Ledisi: Lost To Claimed

Right up until the moment you hear Ledisi speak about her new album Lost & Found (Verve Records) it’ll be difficult to distinguish which of her past projects was her side hustle. Moving from her home in Oakland, California to the mean, but lucrative, streets of New York City, Ledisi left behind all that she […]

Right up until the moment you hear Ledisi speak about her new album Lost & Found (Verve Records) it’ll be difficult to distinguish which of her past projects was her side hustle. Moving from her home in Oakland, California to the mean, but lucrative, streets of New York City, Ledisi left behind all that she knew to pursue a recording career. In order to make ends meet, she landed a job helping develop The Color Purple – a musical about a woman triumphing over adversity and finding her own voice. Participating in workshops that included rehearsals and heavy character development, it’s interesting to imagine if any other job would have discouraged the, by then, weary artist.Ledisi is now “wowing” all sorts of audiences, with a truly transcendent voice, including the likes of music industry veterans like Quincy Jones. After Ledisi was introduced onstage by Jones himself, at an Ella Fitzgerald tribute concert, as his “Goddaughter,” it’s really difficult to not take a good look and listen to an artist that’s not lost anymore, but has every right to be found.AllHipHop.com Alternatives: You were in Oakland, and you relocated to New York – you left behind a life to come and pursue your goal. Can you describe that experience?Ledisi: It wasn’t all fun, but it was a lot of fun. I would say that I love the grind of New York, and I love the people because it’s reality. I was sleeping on a friend’s floor for awhile while being on Broadway. That was very humbling – having two suitcases coming from having a car and a house. Then leaving that all behind to sleep on a sleeping bag on the floor with my two suitcases – grinding on the train and walking to go to work on Broadway. That was really a great experience; I wouldn’t change that. I learned so much about myself and how to be humble, and get [spiritually] in line. It really helped me to get to where I am right now.AHHA: What was your solace being away from all that you knew?Ledisi: I would have my MBox and my microphone and my computer. I was an understudy, so I would have all that set-up in the room and I would be recording with my MPC1000 drum machine. I would set it all up in the room in the small keyboard and make my own tracks. If someone sent me a track via email, I would import in my pro-tools. I mean, I was writing. That’s where I was comfortable. So, I wrote inside the dressing room, and that was my portable studio. That was my comfort zone, because I couldn’t sleep! You never sleep in New York. You could forget it. You might get an hour. [laugh]AHHA: Carrying around a portable studio – many singers won’t consider themselves doing that off the bat. Would you say that’s what differentiates a singer from a musician?Ledisi: I wouldn’t say that entirely, because there are singers who don’t play an instrument that know how a bass should play. They might not play the instrument, but they can communicate it. So, it depends on who you are. But there is a different kind of respect towards singers when they know their music from musicians.I think a lot of people don’t know that there are some singers that do their own production. If nobody else will do it for me, you got to do it yourself. But my parents always had me around some form of instrument. We had it in the house – a piano, bass, drums, and keyboards. I mean, I overdubbed with two tape recorders. [laughs] So, I’ve been doing it a long time.AHHA: You participated in bringing The Color Purple to Broadway? How so? What as it like?Ledisi: It was the best experience. During the daytime I would do the workshops for The Color Purple, and I did it all the way until they got [to] Broadway. They even asked me to do it on Broadway, but I sacrificed it for my record Lost & Found because it all would have been too much to do. I wanted to do it really bad, but that was the best experience that I ever had. Being around Gary Griffin, Brenda Russell, Stephen Bray, Alle Willis, who wrote “September.” Brenda Russell wrote “Get Here.” Stephen Bray worked with Madonna. I mean, hello! Then I got to meet Gayle, Oprah’s friend, and Quincy Jones. Just seeing the whole thing unfold was beautiful. I loved the people. I would love to do it one day, but right now, my focus is on my music.AHHA: Quincy introduced you as his Goddaughter before bringing you onstage during the PBS Ella Fitzgerald tribute. How does it feel coming from such a renowned musical figure?Ledisi: You should have seen me freaking out backstage! First of all, I didn’t know he was announcing me, and I had those high heels on. I was jumping up and down back stage like, “Oh, my, God. That’s Quincy Jones!” I was floored. I didn’t see [the PBS special] until later on when it first aired, but I couldn’t believe he was there. Then to meet him after the show, and he was so nice and gave me great words of wisdom. I was just so grateful. That was a highlight in my career. It’s a bookmark. To have him who’s worked with everybody in different genres of music, from pop, to jazz, and working with Miles and Ella. Man, it was hot!AHHA: Now that you’re a Verve recording artist, do you feel the sense of comfort of being signed taking you to a different creative place?Ledisi: When I signed with Verve, I was already creating. I haven’t been able to write right now because it’s all about Lost & Found, but creatively I’m seeing a lot of stuff I’ve never seen before and experiencing a different kind of pressure than I felt before. I think once it’s settles down, because it’s just beginning, then I know I’ll have a lot more stories to tell. I have a lot of stories still waiting to be told that are already done. So there is a lot of music waiting around. Definitely, this has added more experiences. I can’t wait to see what I have to say about it when it’s done [laughs].AHHA: Lost & Found took about three years to make. Are you able to pin-point your favorite moment in making the album?Ledisi: There are so many, but mainly [the songs] “Lost & Found” and “Alright” – those two songs – really were…defining moments for me. I’ll start with “Alright,” because when I wrote it, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in the business. It was a lot going on. I wasn’t signed to a label yet, for a minute, and we were still working on our contract. Then I was dealing with being an independent artist. “Do I stay in this business? Am I making the right choices?” Trying to figure out if it’s worth it, all this, going to this next level of whatever this level is. When we’re in that gray area, we’re not sure of what we want to do. You have all these questions, you start doubting yourself, and “Alright” was a definitive moment. When I wrote it, it came out like water. When we recorded, it was one take. And I never listen to the songs after I record them. I like to wait awhile and then come back to it. When I heard it I was like, “Wow!” Rex Rideout, one of my producers, who helped me stay afloat, was like, “You got to keep going.” He played the song – that was it. I sat there and started crying. Then the other time, with “Lost & Found…” I was working on this song, from the time I started working on the record – I kept doodling with the same tune, and it has this pop vibe – this Carole King kind of vibe. [My producer] turned and said, “Led, you got to put that on the record. What is that?” I was like, “Don’t listen to me play!” [At] the time I would just smile and record and act like everything was okay. But inside this song was really screaming out, like, “Find me!” This song defined how I really felt inside. [My producer] was like, “Dang, I didn’t know you felt like this. You just come in and do your thing and never say anything.” We recorded that song all in one day. So, that were two defining moments for me that I’ll always remember while recording the whole three years. All the stuff I sacrificed was worth having those two songs.AHHA: What made listening to “Alright” so emotional for you? Was it that you had overcome what you had written about?Ledisi: Definitely, it was a…”Alright” just sums it up. It’s okay no matter what you going through; it’s going to be alright. I was like, “Okay, I’m doing the right thing. The steps that I’m making are okay.”