Friday, September 26, 2014

(NEW) The Jody Watley Experience WTLE Exclusive Interview!

It's All About PARADISE

by Belinda Trotter-James

Jody Vanessa Watley is a legendary Grammy award winning singer, songwriter, record producer and fashion style icon. You don't have to take my word for it because I'm getting ready to take you on a musical adventure in Paradise.   Actually "PARADISE" is the name of her new album.  It has a metro futuristic sound and is inspired by classic disco soul and funk reminiscent of an era in music from artists like Larry Levine, Chic, Shalamar and Change.

With the popularity of the Internet Jody has been able to independently market directly to her fans. The "Paradise" CD is available digitally around the world and you can also get it at the Jody Watley boutique on her website at  "They have been selling like hotcakes", says Jody.  The entrepreneurial side for Jody has always been important when it comes to selling her CDs all around the world. From Paris to the Netherlands, New York, Texas and all around the world people are grabbing up this CD.    You can see some of the fans on her website holding a copy their autographed copy.  That's the best part about getting it directly from Ms. Watley... It is personalized and autographed.  "I just love my fans", says Jody.  "I call them my Paradise Hall of Famers". Thanks to the Internet you can also get your copy of "Paradise" on various digital outlets such as iTunes, Amazon and Google play.  People love Jody's music and that's why she tries to find new and innovative ways to get her music out to the fans.

Jody is so in tuned with her fanbase that she knows exactly where to find them.  There is a  hot spot in Hollywood called Georgio's which is where you will find Jody performing her music.  "It's a modern discotheque for younger people, but everyone is dressed and glamorous", says Jody. "In the past 10 years I've done primarily dance, electronic and house music.  I've been doing house music since the 90's. I really wanted to find a way to bring together some of the modern sounds that I've been doing over the past decade and blend that with those classic groves. I started working on it and performed the songs live before I finished recording them. In doing it that way it makes the songs better. My guitarist, Levi Seacer, who used to play for Prince is on one of the songs called "The Dawn".  The feeling I wanted to invoke was GQ's "Disco Nights" which is one of my favorite songs. It's not a re-creation, but the spirit of the song. I don't want to keep people thinking about the good old days.  I want them to make new memories and think that the good days are now. You're alive, we're alive, we're all breathing so be fabulous now and don't keep thinking that you used to be fabulous; be fabulous now."

Jody goes on to say, "I think so many people go through the motions of life, therefore, "Paradise" is all about celebrating life, being fabulous and "Sanctuary" is a song about home and creating that environment of love and that type of reflection".  Living life day-to-day can sometimes be challenging and she acknowledges that in some of the songs lyrics. "You have to get outside of yourself and allow yourself to enjoy life because tomorrow is not promised.  That's the spirit of "Paradise". Why wait to have a good time", says Jody.

I love the new music however, I did admit to her that I still wanted to hear some of her classic songs especially if I go to see her perform. Thank goodness Jody isn't one of those artists who will get upset when fans want to go back in time.
Jody laughs and says, "The one thing about social media is that I am very active with Twitter and Facebook along with my blog writings on my website. I've been able to expose fans to different types of music; not just my own", explains Jody. "Fans always tell me their favorite songs.  I love to sing my classics in my concerts because it is like a musical journey. I give the fans the classics and I put a new twist on some of them to keep it fresh for me and for them.  I mix it up with the new music because I am an artist who is progressing".

I wish all artist felt this way because there are some artists who get stuck in time along with their fans.  They get content to be just a nostalgia act. Jody adds, "All they do is old songs and that's fine for some, but I try to always be in the mindset of keeping things fresh. If you get in a routine of doing the same songs, then it's no fun for anyone. I respect and appreciate that I have fans who love the classics. The downside to it is that they get stuck. You could have made the best album of your career and they become so closed off that they cannot even process hearing something new. It's like saying, 'Oh,  I just like your first album or I just like your third album'.   That's great, but you're going to miss something really special in life and in general if you stay stuck and that's my philosophy", says Jody.  "In my concerts I enjoy bringing all types of people together. My audience is so diverse and it's my job to make sure they have the time of their lives.  I really try to do that in a classy way, still energetic, still funky, singing live and taking them on a musical journey."

