Smooth Artist Interviews
How did this new album and overall concept for it come about, and what are your ultimate goals with it?
Although it only took two days to record, NOTHING BUT LOVE has been brewing for many years. As I’ve traveled this mysterious road called life, these songs have breathed their way through me. Each inspired by a special person, place or moment in my life, so it’s kind of like a musical diary. One song, "Lightening the Load" began as a poem on the back of a napkin in a jazz club back in the 1980s. "Precious Air" arrived while I traveling in the Australian outback. The scent of Night Blooming Jasmine flowers in Woodstock, NY inspired the languid jazz ballad here about a chanteuse in Paris who cries every time she sees the sun. Each has its own tale to tell about love. As for goals for the album, I just hope it moves people to give and receive more love in their lives.
How would you describe what inspires you to do what you do?
As a songwriter, I’m always amazed at the magic nature of how my lyrics and music arrive. A song usually is inspired by an event that affects me emotionally… for example, the passing of my mother’s amazing Aunt Jean, who’s loving Zen attitude impressed all who knew her. When I set my mind, guitar in hand, to create a musical contribution for her life celebration ceremony, the melody and lyrics for "Thinking of You" some how just poured out of me, pretty much fully formed. This has happened many times when I set about to write a song. Smokey Robinson once said he didn’t write songs, he ‘snatched them out of the air.’ That’s the best description that I've heard so far of how it happens. It's very intuitive. Sometimes it feels like some higher part of myself is channeling these songs to communicate wisdom to me that I really need to hear, Others often tell me they needed to hear these messages as well. When I play “Thinking of You” live, it’s rare that at least one person doesn’t come up to tell me that the song made them cry. I’m very grateful to be able to keep Aunt Jean’s magic alive through this song.
What artists do you feel akin to or in the same tribe with?
Bonnie Raitt, Carole King, Eva Cassidy, Joni Mitchell, Nora Jones, Tom Waits in some ways, Judy Collins, Paul Simon, Shawn Colvin, Leonard Cohen, Bob Marley, David Byrne, Laura Nyro, Suzanne Vega, Cesaria Evora, Habib Koité, Astrid Gilberto (As you can see I’m a bit of a tribe hopper).
What elements do you look for in a song that makes it especially satisfying for you to perform?
I love a great groove, a beautiful melody, and a great story. I also love to sing songs with a redemptive quality. I think of songs as kind of mini-plays, a good one has a beginning, a middle and an end and takes you on a different journey each time if you give yourself fully to it.
Going back in your life as far as you can remember, what song or performance is the first you recall hearing and being affected by?
There was always music around me growing up, and I was moved by so much of it, but as you’ve asked, I guess the song that first affected me deeply emotionally was the song “Where Is Love” from the musical Oliver. I recall singing it with all of my heart when I was five and it still moves me so deeply today. Which gives me an idea to perhaps record it on my next album. Thanks for the inspiration! When I was thirteen, another song both moved and puzzled me, it was Leonard Cohen’s The Master song. I must have sung that song hundreds of times since I first heard it, and every time it takes me through a different and very deep adventure. I can’t say that I understand it all, but it moves me so deeply. That’s the nature of poetry. You can’t always know what it means but you can experience how it makes you feel.
What’s your favorite non-music activity?
There’s no one in particular… but a good time for me is spending quality time with my true love, eating good food, cooking, hanging out in nature, laughing, dancing. Need to do more of all that... lol. Traveling to new places is also high on my list. (But I must confess I’m a bit of a workaholic and do easily get lost in my work, both as a musician and as a behind the scenes worker which I’ve been for the past 15 years serving as President for the record label I founded in 2003, Motema Music. Before I started Motema I worked both as a singer/songwriter, and as a multi-disciplinary theater artist -- occasionally acting, and often working in a variety of behind the scene capacities. Great theater will always be one of my great loves.