Sunday, January 31, 2010

Shelley Nicole's blaKbushe

Sorry for the delay of my latest post. Life throws you curve balls, but you just keep swinging back until you're back on track.

Shelley Nicole's blaKbushe is the living, breathing embodiment of progressive rock music. Imagine Nona Hendryx meets Black Sabbath or Janis Joplin meets Grace Jones ant there you will find the blaKbushe experience. It is a blend best described by Shelley Nicole as SolaRoc; combining elements of rock, funk, soul, and beyond. blaKbushe has been called reminiscent of the Soul/Pop recording group Labelle. Even Labelle member Sarah Dash agrees stating, "blaKbushe is not to be overlooked."

I had the pleasure to interview Shelley a week ago, and my apologies to her for not getting this up earlier. She is gracious, informative, and passionate about her music. Her album "She Who Bleeds" will take you on a journey that will make you think and move all in the same breathe. Here's a small portion of that interview.

DC: As a little girl did you dream of being a rock star?

SN: LOL! No as a little girl I had the dream that I wanted to be a broadway star. I wanted to be an actress on broadway and do that whole thing because acting was my first love. I did children's theater, all kind of plays in school, plays off broadway, it was really my thing. I wanted to go to school at NYU's Tisch, but like most families we didn't have the money for me to go to Tisch. It's really hard to ask your parents to fork out $150,000.00 to go to school. At 17 we all have these life plans mapped out where you say that you're going to do this, and that, and my life will be like this. But when the plan doesn't fall into place, at 17 you think that your life is over, LOL, which we know it isn't.

DC: So where did you end up going to school?

SN: I ended up going to Ohio State where I still pursued acting and performing in plays along with singing in the school Jazz Choir. It was just a different journey, a different road that wasn't in the original plan of things. But when I went back to New York, I performed with an off broadway theatre company for many years and was still able to pursue some of that dream. I knew that I was going to be some kind of star, but I just didn't know it was going to be as a Rock Star LOL!

DC: So when did you make a shift to singing and singing Rock of all things?

SN: So I graduated with a degree in journalism from Ohio State and received an internship at Vibe magazine. I met a woman at Vibe who was in a band and she invited me to sing backup. I was fortunate to sing backup with some wonderful women and that allowed me to see how women were really doing it in New York. Then I was asked to write an article by the Philadelphia Inquirer on Greg Tate and the BRC (Black Rock Coalition), and through that article Greg invited me to showcases that the BRC put on. It was great to see people who looked like me just doing it. That introduction opened up the doors and the thought of what my music could be and where I could go with it. Along the way, I started my own thing and defined and redefined it to what it is today. My band blaKbushe is comprised of some amazingly talented musicians. I love all kinds of music but rock just has a whole lot of passion to it.

DC: How long did it take before you got your stuff together and developed your own band?

SN: Let's see. The three women that I sang with were Robin Dixon, Tamar Kali, and Remileku.

DC: You had wonderful mentors.

SN: Yes, amazing women who are just brilliant in what they do. Unbelievable mentors who helped me get to what I wanted to do with my music. It wasn't until 1998 that I decided to start writing my own songs. And honestly I'm not sure what sparked that, but I just know that I needed to start writing my own songs. It was also around that time when I got fired from Vibe, which was the best thing that could have happened, because it made me really jump into starting my own band and teaching myself how to play the bass.

DC: How did you learn the bass?

SN: I taught myself and had some lessons. I wasn't the greatest player at the time, but everyone kept telling me to play as I write my songs, that way you know them and get used to playing.

DC: Why did you decide on the bass?

SN: I really love the bottom of the bass and the drums. I'm a huge Stanley Clark fan and Marcus Miller fan. They're both pretty amazing in what they do. I remember meeting Marcus Miller at the Blue Note after a set, and in our conversation him saying that he still learns something new with his instrument. So for Marcus Miller to say that he was still learning, that was pretty eye opening. So I keep playing and learning my craft.

SN: I just Love the Bass. The bass is the ground you know, it holds everything together. The bass is really where it's at. I love guitar, don't get me wrong, but when I listen to music I search for the bass and the drums, because that's what holds a song together. It's the foundation.

