Lalah Hathaway: Doing Herself
Lalah Hathaway is a nice person. Not that I necessarily expected her to be rude or full of herself or even standoffish, but being who she is, I wouldn’t be shocked if she were a little reserved. But no, she is not rude or full of herself or standoffish or even reserved. She came into Billie’s Black in Harlem last week for a Q&A session and CD signing (her new album – Where It All Begins came out October 18) and as soon as the curtain opened and the questions started flying, it was evident that she felt at home. I’m almost surprised she didn’t kick off her shoes and get really comfortable. Of course, the shoes (platform heels from the Jessica Simpson collection, she informed us) were pretty hot – and I am the last person to ever notice what someone has on his/her feet – so we knew she wouldn’t be doing that.
But back to the event, Hathaway was engaging and provided some nice, insightful answers to questions from fans. With this, her second release on Stax Records, Hathaway has been on an extended promotional tour, hitting major cities across the country in support of Where It All Begins, an album she calls her “most personal yet.” She asked each person where they were from and genuinely seemed to want to know a little about her fans.
Broadway’s Kevin-Anthony played last-minute emcee for the evening, introducing Lalah to her adoring audience. She clarified immediately that this would be a dialogue. She also must have gotten the memo that the way to my heart is through a well-placed curse word. A win-win if you ask me.
And here we go…
Kim from Kentucky: You come from such a legacy of amazing music. When you first started to sing, did you feel an obligation to really bring it? Did you feel pressure to live up to expectations?
Lalah Hathway: No, never. There’s nobody who will ever be Donny Hathaway. I am comfortable on my path. There will never be a Lalah Hathaway, either. If you’re you, you’re at the front of the do-you line. (jrl: I am so stealing that!)
Nydia from Long Island: What is your inspiration when it comes to writing. When you’re alone, being creative – where does that come from?
Lalah Hathaway: Everywhere. The rain. The trash. My dog. Somebody’s kids. Everything. I rarely write a whole song. I write bits and pieces. I have a song called “Boston.” There was this line – “left my heart in Boston” – that I carried around for 8 months and then the song came to me. I try to see inspiration in everything.
Kim from Kentucky: Are you inspired by music, from a track or do you write beforehand?
Lalah Hathaway: Both. I like to watch great writers work. Once I gave Rahsaan Patterson a track… we listened to it, like, two times and he was was like, “… just a little girl in a big world…” Yeah, just two times…
Robert from Toronto: Who are you listening to currently and what is it like to work with Rachelle Ferrell?
Lalah Hathaway: Rachelle Ferrell, N’dambi, Rahsaan [Patterson], Led[isi]. Also King, James Blake, Little Dragon, Robert Glasper… old music as well: SOS Band, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis…
And as far as working with Rachelle – it’s like taking a Master class in articulation. I used to wonder what in the hell is she doing? We did a session and she was telling me how to get around to the melody. And I got it. She is a class; teaches on every level.
Monique from Syracuse: In 1990 somebody dropped your tape in my high school hallway, I took it home –
Lalah Hathaway: You stole that tape!
Monique from Syracuse: … and every since then I have been in love with you.
Lalah Hathaway: Thank you. I appreciate that. How many of you have been to my show? Once? Twice? Three times?
Russell Taylor from the Back of the Room: 8 times.
Lalah Hathaway: Shut up Russell.
joseph riley land under his breath: She told Russell to shut up. I love her.
Lalah Hathaway: Please come to a show so I can try to cast a spell on you so you come back.
Someone who’s name I didn’t catch: Besides music what are you passionate about?
Lalah Hathaway: Music for kids. Gadgets… I’m really into XBox, PS3, iPhone, iPad… I’m a social networking Facebook, Twitter type of girl.
And, art for children. People take it for granted. It is important to understand that you’re artists, creating life for yourself. Art is the architect for your life.
Kim from Kentucky got the mic again: What was it like growing up growing up?
Lalah Hathaway: Regular – I think there’s some fantasy about what we did. I did chores, washed dishes, took out the trash, all that shit. We had a 3-legged dog at one time…
As far at the music went, there was no enticement needed. I grew up with this in me before I came to the planet. I used to play piano for my mom’s singing lessons. It was always what I did; it was always what I wanted to do. It has been the natural trajectory of my life.
