, an upbeat rock number from her new disc, “Devil’s Halo”. But uttered live, it’s even more surprising—as much a rallying cry for the jilted lovers in the audience as a door in the face. At one point, she polls the audience at the Highline Ballroom: “Who’s here with a special someone?” That’s nice, but for a mysterious romantic like Ndegeocello, it’s more interesting to probe the situations of those who are here alone. So it has been with Ndegeocello’s creative output: from incredible romantic pain and turmoil has come brilliant songs about love; not as much about the feeling itself, but about why it exists and what it does to the fragile human psyche.
“Some people fuck you / just to see if they like you.”
That’s another aside from a “Devil’s Halo” track, delivered with a smirk as she runs through the associated track, “Mass Transit” (if ever there was a perfect metaphor for casual sex, right?). Yet again, the live effect bears no bitterness. Rather, it feels like Ndegeocello is treating us audience members like adults—she respects us far too much to withhold the ugly truths, or to censor her interpretations of them.
This isn’t to suggest that Ndegeocello performs as a one-note prophet of cynical romantic longing. She’s surprisingly comfortable covering an ode to the other side of sex for sex’s sake, with Prince’s “Dirty Mind”. It sounds like such a natural progression of the evening, in fact, that it’s not until she yells out “In my daddy’s car / it’s you I really wanna drive!” that everyone becomes aware that it’s not another new track. Ndegeocello has cultivated an image of being mysteriously sensual, thus it’s a pleasant change to hear something so unabashedly crass and purely physical coming from her pipes.
On the heels of an album as starkly sepia as “Halo”, the stage show bends more toward psychedelic soul. Ndegeocello’s guitarist liberally sprinkles the ensemble with ethereal autowah’d strums. It’s also worth pointing out that her touring band are clearly her friends; Ndegeocello shares multiple off-mic in-jokes with her bassist. She also picks up the bass herself for a few tunes, as a pleasant, if not necessarily needed, reminder of her instrumental as well as vocal prowess.
The Highline Ballroom doubles as a restaurant and bar, such that the atmosphere teeters uneasily between jumping rock show and dinner accompaniment during opener Kudu’s in-your-face set. Ndegeocello and her band transform the place into more of a living room. With dim lighting and no spotlight, she’s visually somewhat obscured, forcing the audience in the balcony to lean in and listen extra close. The effect is remarkable to witness, as well-dressed couples interrupt their dining to cheer on Ndegeocello as she plays a stripped version of her single “Faithful”, another disarmingly sincere confession of unrequited love. “I am weak”, she croons over a softly strummed acoustic guitar, coming from the opposite end of the outwardly cynical mask she wore just a few songs ago. No matter how many times she repeats the bitter truth to herself, it seems, she can still get hurt by it.
“Don’t let me die alone.”
As she slowly pushes out that de facto chorus, off “Crying In My Beer”, it’s hard not to be personally affected. A little uncomfortable, even. There’s nothing about “’Tis better to have loved and lost” and certainly no flowery dressing to throw on Ndegeocello’s emotional wounds. She’s blaring out her deepest fear, getting right to the point of why, we hate to admit, love is a necessity. There aren’t any easy answers, and Ndegeocello and her band close the set by leaving their instruments to feed back, reflecting a genius flourish used on her recorded cover of Ready for the World’s “Love You Down”. After a show so beautiful and emotionally intense, ending with a noise dissolve only seems right.
Interview: Meshell Ndegeocello - Singer, Songwriter & Producer
by Clayton Perry on October 8, 2009 for Blog Critics
As the spark that lit the neo-soul movement, Meshell Ndegeocello is the true definition of the word “artist.” Defying musical categorization and societal archetypes for women and femininity, Meshell has blazed her own trail in an industry known for its cookie-cutter sensibilities.
With 10 GRAMMY nominations under her belt, few artists can attest to have attained such widespread and long-term critical acclaim. And even fewer have brazenly fused together the myriad of stylistic variations between the worlds of funk, soul, hip hop, reggae, R&B, rock, and jazz.
Upon the release of Devil’s Halo, Meshell Ndegeocello managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on Prince, “Bright, Shiny Morning,” and a few concerns for President Obama to consider.
Your eighth studio project is entitled Devil’s Halo, which is named after an instrumental track on the album. Since the title track lacks lyrics, I’m curious to know the inspiration behind the mood the song sets.
I guess it’s all about contrast, expressing evil, good and bad and that there’s a calm that comes with accepting that. That’s what that particular track for me is. It’s like a lullaby of some sort. It just acknowledges that there are shades of gray.
When I think about the album, as a whole, I think my favorite would have to be “Bright, Shiny Morning.” There’s a particular set of lyrics that resonated within me: “If I think I owe you something, get in line.” What life event led you to express that sentiment?
I’ve had lots of experiences that warrant that. It’s just the endless experience of people wanting something from you. If you had it, you’d be sure to give it, but sometimes I’m just left lost about what it is they want or feel that I owe them. I’ve had certain relationships where people feel I owe them something. And sometimes when I’m onstage, people want me to sing a song like my very first record, it’s kind of hard. They feel like I owe them something. I try to do the best I can when I’m onstage but it’s like, “Get in line.”
I really like “Die Young,” too. On the track, you say, “I always pick the wrong way. It feels like the way to go.” Do you harbor a great deal of regrets?
I’m not one for regrets, but have you had a moment where you just feel like, “My God, I just keep making the wrong choice!”? You know in your heart that it felt right at the time. Once you’re further away from that experience, in hindsight, it was the right way to go even though everyone else around you felt it was wrong. But that’s back to the Devil’s Halo and the contrast. There are shades of gray. Maybe there is no right or wrong. We’re all just doing the best we can.
