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Friday, 28 August 2009

Interview: Brian Courtney Wilson

Minister of Music

Gospel gave birth to soul and with his debut album Just Love, Brian Courtney Wilson (a protégé of Mathew Knowles) proves why the genre has always remained relevant. “The Bible says love covers a multitude of sins and that’s what I wanted to sing about on the album,” he says. “Not just the fruit of [loving] but also struggling with that.” Read on as the Chicago native talks to SoulCulture about the merits of love: with God, one’s self and each other.

SoulCulture: Why did you call the album Just Love?

Brian Courtney Wilson: Because people decided to just love me, despite my flaws and faults. They gave me the opportunity to follow the dream that God has given for my life. It’s the reason why I can keep going instead of worrying.

SoulCulture: How did you feel when it debuted at No.2 on the Billboard Current Gospel Albums Chart?

BCW: That was an awesome feeling because the album took a year before it was released and there were days when I didn’t think the album was going to come out. So knowing what it cost my family to get it done, the label and everyone involved for it and for people to acclaim it and see value in it is very gratifying.

SoulCulture: Why did you decide to cover “Simply Redeemed”? What was it about this particular song that stood out for you?

BCW: When the A&R at the record label first heard me sing she said that I was the person to sing that song. I had never heard the song before, but when I heard it I knew it was one of those songs that were tailor made for my experiences and what I’ve been through. I’m not saved because I deserve to be saved, but because somebody paid the price.

SoulCulture: “No Other” and “I Need More are the dance-to tracks on your album; do you plan to further explore this type of production on your sophomore album?

BCW: I want to; but more than just trying to do something so people can sing and dance, I want it to be credible. I want to be able to do it with integrity, where we have a song that still serves the purpose and manifests the presence of God.

SoulCulture: What was it like working with Stan Jones?

BCW: He was awesome and to me one of the best things about this project because this can be a lonely business and we’ve become brothers and friends. He allowed me to be myself; he wasn’t trying to make me be anything but who I was.

SoulCulture: How much creative control did you have on your debut album?

BCW: I wrote six of the songs and co-wrote “No Other” with Stan. I’m grateful for it because producers are usually there to try and tell you exactly what you’ve got to do and how.

SoulCulture: Which track did you feel the most connection with when recording?

BCW: I don’t know if I have a song like that because they all mean a lot to me. For instance, “Believe” was the first song we recorded and that was song about my wife and what we’ve been through. “Simply Redeemed” was not a song I wrote but it’s definitely a testimony for me. ”All I Need,” the single that’s out now, was recorded in one take and what that song really meant was I’m in the studio because God put his healing hand on me and we were all in tears singing that song. But there were many moments like that, throughout the project.

SoulCulture: Which track describes your relationship with God at the moment?

BCW: It’s really the whole album. But there are three songs that I probably sing more “Just Love,” “Already Here” and “All I Need”; all of those songs mean something. If you listen to Just Love it’s about being in a community and accepting it, through expecting the best from the people around you. Beyond that you have a blessed assurance that God is present and that he is waiting for us to be exactly who he wants us to be.

SoulCulture: Mathew Knowles signed you almost immediately after he heard you sing. Why do you think he was so taken with your gift?

BCW: It’s hard to say. I don’t want to put words in his mouth but from day one I tried to sing as sincerely as possible what I know to be the truth, it was never about trying to be famous. All [Matthew] says when he talks to people about me is, “You just have to hear this guy.”

SoulCulture: You are described as the ‘Neo-Sacred’ voice of the label – can you elaborate on what that means?

BCW: Yes and no. What I found in this business is people try to categorise what you are doing, all I can say is what we’re trying to be is relevant in church and out of church. I think the way to do that is to be honest about where you are right now. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel and I’m not trying to be a cool Christian. I don’t think there’s anything cool about being a Christian, when you think about what Christ had to do.

SoulCulture: What has Gospel taught you about yourself?

