Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mama Moon of Uninterrupted

Mama Moon is the lead singer for the band Uninterrupted which is comprised of Kenny on guitar, Ahmed on drums, and Big O on the bass. The Maryland based band has been together for ten years and still loves what they do which is the gift of playing and performing their music. Moon's infectious love for her music is evident throughout the interview as she talks about the ups and downs of what she sees within the industry. As a wife, mother, band manager, promoter, and government worker, she still finds ways to make her dreams come true with her music. Here's a little of that interview.

DC: Why are you participating in the documentary?

MM: It's funny that you ask, because I was thinking of doing one myself. I thought if I did a doc it would show people exactly what I do as well as others. I wanted to try and help educate the audience on our form of music. My schedule became extremely busy so the time never permitted itself to follow thru. Now here you are to do exactly what's needed. We need something like this to show that there are women out here that can Rock and hold their own just as well as men, and that our presence and sound are completely different.

DC: How did you get started in performing and claiming Rock as your medium.

MM: Growing up as a child my household was filled with all kinds of music. My dad was the musician in the household and traveled with a many different bands and was the only black person in an all white rock band. My dad played the bass and the keys, but we had all kinds of instruments in my house growing up, and there was no separation in the music, it was just intertwined with whatever was brought into our house. We were involved in the church, my dad played in the church and my grandmother was the church secretary, so we were in church from Sunday to Sunday. Everyday!! LOL. So we got our musical training singing in choir, leading devotion service. If you hear me sing with that kind of roar and gospel tinge that's in my voice, I got it from church.

MM: As I got older and my friends were listening to R&B, I was listening to grunge and into like Nirvana, Soundgarden and definitely 60's music like anything Woodstock, Hendrix. It was just kindred to me for some reason and I just really enjoyed that type of music. When I decided that I would try and sing, I didn't think that I was strong enough to sing alone so I sang with different groups. I landed with a Jazz group where I met my husband who basically told me that my voice was definitely not jazz and that I had something else going on with my voice. So I joined this funk group that he was in called Divine Nature and I came in not knowing anything, never heard the songs or the music. I went in and sang over the music that they played. They gave me a title of a song and I created my own lyrics based on the title of the song. It was brilliant, and it was also the first time that I was able to hear my own voice and the sound of my own voice.

MM: That band stopped playing, so I looked for other avenues to still perform. I was hosting this event called "Mothers Milk" that was in DC, at a place called State of The Union, that is no longer there. I told my husband to gather some guys to come out and play, and they could be the band that backs the "Mother's Milk" show until we figure out what we were going to do. So they would come and back up the other girls and when it was time for us to perform, something happened. I mean we hit this groove that was unexplainable, but we knew it was good. They started playing and I was singing and it was just the right fit. So we kind of looked at each other and decided that maybe we want to continue this after "Mother's Milk" is over. Our biggest concern LOL, was that we didn't want to be a Rock band. We kept saying "we don't want to be Rock, we don't want to be Rock n Roll", because that was passe, it wasn't the norm of what was going on in the scene at the time, but that's what the music was. It took us a couple of months for us to embrace that we were going to be a Rock band.

DC: What made that decision to be a Rock band so difficult?

MM: It was difficult because of where I came from. When I started on the scene I was involved with the whole Neo Soul, poetry, spoken word, incense burning, cotton wearing chick thing and everyone knew me as that. I always sang, but when I got with the band and that kind of sound that we as a band were putting out, I was afraid that the people who were following me as this other person would leave the minute they heard my new voice, my new direction. It's knowing that people were going to think that I was trying to be purposely different and not accept the fact that I was really performing what I was suited to do. So it took a minute to gain that confidence to say fuck it, and do it anyway.

DC: Why were you afraid of that change?

MM: The fear factor didn't come from claiming the Rock genre as my choice of music, but more so of being labeled different. All my life I had been labeled as different, and I think I just didn't want to add one more thing to my plate as being more different than everyone else. I've always been told that I was different or strange. I wasn't the popular girl in school, I was the kid that was the outcast. I had tons of clothes in my closet put I chose to wear jeans with holes and my army boots, I was rebellious, and going against the grain. Since I wasn't accepted I just blocked everybody out and kept it moving. I remember telling my sister when we were little that before I die I was going to be in a movie and I want to lead my own band. She asked me what kind of music was I going to do because whatever I did it wasn't going to be played on 95.9, which was a popular station back then. What's funny is that she was right, my music wouldn't be played on a popular radio station. Growing up I was always trying to find that acceptance. So fast forward to me being accepted in the Neo Soul Spoken Word, community for what I do and who I am, that was difficult to let go. I was comfortable and now to shed that was a huge step for me knowing that my confidence was already bruised from past issues of identity.

