One half of the former singing group Zhane, Jean Baylor has returned with her solo debut album, Testimony: my life story. Combining the perfect blend of soul-soothing R&B and heartfelt lyrics, Jean delivers music that translates into the every day dealings of real life. And in turn, shows us that with incredible faith, anything can be achieved. Clutch caught up with Jean to talk about her life, love, and what we can expect from her new album.
Q: Zhane represented so many things to us: beautiful, black, natural, fashion forward, independent women with the gift of song. Your fan base was and continues to be strong. Why did you decide to separate from the group?
It was definitely my decision to walk away from the group. After two albums and seven years, my heart was no longer in it and I never wanted to approach music that way. We were in the middle of the third album for about a year and a half and it wasn’t coming together creatively. As a person, singer and songwriter, I wanted to be able to explore music as an individual again.
Q: How has your transition in these last few years influenced your music and the person you’ve evolved in to?
In the past seven years, I’ve been away from the music industry just living life normally. During that time, I’ve had some life changing experiences that are all a part of this album. I met the love of my life, my husband and also recommitted my life to the Lord. I’ve grown tremendously as a person, singer, songwriter and producer. It’s great to be able to tell a story that is truly a part of your life.
Q: You’ve mentioned that for a period of time, you put others first in your life, and finally you put God first. What was the catalyst that allowed you to adjust your focus?
After living life “my way” for a number of years and making a lot of mistakes, I wanted to do it God’s way. I came to a place where I just wanted a real connection with Him. It’s one thing to grow up in church with your father as the pastor, but it’s altogether a different thing to have your own relationship with God and learn how to hear His voice for yourself.
Q: I truly appreciate artists who write their own music. There is a quality to their songs, an intimate perspective that is so rare in black music today. As a songwriter, how do you hope your words/experiences will affect listeners?
I agree wholeheartedly that that aspect of music in missing in black music today. As a songwriter, I tend to write in a very conversational way, as if I’m talking directly to the listener. I think it’s important to understand what you’re trying to convey to the listener. In my music, I hope the words I write really mean something to people. I hope that my album enhances their everyday living experiences and inspires them to live life!
Q: Who are some of your musical influences? And what artists are you currently listening to?
I have so many musical influences over the years that it’s hard to keep up. I’ve learned from Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, D’Angelo, CeCe Winans, Carmen McCrae, Shirley Horn and hundreds of others. And, of course my ex-partner-in-crime, Renee Neufville. I’ve taken from so many as well, little bits and pieces here and there: Lionel Richie, Sarah McGlaughlin, Kirk Franklin, and many others. Right now, I’m not listening to a lot of music, but one of my ultimate favorites is Sara Groves. She is an amazing songwriter and I’m learning a lot from her. I really dig John Mayer, Anthony Hamilton, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Tye Tribbett & GA, Alanis Morisette and of course my husband’s all-time favorite group, gospel legends, Commissioned.
Q: How has your husband, Marcus Baylor, influenced you throughout this journey?
Being around Marcus teaches me to listen and think more as a producer, not just as a singer. He has a way of hearing every little instrument, but also hearing the song as a whole, the overall sound. He also pushes me to work harder and grow in areas where I’m not that comfortable, but have the ability to do. Of course, that can be frustrating at times, but it helps me to develop into a more well-rounded and self-sufficient artist.
Q: What have been some of the highlights with working on your first solo album?
I would say that the most exciting and rewarding part is the creative control that I had on this album. When you can write and sing what you want, it’s not a manufactured sound, but a musical journey that you go on as well as the listeners. Producing the entire album with my husband has been wonderful. He has a great musical mind and he gets me, so we really work well together as a production team. Having a vision, creating it from scratch, seeing it all come together and of course owning it is an amazing process!
Q: This project is being done on you and your husband’s label, Be A Light Records. How difficult has it been to market, promote and distribute, while still being an artist and maintain your creative space?
That is definitely a challenge because there is so much work that goes into owning your own product and starting a business as a married couple. But, we are learning to organize our time and prioritize our tasks. And at the end of the day, if something doesn’t get done today, it’ll get done tomorrow. When I feel an overload of business responsibilities, sometimes, I’ll take a quick break and just go to the piano to remind myself of why I do what I do.
Q: When can we expect the release of your album, Testimony: my life story?
We are looking to release the album late spring, 2008. However, if anyone wants an advance copy, they can purchase a digital download only at www.dajams.com.
Q: Do you have any plans to tour?
Absolutely! I love to perform live and we are putting together some dates now in select cities.
Q: We are absolutely thrilled to have you back on the music scene, Jean! Are there any last words for your fans?
I’d love to tell everybody thank you so much for listening and supporting me in years past and I really look forward to you having the opportunity to get to know me and my music in a brand new way.