Two Grammy nominations and California sunshine, no wonder R&B singer Ledisi is in high spirits. The New Orleans songwriter has had her share of ups and downs. From sleeping on a floor in New York City to finding the ultimate resource that would and continues to get her through every level of success she currently receives, her faith. With faith as her foundation and the realization that if she continues to be herself without compromising her morals, she knows everything is in its right place.
Q: How did you feel when you received the news of your two Grammy nominations?
Flabbergasted, for lack of a better word (laughs). Excited, ecstatic, I couldn’t believe it. It was mind blowing and still is because I feel like I’m finally acknowledged for all the work I did, have done and continue to do.
Q: Did you actually attend the Award Show?
Yes, it was fun and I learned a lot about myself and about people in the industry. I’m just happy to be in my own skin and I wasn’t being something I wasn’t so that was great.
Q: Interesting, so what have you learned about yourself, besides being yourself and the industry through this whole process?
Well I learned that I have great endurance, which I didn’t think I had. To endure a lot of people, not being sure about something different. I also learned not everybody understands your dream and you just have to keep pursuing it no matter what. I almost quit, and instead of quitting I was kicked back into it (laughs) and kept on going. I learned to understand faith, having loved ones around me, and keeping people who really care about me close to me. That’s pretty much what I learned, and to really know your business, and whatever craft your is to study it so you don’t make any mistakes. I’m going to make mistakes but not great mistakes.
Q: You’re from New Orleans correct?
I’m from New Orleans but I was raised in Oakland, CA and I was back and forth between those two places, I was pretty much raised in East Oakland.
Q: What was that experience like for you being raised in that part of Oakland?
It was great for me; I don’t think I could live there now (laughs). It was a great experience, we would run around with our radios and dance in the street, go to school, hang out with my friends, it was a fun time. Everyone I know from that area had a big influence on me listening to music. We used to sit around and listen to records, CDs, tapes whatever we had and check out everyone from Sly Stone, Tony! Toni! TonÃ©!, and that was our get up.
Q: Besides Sly Stone and the Tony’s what were some of those records that bring back those childhood memories?
Anything Earth, Wind & Fire and anything Tower of Power, Miles (Davis), Chaka Khan anything that had all those sounds coming out of the radio. Anything my parents played I pretty much listened to.
Q: What armor have you prepared yourself with since the release of Lost & Found to help you move forward?
Well, there’s a little bit of pressure about the next record because I didn’t expect all this, which I should’ve expected but I didn’t. I was blessed to even finish my record. So there’s a little bit of pressure to start the next one and I have to calm down. Right now I haven’t been able to calm down because everything has been so big, and everything has been going so fast, be careful what you wish for. So I think the armor that I’ve gained is to continue to do what I’ve been doing and that’s to be myself and not change or compromise that. So my next recordings might sound like however I feel that day and to go with it and don’t be afraid of it, because something about being myself always works. If I go against that it never ever works out and that’s why I wanted to quit because I was trying to fit in.
Q: Who or what kicked you back into the music?
My mom was a big influence and all my producers. They just said get your butt back in the studio. My mom wasn’t having it; you know how parents are, once they believe in it they kick you back in automatically. So a big influence was my mother, I’m an extension of my parent’s dream, so I’m finishing off what they started. They’re looking at me to complete it and that’s what I’m doing.
Q: People always talk about the sophomore jinx, do you think people got the full picture of Ledisi is or is they’re more for you to explain?
I think every album that I do is completely about me, and all the experiences I had growing up and I had to get all of that anger out. That’s why I sing louder, rougher and over done. The latest record I’m a lot more calm, grown and I don’t have to prove anything. The next record I don’t know what I’ll be, but I’ll be myself. When people see me live that’s when they’re like ‘wow.’ People always say I’m so real! I just want to do what I would want to pay for to see. People spend good money on concerts so why not give them that and then some.
Q: Is that the best part about your career, the performance?
If I never record another thing I want to be able to perform. I hope I always get to perform, I want to go out like Ella (Fitzgerald), there’s nothing let performing live and getting that instant gratification from the audience who is a big part of the equation. Some artists are so into themselves that they forget about their audience. I’ve done gigs for three people and no money, but those three people turned into 5,000, so I’m good. Level of success, I think people should enjoy every part of it whether it be two people or more.
/>Q: You appear to be in a very good space, for the women of our generation and the next, what advice do you have for them when they are constantly bombarded with images that tell them how to do everything all the way down to how they should dress?
Be careful what you compromise, because there’s nothing more special than being you. There’s no one else like you, there will never be anyone else like you, so the best thing is to constantly work on you. We all start out mimicking other people and other singers to find out who we are, but when you’re compared to so many you’ll get tired after a while. So to stand out, you’re going to have to buckle down and find your faith and figure out who you are no matter what. So my advice is to start early (laughs). Listen to some elders and not to all the ‘yes folk’ that tell you, you’re cute just so they can get in with you. You have to have that strong root; I remember when I was begging people to love me, now I hope that they do love me but if they don’t it’s not going to kill me.
Q: When did that turning point happen for you, and your faith really kick in?
(Laughs) Sleeping on the floor in New York City, leaving Oakland and leaving everything I was comfortable with. They say when you’re rock bottom that’s when you start getting it together (laughs) and what I’m saying is, don’t wait until you get to that point start early. I’ve always had it, I just didn’t pay attention; we’re hard headed. All you need is right in front of you, we just forget that it’s there because we’re concerned with what other people have and that’s what I missed out on, not enjoying my moments right then and there.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration to write?
It depends, someone else can start a sentence, I can tell you when I wrote “Been Here The Interlude” I was at a Thai food place eating tofu rice talking with my mom and she was like, “ . . . because you’ve been here for a long time.” And I was like ooh that’s a song! In Lost & Found I diddled with that song for three years on the piano and one of my producers, Rex, heard me playing it and asked me to play and after he heard it, he was like we have to record that now! That’s the most depressing beautiful song I’ve ever created in my life.
Q: What’s next for Ledisi?
[To] do more music, inspire others and do more for my community. Do more for our children because they need us, and that’s what I was going to do if I wasn’t doing this. Also help other like me, because there’s a whole bunch of people out there like me that are waiting to be found. Also having a happy personal life because I finally have that and I want to hold on to that and be able to keep something for me.
[Photo Credit: Vincent Soyez]