BCW: With Gospel music you have to operate with integrity and that’s more than just being holy, you’ve got to be disciplined about your craft. You can’t just roll out of bed and do it; it takes time to get where you need to be, to be effective on a world stage doing music. Basically, gifts and talents aside it takes hard work to be ready and do this.

SoulCulture: What do you enjoy about being a Gospel artist?

BCW: In the studio you have an opportunity to shape and mould and maybe go back and really make sure your message is clear, that what you’re trying to say is clear and what you’re trying to express is actually put on the record. When I get in front of people it’s time to lay that aside and focus on what the need is in front of you. That’s what I love about singing to live audiences, I’m in a position where God can use me to meet it.

SoulCulture: How did being a minister of music help you when it came to writing songs for your album?

BCW: It provided a canvas to work from. When you’re operating in the community and dealing with the day to day of people there is a wealth of things you can say from those experiences that you can put on a record. When I perform I start with the title track, because it feels good when people hear it.

SoulCulture: When you’re penning lyrics do you only have believers in mind?

BCW: No, when I’m writing I’m just trying to write and give as clear a message as possible. So whether you’re a believer or not you can at least understand where I’m coming from. Sometimes I write something that only somebody who goes to church will get, but I pray that I don’t do that often.

SoulCulture: What do you want people to come away with after listening to Just Love?

BCW: I want it to be an enjoyable experience and I want the presence of God to manifest. When I say this I mean if you were feeling hopeless you can have some hope now, if you had a need and wasn’t sure where it was coming from maybe something is revealed so you can see your way. You know just a step towards restoration and reconciliation.

SoulCulture: What are your thoughts on the younger generation who are using rap or Hip Hop to spread the word of God?

BCW: I think it’s great. Canton Jones, who I got the chance to meet, he is an influence. Our styles aren’t the same, but he’s influential because he’s been giving a chance to be honest about the lifestyle. More than just talking about God, he’s also talking about people that want to worship Him and what they have to struggle with. I’ve had a chance to listen to his album and the things he says are just incredible to me.

SoulCulture: Why do you think a true testimony is an artists’ most important contribution to Gospel music?

BCW: The Bible says that we overcome by the word of our testimony and if you’re going to be a witness to the kingdom it’s about overcoming. If you believe, it starts with just being honest about who you are and what you’ve had to go through.

SoulCulture: Who are some of your favourite artists in the music industry and why?

BCW: Fred Hammond, I call him the Frankie Beverly of Gospel. When I was in college there was a girl I had a crush on and she told me I had to like Donny Hathaway, at that point I hadn’t heard of him but I immediately bought some of his records. Since then I’ve called him my unofficial vocal coach, because back then I tried to pattern what I was singing after what he was doing. I just really loved his tone and the emotion that you would hear in his music. Also the Winans; growing up in Chicago you’d never hear Gospel on the radio except on Sundays and their song “The Question Is” used to play. Back then I guess they were considered a little avant-garde because they were trying to make music that reflected our side of the church.

SoulCulture: You’ve said that you wanted to sing with Mary Mary, John Mayer and Stevie Wonder. Why these particular artists?

BCW: Mary Mary, when you listen to their songs they’re just rich with meaning and with an opportunity, if you believe, to find God. I’ve admired John Mayer for a while because of the impact that he’s had on my life with his lyrics and at his age. In his delivery he’s not trying to hide what he knows, he wants you to understand what he is saying and that’s courageous. Who doesn’t want to work with Stevie Wonder? He’s influenced so many people with the volume of work that he’s done and in the joy that’s infused in it.

SoulCulture: What is next on the Brian Wilson agenda?

BCW: I’m in the middle of a promotion tour in the States, trying to get the music to as many different people as possible; I’m also writing for the next project. With writing there’s more God revealing things than you have the ability to capture and put down, so I’m looking forward to waiting on God to reveal what’s next.

