Last month we sat down with the smart and funny Ananda Lewis to pick her brain about any and everything under the sun. Here is part 2 of that conversation . . .
Clutch: In watching your interviews, you seem to have this natural ability to open up and get people talking, which is the true measurement of a really great interviewer. Where does it come from?
Ananda: I’m kind of figuring that out as I go along, too. I didn’t have very good relationships with my family growing up. And more recently, I’ve really made a concerted effort to make those relationships work and to get closer to people I’m connected to by blood . . . and I’m talking about my immediate family. I didn’t get along with my mother much; I didn’t see my dad much, and my grandmother was a hugely instrumental part of my life. Maybe a lot of it comes from my grandmother. She was a very straight talking, no BS [person]. I don’t know—maybe it’s coming from experiences. I’ve been hurt a lot by people, and you learn the most when you’re in pain because now life has got your attention because you’re hurt! I’ve had my heart broken enough to learn things about myself in relationships; I’ve pointed figures at other people enough [for my own problems] to finally realize that you can only do that so long before that finger comes back at you and you’re the only real solution. I was standing in my own way on a lot of things in my life. I guess it’s just perspective. I don’t feel embarrassed about anything that I’ve been through, so it’s easy for me to talk about things. I don’t feel like there’s anything that anyone can hold over my head at this point in my life or throw in my face. I don’t believe in that. I think it’s a weak tool for weak-minded people. And those kinds of people are easy to defeat when you just shine the truth on them. I don’t have a lot to hide, so maybe that has a lot to do with it.
Clutch: Along with your work in journalism, you’ve acquired quite the celebrity status. How has that been for you?
Ananda: That is such a hard concept for me to wrap my brain around! In my life, there is no celebrity. I have tools; a workshop full of tools. I’m studying for my carpentry license. I shoot guns, I throw knives . . . I’m a real active, aggressive kind of woman. I like to do physical stuff. I get out and four wheel drive in my truck. So for me, that whole TV world is almost like five planets away from my actual life. I can adapt to it when I’m in it. But I think because it wasn’t my goal for my life, I didn’t really feel like I needed to adjust myself to become a part of it. I never felt like I was in it or of it. I was just in it, working, getting my money and getting myself to where I wanted to be on that level. But I never looked at it like, “This is who I am.” It never defined me. I’ve always had a real sense of who I am outside of that.
Celebrity is a made-up phenomenon. It isn’t real. People should not be on pedestals just because they have certain talents and gifts. Because it makes other people feel like they don’t have those talents and that somehow, those people are special. And that’s not true! They’re not special. They worked harder or focused more, but they’re not any different than you or whoever else. And also, it makes people watching tend to believe that in this fantasy world there are no problems, there are no issues and these people must be perfect. Well, that’s BS, too. The longer you’re going to be in this industry, the longer you’re going to realize these are the walking wounded! Plenty of people fall in this industry because they’re looking for that approval or they’re looking for that hyping up of their ego, because they didn’t get it from somewhere else. I’m not saying that’s not true for everybody; there are some people who are very well adjusted in this industry. But some of the best comedians will tell you, they’re really good because they’ve been through so much pain. Actors and actresses are really good because they’ve had some really difficult lives. The more you hear people’s stories when they’re honest, the more you hear that it’s true. Celebrity just seems . . . I don’t know? Anybody who gets on TV and acts crazy can be a celebrity. I don’t know if I want that title.
Clutch: Do you keep a list of things you want to accomplish before all is said and done? You have a degree in history; do you think you’ll pursue a field in that?
Ananda: Not anymore. I think my life has changed so much and I’ve grown so much that I’ve grown past those desires. But yeah, I keep a running list of places I want to visit, trips I want to take. I love traveling. I look at life as what you enjoy doing every day. No one wants to be stuck in a boring job they don’t really love, so if something I love can turn into a job, that’s great. If not, I’ll keep taking jobs for the money and the support; we all got to survive. But my love is really in construction; I’ll probably own an animal rescue at some point in my life. The things that really make my heart soar have to do with using my hands a lot. Shooting guns; I go to the gun range a lot.
Clutch: Wow, Ananda! You keep mentioning this gun thing. People ought to know better than to mess with you!
Ananda: My grandma carried a .45! In my mind, I never accepted some idea that women aren’t supposed to do certain things. I never saw that in my reality. I was raised by women and I saw them doing everything and anything they wanted to do. I never saw any kind of barrier placed upon them because they were women. If anything, it was because they were women that they were smart enough, creative enough and resourceful enough to get done everything they got done. My aunt, my mom, my grandma. . . . there were women doing their thing all around me. It was never like, “Oh, that’s a girl thing,” or “That’s a guy thing.” I heard that being said in society, but that wasn’t in my life or my household. I never felt like there was something I couldn’t do because it was a boy thing. I’ve been fixing my truck since I was 16. So it’s a natural thing for me to use my hands. I never look at things like, “Oh, I can’t do it.” I look at things like, “All I have to do is figure out how to do it.”
Clutch: There are some songs of yours posted on MySpace. How did you get involved with singing and songwriting?