DC: So did you lose that audience or maintain it?

MM: I was shut out. I think that people enjoyed my music privately but were afraid to commit to it publicly. I've had people tell me that they love the music but won't book me for a show, or people say she's crazy have you seen her in her show? So there is no place for me in that world anymore unless I strip down my music, and I'm not willing to do that. You either love it or you don't but I have to stay true to the music that I produce.

DC: Describe the music that you and Uninterrupted perform and what they can expect when they come out to support you?

MM: The music is thought provoking I think. People ask me to describe the music, and it's definitely rock. It's rock, but it's not just a spectacle without the talent and insightful lyrics behind it. Some people are just a stage show, and when you listen to them their not saying anything. For me with a background of a poet, I like to write things that uplift people, the things that happen in your dreams, love and the loss of love, and things that re going on in my life. The music surrounds everything that I write about. Our writing process is not structured where you write a song and then put lyrics to it. The band begins to play a groove, and I listen and then I begin to freestyle over the music, and when it's right we record it. We build our songs that way. It's very rare that we sit down and structure out a song. We just let it flow. We record the sessions as we play and then we go back and asses what needs to be tightened up, taken away, rearranged etc.

DC: What's it like in a band with all men?

MM: At first I was taking a back seat in the band and watching things unfold around me. But then I had to step up and start expressing myself in order to make sure that my voice and opinions were heard. We collaborate well, but we fight and have our arguments until it comes together and we are all on the same page. Sometimes that doesn't happen. They don't tell me what to do on stage, that's all me. There are times when we could be in the middle of a disagreement, but we have to perform and we use the music to get it out. I've been mad at my husband on stage, and I will sing him a song while we are performing and then transition back to the original track LOL. For the most part we just know that it's about the music first and foremost.

DC: What do you think the rift is between Black men and Black women when it comes to rock and the lack of support for each other?

MM: Most of the rift that I've had being a black woman doing rock is the thought process from men that I should not be doing rock. Most people believe that Rock is a genre for men because it is so hard, gritty, and in your face. I'm not really sure what that's about, but it's something that has been said.

DC: What are some of your struggles within the industry?

MM: There has been so many. We had an incident where the venue looked at the picture of the band, and labeled us as a Neo Soul band. They put that on all of their promotional items. Then we get to the venue to perform, they are surprised because the music is not what they expected. There have been times that we've been booked for festivals, and other artist refused to perform if we were involved because they felt we didn't fit. I would say that the biggest struggle has come from our own people and getting them to accept the music.

DC: How so with our own people?

MM: We as Black people are conditioned that we should only listen to certain things and that other forms of music are considered white music or someone else's music. So it's ok to listen to Neo Soul, R&B, Hip Hop, Jazz, but when you start wanting to perform and listen to Country or Rock, the eyebrows go up and the questions of what are you doing and why are you doing that start to flow. The other side is fear and insecurities. Their afraid that they may like it and if they like it then how do you justify it to your friends.

DC: Why do you think that the support isn't behind black women performing Rock music?

MM: I think it's fear. I think that some people think this will be another thing that we women will take over. I had a guy tell me once that women can only sing. They don't write or produce in a way to be heard and they need to sing and support the man. Traditionally songs have been produced and written by men, but times have changed and women are doing extraordinary things as writers and producers. Some people believe that in order for women to succeed in the industry that their is some man behind the scenes pulling the strings. Times have changed and women are now very involved with the music that they put out there especially the women that are working in the world of Rock or Alternative music. We are the underdogs who if we don't get involved with our craft we will never be heard.

DC: So how does a band like Uninterrupted get noticed in a sea of everyone trying to be heard and grab a deal? What keeps a band that's been together for ten years moving forward?

MM: For us we are pretty realistic with where we are. For us we made our mistakes as far as the business is concerned, so we figure that we learn form the mistakes and we keep moving forward, because the music is what's important. The music is what drives a band like Uninterrupted whose been together for ten years to still keep moving. As a performer you have to define your own success in the time that is relevant. There is a growing period where you have to know where you are musically as a solo artist or a band. Most bands, it takes you a minute to really find your niche, your groove, your sound, your presence. Bands and artist are defined and re-defined all the time. Once you hit that spot you know who you are. We've been able to keep moving because we know who we are and what our music is and is not. Everything has it's time, and most of your great artist have been in the game for ten years or longer and that's black, white, whatever. Those that have been in the game longer and have had to work harder for it, they appreciate it more when that deal comes. They know how to handle it more, because they are able to draw upon past mistakes. We're not trying to be fly by night artist. You have artist out here who get the deal and can't handle what comes with it and the next thing you know they've become one hit wonders.

