Monday, January 18, 2010

Teneia Sanders

Teneia Sanders was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, and music has always played a vital role in her life. She began singing at the age of 10 and quickly realized that music was her passion. In high school, she sang with several choral ensembles and became a member of the R&B group 601. In 2002 Teneia received a scholarship to Holmes Community College from her high school director and mentor Doug Browning, where she sang in the school's choral ensemble and show choir. After two years of performing, she decided to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional musician. She is a self taught singer, writer, guitarist whose angelic voice, unique guitar rhythms and moving lyrics have helped to garner praise as a truly gifted musician, whose skills are compelling.

Her debut album "Soul Catcher", is acoustic-based music with beautiful melodies and evocative imagery, drawn from folk and soul roots. Teneia is currently in the studio writing and producing her next album, tentatively entitled "The Commander", which she hopes will be released some time this spring. I had the pleasure of interviewing Teneia over the weekend and here's a small portion from the interview.

DC: First I would love to thank you for agreeing to be a part of this documentary, and I am truly humbled that you said yes. You are the first person that I've interviewed for the blog and I'm really excited about that.

TS: I'm pleased to be on the phone with you and to be in conversation with someone who is doing something so awesome to help promote black female rockers. It's truly a pleasure for me.

DC: My first question is why did you decide to say yes to this project?

TS: Well it's hard for me sometimes when I show up to a bar or venue, and people see me with a guitar. You can tell by their expression "oh here's a black girl with a guitar but what is she going to do", so they're taken a back at first. Then the second thing they think is that I'm going to cover Tracy Chapman songs LOL. So it's really important for me to have people look at black female rockers who play guitar as musicians as well as singers. It's also important that they understand that we as Black female artist sing some of everything including Rock.

DC: In doing research for the documentary, I've reached out to a lot of women,recommended by friends and other musicians that have referred to these women as Black female rockers. But to my surprise some of those same artists did not consider themselves to be rockers at all. They had all of these other creative listings of what they considered their music to be. Afro Punk Fusion, Soul Funk, Acid Rock Soul, etc. Because of that I don't want to place a label on your style of music, but I'm curious as to what you consider your music to be?

TS: I figured out recently in the last year or two what my music would be called, and I came up with Folk Soul. I came up with that because you get imagery and storytelling with most of my songs like you would from a Folk song, but then there's some Soul Rock there also. So you get a little bit of grit and edge, and that's what rounds out my sound.

DC: Do you feel that putting a label on your music, pigeon holes you into grabbing the widest audience possible?

TS: At the very beginning, I was very leary about placing a label on my music. But then you realize that you don't sing everything and in order for people to find your music, they have to have a place to start. So for me, Folk Soul is what I've labeled it to be. And also, when I say Folk Soul, people become immediately interested and they want to know what that combination is going to be like.

DC: It's funny because you call it Folk Soul, but if you look for your music on Itunes or CD Baby, you are categorized as Blues. On the site you're indie folk.

TS: Yeah, that's what's wrong with the labeling system. I can understand labeling the music, but it doesn't make sense to label the artist, especially if the artist is more than capable of crossing over into other genres.

DC: Do you ever wish that music labels did a way with the labeling of artist?

TS: Yes, that's the thing. When that happens and you're labeled as one thing , you lose lead way creatively. So if my last album is sent out as R&B, but now I want to do Alternative Country, the labels are quick to tell you that the box they created for you is R&B and you need to stick within that box. It becomes a struggle creatively at that point when an artist wants to spread their wings and unleash that music in a different way. Everything flows for me. One day I could write a wonderful Gospel song and the next it could be this funky Rock song. It's just what you're feeling at the time.

DC: Do you have a label deal at this time?

TS: Currently I'm doing everything myself. I have some things in the works, but currently it's all me along with family and friends. I actually enjoy it because I'm hands on and that way I know every job.

DC: How did you find your sound?

TS: Well a lot comes from being in the Church like so many artist from the south. My dad is a Pastor of a church in Mound Bayou, MS, so the church had a huge influence on me. That's where I started singing. While I was growing up I listened to a lot of R&B and Soul. Then in high school I was performing with my schools Chorale Group, where we sang all kinds of music, including classical and some foreign language songs. Then I was in the R&B group 601 when we really started listening to everything. We knew that if we absorbed as much music as possible, and as many styles as possible, that nothing but good could come out of it.

DC: What's your process for writing songs?

TS: Typically I pick up my guitar and start playing around with different chord progressions and rhythms. To me there's a spiritual thing in writing songs, because you don't think about the situation that you're going to write about, but there's something that sparks it for you. So I just layer and layer, and play until it all comes together. Sometimes it comes together in pieces and I have to put it down and then go back to it. Then I write the lyrics. I figure out the storyline and the direction that the story will go in. Then blend it all together for the final product. It all comes together in the end.

DC: Tell me about producing and recording the album "Soul Catcher"?

TS: For me "Soul Catcher" was a really big process of my life. That whole album when I think back on it was my life for an entire year. So the songs on the album all have a place in my heart. In regards to recording the album, I met a wonderful man by the name of William Bartley, from Slackshop, who I met at an open mic. I mentioned I needed to record something and he offered to record me. We had a few songs that were ready to be laid down, and as other songs came about we added them to the album. I had a wonderful time working through the process. it was a lot of fun.

DC: Who are some of your musical influences?

TS: I have several musical influences, but one of my favorites is Ani Difranco. To me she is one of my guitar heroes. I just love what she does and I also love Aretha Franklin. But, I'm inspired by so many that it's difficult to pick and choose.

DC: So what's next for you?

TS: Currently, I'm working on my next album tentatively named "The Commander". I'm really excited about this album. It's myself and my band, The Highjackers, who are based out of Louisville, KY. I'm really pumped about it, it's kind of this jazzy, soulful funky record that will make you smile, and bop your head. We hope to release it in the spring.

DC: Teneia it's been a pleasure talking with you and I am excited that you are on board for the documentary.

TS: I had a great time talking with you and can't wait to get the word out about what you're doing. I'm truly honored that you thought to even include me.

Please check out her website and her music. She is definitely an artist with an amazing voice who deserves to be heard by others. Even if you don't sign up for this blog, please share with your friends the name Teneia Sanders.

Here's Teneia and her friend Mark Hamilton performing the song "Servant":

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