DC: So how do you define your music?

SN: That's always tough. I just named it SolaRoc. I mean LOL it just came together, because it has soul, you know people of the sun brown skinned, and rock. That's it. But when people need to know and I have to break it down, I just say it's Rock, Funk, and Soul. It has Blues, Jazz, Gospel, all of these elements that I grew up with are a part of my music. It's tough to break it down. If you come to a show you will hear a lot of different sounds. For some people, it will be like Huh?!?! and for others it will be like hell yeah!!! It's not a one track type of show.

SN: It's a challenge, because being Black and choosing this path musically, most often people at times don't know what to do. For instance, I was trying to get my music into this store in Atlanta, and I found out later that the reason they didn't place it in the store was because it wasn't soulful enough. I understand that it's your store, but I find that you are boxing your audience in and deciding for them what is soulful enough and what isn't for them, when it should be their choice. Then it becomes strange because they don't know how they can market you. So you get boxed in right from the gate before anyone can even listen to your music.

DC: Does having a label to music matter?

SN: You could do away with labeling but people have made a fortune by labeling. I mean what would Billboard be without labeling? So it's a tough call when there's money to be made by those who created the system. For me when I listen to music, I either like it or I don't, it's that simple. It's a tough call, because if your not a lover of music who goes out in search of the new, or the obscure artist to follow and appreciate, then you're the person just turning on the radio and listening to what's presented to you by the radio stations.

DC: Tell me a little bit about maneuvering in the Rock world as a Black woman.

SN: That's a tough question. You know early in my career I made a conscious decision not to deal with certain types of people. Maybe if I would have pushed for a label I might have seen something different. It's kind of strange cause I'm not a superstar, but I've been really fortunate to work with awesome musicians, and amazing men who have supported me through out this journey. Also, being in New York, or wherever you live, you begin to network with a group of people and promoters that help to get you out there. I've been really blessed to play at some amazing venues based on those relationships. I think the struggle is less than being a woman and more about the financials that are not in place to market myself in the way that every artist would like. That's probably my biggest hurdle, cause not everyone has the money to bring a 7 piece band to the next city. blaKbushe is a band, but it's also just me when it comes to the financials. The real deal is that the band is also the other people that make your vision come to life. They love what you do, and help your sound come to life, and for that I would love to have the financials in place for my band to be able to taken care of and travel everywhere I go.

DC: Was it a struggle trying to get a record deal, and do you have a deal?

SN: To tell you the truth I just never really looked. I don't know if that's because I worked on both sides of the industry or not. I mean being a journalist and interviewing artist whose experiences were just awful. At the time I had a great manager and both of us were pretty clear that we were not trying to pursue the route of securing a deal thru an industry label. That was even before the industry is where it is now. I've never looked back. I've sent music to labels for specific reasons or suggestions from a contact that I met, but nothing that I really pursued or pushed for. I saw friends who would do the showcases for the labels, and cut demo's and end up with nothing, I mean nothing. I mean we are talking about phenomenal women who were at the top of their game. That's what made me just do it myself. That's what made me create my own label Red Butterfly Music.

DC: What do you think it is that keeps the labels from being invested long enough to really market an artist to help generate an audience?

SN: I mean it's racism and it's the boxing in of black people. I think it's in the model they created. It's where someone sits and says that Black people do R&B, Soul, Gospel and Rap and this is where we make money off of them and they are successful. There's a wonderful documentary out called "Still Bill" about Bill Withers and he talks about the fact that he was boxed into something that he was not. Bill Withers was Folk and American Roots music. That's who he is but the label wanted him to become an R&B artist, and add horns and back up singers to his music. That's when he decided to just walk away, since he couldn't stay true to what he was.

SN: Also, you have to understand that a lot of Black women who are out here doing rock, are coming with a message in their music. Their talking about women's issues about things that are really poignant and pertinent to what's going on. I mean it's not all love and happiness, and dropping your drawers, and that kind of nonsense. The women that I know that are out here doing their thing, Rock, Funk, Soul whatever are really powerful women secure enough to do their music in the right way.

