Sunday, August 2, 2009

Singer To Singer: Sandra St. Victor

Sandra St. Victor is one of my favorite female rockers. She can sing jazz, r&b, funk and rock out with the best of the great female rock 'n' roll singers. Singing is but one element of her greatness. She is a legend in New York City, a songwriter who recently wrote songs for Lalah Hathaway, lead singer of Family Stand, founder of one of the biggest events held in Amsterdam, "Daughters of Soul," activist, mommy, wife and a mentor to singers like me. I begged SSV. to take a minute to share some of the conversations she and I have shared over the years. Her kitchen in Amsterdam was our place to hang out and talk about our positions in life. Hearing about her journey inspired me to go beyond the walls of gospel and r&b. She doesn’t know this, but our talk led me to study Joyce Kennedy, Tina Turner and Bettye LaVette. I began to discover that soul lives in everything. Sandra St. Victor's life makes me believe I can do it all! Here is a woman who celebrated the real meaning of Afro-Funk and lives a life most singers dream of. She is my Rock Star...
Okay, so let's get the basic journalist-type questions out of the way. What is your story, how did you to get where you are right now? Tell the younger generation who might not know of you, why you are Legendary in our business of music.
The first thing that comes to mind is that I took chances. I felt I needed to be where stuff happened. At the time that wasn't in Dallas where I grew up. So I chose NewYork, or New York chose me. Roy Ayers offered me a gig touring with him. From there I got the gig with Chaka Khan, then hooked up with Peter & Jeff with Family Stand. We wrote & produced several songs for two Paula Abdul albums. Things flowed naturally for me as a solo artist, and from there, toward song writing for other artists, Chaka & Prince being the biggest. My most treasured credit is a duet with the Late, Most Great, Curtis Mayfield on his final CD. Priceless...
Who are some of the big influences in your music and why?
This list would be so long if I named them all! But off the top, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, & Earth, Wind & Fire for their truth , sincerity & bravery. They did what they wanted, said what they felt and felt what they said. Janis Joplin, Tina, Chaka, and Linda Jones for their singing from the ass up, nah mean?! Bernie Taupin, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Don McLean, Maurice White & again Stevie Wonder for poignant introspective lyrical brilliance. Last but not least, Ella Fitzgerald, Maria Callas, and Leontyne Price for vocal awesomeness & control.
How would you describe yourself and your music to someone who knows nothing about you?
My music depends on my mood. That is of course, a problem for our industry! I try to be as honest as possible, which means expressing feelings that sometimes are best explored through different genres. I can find myself in soul, soul/rock, jazz, R&B. It all feels right at times to me. Actually, I believe that’s part of being a Gemini. I also learned not to confine myself to perfection. Again, sometimes an emotion releases sincerely, but not perfectly in tune, or with the clearest tone. But you FELT it. I keep those takes real.
What have you learned that you wish someone told you about before you got into the business?
It takes a helluva lot more than talent. It takes a spine of steel, pinpoint focus, and an almost insane belief in yourself.
What inspires you?
Wow, just about anything. Sometimes, everything around me can inspire a song. An expression on a stranger’s face, the sound of a pile driver in the street, my own memory surprising me and refreshing an old emotion. But also, listening to someone talk about themselves, their life, their story. That’s always inspiring.
The first time you heard music who was it and what was that like for you?
The first time I remember knowing that I heard music was listening to my cousins singing at Thanksgiving dinners in Dallas. The entire family was musically inclined. Uncle Danny played sax, and all his kids sang and played piano. I thought they were the coolest people on the planet. I was awe-struck. I was too shy, and I felt I could never stand there next to them and join in, but I wanted too so bad! I knew that was ‘my thing’.
What is the best part about being on stage?
Feeling so connected to so many people at once. It feels like they know me, they ‘get’ me. It’s fulfilling and addictive.
So what was it like recording your first album without Family Stand?
Scary as hell! Freeing though. Peter and Jeff were/are my musical soul-mates. Being in the studio with them is kind of like one being with 3 heads. But doing the solo thing was the moment for me to find out what my creative voice sounded like alone. Major growth in the confidence department.
What is next for SSV?
More growth! My goal is simply to have an opportunity to do what I love to do as long as I’m here. To have people appreciate that, feel something real from it, and hopefully add a few memorable experiences to their lives.
What are you looking for that you haven't found yet? Or have you found it?
I keep wondering if a day will come when I’m no longer restless. If I’m meant to feel perfect peace. Or perhaps I’m supposed to always feel the urge to move, to keep it going etc... Sometimes I think I’m there, then I wanna do something else again.
What is the recording process for you?
Very special. I set my environment beforehand, and just like before a show, I need the space and time to get in my zone. I don’t like or need an entourage buzzing about right before a performance or recording. I need solitude.
What was the hardest song you have ever recorded and why?
It must be this song I did for a producer in New York years ago. It was a demo. He was some guy who had hits in the 70’s with Gloria Gaynor and a few other folks. He was so effing full of himself. He didn’t like anything I did, he just kept making me do it over and over until I was literally in tears. I was young and just left feeling like I sucked! Later I realized that this dude was just crazy!
What do you wish you could have done over now that you have been in the business for a while?
I wished I’d never done anything musically or creatively that someone had to talk me into.
What advice would you give other artists who are deciding to embark on a career in the music business?
Be completely prepared. Come as ready for any and everything within your power, and most of all, be completely sure you know what you’re getting into at all times.
Do you like being a songwriter more than being an artist?
I’d have to say yes, but I know I still have the NEED to be an artist. I need that to feel whole.
What's important to you now?
Making sure that people that mean something to me, know it.
Do you have any regrets about your life or your music?
Regret is a heavy word. I’d say perhaps, second thoughts. Still, I’m a true believer that everything happens that’s supposed to happen. So with that in mind, it’s all good.
Sometimes we as artists go through a period in our lives where we reach a breaking point, where we wanna give up. Have you ever had one of those?
Absolutely! More than once. When the business becomes bigger than the music, it gets pretty dark for me, but I try to accept that it’s all part of the process, and take the bitter with the sweet. But there’s always something in me that fights to survive, and pulls me up and out. The Creator of it all, takes care of it as well.
What do you think is missing in music today?
There’s always been folks into being famous, but now the balance is just way off. Too many artists just want a lifestyle, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get that. So I guess what I’m missing is ... more heart.
What do you hope to leave people with when they experience your music?
A feeling of self-assurance. A warmth that grows lovelier even days after a concert. A spirit of belonging, understanding. I could go on. I want people to feel good, hopeful, perhaps a bit giddy initially.
Favorite sound?
My kids’ laughter.
Favorite Book?
It prolly sounds cliché, but my most recent favorite book is "Dreams From My Father." My all-time most special book would probably be "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying."
Favorite Album?
Ella - Live In Hollywood (Verve 1961)
Favorite Song?
Oh, come on now, don’t ask me that!!! One song??? Yeah, right. "They Won’t Go When I Go"(Stevie Wonder), "Memory Lane" (Minnie Riperton), "Hey Joe"(Jimi Hendrix), "Deacon Blues"(Steely Dan), "Chant A Psalm" (Steele Pulse), "Flashlight"(Parliament), "Funky Motion" (Roy Ayers), "Roll Me Through the Rushes" (Chaka Khan), "The Rose" (Bette Midler), "American Pie" (Don McLean), "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (Elton John)... I’ll stop now.
Favorite Word? We.

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