MM: We're not necessarily looking for a deal because the music industry is sick right now. The music industry is a sick thing that needs a healer desperately. If we are blessed to get a deal then we will happily accept it, but we are in it to make music and to get the message across. We want to make a living off of what we do and be committed to the craft of our music.

DC: So how does that work when you don't have a label attached to you and your holding down full time jobs?

MM: You find ways to be seen and heard. With social media there is no excuse. There's facebook, twitter, myspace, reverb nation, band website etc. where you continue to talk about what's gong on with the band. People will follow as long as the information is out there for them to follow. You meet people and you keep the connection and through that connection comes others. We've been pretty good at that. Even my husband, when he buys a new jacket or t-shirt he adds the Uninterrupted logo to it, to represent the band. People ask him all the time about the symbol and it becomes a talking point about the band. Even with me, I have the logo on my luggage, I carry cd's in my purse, I take the time to talk to them and point them to our site. There are ways to do it, it's just that when you have the obstacle of having to work a full time job, you have to manage the time of keeping up with all of that and working, and I'm a mom, so all of that comes into play. My husband and I are the driving force behind marketing this band and we won't let it die. We can't let it die because this is our dream.

DC: Are you working on any new projects?

MM: Yes, we are working on recording our second album. This is the funny thing! We've been ten years in the game and we are just now recording our second album LOL!

DC: How does that happen? Let's talk about that?

MM: We performed three or four years before we had a cd. I would sell the band with out a cd, and tell people that they had to hear us live. I was great at selling us to perform live. I would sell it with charm, charisma and a whole lot of Moon until they said yes, you can perform here or yes I will come and check you guys out. I would show up at places and tell them that they want us to come, you need us to come, you've got to hear it!! I just have this enthusiasm that won't let them say no. Once they saw the performance the next question was "do you have a cd?" and the answer was always no.

DC: Why didn't you have a cd to sell?

MM: We didn't have the money or the equipment or the things that were needed to make it happen at the time. We had to rely on keeping people coming back to live shows to hear new material. When we got a manager she hooked us up with Bill Vaughn, who owned Urban Intellect Studios. This guy was used to recording Hip Hop artist, and I don't think he recorded a band before. Our guitarist, Kenny, started buying equipment for his basement and we started recording a little in the basement, and then whatever we had we took it to the producer and they cleaned it up, and then I laid vocals down at Urban Intellect. So we rushed the process to get the cd done because everyone wanted a cd, and in doing that the cd wasn't as crisp as it should be. We released an unmastered cd just because we were trying to get something out there. That was a learning curve for us and we said that the next one would be done at the right time in the right way. That cd has carried us to where we are now.

DC: So fast forward to 2010 and doing your second album?

MM: This album is called "Unrestricted". The first album was titled " No Excuses". "Unrestricted" is about breaking the chains of anything that makes you feel like you are chained or restricted in anyway. It's about anything that keeps you from obtaining your goals, and also about love, traveling, time and space. It's everything that it's suppose to be and it's a declaration of who I am, who Moon is as a person.

DC: What's your favorite track off of the new album?

MM: As of right now the track "No Refills" is my favorite. It's a song that touches me the most. It's a relationship song that deals with women who put up with a whole lot. You know like the brother who keeps going to 7-11 refilling his cup when ever he wants to, but I'm like check it you can't come up in here no more refilling your cup every time you feel like it at all times of the day and night. I don't want that no more LOL, so you need to get it together or move on. No more refills on my expense. That's "No More Refills".

DC: When do you expect to release that album and how do you plan to market the album since you are an underground band?

MM: Well our plan is to release three songs and get it into rotation. We have some Harlem radio stations willing to assist in that goal and then flood the internet. We hope to complete the album by the fall, but those three songs will help us to secure gigs, and then you will see us on tour gigging a whole lot after the release of the album.

MM: It all has to do with your presentation, and the stage show, and your interaction with your audience. When your audience comes to see you, their coming to see whatever vision they have painted of you in their mind. We've had people standing outside waiting to meet us and tell us how much they loved our music. That only happens if you are doing something right. You have to keep the audience engaged. After a performance it's not uncommon to see me dripping in sweat talking to these people, signing cd's, giving hugs, taking photo's because that's what helps to keep our audience coming back and buying our music. It's the personal interaction that keeps them engaged. That's the difference between me and some other artist. I'm not untouchable and I never want to be that. I'm going to give them everything I have on that stage, everything, because you came to support us and in return I have to deliver what you came to see. When I'm done performing I'm going to get off that stage and come out to the audience and give you the same love that I received on stage.

DC: How do you feel about all of the cookie cutter music that's out there and will that change anytime soon?