Since that is Jody's philosophy fans are in for a treat so get ready to live life fabulously with Jody Watley starting November 15th at The Tower Theater in Philadelphia. It will be a night of timeless R&B with Lilllo Thomas and The System On November 29th she will be at Cache Creek Casino. To see if she is coming to your town, go to her website for more tour dates. Some of her hits from her Shalamar days will also be included in the show.  "The Shalamar portion of my show will include Gerald Brown who is the original lead vocalist that sang with me on  "Take That To The Bank", says Jody.  "We are great friends and we have a good time. He performed with me last summer when I did the Essence Music Festival. He also sang with me on my recent hit single which is called,  "NightLife"."

Get your tickets for Jody Watley & Lillo Thomas at The Tower Theatre
Buy tickets here
 For a long time Jody did not have a Shalamar medley  in her show.  She revealed that she had so many songs that just didn't fit into what she was doing at the time. It wasn't until the concept of "Paradise" and the vibe of the show that she was able to incorporate the Shalamar medley  into the show.

Her hit, "NightLife" seems to be doing very well and fans love it. It was the top five on the commercial pop and urban charts in the UK and it was a top 20 dance hit in America. It has that classic soul,  disco, funky vibe to it.  Jody explains, "I kept hearing a male voice on the song while I was creating it. You don't really hear records like that anymore and I asked Gerald to sing with me.  It really made it come full-circle  because his recording career started as a member of the group".

I was pretty relieved to hear that Jody does know her fans want to hear the old stuff however, she cares enough to enlighten them with new music as well for their enjoyment. I told her about an artist (I won't say her name) who sang Christmas songs for 90 minutes of a 120 minute set. I, along with a lot of the audience were not happy. Yes, it was Christmas time, but that's not why I bought tickets to the show. Radio City Music Hall does an excellent Christmas show if that's what I wanted to hear. After Jody and I got a good laugh she said, "You must give the people what they want.  In my set I try to definitely do that and still give them something new and fresh. The first song that opens my show is "NightLife".  People were on their feet because it's energetic along with that classic, funky Jody Watley vibe.  It feels like they know this song already and love dancing to it. It's just a great time" explains Jody.  "When you come to a Jody Watley show, you're going to get everything and more".   She takes you through the whole musical shebang. Even hits that you didn't know were hits are in the show!

 What makes Jody's career so unique is that there are so many genres and so many facets to it. Jody was the first in 1989 to collaborate with Eric B and Rakim to include a rap on one of her R&B records. We see this has become a popular formula for commercial pop, R&B and hip-hop.  There is no collaboration on this album with any rappers. She only did it that one time in her career with Eric B and Rakim on her second album. She collaborate again with Rakim on her hit single,  "Off The Hook" in the 90s. However, after she broke that ground, that was it. "This album  is strictly beautiful, gorgeous, retro futuristic dance music that has live strings and live instruments on it," explains Jody.  "I worked with Mark Pablo who is more known and respected in the underground worldwide global DJ community. Miguel Atwood Ferguson is an incredible musician.  There are live strings on the title song. There is no other record out there like this right now. The closest may be Daft Punk Rock that Mel Rogers helped collaborate on, but I started working on "Paradise" even before that album came out. It let me know I'm on the right track. True music fans miss a certain level of quality in music and the downside is that radio does not play that type of music for adults."
Jody's longtime friend and assistant Wallace Butts warned me not to go back in time with a million questions about Jody's past when she has so much great new music.  He was absolutely right because Jody's entire musical journey is all online. Her career is truly a remarkable,  musical journey. However, I am a Shalamar fan and I just wanted to know how she felt during that time in her life to be a part of such an instrumental group. She granted me my wish and this is what she had to say about that time in her life.

