|ROCKWIRED INTERVIEWS FEMI
NEO-SOULSTRESSOakland-based singer-songwriter FEMI has spent the past five years refining her sound before enthusiastic live audiences in the Bay Area. With all of the momentum that she has been building up slowly and surely, you'd think think that her debut E.P. 'SWEET WATER SOUL' (TALKING HOUSE RECORDS) would've been released years ago. This was not the case. With 'SWEET...', the honey-voiced songstress has finally committed her lovely compositions to an official release. Produced by P.C. MUNOZ, this debut E.P. is indeed a sweet escape, showcasing stand out tracks such as 'CRUSH', the contemplative 'PAGES', and the jazz funk fusion of 'I WANT YOU'. While the brevity of it may leave a listener wanting more, you can be assured that neo-soul has found another tremendous talent in the vein of INDIA.ARIE or DES'REE.
FEMI TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT HER DEBUT CD 'SWEET WATER SOUL'
WORKING WITH P.C. MUNOZ
AND MOVING ON TO THE NEXT THING
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
ROCKWIRED spoke with FEMI over the phone. Here is how it went.
SWEET WATER is a great CD.
Why thank you BRIAN! It is my first official release
Official? Were there other releases?
I've been working with people for years, I just never released anything. This is my first official release. It's just me. No MC's or other artists. It's just me doing my thing and taking the time to sit down and do my own thing as a writer and producer and composer. It took me seven months to write everything and put it all together and I'm really proud of it. It's like 'Okay! I can do this! I don't need to collaborate with that many people.I guess when you're young, you just want to be around other musicians and put it all together, but for this first release I just wanted to make sure that I encompassed everything that was truly me as a musician and a person.
Why an E.P.?
Because of the situation with TALKING HOUSE RECORDS. When I signed with them a year ago, I had the opportunity to do a full album because I had been performing in the Bay Area for so many years,but something happened where the album was going to be delayed for a year. Another year of waiting would've been too long for my fans - the people that have been supporting me over the years. I wanted to be sure that I gave them something because they are the reason why I'm a musician and why I perform. It was really for them. I didn't want to wait any longer so I opted to do a shorter record. Now I can take the time to do a full length record the way that I really want to do it. The E.P. was a lot easier because it was me. I did a lot of the pre-production myself and then I got some musicians to help hash it out. The whole process took me about several months.
Talk a little about the music scene that you are surrounded by.
The music scene in the Bay Area is very diverse. We have a lot of jazz musicians, a lot of indie rock musicians and a lot of soul and a mixture of hip hop and avant-garde. The community is kind of small but it's big. It's kind of weird because there is no industry here so the people who are doing the music are industry. So if I'm doing something, people know about it and other musicians know about it, so it's a real musical community as opposed to just being a bunch of fans. All of my friends and everyone I know are musicians or some form of artist. It's kind of crazy! I would like for there to be more of an industry here but L.A. is right down the street.
Oh it's only a few hours away.
Yeah, it's a six hour drive. If you drive like crazy, you can make it in four. I'm sure a lot of people think that if the industry is down there, why bring it up here, but the thing about it is that there is so much undiscovered talent like myself and I'm building my name. Many of my contemporaries travel down to L.A. to do shows there and that's kind of the natural progression here. You put out an album, you rally up your fan base and from there you branch out and settle into L.A. I've performed in L.A. but at the time I didn't have a record so it was like 'Oh, you're just an artist. What are you doing here? What is your style? What do you do?'
What has been the biggest surprise in making this album for you?
The biggest surprise has been the overwhelming response from people that I don't know. It's all over the internet. You can download the CD from various sites like RHAPSODY and I-TUNES and the response from people all over the world is surprising. I've gotten a lot of responses from Germany, Spain, The U.K., Maryland, New York, and Florida. I feel like I'm on the right track here and I'm not just a local artist. When you're able to reach out to other people and they can hear your music and they don't know anything about you other, I think that's kind of amazing and it's inspiring and now I'm excited to do the next record.
Are you from the Bay Area originally?
Yes. I'm from Oakland California.
How did music begin for you?
It began for me when I was in elementary school. It was the first time I was ever on stage and around the arts. My mom was a dancer and she went to Julliard and my Dad was a musician. Actually he was more of a singer and musical appreciator, being that my Dad is Puerto Rican, so there was always music around my life. In elementary school, I was involved in a lot of school productions and I really enjoyed it. I must have been really good at it because Ive been doing it ever since. I've always been in some kind of dance class, some kind acting class, or band or choir. I've always had my hand in the performing arts from an early age. Even when I was a little kid, my Dad said that I would take a broomstick and put a cup on it and sing - like it was a microphone. I was always putting on my own concerts in my room and I would turn on the radio. Depending on the song, I would be a dancer, a background singer, or the lead singer and those were my formative years.
What artists spoke to you?