You’ve spent the last two decades as one of the music industry’s rare “free spirits” — doing your own musical thing on your own musical terms. What do you think has contributed to your longevity?
I guess I just really love music. That’s always at the forefront of my mind. I’m not really interested in fame. I understand that wealth is not necessarily money. I find great wealth and enjoyment in playing with people I like to play with and making little pieces of myself in the music. I just try to maintain joy, live a good life. People think that you’re making a record all the time, but I’m not. I’m just having everyday time with my family and children. I just try to have a good experience while I’m here on the planet.
Your output has been fairly consistent over the years. Your first five albums were released on Maverick and the last three have been independent releases. Is there a particular lesson that you learned while taking this independent route? How do you approach the music-making process differently?
My time on Maverick – I have no qualms. I had a great time. I was creatively allowed to do anything that I wanted to do, so I never felt repressed in that way. Making the independent records, I made them on European labels. It was just an interesting time. What I’m figuring out about the business is what’s most important is advertising dollars and getting out and reaching people with touring. That’s what I take away from this whole experience. And watching record companies crumble. You need more funding so that you can hopefully get good exposure, to let people know that there’s music out there to be purchased. Most of all, most musicians like myself don’t get to a certain level of fame. My livelihood is through touring. As long as people come out and hear live music, I feel good about that. The end of the record label is just going to usher in a more exciting time where you can hear artists that you probably would never had a chance. I think it allows you to not have the Top 100 – music from the last 100 years. People will just be a lot more open-minded. I just strive to stay creative, stay open, read a lot, stay current with the technologies. That’s pretty much what I’ve learned. As long as the music is true, you hire people that will aide you in your endeavor to reach more people.
Is there a particular reason why you stayed with European labels?
Oh yeah. The European market is much more kind to my shifts and changes. They’re cool with the fact I might want to make a rock record or a more soulful record or improvisational record. They just seem to maintain a more open mind. I think that’s why American labels are sort of falling apart. They get caught up in the genre game. They get caught up in the megastar game. Most of my touring is in Europe. It’s just a different audience. They have more exposure to different types of music and their radio stations aren’t so compartmentalized. They play several genres of music on one station. It’s just a much easier route for me. Here you have a lot of generalizations made and hoops you have to jump through to make it in the mainstream. I’m not really good at that; I wish I was but I’m just not.
Your music tackles a number of issues that a lot of women aren’t necessarily comfortable talking about. What compels you to be so bold? Is it a certain life philosophy, because you take risks so many other people aren’t willing to make?
Do you ever feel you have moments in life where you held back and you wish you hadn’t? I guess when I was younger, I really saw that in a lot of my peers and also older women that I knew. I guess I took a vow for myself to be honest at all times, and if I had a chance to put out something that I would be as honest as possible and say some things that are missing in music – especially for young women of color and women living alternative lifestyles who have shied away from things that scare other people. Just to show that there’s humanity in it. We’re all humans trying to have a good experience in life.
As a lover of music, it’s very inspirational to find an artist like you. You haven’t really been shy about expressing yourself—politically, sexually and beyond. At what point did you develop such a high self concept? Was there some event or loved one that helped you get to that point?
Yeah, there were several experiences from when I was young. I was teased a lot. I didn’t really fit in in school. I guess my brother was my inspiration. He was always like, “Screw what other people think. Always be yourself because that’s all you have.” My brother would always just push me to be a little edgier. What do you have to lose? I really appreciate that. I really appreciate having him in my life. He was like, “If you’re going to play the bass and you’re going to be around me, you have to be a little bit extra confident. They’re always going to look for a moment of weakness.” Learning from that and playing go-go music and growing up in DC, there was just no other way to be to survive. I think when I was younger, it masked my insecurities but now I think it’s a firm part of my personality. I just realized you have nothing to lose. I assert myself in hopes to make a difference.
I saw a video on YouTube — not too long ago — where you stated that your ultimate dream was to play bass in Prince’s band. When did you first pick up the bass guitar?
I think I was about 13 or 14. I really adore my brother. I wanted to play with him and be around him as much as I can, so I thought if I could play an instrument, we could play together. That started me playing music. My father plays music. Music was always in my house. I thought I’d be a visual artist but once I started playing music, it just really opened up my mind to this world and I got lost in it. Then I discovered Prince, and knowing that he played so many instruments, it’s just a total inspiration to me. That was my thing. Some kids like sports or dolls or things, but I just really liked music.
A lot of people consider you the female version of Prince. How do you feel about that comparison?
It’s a great compliment. It’s an amazing compliment. I feel good about that because he is the person that really inspired me to want to make records. I was like, “I’m going to be like Prince and I’m going to make a lot of records.” I’m very grateful for his inspiration.
Over the years you’ve made musical contributions to almost every major contemporary African-American film: How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Love Jones, Higher Learning, Love & Basketball, The Best Man, Down in the Delta and many more. How did this become your specialty? And is there a particular song that you think was the perfect fit for the scene that it was attached to?
I don’t know. I guess I have to thank John Singleton first of all. He is the person that really gave me the chance to participate in film. I guess the one that fits the best and one that I’m most proud of is “Fool Me” in Love & Basketball. The most fun I had – which is one of my favorite films of all time – is Love Jones. I love films. Before I had a record deal, I worked on Spike’s movies as craft services or personal assistant. I love movies, so it’s just a natural connection for me. My thanks will always be for John Singleton because that was the very first one. After that, many doors opened for me.
How did the connection with John Singleton form?
I was in LA at the time, and I was invited to the screening of Higher Learning. I met with him and we had a really good interaction. He said he had a love scene and asked if I would submit something. I did and it was up from there. It was a great experience.