Just Love is out now on Spirit Rising/Music World Entertainment

© Rachelle Hull, 2009
Published at soulculture.co.uk

Friday, 7 August 2009

Interview: Deborah Cox

'Triple Threat'

On stage, Deborah Cox is a soulful R&B star with Broadway credentials. In person, she is more chilled-out-mother-of three than soul diva, so it’s almost possible to forget the platinum selling album, worldwide tours and tutelage under the legendary Clive Davis. Almost. The Canadian songstress blessed us vocally in 1995 with her self-titled debut album, going on to release One Wish (1998), The Morning After (2002) and Destination Moon (2007). On the final leg of her Timeless Promise tour with fellow singer Kenny Lattimore, Deborah took time out to speak with SoulCulture about her new album The Promise, stepping outside of her comfort zone and defining her own success.

Can you tell me about your new album?
The Promise
is a collection of songs that I’ve worked on with some great friends of mine who happen to be great producers [Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Shep Crawford]. It’s really about getting back to my roots; back to soulful music.

You’ve released the album on Deco Recording Group. Why did you decide to create your own label?
The business has changed so much. We don’t have as many retailers as before and I wanted to make sure that the album was going to get a shot. The people I’d let listen to the album at major labels were really into it but were made redundant. It was a very finicky time for the industry and the fans had been sweating me about a new album.

Why did you decide to release two singles at the same time – “Did You Ever Love Me” in the States and “Beautiful U R” internationally?
They are different markets. “Beautiful U R” was sort of a statement and it’s a different style of song as well. “Did You Ever Love Me” is more soulful; it’s classic R&B. I wanted to be able to reach both audiences at the same time and not have any restrictions. I wouldn’t have been able to do that in the past.

“Beautiful U R” is a standout track because it talks about the relationship women have with themselves. What inspired you to write about this?
I’d never had any sort of message like that before. I’ve sung a lot of songs about relationships and I just wanted something else to sing about.

“Beautiful U R” was also released in French. Are you fluent?
I’m not fluent but I do speak a little bit because of growing up in Canada, it was a challenge but I’ve always wanted to record in French. I’m a huge fan of Miriam Makeba who sang in many different languages. It’s one of the things you can do with your own label; you can go out on a limb and do something different.

What do you want people to come away with after listening to The Promise?
To leave with a conviction; like when you go to church you feel moved and inspired to do something positive. I want people to feel the same way whenever they see me perform or listen to my music. For women, I want them to look at themselves differently and for men to know they are appreciated and that they can do more.

When you first arrived on the music scene you were often compared to Whitney Houston. How did you manage to override the comparisons and maintain longevity?
It was about getting in front of the people, performing and releasing music. The only way you can separate yourself from any other artist is to continuously put out records and that’s why I feel so fortunate at this point in my career, six albums in. I feel very proud that I’m still here, still doing it because a lot of the artists that I started out with in the early ‘90s, they’re not around anymore. Obviously once Whitney and I had sung “Same Script, Different Cast” together that just put all the comparisons to rest, because we were finally on one song together battling it out. It was a great opportunity to get together and show the world that there’s camaraderie here.

Did it ever bother you that a lot of people assumed you were from the US and not Canada?
Not at all, the notion is that once you’ve made it in the US, you’ve made it. Now we’re in the age where you can get all kinds of information from the internet, people know where I’m from and where my roots are. I consider myself a world native anyway, because I was born in Canada, my parents are of Guyanese descent, but I live here in the US and have strong ties to the UK as well.

Have you had the opportunity to visit Guyana?
Yes. It was very enlightening and eye opening and I’m sorry that it took me so long to go back. There are a lot of really great people there and the spirit of that country is just so amazing.