Robert from Toronto is back now: I started following you on twitter because a friend was talking about your tweets in response to an awards show… something about dancers and record deals…
Lalah Hathaway: Yeah…. Y’all know. [deadpan face… I am officially in love with this woman.]
I don’t begrudge anybody’s success. I am not the Music Police, but a lot of people don’t read that they are really passionate about singing. Cos I see the dancers sing… I mean, sometimes I dance. But I don’t get an award for it. I don’t get a Bentley. I just think there should be a little more balance in music for colored people.
Reggie from Chicago and Omaha: Was your upbringing in Chicago/the Midwest reflected in your music?
Lalah Hathaway: Where you come from is important to your art. Music used to be regional because there were 6 places you could hear a record. Philly had a sound. Chicago had a sound, etc. you could have a hit record in one region and no one else know anything about it. Growing up in Chicago and the music I heard, it certainly is embedded in me.
Reggie again: Will you do a house record?
Lalah Hathaway: There is a bonus track – “Lose Yourself” – on this album. It’s exclusively on the Best Buy version.
I missed something here because my notes go directly to changing keys and her Luther Vandross cover. I think a certain former Kentuckian had taken the mic…
Lalah Hathaway: Music comes so naturally for me that I sometimes don’t know what is happening. I don’t like to change keys because it changes the color of the song. We all have a genetic memory inside of our bodies that we don’t even know we have. Human beings understand music on a cellular level.
Kevin-Anthony moves us into the album, playing the title track, “Where It All Begins.”
Lalah Hathaway: This is the title track, written by Ernest Green and Ernie Sparks. This one’s good for your headphones… there are a lot of little things swirling around…
Abby from Jamaica: I love the very sound of your voice. How do u deal with obstacles as they fall into your lap or, at least, perceived obstacles?
Lalah Hathaway: I’m learning. I’m a work in progress. I’m human. Sometimes it bogs me down. Saying what I mean, meaning what I say. Understanding that Serenity Prayer – some shit you can’t fix.
Someone – maybe Abby?: How has being a Black woman influenced your work/point of view or does it?
Lalah Hathaway: I have only ever been a Black woman. I would have to start over as something else to compare. [jrl’s note: can someone please say “amen?”] I see myself as a spirit. It [her black womanness] informs my art because it is all I know; it is who I am. It is sometimes frustrating being a black woman in this business, but I am happy about my station in life right now. I want to tell my story to more people.
I think my hands are tired of typing; I keep missing who’s asking questions. Maybe I’m just more interested in Hathaway’s answers. Up next: Do we accept too much – remember your award-winning singer/dancers, etc. – and not require more music like yours, from true artists?
Lalah Hathaway: We live in a microwave world where we don’t educate each other about soul music the way our parents did. There used to an album you could hand to someone. Then cassettes, CDs… We used to trade music because it was an item, a thing. Kids see music as a random series of 1s and 0s that shows up on their phone, not something that has value because no one taught that it was valuable. A. There is a lack of understanding that everything is not free; you pay for it if you like it. And B. Kids of color, if they don’t learn the history… black music tells a story of African Americans and Americans in this country. I don’t think they grasp that. Music is a part of the journey.
We listen to more songs. She tells more stories. One of which is a story of recording in the same studio as Nat King Cole… his piano was in the room. I didn’t take notes. I listened.
(random quotes that I liked)
Lalah Hathaway: This album so closely mirrors the process of my first one, when it was so pristine, so new… I feel that this is a good answer to the first album.
Lalah Hathaway: I used to smoke. I quit. I wanted to preserve my voice. It’s a gentle instrument. If I talk too much, I get hoarse. Marcus Miller told me, “You are an oboe, not a trumpet.”
Final question time. I raise my hand.
Me: “If You Want To” is a very single-y single – how’s it registering nationally?
Lalah Hathaway: Thank you. I am really a perfectionist and try to knock it out of the park every time. As far as registering nationally, it takes a lot. It takes you banging on that drum, calling the programming directors. Radio has changed. For artists like Led, Rachelle, Rahsaan, me… you have to tell people about us; encourage them to support music. Live music is a dying art.
I want my music to be remembered, to be a part of the soundtrack of your lives, like those records I have. Chaka, Donny’s live, Whitney’s first album. They are the essentials. The desert island records. The ones you give to your kids and they give to their kids.