"I think that it taught me how to be on stage and what to do when things don't go right," remembers Jody.  "When we started out it wasn't glamorous, it was all about paying your dues and performing in places where there were only a few people.  I learned how much work it takes to be a professional artist and how to be adaptable".  Jody was so talented that she was the groups choreographer, she did the wardrobe, costuming, the album cover and the entire Shalamar look was conceptualized by Jody. As her solo career grew, you could still see the continuation of her strong sense of style throughout her career.

 Jody is now the proud owner of the Shalamar trademark.  On a business level there are many ways to continue to be Jody Watley and at the same time rejuvenate the Shalamar name.  It was all about learning  the business and how to be an onstage performer. "I also learned how to work with men being that I was the only woman as a teenager starting out with Shalamar.  It was very difficult at times to deal with things such as sexism, verbal abuse and sometimes physical abuse", reveals Jody.  "I had to learn how to deal with it and how to move on in life and have joy. Life is too short to not enjoy it.  Now I am always trying to find ways to enjoy it.  Even through trouble times you can look back on it and say, 'Wow,  I learned from that'.  It is always about moving forward".

If you talk to Jody's mom, she would tell you that Jody has been a performer since the age of four. Growing up in Chicago Jody knew that she was always going to be something.  "I always wanted to be a singer, performer, writer and fashion designer. Now I get to do all those things through my career," remembers Jody.   "I was the child that was a go-getter. I would always be looking for opportunities. At one point I told my mom I was going to have my own modeling school and have my own business. These were things I said to my mother as a little girl and I was able to build upon all of my dreams".  As a child, Jody would write poetry to escape from the challenges she was having as a little girl growing up.  The family life she had with her mom and dad ended in divorced.  "My dad always said I was going to be a star", remembers Jody. "Before I knew what a star was, I used to think he was talking about the stars in the sky."

R&B singer Jackie Wilson is Jody's godfather therefore, show business was something that she was always around. Her parents knew Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin who have known Jody since she was a little girl.  Her father and grandfather were ministers, therefore the family moved around frequently and lived in a few states. For some people moving around can be traumatic especially for children who may have gotten comfortable with their surroundings and made friends.  However,  it looks like the constant moving prepared Jody to be very adaptable with life in dealing with all types of people from all ethnicities and income levels.  At one point her dad had lost everything and he was trying to get the family back on track.  They ended up moving to LA which was perfect for Jody because she was the type of child that was always looking for an opportunity. It paid off because her career has taken her all around the world.  She even lived in London for a few years.

When you talk to musicians and artists who started years ago, they will tell you how much the music industry has changed. "The music industry as we know it is gone," says Jody.  When I first started out as a professional recording artist, you went on tour or performed at clubs.  Independent promoters would book acts, but now everything is really difficult if you're not associated with some of the big corporations who control all of the venues", recalls Jody.  "When I first started there were independent privately owned radio stations all around the country. You could drive from the West Coast to the East Coast and hear different types of music. It was original music because stations could play what they wanted to play. They would make a playlist, a double-play or a triple play list. DJ's could play an entire album of an artist if they wanted to. I remember when Stevie Wonder's song, "In The Key Of Life"  played on the radio. I sat in my mom's car and listened to the whole thing commercial free. That would never happen today."  In the 90's everything became deregulated and that made it more corporate. You cannot call in to a radio station to request a song; it's already automated. The DJ's don't pick what they play; they get told what to play.  The freedom to choose what is played is over and therefore the diversity in the music is gone as well.