You released a Dinah Washington tribute album in 2007. What is it about her and her music that stands out for you?
For me it was her diversity. I think I paralleled the two of us because we both have this strong R&B connection but at the same time we can do jazz and big band music. In her time she was very diverse, coming out of the church but singing pop ballads and doing blues, so she had a wide vocal range that I love. Her duets with Brooke Benton were some of my favourites growing up; I have so many childhood memories so it was kind of a self-indulgent project and I just wanted to feed that part of me that hadn’t been fed for so long.

Through your Destination Moon album we saw a different side to you musically, is that something you aim to do more of?
I would like to incorporate it in a show. I’m very schizophrenic like that – I tend to move in one direction and then I end up missing the other platforms. You can’t do it all and you can’t do it all at the same time, so I try to keep it interesting for myself.

You’ve been in several films and had a successful run on Broadway in the musical Aida a few years ago. How was that experience and how did it prepare you for the next stage in your career?
I tend to step outside of my comfort zone. Broadway was something that I had a love for, growing up doing school plays and musicals, so I’ve always had this desire to express myself in musical theatre. Doing Aida was a great way to develop stamina, doing six shows a week. It was like a workshop; a very grueling schedule and I believe if you can do that every single night you can pretty much do anything.

How did you pace yourself?
I had to learn that. I had to learn to have a little bit of voice on reserve. Learning how to be disciplined came with warming up every single night before the show and being careful about what I ate, making sure I got sleep, generally taking care of myself. It was a tough schedule.

Can we expect to see you on Broadway or in films in the near future?
Yes, Broadway in 2010.

Are you able to provide a few more details?
Not at the moment, but definitely next year.

In a recent interview with Pride Magazine, actress Nia Long expressed some thoughts on singers going into the film industry. As you’re both a singer and an actress what do you think about the comments made?
I think art is art. There is a term ‘Triple Threat,’ which is being able to sing, act and dance; that’s what you had to do coming up and I still think there is something to that. The problem is Hollywood only looks at one type of artist and thinks that’s the only artist they should put out there instead of opening up the doors and opening up the platform. There’s room for a Deborah Cox as an actress and there’s room for a Nia Long as well.

There is a difference between recording in a studio and performing live, what do you get from each?
I don’t like singing in the studio because it’s so isolating, that part is very difficult for me. My passion is live performance because I love the exchange between myself and the audience, you know. I love to extend the energy and the love for the music that I’m feeling and see the reaction of the people when they hear a song they love or one they haven’t heard before.

Deborah-CoxYou express yourself through music, but what has music taught you about yourself?
That I’m really not as shy as I think I am. For some reason I’m very shy in certain settings but not when I’m on stage. It has also taught me that it’s such a great outlet to be able to emote through song and it’s very powerful. I really cherish the position that I have as a singer, as a celebrity and that I can help to influence things and I take that position very seriously.

You used to sing backing for Celine Dion and worked with Clive Davis, what advice or lessons did you learn from them?
Discipline. Celine is extremely disciplined, she doesn’t speak at all before a performance and I’d find that so hard to do. She’s very blessed to have that kind of discipline, because it is hard. Clive was all about the music, he taught me that a hit record is all about the song and I feel so fortunate that I had those learning years with him at the beginning of my career. Through his mentoring he offered priceless advice about the business and finding those right songs to sing. He’s given me the opportunity to have longevity because I didn’t record trendy music.

How has motherhood impacted you both personally and professionally and would you ever encourage your children to follow you into the music industry?
I let them be themselves, but I can already see music in them. My son [5 year old Isaiah] has had a great sense of rhythm since he was six months old. He plays things on the piano and makes up his own little songs and my daughter [3 year old Sumayah] will hear songs and start making up her own melodies. It’s in its infant stages but I can see that they will probably gravitate to something in the arts – but I want them to make that decision.

You gave birth to your third child earlier this year, congratulations. How do you balance family life, recording, touring and managing your own label?