You’ve contributed to many tribute albums as well. This past year you earned a GRAMMY nomination for “Fantasy” off Interpretations: Celebrating The Music Of Earth, Wind & Fire. Did you personally select “Fantasy” or was the song given to you by the album’s producers?
Oh yeah. That’s the one I chose. That’s a great song, and Earth, Wind and Fire – to me – is one of the greatest bands to play. The longevity they had – they started out playing jazz and then ended up being this great pop group, pop/R&B. It’s great to participate in and be on a record with Chris Love and so many other artists. It’s just an honor to be included.
Exactly one decade ago you participated in the Lilith Fair. When you think about the time period from ’98-’99 onward, what do you think of the camaraderie between women within the music industry? Do you think it’s gotten better or worse?
Oh, I think it’s gotten much better. That fair was great. It had amazing people. It was put together very well. It was very calm. I’ve toured with Dave Matthews. I’ve opened up with other male artists. It’s a different vibe having so many strong, confident women around. The people that they attracted to the tour had just a really loving, soulful vibe. I had a really good time. I hope they do it again one day.
What major hurdles do you think women still have to overcome in the industry?
Well, you still have to sell yourself with your body. You still have to stay within a certain subject matter. There’s never going to be a female Jay-Z. I think it’s hard for men, too. I like to point out that what D’Angelo went through with body imaging. We all suffer in this industry. It wants to modify you and make you something you’re not. I’m realizing it’s just people in general – we’re all suffering, male or female. That’s why I’m really hoping the way the industry is dying will open it up for other people who might not have had the chance and will allow artists to just be themselves and not feel so stifled by imagery and content.
When I think about female entertainers in general, one trend that I’ve seen evolve is the casual use of the word ‘bitch.’ It’s a term of endearment for some, word of empowerment to others, and offensive to still others. What’s your take on B-word and its use?
I love words. I love that it changes and evolves and it means different things to different people. I don’t have a fear of words. I have a fear of people. I have no problem with how people express themselves. I think what’s next and what’s behind it comes across in the energy. I don’t fear the words. I fear the people.
What do you think is the woman’s most powerful or most beautiful asset?
Femininity, the softness, her ability to be totally nurturing and loving. What people call weakness that I find it to be the most beautiful quality is the sensitivity, the ability to cry and connect. I love women. I think they’re amazing and needed in the world. If you don’t educate a loved one, then the children will be dumb. If we don’t love and educate women, then we’ll suffer as well. I’m hoping we all can connect with the softer side of ourselves. I also think gender politics is changing. I really love Casper Semenya who had to go through the gender test. I think we need to start just rethinking each other and being kind to each other and seeing that these attributes exist in all of us. We can’t be afraid of it, you know. Men can’t be afraid of the feminine in them and women can’t be afraid of the masculine in them. Hopefully, we can be a much more loving species.
Out of all of your music videos, the most powerful is “Leviticus: Faggot.” The final scene in the bathroom in particular was very powerful to me. With that in mind, I came across a few facts that I thought were really interesting. It’s estimated that a teen takes their life every five hours because they’re gay, transgender or lesbian. Reports also note that about 30% of homeless teens identify as gay or lesbian. If you could talk to President Obama about any issue, what would you talk to him about?
Oh definitely tolerance and what is the real meaning of love. If he could somehow express to people that this is your child and no matter what they’re going through, it is your moral duty to love them through it, not to send them out to the streets and have them forage for themselves. It’s just not reasonable. It’s just not loving. I guess I wish he would really understand that everybody wants to be loved and accepted. Until someone in power really takes a stand to say that we need to be more accepting and tolerant of people who are different – perceived different, because we’re not really that different – it’s not going to change. That is part of health care as well. That’s a big part of making a healthy society – for them to understand that you don’t throw your children out to get AIDS or whatever. It shouldn’t matter. We need to be loving towards all our young people.
Is there a particular song or project that you wish had been better received?
Definitely Comfort Woman. I wish people had more of a chance to check that out. Like I said, I live in the future. I’m hoping people check out this new one, go to the shows and have a good time. I look forward to traveling. My partner is expecting a child in November. I’m just excited about life and I hope people are excited about their lives and that we’re trying to put ourselves in a more positive frame of mind and not be so dark and apocalyptic and be a great support to President Obama and others who are trying to benefit the world in some way.
For more information on Meshell Ndegeocello, visit her official website.
Gulbranson/Ndegeocello: The Interview
by Jess Gulbranson for Crappy Indie Music on November 3, 2009
Have you ever interviewed a 10-time Grammy nominee? Probably not. Well, now I have, and I'm here to tell you that it's not as easy as just walking up to them and saying "Hey, what's up, awesome person!" Since it may not be easy for you to visualize exactly what it takes to interview someone who had a #3 bit with John Mellencamp, please allow me to be like Jesus and get all parably on your ass.
Have you ever gotten a drink at a bar? Probably. I know I have. But tell me this- in pretty much every case, are you able to walk up to the bar and mix yourself a drink? Hell no. It doesn't matter how clever or well-thought out a drink you're going to make yourself, it just doesn't happen. Standing between you and the delicious aphid-infused vodka, or whatever the kids are drinking these days, is at the very least a bartender who is a buffer between you and your goal. That's their job, and we don't really begrudge them that. Of course, this is all if you're lucky, or a regular or hotshot. Most likely you're not at the bar, you're at a table, and dealing with a waitress, so there are two levels of buffer between you and what you're after. That's the system, and just how it is. Do drink orders get mixed up sometimes? Do drinks get watered down? Is he stretching the analogy to hell and back? YES!
I think that you all see where I'm going with this, and I want you to keep it in mind as you read the following interview. Also keep in mind, constant reader, the kind of blogger you know me to be. So, without further ado, please enjoy Jess Gulbranson's interview with Meshell Ndegeocello.