First and foremost was MINNIE RIPPERTON. She was one of my idols as a kid. She was just amazing and the music that her and her husband RICHARD RUDOLPH made was so universal, and because of my hippie-ness and living in California, their sound made so much sense to me. The music was so funky and the lyrical delivery really spoke to me as a kid. Then there were the usual suspects, STEVIE WONDER and MARVIN GAYE, but then there would be other stuff as I got older that made an impression on me like PARLIAMENT and BETTY DAVIS. I'm really into funk music. For my next project, I'm leaning more towards blending this neo-soul sound with the funk. Right now, I'm trying to conjure up this little hybrid sound for my next release.
When did you get the inclination to want to make your own music?
I always had a piano and I always wrote poetry as a kid but I never shared it with anyone because I didn't think I sounded like WHITNEY HOUSTON, so I figured that if I didn't sound like that, then I wasn't going to be a recording artist. It was something that I did for my own personal pleasure and on my own time. My Dad didn't let me play outside that often because we lived in kind of a rough neighborhood, but I remember the first time that I remember taking a song I wrote and performing it in front of people. I was in my early twenties. I was scared to death. It was an open mic and my friends were like 'you should do it!' so I got up there and was like 'Hi, I wrote this song. It goes like this...' Once I loosened up and started getting into it, everyone else started getting into it and then they invited me back and I became a regular. It kind of spiraled from there.
How do you go about writing songs, if it can be explained?
There are several different ways. Usually I start with the music. I start with a rhythm track - drums and bass - and then from there if I hear the words , then an idea will pop into my head and then I start writing the lyrics down. If it happens too fast then I have to record myself and kind of mumble words and take the melody down. Either I'll hear lyrics and then create music or I'll start with the music and then hear the lyrics.
For this album, who did you work with in terms of production?
A wonderful person by the name of P.C. MUNOZ. He saw me and my band at a show. Ironically, the show was called SWEET WATER SOUL. When we had finished performing, PC came up to me and introduced himself and said he really liked what I was doing. He said he couldn't wait for my record to come out and I started laughing and said 'Yeah, me too!' I wasn't working on a record. I had songs written and I had this catalog of stuff that I had written over the years but I didn't have anything officially recorded. He told me 'you should have a record!' and I told him that I couldn't afford it and that I was working two jobs. Studio time is expensive and I hadn't met anyone that could help me. Then PC said to me 'I think I might have something for you.' A week later, we met up with each other and he talked to me about working with TALKING HOUSE RECORDS which is where he works as a producer and as an artist. He asked me to come to the studio and work on this song for another project, which was remake of 'I BELIEVE' by THE PIXIES. He brought me in and showed me around the facility. I got into the studio and finished the session in fifty minutes from beginning to end. PC was like 'God! You're fast!' I'm always prepared before I go into the studio so that when I get in there, I'm knocking it out. Not long after that recording session I was offered a record deal with TALKING HOUSE. The opportunity was there and I took it.
What songs from this E.P. stick out for you and why?
The first one would be 'CRUSH' because I wrote that song three years ago. I had this thing for this guy and I really couldn't tell him. I wasat my house one day and it was raining like crazy. I was thinking about him and I started writing this song and started making the music for it. It was like a cool way for me to share with this person how I felt without seeming uncool. I remember e-mailing him after I had put he song on my MYSPACE page and told him that he was the inspiration for it. He was dumbfounded. I don't think anyone had ever done that for him before. The song pretty much said everything. The next song that absolutely love would have to be 'PAGES' because it is so personal to me. It is the first time that I ever played guitar ona record. the song is about writing to be free and not feeling alone because I have a pen and a pad and my guitar. That song is is super personal for me. 'I WANT YOU' is another favorite. I always wanted to be a jazz singer and this was my attempt at making a straight ahead jazz tune but it ended up sounding really funky in the end. I write that song mre than five seven years ago and here is how it manifested.
What are your plans for the next album?
I would like to continue taking some of the elements of SWEET WATER SOUL and incorporating it with what my stage show is because the stage show is edgier and grittier. I want to combine the two in record form. In making SWEET WATER SOUL, I was so introspective that it became a mellow project according to my fanbase. People who see me live know that I rock out and I've got energy, but when they heard the CD they were like 'This is different!' It shocked them a little bit. So the next time around I'm making an effort to combine the introspection with the edginess.
What would you like someone to come away with after they've heard SWEET WATER SOUL?
I want them to come away feeling at ease and peaceful after listening to the record. I want them to feel as if they were on a mellow, soothing, soulful journey. The concept of water is very strong throughout the record. I wanted the album to be fluid like water because that was what I was feeling at the time that I was making the album. Sometimes when I hear a river or waterfall, it just makes me relax. I sound like such a hippy and I'm not, but I am. So if someone can come away feeling calm, I think that would be great.