Thank you. It’s such a juggling act. I have to shut off Deborah Cox, dim that light and turn on the mummy light because it’s really important that my kids are not being raised by somebody else. I want to make sure that I’m really involved in their life, so I take the time out to do that. Usually during the day is when I’m mummy and then at night I’m gearing up for a performance, or a recording session. But I have a great husband who helps to manage, he runs the company and the label and my family are a great support system as well.

You’re one of the few soul and R&B artists who also have a solid fan base in dance music. How important is it to show your diversity?
Right now I look at all the different things that I’ve done and I’m content. I think all the projects that I do are really for self-indulgence. I don’t really trip on what people think about me doing a dance record, then a jazz record and then an R&B record because I’ve always felt that is true artistry. It would be difficult to just come out with the same style of record every time and I think people have embraced it.

There’s a subtle reggae flavour on the track “You Know Where My Heart Is.” Is this a style you would like to explore further on future projects?

Oh yeah. I listen to a lot of reggae especially growing up with a Caribbean background, I would love to do that old school reggae vibe because that’s another part of me, but a lot of people don’t know that and I think they’d be shocked. Bob Marley is my favourite, because there were messages in his music but it was still very melodic. Beres Hammond has a great style too.

Do you ever worry about achieving the same level of success each time you perform or release an album?
I used to think I have to top this and have to top that. Now I leave that to God and I don’t take on that burden anymore because it makes you crazy. To try and recreate a “Sentimental” or “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here” in 2009 would be crazy. It’s a different time and I’m a slightly different person than I was then, so I don’t put that pressure on myself.

So far what has been a career high for you?
There have been many highs. Now that Michael Jackson has passed I think back to the BET 30th anniversary special and being a part of that was so huge. Seeing him perform in the flesh and meeting him that was major. Having the record breaking song ["Nobody's Supposed To Be Here"] at number one for 14 weeks [a record held for eight years], I remember just constantly getting the Billboard magazine and saying, “Oh my gosh, it’s still at No. 1, it’s still at No. 1.” Also, going to South Africa and performing in front of 100,000 people was a major highlight.

And a career low?
When family members have passed on and I never had the opportunity to spend time with them because of business, or because of touring. Regardless of how busy I am now I always try to make time for family, because that’s important too.

You’re very successful, but like other artists you also have your critics. What do you say to those who tend to be less than favourable?

Everybody has their own opinion, but the fans don’t lie. The critics I find are disgruntled musicians or disgruntled actors who have tried to make their mark in the industry, but I’ve found a way to maintain without letting the criticism break me. I feel like everybody’s entitled to their opinion and so am I and I think what I’m doing is fine.

Is there anyone in the music industry today that you’re listening to or inspires you?
Jazmine Sullivan
. I love her voice and I think she is such an amazing vocalist; she has all this power and style. It’s refreshing to hear a record of hers on the radio.

After the Timeless Promise tour what is next on the Deborah Cox agenda?
I’ll be writing and looking for new songs for the new project. I’m also getting ready to do another project with two other female vocalists and there will be a time when we make our official announcement and go to press with that and then Broadway.

The Promise is out now on Deco Recording Group.


© Rachelle Hull, 2009
Published at soulculture.co.uk

Thursday, 6 August 2009


'The Way We Were'

“I sing because I love it and I make albums because I enjoy recording.”

Re-introducing Kenny Lattimore.

With his sixth album fresh out of the studio and plans already underway for album number seven, he’s no newcomer to the music world; yet the soulful R&B crooner remains an enigma. Read on as Rachelle Hull delves into the history of a man daring enough to release an album of “the way songs used to be made” in an age when auto-tune blurs the lines between singers and those who wish they could.

As a teenager, the Washington DC native was part of the 1980s all-male group Maniquin. Despite releasing just one album the vocal talents of Kenny set him apart, leading to a steady solo career. Five albums later (Kenny Lattimore, Soul Of Man, Weekend) – including two duet albums with beautiful wife and chanteuse Chanté Moore (Things That Lovers Do, Uncovered/Covered) – he is back with his sixth studio release, Timeless; a collection of classic songs reinterpreted the Lattimore way.