JESS- I've seen some of your bass influences listed - Jaco, and whatnot- but do you have any non-bassists who influenced your bass playing?
MESHELL- Sure I do. Of course I do. They’re too numerous to name honestly. Everyone who wrote a song I ever loved has influenced me musically, which translates to bass playing. I don’t study the bass or bass players, I absorb music.
J- Do you have a feeling that your weapon of choice, the bass, as a soul or pop singer, and as a woman in particular, makes you stand out? Ever in negative way?
M- Only because there aren’t many of us. I’ve never felt it was negative. I’ve sometimes thought it wasn’t really positive, but that’s more because people have their own ideas of what kind of person, or woman, or player I’ll be. That usually doesn’t have much to do with the instrument itself.
J- I want to share a story with you and see if you've had any similar experiences: I ended up stuck in O’Hare, in an airport bar with Les McCann, Cornell Dupree, and Chuck Rainey. I am talking with the guy about how basses feel against your body, and he's playing my shitty little Squire... it didn't fully hit me until later that this was the guy who played bass on "Aja"... Ever meet someone you thought was that awesome?....and have that delayed reaction?
M- I used to. Not so much anymore. I still think people are that impressive, but I’ve been able to humanize them for a long time I guess. I think I felt that way about Prince but that was brief.
J- So... neo-soul, I have to indulge the inner philosopher, did you welcome the label? While it might have given some energy to people already doing their thing, do you feel it distracted from you as an individual? Compartmentalized your and other people’s music?
M- That’s some bullshit. Neo-soul does not mean anything to me. I’m flattered if someone thinks I started a genre, or initiated a sound, but that’s for marketing and selling. At the time, I didn’t welcome it or not, I didn’t care. I probably should have paid more attention then since it has followed ever since.
J- I had a question about other opportunities. You auditioned for Muzz Skillings' spot in Living Colour - was not getting that a good thing?
M- I guess so. Although I wanted it and I was disappointed I didn’t get it. Life would have been way different though and I’m glad I got to make my own records.
J- Devil's Halo – how did you settle on the metaphor for the album title? Were you thinking of calling it anything else?
M- Sure, a million things. Maybe “Hair of the Dog.” Devil’s Halo just offers the contrast, the good and bad, that I felt the record was kind of featuring.
J- It's a motherfucker of an album; even the soft parts are fierce. And when there's a statement made, it doesn't feel like you're being beaten over the head with it. In your songwriting approach, is it music first? Are your lyrics crafted over a long time, or do they just flow?
M- Thank you. Music first usually. Sometimes I have a lyric I want to put in somewhere but I rarely write a tune to a line. They flow and then I tinker. Sometimes it’s a long time. Sometimes it happens fast.
J- With all your recorded output in mind, the aesthetic that you present, and the robust philosophy that seems to be behind it – do you have some advice for other musicians to approach their music, writing, and efforts?
M- Don’t be concerned about setting forth a philosophy. I’m not. I might offer commentary, opinion, questions and ideas but mine have all changed pretty drastically. Let your music show where you are, don’t worry about where you been, where they think you should go, what worked last, what works for people they say are like you. Be in it for music or be in it for stardom, but be clear about which is which.
J- What are your plans after the end of your tour? Any end of tour events?
M- Go home and get some sleep! No events, but I think I’ll be working on producing another artist’s album over the winter and will tour more in 2010 for sure. I’m just going to take some time to be with my family now, my partner is expecting a baby, and then get back to work.
J- Thank you Meshell for this opportunity. I just want to let you know that in honor of this I will be sing your part from "Wild Night" next time I do karaoke.
Well, folks, there you have it. I'll be doing a review of Meshell's album "Devil's Halo" in the next installment of Turn My Headphones Up! along with Morrissey and Slayer, so you know that one is not to be missed.
Meshell is interviewed over the phone here on UpFront with Tony Cox. The interview lasts 29:17...
The MP3 is 53.62MB in size and won't be there forever so grab it while you can...
Whoa! Who knew "Outside Your Door" was inspired by him... that's pretty cool to learn. I bought his 1987 release and Jill Jones debut on cassette during the same record store visit while living in Virginia. "Sunshine" from that album is timeless...
Looking forward to that cover album... This message has been edited. Last edited by: matthew,
New Home Helped Strip Down Meshell Ndegeocello's Sound
by Gary Graff for the Oakland Press on October 15, 2009
Meshell Ndegeocello credits a move from Manhattan to upstate New York for the austere sound of her just-released eighth album, "Devil's Halo."
"I live in a really small town called Hudson," says Ndegeocello, 41, a singer, songwriter and bassist who's staked her reputation on sprawling and experimental genre-blending material. "It's a town with a prison and a lot of watering holes. So I've got a lot of quiet time to sit with myself."
"And when I moved I didn't have a lot of equipment, so I just started playing a lot of guitar, and the (album) is definitely a reflection of getting back to guitar and back to basics in my writing style."
Ndegeocello kept the recording just as stripped down, co-producing with guitarist Chris Bruce and working mostly with a quartet, live in the studio, during a quick five-day session.