DC: Tell me about the song Blak Girls?

SN: The song Blak Girls I wrote that song because of what we are talking about. About how many fabulous Black women I know who are out there doing their thing and can't get it break. Not just in music, but across the board.

DC: I think it could be a national anthem for Black women

SN: That would be great if it could be. I mean mediocre women getting deals when the greats are struggling to be heard in a mainstream way. Writing the song took me a while, because I had so much emotion to share behind what I was feeling. I wanted to be able to tell the story but have power behind the lyrics I was writing.

DC: What's your process for writing?

SN: Sometimes I'll hear bass lines in my head and work with that. Some times just the lyrics come. It comes as it comes and then I put it together as it hits me. It's not so much for me to just write all of the time. I write when the spirit moves me. I wish I was more of a writer who wrote more often, but it's definitely more of when the spirit moves me for sure.

SN: Like the song Go Head and Rise came from me and a friend being in a store and me seeing this thing that said if you're going through hell keep going." That really hit me because the real deal about life and the struggles that we all have when things hit us hard, is that sometimes we don't want to go through it. We want to block it out, we want to numb ourselves, so we eat, we drink, we shop, we take drugs, whatever it takes to keep us away from the pain. Then we wonder why we can't seem to get past our addiction, when all it took was us to feel it, go through the experience, and get to the other side of it. That way when the universe brings that back to you again, you can recognize it and deal with it in the proper way without the pain from the past. So when I saw that saying it really moved me and from that I wrote Go Head and Rise.

SN: The song Crazy came out of a time in my life. A friend of mine said that you shouldn't fuck with singers cause you might end up in a song LOL!!! And taht's basically what happened with that song LOL!!!

DC: What about Box?

SN: Box came out of exactly what we are talking about. I did not want to be boxed in with my music, and it also came from that need not to be boxed in in any capacity that is not your own truth.

DC: Your sound is raw, and gritty and very similar to that of Labelle. Did they have any influence on you?

SN: It's funny that you would say that, because Sarah Dash came to see me perform like years ago. She came to that show and I had no idea that she came. After that performance, Sarah Dash got in touch with Bob Davis, who runs the site Soul Patrol. She told him that i reminded her of Labelle back in the day.

DC: That is an amazing compliment coming from Sarah Dash.

SN: Yeah I was honored, and we've become friends and keep in touch. Now Nona Hendryx is a staple in the New York scene. Nona is like everywhere. But my experience with Nona, came from doing an interview with her and wanting to know the lyrics to a song that my old band an i wanted to play but couldn't figure out the lyrics. So I called Nona up and she gave me the lyrics, and now fast forward I will be doing a show on February 25th with Nona. She started this thing called Hope Stock but changed the name to Unfiltered, and basically just started this showcase to help unknown artist have a platform to perform their music. It's on February 25th at SOB's and I'm so excited! I call Labelle the Holy Trinity LOL!, and I have two of the three from the Holy Trinity LOL! So I'm just missing Ms. Patty Labelle. She's just one degree of separation now.

DC: Who are some of your other influences.

SN: Sarah Vaughn, Phyllis Hyman, Janis Joplin, Chaka Khan, Bernard Edwards, Marcus Miller. So many have helped to form me.

DC: What do you think is missing in music today?

SN: I really believe that what was happening back in the 70's was just a magical time and some where along the way we lost it. I mean music was just so amazing and different back then. All those black people were different in so many ways and levels giving their all, and that's what's missing from today's music. You knew a Gamble and Huff tune, just as well as you could tell a Motown tune. Each had a very distinct sound, but it didn't matter because it was all just great music. Because I'm underground I see and hear those differences, from the artist who are giving their all, and their bringing it. Their just not being heard in the mainstream. That's what's missing. Uniqueness.

Shelly has agreed to participate in the documentary and I'm hoping to shoot her at the Unfiltered concert on February 25th.

Here is a video of Shelley singing Blak Girls.

To a musical journey worth sharing,


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