http://www.rockwired.com/tomekawilliams.JPGFEBRUARY 16, 2010
Washington-based soul rock songstress TOMEKA WILLIAMS delivers the sort of debut album that sets her apart from the rest of those divas that have followed the BEYONCE business model to a tee.  Her SIR MIX-A-LOT produced debut CD  ‘THE BLACK HOOD’ eschews the frills and the benign pop psychological heartache that has come to typify much of the current pop set and embraces a rock sensibility that is all piss, vinegar and passion. The stand out track ‘HO’ (I’m hoping this is going to be the first single) ain’t sexual politics as usual. Armed with an irresistible groove and a guitar riff similar to BLACK SABBATH’s ‘IRON MAN’, WILLIAMS exposes the disparity in a relationship that isn’t going anywhere and proudly proclaims ‘I can’t have game if I don’t play!’ ‘WHAT SHE GAVE’ tells the story of a young woman’s loss innocence and trying to carry on despite having grown disillusioned by love. ‘HEROES’ is more than a mere song “for the troops”. On the plaintive ballad, she portrays the troops as the complex men and women that they are and not the G.I. JOE action figures that you may hear about in KID ROCK and TOBY KEITH songs.  In the gospel charged chorus, she pleads the current president to bring these heroes home.

ROCKWIRED spoke with TOMEKA WILLIAMS over the phone. Here is how it went.

BLACK HOOD is an interesting title for this album.
BLACK HOOD is basically one of the songs off of the album and to be honest, I couldn’t think of anything else to title this album. It was one of those songs that took a lot of time to work on and I felt like it would be interesting to have an album called BLACK HOOD. I figured that a lot of people would look at the title and go ‘what is that?’ and would get people to listen to it.

Now that the album is out there for people to hear and all of the work that has gone into it is behind you, how do you feel about the finished work?
I love the finished work. I’m really proud of the work that we did on this album. I think it’s a solid album and that it has many different sides to my personality. It’s like my baby so it’s kind of hard to let it go out into the world, but I was glad that I was able to do it and to release it. Hopefully it will get people out there talking and having some conversation stemming from this album.

You and SIR MIX-A-LOT made a beautiful baby. Now I think I’ve got a title for the article now.
Yeah! What a beautiful baby! That’s a good one. You’re gonna get a rumor started that I’m having SIR MIX-A-LOT’s baby! Oh great!

I think you’re the second artist that I’ve interviewed that was produced by SIR MIX-A-LOT. OUTTASITE was the first.
Oh yeah, he’s awesome – awesome guy.

Talk about working with MIX-A-LOT.
MIX is a like a big brother to me. I love him dearly. We met through a mutual friend a couple of years ago.  He heard my demo and I actually didn’t hear from him again for a couple of weeks and then he called me up. We actually didn’t talk about music. We talked about what I wanted in life and what I was doing and then we started to talk about music. He was very, very patient with me. He was actually the very first person that I ever went into the studio with and worked on my own songs. He groomed me into becoming a better artist and it was just awesome to see him totally different from what I expected. You hear the name SIR MIX-A-LOT and you think of ‘BABY GOT BACK’. That is the first thing you think about. You’re not thinking that he’s this really cool, intellectual guy. He doesn’t talk about butts all day. It’s been great. We’ve got our moments where I just want to choke him and vice versa but that is what you do when you care about somebody.

What drew you to music in the first place?
I’ve been singing since I was about seven. Both of my parents were very influential in my career as far as music. My dad played music all throughout the house and my mother was in the church choir. My grandmother sang and my great grandmother sang so it was just always around me. For me, music tells a story. I can relate to it more than anything else. Some people can relate to art and drawings and things like that. I relate to songs and how the melody comes to play and the vocals. Every emotion that I could be feeling, I could play a song and reflect on that. I can gather something form that. I could either feel as if the artist is talking to me or have a sense that I feel the same way. Music can do so many things and it’s so universal. It’s so easy for me to fall in love with.

What sort music did you listen to growing up? What informed the kind of music that you’re doing now?
My parents were always very open when it came to music. For me, R&B and gospel were a big part of my life and when my family moved up here to the Northwest, it was a lot of alternative music. There was a lot of west coast rap here and then through my parents, I listened to a lot of blues and R&B and old soul. All of those sounds became infused for me. I love live instruments. I love going to a show and seeing someone sing live – no lip-synching – and instruments playing. As far as people that I’ve listened to, it was a combination of everybody from JANIS JOPLIN to PINK to WHITNEY HOUSTON – who is my idol – to MAHALIA JACKSON. I could name so many people that have been influential in how I view music and how I present myself as a performer.

I ask that question because in listening to BLACK HOOD, I notice that the album has a strong rock sensibility that – to be hones with you – you don’t hear from a lot of black performers.
I agree. I think that we as a society – even black society – are so used to black music presented as R&B but R&B is rhythm and blues and a lot of that comes form rock. We have a lot of that in us. We’ve got LITTLE RICHARD. He rocks! That there is rock! You’ve got JAMES BROWN. You’ve got so much out there. I don’t look at rock as being one category. There are so many aspects of it. JIMI HENDRIX is rock n roll and he is a big deal up here. The way he could play a guitar was amazing. For me, rock music feels good and it carries a lot of emotion in it. You’ve got these huge guitars coming in and it makes your heart go ‘wooooooo!’ I wanted that. I wanted to be different. The norm is to see a pretty black girl out there singing ‘Oh baby I love you! Come home I miss you!’ and I’ve got my own thing. I really wanted to talk about what was going on in my life and in the life of my friends. Rock made it happen.