"A lot of the bass and drum and guitar tracks are first or second takes," says the songstress, whose partner will be giving birth to Ndegeocello's second son (her older boy is 21) in November. "We all felt really good. It was nice to get back to that process and not be locked into ProTools and editing. It was a big inspiration fo what we did."
by Peter Margasak for the Chicago Reader on October 15, 2009
For quite a few years after her variegated 1993 debut, "Plantation Lullabies," Meshell Ndegeocello seemed to have a real shot at commercial success, but rather than reach for the brass ring she's always stuck to her own circuitous path. The singer, songwriter, and virtuoso electric bassist orbits several centers of gravity—rock, funk, soul, jazz, pop, hip-hop—and never ends up in the same place twice. One album might be straight-up jazz, the next a collection of romantically fraught soul-rock ballads. Given that context, the fine new "Devil's Halo" (Mercer Street), with its unusually stripped-down quartet arrangements and relatively concise songs, doesn't seem like a radical departure, just one more example of her restlessness. The tunes mix and match soul, hip-hop, and progressive rock, and guitarist Chris Bruce contributes kaleidoscopic chords, ghostly atmospherics, and driving riffs, allowing Ndegeocello to concentrate on her rich but unadorned singing.
by Nate Dow for the Boston Herald on October 2, 2009
Backing away from experimentation, the bassist, singer and songwriter continues to defy classification, while echoing the influences of Sting, the Human League and Wu Tang Clan. In the ethereal spirit of her 1996 breakout "Peace Beyond Passion," Ndegeocello's voice floats over her arresting bass, evoking at times the sweet seductiveness of Sade. There's one cover - an entrancing take on Ready For The World's "Love You Down" - among 11 originals that poetically explore the paradoxes of love and loss, and hope and skepticism. (B+)
by Larry Nichols for The Philadelphia Gay News, October 2009
To call “Devil’s Halo” a stunning, jaw-dropping effort is an understatement.
Out singer, multi-instrumentalist and all-around sonic bad-ass Ndegeocello has always fearlessly explored and pushed at the boundaries of R&B, jazz, funk and rock, but on this, her eighth studio album, she still manages to exceed expectations with assured genre-bending music that feels familiar and, at the same time, altogether fresh and new.
Ndegeocello makes the sexy and the melancholy work in perfect tandem, the likes of which has not been seen since the peak of Sade’s career, on tracks like “Tie One On,” “Hair of the Dog” and “White Girl.” Ambient soundscapes and alternative rock swirl around each other to create a superbly trippy vibe on “Slaughter.” Alternative tones and restrained synthesizer lines pepper the more infectious songs, like the upbeat rock of “Bright Shiny Morning” and the earthy groove “Blood on the Curb.”
The biggest surprises on “Devil’s Halo” are Ndegeocello’s mournful and folky “Crying In Your Beer” and her powerfully sexy reimagining of Ready For The World’s ’80s hit “Love You Down.” The latter would have been a cheesy effort in less skilled hands, but Ndegeocello’s version makes it the sexiest song on an album overflowing with lust-inducing moments that should leave all but the most jaded listener breathless.
The many faces of Meshell
by Larry Nichols for The Philadelphia Gay News, September 2009
At this point in her career, either you get Meshell Ndegeocello or you don’t.
Unlike many of her peers, after 16 years of delivering powerfully soulful and stylistically diverse albums, the queer singer and multi-instrumentalist is showing no signs of losing her artistic edge.
Ndegeocello first came to national attention as one of the first artists signed to Madonna’s Maverick Records label in the early 1990s. Her first album, 1993’s “Plantation Lullabies,” was a critical success, earning three Grammy nominations for “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night).”
At the time, many credited Ndegeocello with sparking the neo-soul movement, but she never was one to get too caught up in categorizing her own music.
“I just make what I make,” she said. “I do the best that I can. I try to have a good time. I stay interested in other music. I don’t really believe in genres. They’re all connected. Neo-soul, I don’t believe in that. I know I was given that moniker for a minute. The best I can do is be true to myself and express myself to the best of my ability.”
Apparently her ability has grown over the years. Her upcoming album, “Devil’s Halo,” is an aural feast that finds Ndegeocello serving up an irresistible combination of R&B, rock, new wave and everything in between with fiery and sultry abandon.
The independent label Mercer Street/Downtown Records is releasing the new album. Ndegeocello and Maverick parted ways in 2003, and her 2007 album “The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams” was released on the jazz label EmArcy.
Ndegeocello said there were never any hard feelings or discord between her and Maverick during her time there or after the split.
“I loved being on Maverick,” she said. “I never felt stifled creatively. They let me do whatever I wanted to do.. I just don’t think they knew what to do with me in terms of promotion or getting the music out there. I really liked my experience on Mercer. They’ve been super-supportive. It’s a different energy, for lack of a better word. I’m just always happy to make music. I’m not really involved with all the inner workings. I always have a good time. I’m happy to get a budget to try and be as creative as possible.”
Still, it can be argued that Ndegeocello’s creativity has expanded since her split with Maverick. “Devil’s Halo” and “The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams” both seem to draw from a wider range of genres than her Maverick albums. But Ndegeocello said that was more a result of where her head was at the time.
“That’s just evolution and growth,” she said of her ever-evolving sound. “I’m around different people living in a different world. I’m exposed to a lot of different things. I definitely feel more excited about music now than I did back then just because I’m in a better place in my life. I did a world-music record on a European label [2005’s “The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel”] and it was a lot of fun to exorcise some of my demons. I don’t think too much about what other people are expecting of me. I just try to listen to as many artists as I can and maintain excitement about music.”
For “Devil’s Halo,” Ndegeocello made a point to say that she focused on musicianship and live-band energy over the use of advanced technology and studio tricks, on which she thinks many musicians have become too dependent.
“It’s too broad of a generalization, but sorry to say I do believe that. I’ve made several records with other people. Everyone is really dependent on Pro Tools and Auto-Tune. It was getting a little stagnant. It was really fun to make a record on tape with no click [track] and no Pro Tools.”
Ndegeocello is frank about the creative process involved in her new album, but when it comes to the meaning behind “Devil’s Halo,” she gets mercurial.
