Monday, September 1, 2014

The blaKbüshe Recording Begins. We're Going in!

The band!
I know that many of you are waiting for my super long yet very detailed account of Michfest this year. I started writing it and then all hell broke loose. Well at least that’s what it felt like over here. But while dealing with the things that hell broke loose I realized that there is something else about to happen that I have to share with folks before my Fest blog is complete. I can’t do anything short and sweet when it comes to this blog, but in this case I will at least give you the good news at the top and full story at the bottom. Well, here goes nothing.

Vernon and I. Beginnings...
Tomorrow, yes this Wednesday Sept. 3rd, Shelley Nicole’s blaKbüshe are on our way to the studio to start recording the next project! As you know this album being produced by Grammy winning guitarist, producer, super cool cat, and just plain old good human being Vernon Reid of Living Colour, Masque, Yohimbe Brothers, Spectrum Road, and many more! Now that that’s out of the way, here are my thoughts on this whole thing.

My first baby

 In 2003 I released my first album, she who bleeds... . It was one of the most challenging ventures and adventures of my life. Releasing that album was like giving birth, hence the title of the album. Sure women and blood can go in a lot of directions, but for me it was both that of the monthly blood and that of the hypothetical blood that I shed to make that first baby come to life.

After the release of the first album I put everything I had into making it work. Kind of like the first kid right? You want do everything perfectly. You want to make sure they are well taken care of, so in that spirit I sent that CD everywhere. I sent it to festival submissions, radio stations, press outlets, called in favors, gave them away to folks I thought could help get my baby heard, I pressed up THOUSANDS of copies (cuz that’s how we did back in the day) because I knew it was going to be a hit and my little baby made a little noise, but then I started to get hip to the game.

I was and am an independent artist. I chose this route. No one has ever offered me a record deal in the sense that we learn about in the fairytale books. I’ve never had anyone ever tell me they were going to “make me a star.” That is not my journey; at least not so far. I know those people. I have plenty of friends who have seen the mountaintop, but couldn’t get over for one reason or another and then come to the realization that they had to get on the good foot and do it their damn selves.

As time went by I realized that my thousands of CDs were not going to be sold in a flash, but I had some good people in my corner; one of the best being Daddy-O of Stetsasonic who was a Motown exec at the time of our meeting, who got on board as my manager. To this day he is the only manager I ever had and he was deeply in my corner. But some of the other help I enlisted really wasn’t helping at all. I took in so much advice from so many different people that it all started to sound like the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons. I wish I had $20 for all the people that told me I didn’t fit into a particular box that black folks are supposed to be in to get ahead in this game. Well neither did the rest of my wild and wonderful friends, but here we are, and there I was. Outside, and not sold on what life would be like on the inside of the industry. So I stayed on the outs and rolled with the waves of it all. Daddy-O rolled with me and it was a ride. Thank you sir.

Daddy-O! One of my first believers.

Between 2003 and 2007 I attempted to record another album. In fact I think I attempted twice. What seems like a simple process in the eyes of those on the outside looking in is anything but. Most people on the outside watch a little too much Behind the Music or those types of shows to really understand what it takes to make an album on your own. Anyway, in 2007 I played a Brooklyn Pride event at the now sadly defunct club, Southpaw. As luck or really just fate or goodwill would have it, the club made amazing quality multi-track recordings of shows for artists for $50! Multi-track people! That was amazing. Southpaw had some of the best sound in the city. I don’t think I ever saw a bad show there. Well, we played that show and now I had this multi-track so I said, hey, I’m going to put out a live album. I felt like my studio attempts were just not happening for financial and other reasons.

So I have this recording and I say to myself, I’ll take it to one of my good friends, have him mix it and then I’ll put it out. Boom! Well once again, the slow hand of the indie music biz struck again. I will take the blame for my hand in some of the slow process. I really love my people. I know how talented so many of them are. So when the slow down started to happen with my friend I just decided to keep giving him time to pull himself together, when what I should have really done was just pull the project from him and find someone else. Sometimes, many times really, my big heart gets in the way. My want for everyone to win can be a drag sometimes. It’s taken me a long time to realize that everyone is not going to win the way I think they will. Meaning, everyone has a life’s journey and purpose. Maybe their path is not part of yours the way you think it will or should be. It doesn’t mean they won’t win at their game of life, but it might mean they are not part of your path the way you think they should be. That can be challenging to reconcile. It took me probably more time than it should have to wrangle that project back from my friend and take it to Atlanta for another friend and producer Darren Benjamin aka Daz-I-Kue to get that thing off the ground. Daz is from the UK and I had been a fan of his before becoming a friends. I have to honestly say I think I just injected myself into his life because I admired him so much. I wouldn’t see The Quick & Dirty EP completed until 2009, but with it came two amazing remixes of “blaK Girls” produced by Daz and Lionel Sanchez, Jr. and an remix of “Dance (Flying Home)” from my first album by my #1 supporter and producer/DJ extraordinaire, Ian Friday.

My Second Baby


Ian Friday

So now I’ve got this live album. I wasn’t even going to do an album release for it, but I was convinced otherwise so we did it up big. It was an amazing night with a ton of spectacle. I will say this about myself. I do know how to put on event on a tight budget and make it look like there was a lot of loot involved. I know I’m not alone in this. We have to be crafty in this town to pull things off.