At what point did songwriting figure into your life?
With MIX. I used to try to write. My cousin and I would try to write songs when I was young and believe me, if you could read some of the things that I wrote, you would just die. It was so corny. It was pretty awful. I thought I could get a deal by singing these songs and they were just horrible. When I met MIX, we did a lot of talking. All of the songs came from conversation and experiences.  One day I was coming into the studio to record and he was like ‘You know, let’s just sit here and write.’ We actually wrote the songs on this album together. That was how I really started writing and I loved seeing how he would go about writing a song. It was a great experience.

What songs stand out for you the most and why?
I love the entire album, but ‘HO’ stands out for me the most.

Yes! I think you have a hit with that one.
I really love that song. I think that it’s a really fun song and it’s catchy. Personally, I love ‘WAY BACK HOME’. It’s a tribute to my roots. It’s dedicated to my grandfather. I love that song. It reminds me of home in so many respects. I love the title track ‘BLACK HOOD’. It’s an in your face type of song and I like in your face type of songs. I like songs that make you think. There are so many songs on this album like ‘GIRLFRIEND’. The song that I always had issues with was ‘THINK ABOUT ME’, which is the last song on the album. I love that song, but I was so afraid of how it would come off. Now that it’s actually on the album and now that I’ve listened to it a couple more times, I think that it’s a really good song and definitely one of my standout songs as well.

Are there any live shows at the moment?
We’re gearing up for some live shows now. I’ve just put together this awesome band and we actually did a few rehearsals this past week and we’re going back into rehearsal made this weekend and we’re looking to do more shows next month and the month after. Hopefully people will get the album and start requesting to see me. I definitely have a really good show. I think it will be great for people to start going back to seeing live shows and hearing great music. It’s all about crowd participation with me.

Have you gotten any feedback with regard to the sound that you’re putting out now? Has it been along the lines of ‘what is this’?
Most of the feedback that I’ve gotten is mostly good feedback. A lot of people are saying that it’s very refreshing and that it’s different than what the norm is right now. I know that tin this business that not everyone is going to like what you do but I make music for the people who will like it. I personally think of this as soul rock. My music is soul rock because I’m not a hardcore rock person. That’s not who I am but I do appreciate good music of all facets. For this album, we wanted live instruments. Despite what many people think, MIX is a rock guy. I was so shocked. You would think that because he is a rapper and did ‘BABY GOT BACK’ that he wouldn’t be into things like KORN and SLIPKNOT. He’s actually turned me on to more rock music than I was into before I started working with him.

I’m gonna have to interview him one day just so I can get a sense of this myself.

Every time I think of his name, I think of two large, brown, butt cheeks squished together. You’re not the first to tell me that MIX is a rock guy, so I’d love to talk with him one day.
He’s a great guy and he’s very open. As a society I think we need to get to the point where music is music. I love country. I love all kinds of music. If it’s good music and it touches my soul then I like it and I don’t care what color the person is. If we could get that going, then there would be so much damage out here. There are a lot of talented people out here. When PINK came out, she was R&B but that wasn’t her. Then she came out a second time and did it here way. I love music. She’s true to herself and is still able to get that back audience or that R&B audience. The music she is putting out is good music. For me that is the biggest thing – putting out good music.

In the opening of ‘HO’, is that you and MIX on the phone?
That is!

Improvised or scripted?
Improvised! Definitely improvised! He is not a scripted person, believe me.

Playing darts? That was too funny!!
That’s why I was like ‘Darts? Are you kidding me?’ That’s how we are. When we get together, we talk and that is always the best way for us to do things. We knew that the song was great but we needed a way to bring it in. We had to gear people up for it. He was recording and I didn’t even know that he was recording. He is not a scripted person at all and that is what I love about him. He has taught me so much by being on the road with him and learning to be able to be on the fly and to be able to relate to your audience. Prior to meeting MIX, I used to sing at talent shows and the church choir and everything there is so confined and perfect. You had to look like this, sing like this and act like this. With MIX, it’s an audience that stands up and screams and moves. They don’t just sit there and watch you. It’s totally different. I got to put a little bit of myself in there and what I know from my past. It’s been a wonderful ride so far and I can’t wait to get out there and do some shows and see what I can do.

What would you like someone to come away with after they’ve heard this album?
I would like people to come away realizing that there are many side to a person and that it’s okay to talk about these things. I’m hoping that these songs bring about conversation. Maybe someone could listen tot a sing like ‘HO’ and know that they’ve been in that situation or maybe they’ll listen to a song like ‘WHAT SHE GAVE’ and a young woman can come to the realization that they don’t want to be in that position. I think the songs represent every personality that I have and everything about me and hopefully it will touch someone else.

BRIAN LUSH holds a BA in Creative Writing from  the UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO. He established ROCKWIRED on New Years of 2004 and hasn’t looked back since. From January 2005 to March 2009, LUSH was the host of the weekly internet radio show ROCKWIRED LIVE. He produced the program for the AMERICAN RADIO NETWORK. As the editor-in-chief for ROCKWiRED MAGAZiNE, LUSH is hands-on when it comes to interviewing and building a lasting rapport with the artists that come ROCKWiRED’s way. As a youngster, BRIAN LUSH had no idea what kind of seed was being planted by reading magazines such as HIT PARADE, HIGH TIMES, SPIN, REQUEST (remember that one?) and even ROLLING STONE (but to a significantly lesser degree). “Those were the days before the internet and being a rock journalist looked like the coolest job imaginable.” says LUSH “But reading these magazines had me imagining that one day I’d be the artist giving all of the clever answers to some poor guy with a tape recorder. Well, life has a way of surprising you. Now, I’m the poor guy with the tape recorder and asking all of the questions.”