“That there is a gray area,” she said. “That’s all. Everything is not so black and white.”
We can’t be mad at her for that; the results are phenomenal. One of the most striking tracks on the album is her cover of “Love You Down,” a song by ’80s Prince & The Revolution wannabes Ready for the World. The original song might not have aged well, but Ndegeocello’s cover reinvents the dated slow jam as a powerfully sexy, yet ambient, crusher of a song.
“I grew up with that,” she said. “It was one of the songs that shaped my creativity: Ready for the World and Prince. It was just like time-traveling back to first feeling my hormones kicking in. I just tried to relive that. I love the song. It’s sexy and nice. I just tried to put a little Wu-Tang in it. Hopefully people will enjoy it and move their body to it, make love and have a good time.”
Ndegeocello’s knack for genre-mixing and her proficiency on many different instruments frequently earned her comparisons to Prince. Yet, while it was a heady experience to be compared to one of her idols, being in the same room with him wasn’t exactly what she expected.
“It’s amazingly flattering,” she said about the comparison. “That’s what I wanted to be. It’s not only flattering, it’s inspiring. It means I’m OK. I’m doing all right. But then I met him and that wasn’t so great. He’s a jerk, I’m sorry to say. I’d tell it to his face. I remember getting that first record ‘For You’ and playing each side over and over again, learning all the bass lines and telling myself my goal is to make records. Even though he’s a jerk, he’s one of the greatest songwriters of our time and he deserves all the accolades that anyone could possibly give him.”
Ndegeocello said despite her respect for Prince’s accomplishments, she couldn’t appreciate the talented mega-star’s insular way of life.
“I’ve had personal interactions with him. He’s created this bubble. My dare to him is like, dude, come hang out with me in Brooklyn. We’ll go get some Levis 501s, some Tims and some T-shirts. How about you hang out with some regular folks and just have a regular experience because you’ve created something that’s like a surreal reality. Not to be weird. I’m not like the dinosaurs. They couldn’t see their demise.
“Being in the time I am now, I get to look back on so many artists in terms of drug use, megalomania and other self-destructive behaviors. And I’m really glad that music is first and foremost to me and not fame and other things that people are battling with. Let’s sit on the porch and play some music.”
It’s that laidback approach to the flow of creativity that has also made Ndegeocello so in demand as a producer. She said she looks for “individuality and openness” in the artists with whom she works.
“Lately I mostly get called to do improvisational musicians,” she said. “So I have to really enjoy their playing and their technique. They have to be someone I can be around for eight hours at a time and that we enjoy each other and find some kind of connection. I [like to] create an environment that allows the artist to be themselves and get to what they are trying to achieve.”
Ndegeocello is about to hit the road in support of “Devil’s Halo,” requiring her and her band to figure out how to execute some of the new songs in a live setting. She said the live-performance element doesn’t weigh too heavily on her mind when she records.
“I was just asked to produce this French artist who specifically told me she wanted to have a record that could sound exactly the same live. When I’m making a record, I kind of have the Steely Dan approach: We’re making a record. It can be whatever it is in this environment but it may change live. I just like to use what I have access to and be open to whatever can happen that maybe only can happen in a studio. When I write a song, especially these songs, it was kind of a simple process. I wanted to make something that could exist with just a vocal and a guitar. But some of them grew from that. That’s why I like being more of a musician than being a recording artist. I like the challenge of bringing things to life.”
She also said the songs will vary from night to night and that she and her band are still trying to figure out which ones to perform.
“We’re all e-mailing each other now, submitting what we want to play. It’s interesting what everyone is choosing. It’s going to be a surprise. We have a very socialist band. Everyone has an opinion. I promised someone close to me that I’d play some old songs, so I’m curious to see what we come up with. We have to switch up or we’d kill each other. A few of the musicians I play with come from improvisational backgrounds. So in order to keep it fresh, especially for me, I have to switch it around or I become sort of tedious. I know that’s hard on the audience sometimes, but I definitely like to switch the setlist up.”
That being said, when asked if they would be open to spontaneous requests (like if a certain PGN staff writer stood on a barstool shouting out song titles), Ndegeocello said, with a chuckle …
“No. Um [thinking about it] … no. I play with musicians that have other groups they play with and their own lives. So we get together right before the tour and rehearse two weeks before and we prepare a certain number of songs that we can play well. I have a large catalog, but I don’t try to get the musicians to learn all eight records. That would be difficult.”
We’re not mad at her.
Fender 1963 Jazz Bass That Might Have Been Jaco Pastorius' Is Now Meshell Ndegeocello's
by Patrick Ogle for Gearwire on September 23, 2009
Meshell Ndegeocello’s latest recording, Devil’s Halo, is just about ready to hit the streets (October 6) and she is preparing for a short tour to support the record. In addition to a critically and commercially successful solo career, Ndegeocello has played on tracks with artists as divergent as Zap Mama, Raul Midon, Santana, and Alanis Morissette (and a herd of others). She plays a mildly Frankensteinish Fender Jazz bass -- a 64 neck on a 63. Like we said, only mildly Frankensteinish.
Tell me about your bass. Where and when did you get it, and how did it wind up with the 64 neck? Does that make any difference in playing or is it something only a collector would care about?
That's something only a collector would care about. I got it from Chelsea Guitars about ten years ago. The guy gave it to me with two magazines with Jaco Pastorius on the cover. One was an old Guitar Magazine (printed before there was Bass Player magazine) and he told me he really thought I should have it because it was rumored to be one of Jaco's practice basses (hence the destroyed and replaced neck -- apparently a typically Jaco destructive moment). I sat and played it at the shop every day for a couple weeks before I bought it. I was staying at the Chelsea Hotel at the time but I couldn't leave without it. It was my first and really only VERY expensive instrument purchase. I have a lot of basses, but that's really the priciest.