I have been riding The Quick & Dirty EP since 2009 and once again I never thought it would take this long to start this process again. Since The Quick & Dirty came out I released it again as The Quick & Dirty EP: More Dirt and V. Jeffery Smith and I added a new song to the project and and Lionel added a remix of my song “Give it to Me” for the new pressing. I also released a lyric video for “Punanny Politixxx” produced by another musical genius in my life, Jeff Jeudy, that I wrote during the Obama re-election campaign. Also as many of you know one of my biggest stopgaps came when I was poised to produce my album with Toshi Reagon. I did an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the project and then my voice went all haywire. I will not recap all that again. You can go back and read the blog [In Gratitude... : June 25, 2012] if you like.

Toshi Reagon. Thank you!
When the smoke started to clear I knew that some things had to change. I knew that I had to change the kind of singer that I have been, dare I say all my life. I knew that I never wanted to lose my voice like that again. I knew I needed to work on my mind and my body so I did just that. I knew that you were waiting on an album from me, but I had to be OK with letting you wait a little longer. Thank you for your patience. Thank you so much for standing by me during this growth process. I have learned so much about myself and about how people show up, or not.

I am not just a member of my own band, I am also a member of an amazing band called Burnt Sugar. I’ve had the pleasure to travel the world with them and now they are my family. I’ve been in large choirs, but this is the biggest band I’ve ever been in. Once you are part of Burnt Sugar you are always part of Burnt Sugar. You can expect a call at any time. It’s just like that.

I have been in musical circles with Vernon Reid for a long time, but it wasn’t until 2011 that we really started to get to know each other. Mikel, one of my Burnt Sugar fam, asked him to sit in on the Burnt Sugar/David Bowie show at Lincoln Center. I think he was just supposed to play on one song, but then he fell in love with the project and with band and just like that Vernon was a part of Burnt Sugar. After that, Vernon set about to record the band doing those Bowie tunes from the show. Yes there is a recording out there, but I’ll only say this about it. We recorded this project just as I returned from headlining Michfest in 2011. It was the last thing I recorded before having to shut everything down to deal with my voice. What a ride.

In 2012 Vernon conducted Burnt Sugar doing the music of Steely Dan, which is an amazing show. We did it originally at Lincoln Center and then at various venues in NYC. Then we got the call that we were taking it to Paris! Yeah, we were going back to Paris. So in the winter of 2013 we went back and I was sick as a dog. You can read my Paris blog [Next Stop Paris! :February 18, 2013] for those details, but I will recap one thing that I didn’t put in my blog. When we got off stage that night and were walking back to the dressing rooms, Vernon rolled up next to me and said, quite matter of fact, “You’re next.” Me a bit confused asked, “Next for what?” He said, “Next to conduct this band.” Now that totally came out of the blue. I wasn’t expecting that at all. I didn’t think I had done anything to warrant that statement. I mean honestly I was just glad to make it through that show because I had been so sick. It would take me some time to realize that what he was really saying was, “I see you.”

Burnt Sugar in Paris!

As 2013 forged ahead I knew that I needed to start raising money for my project again even though I had no idea who was going to produce it. So that’s when I did the blaKbüshe Wellness Days and the silent auction. I just took that money and squirreled it away for whenever the time was right to pull it out. As I thought about producers a few people came to mind and I had a few conversations with different people, but nothing would stick until the day I decided to ask Vernon.

I had prepared a whole speech for him about why he should produce me. I was convinced that I would have to convince him. Well I was totally wrong. I asked him, he said yes and then started to tell ME why he wanted to do it. OK, now that was totally unexpected. To say I was elated was an understatement.

Now we are at the beginning of this long story. What I mean is that on Wednesday, September 3rd 2014 we are going into the studio to start recording the album. Yes, after I don’t know how long, it is about to begin. I have been saying that I feel a bit like D’Angelo, minus the drama, because it’s been over 10 years since my first studio album. I know things take the time they take, but I’m going to do my level best not to have this take 10 years again.

I’m so excited about this. I’m also feeling very emotional. Those folks who are my good friends know you might get a random, “I love you” text or call from me at any time. Yes I’m that person. Sometimes my emotions just take over and I have to tell people how they have impacted my life or that I’m just feeling them in that moment. I can’t believe that tomorrow, Wednesday, Sept. 3rd, 2014, I am starting this process again. I never got off the path, but this studio thing is such a thing. LOL

I still have fantasies of taking my band upstate NY to some fabulous barn and being there for a week or two with nothing else to think about, but making music and laughing together and clinking some glasses and having a good time. I know some people still make records like that, but I haven’t had that luxury yet. So until then, we will do the best we can and make the most of the time we have together in that bubble that is the recording studio.

In this moment I am remembering the times with my first producer and friend John Meredith. I am remembering the innocence of those moments we had together making my first album. He believed in me and all he wanted to do was make an album. Recording music was/is his passion. I knew nothing about making a record. I put all my trust in him, but it was a challenge. I am a live show kind of girl. Meaning I feed off the audience to do what I do and at that time I had only been in a vocal booth maybe once in my life. The road to that first album was quite the journey. Bless John for walking with me through my insecurities at that time. I know this time will be so different. I’ve had more experience, etc. But I can’t forget where I’ve come from. I can’t forget all those living and some who have passed who believed in me. Lighters up for Kim and Zook...

Here we are people. We are walking thought the door once again. I don’t know what’s on the other side of this one, but I’m ready for whatever this next phase has in store. So, before you start asking a lot of questions about when it’s dropping, slow down and know that it’s coming. The baby arrives in its own time. We will not be inducing labor. When we have named the baby I’ll let you know. In fact, when there is anything to tell you, I’ll let you know. In the mean time know this. The fetus is growing. Ashe!

Me and Vernon at the Crossroads...