Today there are major changes on how people get their music and Jody realizes that she had to change the way fans can get her music.  People don't really buy music the way they used to because there is more competition for their time: the Internet, video games and television can take up a lot of an individual's time.  "That's one of the reasons why I made "Paradise" with only seven songs," explains Jody.  "That's the classic amount of songs that were used through the mid-80's. Isaac Hayes only had four songs. With the attention span of fans being so short, it's all about quality over quantity.  Nobody needs to listen to 20 songs of filler. Just give me the good stuff", laughs Jody.

Another way technology has changed the industry is that fans no longer have to wait for a record company to tell them when an artist will release new material. All you have to do is Google the artist name to get your update.  Jody adds, "If I'm curious about certain artists, I would just Google them and find their Twitter or Facebook page.  I don't have to wait to see if the video plays on BET or MTV anymore.  I can just go to YouTube. It's all about reality TV now therefore, everything is more accessible and older fans must go on You Tube because they will not hear certain songs on commercial radio. Technology is just changing the habits of how people discover music."

With the Internet and social media dominating the way we live fans, colleagues and artists can interact with each other easily.  "I met Erykah Badu on Twitter", says Jody.  "She is one of my twitter friends and has given me high praises. It's great because you can hook up directly with the artist. Back in the day you had to go through a manager and hope the artist got the message that someone wanted to collaborate with them."  She's right; it's easy to directly stay in touch with artists today.

Ebony magazine has announced their top 25 black music style icons and Jody Watley was listed among some amazing artist. "It's an awesome list of musical icons which include Diana Ross, Donna Summer, BeyoncĂ©, Prince, Lenny Kravitz, and Michael Jackson", recalls Jody.  "It is an honor for me anytime that type of acknowledge comes my way.  It was a nice surprise to be included with my contemporaries and artists I grew up inspired by as a child."

Not only do fans love Jody; designers love her as well.  She mentioned that a young French designer by the name of Jerome C Rousseau designed a fierce bootie for her. "All the young girls love his shoes: Rita Ora, Katy Perry and his 2014 collection is inspired by Jody Watley", says Jody.  "My style has always been a part of my music. With some great artist you can always attach a visual and that's what sets them apart beyond just having talent; they have a vibe. When you think of Jimi Hendrix, you have a visual of what he looks like and his style."

Jody has always marched to the beat of her own drum whether it's with the jumbo earrings or high fashion outfits.  Jody revealed to me that back in the day the record companies didn't understand the bridge between fashion and music. When "Harper's Bazaar" asked Jody to be in the magazine, the record company couldn't understand what a fashion magazine had to do with selling records. Jody had to pay her own way to get to New York for the shoot because the record company wouldn't pay for it. Now the record companies understand and that's why you see BeyoncĂ©, Rihanna and other girls inside the magazines.  I can only guess that Jody Watley helped to open that door. The labels were only worried about crossover backlash or what the urban audience was going to think.

The advice Jody leaves for those following in her footsteps is to know who you are.  "Know yourself and don't wait for somebody to tell you who you are; know who you are", advises Jody.  "You have to be strong and don't be afraid to say, "no".   I've never been afraid to say "no" no matter what the repercussions would be.  Stay true to yourself and hold onto that because when all is said and done, you will have to live with yourself. This industry will chew you up and spit you out. We have seen sadly enough some artists who became self-destructive losing the balance between show business and life. Living your life is number one and you have to keep that in mind. Don't just aspire to be famous or rich; aspire to be joyful and great in what you do.  This industry can make you lose yourself and you might end up doing all kinds of things. I've never written or recorded a song that I felt I couldn't sing 25 or 30 years later and feel good about it."

Hmmm... That's a good point. Maybe that's why some artists don't want to sing the old songs. It could be that they didn't like the song in the first place. Now I understand what artists may have gone through and I will never ask them to sing old songs again. What brings back good memories for fans may not be the same for the artist.  As I ended the interview, Jody's last words of advice for aspiring artists was like getting a golden key.  "You have to always hold onto your authentic self in this business and watch your own back. Never believe that someone is going to watch your back better than you."

Make sure to follow Jody Watley on twitter

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