Tell me about what you like best about this bass. Why does it work for you?
I don't know how to say so, but I sound really good on it. I'm able to achieve what I hear in my head. It has no active electronics so it's very warm yet it can switch to a growling high-endy feeling in my hands. Because of its age, it sounds really woody, which is what I miss the most in modern basses. My bass sounds like a tree.
What, if anything, don't you like about it? What would you change?
It's heavy. Because of my size (I'm only 5'1") and because I play the bass really high, it's hard for me to tune. I would shrink it in scale (not that I have to tune it often -- it has incredible intonation).
Have you changed anything since you first got it? If so, what and why?
I has the same strings on it since I purchased it but someone else played it and popped my E string, so that's all that I've added. Otherwise, I'd never change it. There's only one guy I really like to work on it, Noric Renson. He's in LA.
I assume you have, at some point, played more recent versions of the Fender Jazz bass. How do they compare to yours?
I own a '74 as well that I like. But honestly, I love my bass. I play other basses on tour, I have other basses, but my '63 Jazz is just where it's at for me.
What amp do you play through and why? How does the amp compliment the tone of the bass?
I play with an Ampeg SVT. I prefer the Vintage series, or of course a truly vintage one or a B15. My sound is in my hands so I really prefer amps with fewer gizmos and less varying EQs. I prefer the Ampeg because it has a lot of power and still has a lot of warmth. I'm not an absolutist, but a bass player should sound like a bass player: warm and round. I've tried Edens but I sound too punchy and bright. I tried SWR but I sound like crap. I could go on about other amps but it's a personal thing. Other people love things I don't. The original SVT I had was made in the early 90's when the company was American-owned, but it was stolen out of a car in Brooklyn. I miss it terribly. Still, Ampeg has been good to me.
Tell me about what you are up to; shows, tours recording, etc.
I just recorded a new album called "Devil's Halo" that'll be released October 6. I play the ['63] Fender all the way through.
I recorded to tape, my bass direct through the Neve pre-amps in the console and reamped through an SVT (it was mixed by Bob Power). Altogether it makes the sound really warm and natural. Some people complain that I don't play enough bass onstage but I'm really inspired by my bass player Mark Kelley. He's a bass player that makes me want to sing. We're touring through the US in October and the musicians in the band are amazing: a great drummer and two bass players who are groove puppies.
The record was a return to live musicianship, recording what people really are playing and the tour will reflect that I hope. Not a lot of flash but a lot of skill and a lot of heart.
Interview with Meshell Ndegeocello
by Jamie Murnane for After Ellen on November 30, 2009
When Meshell Ndegeocello started to become well-known for her music in the early '90s, she was the antithesis of what was expected of successful female musicians at that time.
The openly bisexual woman with the shaved head was not just one of the fiercest bass players in any genre of music, but she also wrote provocative songs about race, politics, misogyny, feminism, and yes, stealing another woman's man, in her notorious Grammy-nominated song "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)."
Give her a break — she was only 18.
Currently on tour (at the time this interview was done) in support of her eighth studio release, the 10-time Grammy nominee and multi-instrumentalist recently found a moment (her partner Alison just gave birth to their baby boy) to talk to us about how things have changed in the music industry and her new independent release, Devil's Halo.
"I don't like to sing old stuff," she recently told AfterEllen.com. "I'll never do 'Boyfriend' again. Or I don't think I will, but you never know. I wrote those songs when I was 18 and 19 and 20. I'm 41 now. Would you wear your favorite outfit from 1989? I respect the fact that people love some old tunes and I've started playing some in the set, but the first two records are pretty much expired."
Those albums, 1993's Plantation Lullabies and 1996's Peace Beyond Passion were both released by Maverick, but Ndegeocello made the jump from major to indie labels in 2005 and said that if she were getting her start now, she probably would not have been signed to a major label.
"I'm too far left of center to save anyone's sinking ship," she said, referring to the overall state of the music industry and economy. "The industry was so different when I was with Maverick -- it's like the fall of Rome. The excesses are few and far between. All the nonsense and showiness, the flaunting and fabulous charade is gone. And hopefully the music will be better for it."
But don't take Ndegeocello's word for it. Just listen to Devil's Halo, which has done away with all such "nonsense" and excesses (i.e. the over-production to which many major label releases fall victim). It's an organic production, sounding more like a live performance than a beat/synth-laden record full of backing tracks, sound effects and the ubiquitous Auto-Tune. It was recorded in just seven days — an almost unheard of feat and certainly a first for Ndegeocello.
"I just was really inspired by the musicians I played with," said Ndegeocello. "We can make these songs, noises, notes come together. That never ceases to amaze me. I appreciate technology, but sometimes there's no competition for natural ability."
It's natural ability that has made Ndegeocello a staple in the neo-soul, funk, R&B, and hip-hop genres — just a few examples, if you must attempt to classify her style. A complete original in a world where it's hard to stand out, Ndegeocello doesn't fit easily into any category.
While she's always blurred the boundaries of musical genres, she's also done the same in regard to sexuality. But the fact that Ndegeocello was always openly queer was sometimes of more interest than her talent in the mainstream press — especially in the beginning of her career. It's something that still happens today, though maybe with less frequency.
"I feel like my sexuality preceded my music for a long time," she said. "It was used as a marketing tool in the beginning, pretty blatantly, and I didn't really get it at the time. I was just out. I didn't realize it was a selling point and it took a lot of years to get any sense of privacy back into my life, where people didn't feel entitled to talk to me about who I was having sex with, as if it weren't a personal question."