Yet the journey from Maniquin to Timeless has not always been smooth. Having been in the business for over two decades and changed labels, he has experienced his fair share of setbacks. “At Columbia [Records] I think they decided they didn’t want to promote adult music anymore…” he muses. “So they let me go.”

“When you go to a different label and they don’t know who you are they begin to redefine you and make you into something that you’re not. I did the Weekend album [with Arista Records] and have no regrets, but they wanted me to be a younger artist than I was.” The backlash? “My lyrical content. It didn’t come from me and my audience knew it didn’t come from me.”

Sitting on a leather sofa at the Sheraton Hill Hotel in Philadelphia, the singer is in town to promote his Timeless Promise tour with songstress Deborah Cox. Looking relaxed and much younger than his 39 years he is candid on how his experiences in the industry have shaped him; “I’m less inhibited as a person and less critical of myself. Music has taught me about who I am and to be strong and confident in who I am.”

Now settled at Verve, a label known for high-end artists like Herbie Hancock and Diana Krall, Lattimore is re-housed, refreshed and ready for the next phase of his career. “We’re in an era where technology is so great…” he begins. “It’s the era of the people who want to be singers that aren’t really singers, or who want to be musicians and aren’t really musicians.”

“Conceptually, [Timeless] is about the way songs used to be made, with live instruments and live intimate performances.” Producing this slice of vintage re-tweaked is legendary producer and songwriter Barry Eastmond. Having worked together previously the union made perfect sense; “Barry knew Kenny; he knew how to capture my voice and allow me to sing. He’s a great person and from a creative standpoint he did a wonderful job.”

Unafraid to experiment, Kenny’s tribute album is a little different from most. He tells me, “It was a great opportunity to do songs that I’ve always wanted to do and I thought it would be more interesting to mix things up – to expose the R&B world to songs they may not have heard before, from artists like The Beatles, Elton John and Jeff Buckley.” Of which the latter has the softly-spoken tenor singing in falsetto, resulting in a beautiful soul ballad for the grown and sexy.

Though the genre of soul has always been about the music (surviving the synth takeover and more recently auto-tune), the image of an artist remains important. With the bad boys of soul (think D’Angelo) and the free-spirited bachelors (think Maxwell, Bilal) taken care of; Kenny is successfully carrying the torch for the God-fearing, devoted husband. “In this society a lot of people say marriage is ‘just a piece of paper.’ But it’s not just about living together,” he comments, “it’s a spiritual covenant that two people are making before witnesses and God – and for it to work it’s a continual sacrifice. Working on the duets with Chante was a lot of fun and the best thing, because most celebrated people end up in two different worlds where they don’t cultivate a good foundation for their marriage.”

So can we expect a third installment from the happy couple? I’m assured there will be. Laughing, he quickly adds, “What was difficult were people no longer seeing us as individuals. Which is funny because when you’re married you want to become one; but in business we’re not an act.”

Being the father of a son and stepdaughter has had a profound effect on Kenny’s career and he does not dismiss what he does in public as completely separate from his private life. There are no alter-egos here. “It’s powerful being a parent,’ he muses. ‘I look at my son and I see myself. There are so many interesting comparisons to my walk with my Father spiritually and my son’s walk with me naturally. I play a huge role in how whole my daughter will be, by my loving her and being in her life so I have to be responsible. I want to leave them a legacy where they can be proud of what I’ve done.”

Speaking of leaving legacies, Lattimore is already a step ahead and planning his next project – “An original CD that says where I am musically, right now. I’m really looking forward to it, but believe me I wasn’t for a long time because of the disappointments of the music industry.” Pausing for a second he continues, “But I can’t measure the greatness of my songs by how much airplay they received or how many people bought them. This is my gift; this is what I come with.”

Timeless is out now on Verve.

© Rachelle Hull, 2009
Published at soulculture.co.uk


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