Ananda: First, I want to clarify that I’m not trying to be a singer. I don’t know how that misconception got out. I’m definitely not out looking for songs. I am a songwriter who sings because I want my songs to sound like I hear them. There is music in my head and I have to get it out or it makes me crazy! That’s really how this all started. I kind of haphazardly wrote a song with Malcolm Jamal-Warner called “Summertime”. It was the first time I heard my voice playing back at me…and I liked it! Malcolm used it on his album, then John Salley played that song on the radio and for a few guests who came through. D’wayne Wiggins heard it when he was on the morning radio show with us one time and was like “you can sing!? You need to do that, come jam with us in Oakland and see what it does.” I was still really hesitant and shy about singing at the time, but I ended up in Oakland one weekend and called D’Wayne . He scooped me up and brought me to his House of Music. It was a magical night for me. Charlie-O, Robb Traxx (producers) and I were up the entire 1st night and “where dat go?” was just POURING out of me. By morning I had written my 1st full song and we jammed on it for the entire next day. It was crazy and exciting and amazingly freeing. From that weekend on, I’ve given into the music instead of fighting it. The down side is that right now I really don’t have time to focus 100 percent on music; it’s something that happens when it happens. I love it, but I haven’t yet found the time in my life to devote three months to churning out an album. And I’m not sure if that’s what I want to do with my music, so I’m kind of stuck on my decision with that. But I did want to share it with the fans that were looking for me on MySpace and couldn’t find me [because there were a bunch of fake Ananda’s on there, so I had to get those removed and put my real one up]. People said on there, “What are you doing,” and literally, what I’m doing sometimes is in and out of friend’s studios just having fun recording stuff. It is another side of me that people don’t know, and it’s a more real side than what they’ve seen for ten years (chuckle)!
Clutch: So speaking of your MySpace page and removing the “fake” Ananda’s from the site, what do you think about this huge Internet phenomenon, social networking movement, blogging, and how we now disseminate information and communicate with each other?
Ananda: The upside is that the more people are more in touch with each other the better; you hear from your friends more. In junior high, we only had phones, so if you were on phone restriction—that was it! But there are a lot of different ways to get in touch with your friends now, and I think that’s great. But also, because it’s so faceless and you don’t know who you’re talking to unless it’s your friend and you know it’s them, at least 90 percent of the time, you’re talking to strangers. I think because people can hide behind these screen names and throw whatever picture they want up, sometimes that can be a really scary territory. But again, until we have individual thinkers, independent thinkers, people who think for themselves to determine what makes sense and what doesn’t, a lot of this stuff will be easy for people to get away with. Common sense will tell you don’t meet up with someone if you don’t know who that is. But there’s not a lot of common sense running around the world these days. I think common sense and logic are on a vacation together in Mexico . . . and I wish they would come back because we need them. A lot of people need to just check themselves. The deception is that people can make you feel like you know them. The reality is that you don’t know them.
I think the other problem . . . and it’s not so much a problem as it is people tending to be cowards, hiding behind a screen name and talking shit about people on line. I don’t think that’s right, but it’s a reflection of them. If that’s the kind of people they want to be, then that’s who they are and that’s the kind of life they’re living. They’re cowards. They’re saying things they wouldn’t DARE say to someone’s face because they know they’d get knocked the hell out. And I think that’s unfortunate because it allows people to be shady. And there’s enough of that. I don’t think that’s healthy. But who am I to judge them. If they’re happy doing that, then God bless them.
Clutch: So what’s next on the agenda for Ananda? Where can we see you?
Ananda: Well I’m 120 years late, but I’m finally building my first Web site. Someone has been sitting on AnandaLewis.com for about six years and won’t give it up, so I had to abandon the idea of owning my own name! So for the record, that’s not mine; if anyone puts something on it, it’s not from me. Anandalewis.net is not mine either, but that just seems like a fan site, which is great because I’m cool with the love. And the fan sites on MySpace I left up [also], because I’m cool with the love. I just don’t want somebody impersonating me and responding to people as if they’re me, which some of them were doing. That’s wrong. But the ones that were innocent and weren’t trying to say they were me, I have no problem with that. But I’ve decided to go with something that could encompass all the different facets of me that I wanted to share, which will be www.NANDINATION.com. I look at it like my own little country where I can share all all the stuff I’m involved in. You can see all my photography I do, T-shirts I design, some of my interior work and construction stuff, tips for healthier living, my video blogs, photos of me with folks I’ve interviewed or worked with. I might post all the Teen Summit shows I have because people seem to still really want to see that show and the topics we dealt with are still so relevant. The site is still under construction, but I am growing it slowly with lots of love and truth about who I am now, and who I am growing into.
I think people need another impression of how to be, if they’re going to be out there emulating something. And I’ll have ‘how-to’ tips from building your own shoe rack (which I did in my house) to doing natural hair so that it doesn’t frizz on you, because I don’t believe there is any contradiction with women being sexy, girly, cute and feminine, but also being able to build a house from scratch. I want to be able to do that. I’m working toward that right now. Like I said, a lot of those skills I already had, but I want to really learn the craft well. I’ve had some shows pitched to me [home improvement], because those shows are really big right now. But again, the things that I love, it’s difficult for me to agree to put them on TV because that makes it something other than what I love. Maybe that’s just me being . . . stupid. I don’t know. I’m working on feeling not so much like TV corrupts things, but TV does corrupt things. But I haven’t decided whether or not I want to share myself like that on a TV show. The things I want to do now will be all that I control and I will share with you through a site that I control, so that no one can edit me. So those are the kinds of projects you will see me doing; those that I actually have some ownership in and some say so in it. [Something] I can present in a way that I approve of and that I like and say, “Yeah, that’s actually me. That’s a true representation of me, and it’s not someone else’s version of me.” Unless I’m just in it for the check (chuckle)!
Ananda is also conducting a series of on-air workshops for young women who want access to all of the knowledge, tips, and personal insight she has gained over 10 years of doing all types of television. The first one in the series will take place in Baltimore for more information on the workshops please visit hollywoodinabottle.com
(Photo Credit: Ananda Lewis)