Perhaps it's that experience that has led her to warn up-and-coming queer musicians about dealing with press and fans. To them, she says, "Be honest, but protect yourself and your family. It's a better, safer, different moment, but it's hard to get things back once you give away too much."
These days, she doesn't go into great detail about her personal life. Ndegeocello does say that her new baby (she also has a 20-year-old son from a previous relationship) is amazing and that the anticipation of his arrival helped her "focus on keeping the process (of recording Devil's Halo) tight." In fact, much of the music was written before the parents even knew he was coming.
Regarding the new album title, Ndegeocello says it refers to the "good and evil to be found in all things." She adds, "Nothing is perfectly good or bad, and the album is about finding beauty in imperfection, in contrast, in being, seeing, knowing, struggling with the humanity of imperfection and the imperfection of humanity."
For more information on Meshell Ndegeocello and Devil's Halo, check out her official website.
Posted on November 30th at Uncensored interview
by Jenny O'Keefe for Cherrie on March 26, 2010
Meshell Ndegeocello started playing bass at age 13 because she wanted to play with her brother and the way to fit in was to play the instrument not being played. Bass was a natural complement to the musicians around her, and sent her on a journey of creating unique grooves and exciting the senses of music fans worldwide. By the sound of things she’ll be visiting us here in Australia before too long. Jenny O’Keefe speaks to the woman who was once dubbed ‘one of the few artists who really matter’.
Jenny: You’ve remained original, never selling out, and your evolution as an artist has been displayed and expressed through eight albums. You’ve recently released Devil’s Halo – how did you go about writing new the material? Looking back, looking forward?
Meshell: Not so much looking forward as just looking, and some things catch my ear or eye or mind and sometimes it comes out as music – the things that I’m experiencing. Sometimes I don’t write anything or I just wait until I feel something and I try to get it out.
Jenny: Can we talk about covers – there’s ‘Love You Down’ on the current album, as well as the Dolly Parton song ‘Two Doors Down’ released a few years back. How do you go about choosing a song to cover and then making it your own?
Meshell: I’ve been thinking about that – funny you should mention it – the next recording is going to be a cover record. I remember this tape, I was with my friend, he had the original version of ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ by Tina Turner by the guy who wrote it as a demo. I remember hearing it and it was nothing like it ended up being. I just see a song as a melody most of all, and lyrics, and then you can do whatever you want to it. So I still listen in that way sometimes, after a while I start to hear it 20 different other ways. I can maintain the lyric and the melody, my mind goes, OK, I know those chords backward and forwards so let’s try some other things. Maybe that beat would go to it? It sparks my imagination. I pretty much think of songs as always being someone’s demo and this is just one approach to it.
Jenny: Devil’s Halo has recently been released in Australia, and it strikes me as quite a tender album. There’s emphasis on softness as much as there is on groove. How has this album been to make, compared to your back catalogue?
Meshell: I don’t know... I really enjoy making music, so it’s not something I intellectualize or analyze. I think the only thing that’s definitely different is we made it in six days instead of taking ten months to make a record and we did it as a band, not just me as an individual and then adding people. It’s different in the sense that I’m older, I’ve made eight records, but probably been involved in about 20 records, so as a process it’s not unfamiliar, it’s not a brooding process any more. It’s more about playing well. I can just relax and play the songs.
Jenny: What current music inspires your art form?
Meshell: I just saw this band, Tinariwen. They’re from Mali and it’s like the blues with three guitar players and they sing these amazing harmonies and melodies and you can move your body to it.
Jenny: Do you have an ultimate musical goal in mind?
Meshell: I guess so, just that my catalogue will take care of me into old age so I can just play golf and shuffleboard and stuff, go on trips to Australia and New Zealand and have a good time.
Jenny: You have a son who’s graduating from college at the moment as well as a new baby who arrived recently for you and your partner – congratulations on both milestones. What do your children teach you about life, about love?
Meshell: My children teach me patience. Patience and patience [laughs]. To try to be a better communicator. My older son, now we’re people and we have to communicate. He’s an adult and we’re learning how to relate to each other as adults. I no longer have such control I guess – I hate that word – so that’s interesting. Constantly learning about yourself. The baby definitely teaches me patience. They’re so clear and open and they only have crying and they can barely control their body and they have these new feelings and you just have to be as kind as possible so they have good patterns no matter what they’re going through. They teach me a lot.
Jenny: And what do you teach them?
Meshell: Don’t nobody know nothing for sure. This life is an incredible thing – sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s not, and you really have to put effort in to enjoy it and you need to accept that some things are beyond your understanding and out of your control and that it’s both joy and sorrow.
Jenny: Readers of CHERRIE magazine would love to know a bit about your feelings of identifying your own sexuality, is there a term that you feel strongly about aligning yourself with?
Meshell: More and more I’m thinking we’re just trying to be loved and have a life and try to be nice to each other. I think that sometimes all the labels make it easier for generalizations and marketing techniques and I’m just hoping that we can all be kind human beings. Gay, straight, or whatever, it doesn’t really matter. Can we just get to a place where we’re kind to each other and get beyond our differences?
Jenny: There’s a lot of campaigning going on within the GLBTIQ community in Australia for marriage equality and basic recognition of our relationships. For you, living in America, I’d imagine the mood has shifted quite significantly over the last year, post-Obama. Do you think we’ll reach a point where diverse sexuality and lifestyle within communities aren’t such a big deal?
Meshell: In my lifetime, probably not. I think the only way those things are possible is if you eradicate a lot of the old belief systems about gender and religion. I just think that as a species, people are hell-bent on not letting go of some things – in my limited opinion.
Jenny: Do you have plans to visit us in Australia?
Meshell: I do have plans to visit Australia sometime before September.
(Devil’s Halo is out now through Inertia)
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