MM: I think that it's so saturated with the same thing, that it's now at a point where everyone is waiting for that one artist, or that one band, or that one something that will just change the game. But until then you got Little Wayne, and Diddy doing rock. When the industry looks at Rhianna as a rock chick, why? It's because that's all that's there. It's gonna take one, just one to penetrate through were they are so great that the industry will have to take notice. Once that group or artist breaks, the labels are going to model everyone else to be just like that and then it's going to become cliche all over again, and then the cycle begins again.

DC: How did you develop your sound?

MM: I modeled my voice after men. Even though I can sing a first soprano I modeled my voice after men. I love women with deep voices who can sing, like Nina Simone, Joan Armatrading, Felice Rosser, and Cassandra Wilson. They are the women I listen and learn from because they do have those deep tones to their voices that are often found from men. Don't get me wrong, I listen and love the voices of others, but what's missing is the more deep voice of rock from a woman. What's out there now in the mainstream is more of the higher pitched ladies, and what's missing are the other tones and nuances that come from women with deeper voices. My voice is an instrument and when people hear me sing they tell me that it sounds like I'm an instrument in the band, and I take that as a huge compliment because of worked hard at achieving just that.

DC: Did you ever take vocal lessons?

MM: I went to a vocal coach, because I had someone tell me hat I needed coaching. When I got with the vocal coach she asked me why was there. She said that my voice was fine, but what we discovered through conversation was that I was using my voice to compete with the band instead of listening and learning to blend my voice as an instrument with the band. That helped me a lot.

MM: The other thing that I had to get past was that I never like to hear my voice when it was on tape. I didn't want to hear it, but my husband told me that I needed to listen to myself singing, because how else was I going to perfect my sound, or correct my mistakes, or switch it up. I didn't want to do that. He would sit up and listen and study the music, my voice, the performance, but I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to see or hear what I was doing. It took me a while to get past that but I'm glad I did it, and know I study my voice and my performance to make me better. As women we are always fighting with insecurities and this was one of mine. What if I don't sound good, what if I don't like my performance. As long as I didn't study my voice or performance I could walk around like everything was fine. You have to be able to dissect your self in order to make your self better.

DC: Do you miss out from not having that mainstream record deal?

MM: Somewhat. Uninterrupted is still trying to increase their following and I don't think it's going to happen where we live. I think with the right team behind us we can go far and do some wonderful things, but that can only happen when you have support, time, and a broader fan base to make that happen. We're not trying to stay here in DC especially when music travels globally and that's what we as a band strive for. For our music to travel outside of DC.

MM: We have a management team that is interested in us but we have yet to speak with them, and even that is a difficult thing because a manger is supposed to work for and with you, not the other way around. So that process of finding the right fit is difficult especially when at times you as the artist can't explain what it is that you do. That's why it's important to have people who get what you do in your corner. That's the only way it can work.

DC: How do you feel about the labeling of music?

MM: It's interesting because some people equate the term Rock with white people, and they would rather be an Alternative artist than to be labeled as doing white music. For me our band is a funk, rock band. Being a rocker has all different looks, moves, taste, and genre's within the genre of Rock. Labeling is for whoever needs an answer.

DC: It's interesting to me that people would equate the term Rock with just white rockers.

MM: I think that the race card is always going to be pulled and no one wants to slip up and appear to be a racist. Race is a sensitive subject in everything that we do. I even have an issue with the term Black Rock. I feel that music is just music. Why does the ethnicity of a person have to come into play and be attached to the music. Do I have to call a Latino person who plays Rock a Latino Rocker? Why? They are playing music and the genre is Rock. Their ethnicity has nothing to do with it. One of the biggest Rock bands of our time was Queen, with Freddy Mercury as the lead singer, who was of Indian decent straight from India. It was sad because he didn't want to say that he was Indian or gay for that matter for fear that he wouldn't be able to do his music! The music should stand for itself.

DC: Who is in your playlist?

MM: I'm listening to Switch, The Beatles, Lenny Kravitz, Maxwell, Minnie Ripperton, Meshell Ndegeocello, Billie Myers, Nika Costa, Terrance Trent Darby, just some of everyone. Good music is good music and that's what I like to listen to.

DC: What advice would you give the women coming up behind you?

MM: Be honest with your work. Study your craft and don't let your fears conquer you. Have perseverance, dont be afraid to collaborate with others, and carry yourself with integrity. Be able to accept construcitve criticism and use it to grow. But most importantly don't be an asshole cause that will get you know where.

For more information on Uninterrupted and Mama Moon you can check out their websites:

Here is Uninterrupted performing "Butta":

To a musical journey worth sharing,


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