meta-scriptGet To Know Colemine Records, Ohio’s Funk And Soul Heartbeat | GRAMMY.com
Colemine Records artists
(From left) Colemine artists Steve Haney of Jungle Fire, Kendra Morris, Durand Jones and Kelly Finnigan of Monophonics

Photos: JC Olivera/Getty Images; Milton Arellano; Lorne Thomson/Redferns); Josh Brasted/FilmMagic

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Get To Know Colemine Records, Ohio’s Funk And Soul Heartbeat

Colemine Records has released some of the most forward-thinking funk and soul, including Monophonics and Durand Jones and the Indications. In honor of their 15th anniversary, strap on your hard hat and dig 15 of Colemine’s biggest productions.

GRAMMYs/Dec 21, 2022 - 09:31 pm

Suburban Loveland, Ohio might seem an unlikely location for the crossroads of contemporary American funk and soul, but an unassuming gray brick building with a record store on the ground level and a studio above — Stax style — has become the nexus of a national scene.

Established in 2007 by brothers Terry and Bob Cole, Colemine Records made a name for itself as a haven for artists whose work didn't quite fit the style or insular nature of bigger indies. In such, they stand in contrast to labels like California’s Ubiquity and the hip-hop heavy Stones Throw, or Brooklyn-based revivalists Daptone Records.

"The landscape back then was really like, nobody's getting in. We're doing our thing," Terry Cole tells GRAMMY.com. "We were somewhere physically, and maybe sonically, in the middle of those.” He chalks up Colemine’s rapid development to his attitude of, “If I liked it, cool. Whether I produced it, or it was a license deal, or whatever."

Over the past 15 years, Colemine has released some 120 7" singles and 50 LPs from bands based in New York City, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, Chicago, and Bloomington, Indiana. The sound of the label is as diverse as its roster, spanning gritty funk, cinematic instrumental soul, reggae, Latin funk, Afrobeat and more.

Terry doesn’t believe his label has made "monumental cultural shifts" in the sound of soul — but they don’t need to. "I think we've done a lot of connecting,” he says. “Just due to my personality — and, by and large, the personality of people that I work with — I think it's created a lot of virtual or physical community, and connections to folks that would not otherwise be connected.

"Connecting this New York scene to this L.A. and San Francisco scene through Ohio, I think that's been our contribution,” Terry adds. “Just creating this familial thing in the scene."

The label has been an enormous learning opportunity for Terry — an irreverent and laid-back, long-haired 30-something who is just nice by industry standards. He sold records to put himself through college, and began the label while he was a high school teacher.

In 2015, Terry resigned from his post — the same year he opened Colemine’s brick and mortar shop, Plaid Room Records. He slowly grew the business, and his knowledge, with each release: "I tell everybody that works for me, never be afraid to say you don't know, because making up s— is 10 times worse."  

Today, Colemine provides a lot of "financial and spiritual guidance" for artists, often doing art direction and distribution to a diligently developed network of independent stores; a few records were recorded at Colemine’s studio. They opened a rock-influenced imprint, Karma Chief, in 2018 and began signing acts. What was once a hobby now is a seven-person operation that’s quadrupled its wholesale numbers in six years.

"The thing that I love the most about the record label and the record store is sharing. I've never been a person that's, like, a coveter," Terry says. "The biggest high I get is sharing cool music with somebody that hasn't heard yet or that will enjoy it."

In honor of the label’s 15th anniversary, Terry Cole and Colemine artists tell the stories behind 15 of its most important productions.

Ikebe Shakedown - "Hard Steppin" (2009)

Terry: This 45" was so heavy; it was so loud and just so intense, relative to the cinematic direction that they went later on. I love those Poets Of Rhythm records and Antibalas records, and I loved the idea of being able to put out a record that had some gnarly Afrobeat elements to it.

That's the first time I had to make a contract. I was convincing these New Yorkers that I knew what I was doing when I had no idea what I was doing. That was a monumental one that really did break us into the New York scene. At that point, who the hell were we? We were just a bunch of pig farmers from Ohio.

Monophonics - "Like Yesterday" (2011)

Terry: I met [Monophonics singer/keyboardist Kelly Finnigan] through a rapper named Othello, who's the sweetest dude. He was like, "Man, you remind me of this dude I met named Kelly Finnigan." I was like, "Why?" He's like, "Just the way you guys talk about making records and the kind of records you want to make." So when I spoke to Kelly, he's like, "Hey man, I just joined this band Monophonics. I'll send you this track we just recorded with Sergio Rios from ORGŌNE."

He sent it to me and I thought Kelly's vocals were samples. He's like, "Oh bro, that's me." This record is important because it started work with Monophonics and Kelly, but it's also important because that is what broke us into the West Coast scene.

Postales [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] (2012)

Terry: That's John Carbonella and Mike Deller from the Budos Band; that's their baby. They just didn't have a home for the record; they were like, "It's a real soundtrack to a real movie. We just want to have some copies made."

That was the first LP that I pressed and paid for; that was a terrifying prospect. My then wife was like, "These better sell." I was like, "I don't know if they will, but …." And me as a public school educator, and obviously flush with cash, I became the de facto and financier of this operation. But the expectations were really low back then.

It's such a cool record. There's some gangster-sounding Wu-Tang rhythms on there. There's cool dub s—. There are beautiful Peruvian vibes on there. It's just a really beautiful, lush record.

Jungle Fire - "Comencemos" (2014)

Terry: This is a kind of a continuation of the West Coast s—, but that one blew up with DJs. But that's one of the best selling 45s still today. We still sell gobs of that record every year. That breakbeat is massive. Cut Chemist was juggling doubles of that real early. Other people saw that and were like, "What is that?" So that was the first time we got a taste of that.

Steve Haney (Jungle Fire, percussion): "Comencemos" a.k.a. Fela Kuti’s "Let’s Start" actually propelled the band forward, which wasn’t really the intention since the band started as just a jam for a one off party. Kelly Finigan heard the tune recorded over at Orgone’s Sergio Rios' Killion studios, then he shared the tunes with Terry at Colemine.

Terry: Steve called me. I remember pacing around my backyard talking on the phone 'cause he was grilling me with all these questions that I did not have the answers to. I was like, "I don't know bro, I'm going to do this and I'm going to do this and here's what I normally do and blah, blah, blah." He's an inquisitive artist. Not all artists ask questions, but they should.

Haney: Working with Terry has always been positive. I admire his passion and drive to release good music. He’s been very transparent in all his business dealings. We appreciate his push putting out 4 of our 45’s into the world and especially into DJ’s hands.

The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble - The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble (2015)

Terry: Sure Fire, they're one band we've done the most work with over the years. We didn't have an online store, so physically in Loveland, Ohio, there are 200 motherf—ers that came in and bought that record because we were playing it all the time. It was one of those times where it was just so cool to see a local community respond to what we were doing.  It just sold it by the gobs to anybody that came in, I mean, you're in San Diego. It's major keys and sunny vibes.

Tim Felten (Sure Fire, keys): Our S/T LP was both a foundation for our band, and our relationship with Colemine Records. Through the label, we became instantly associated with incredible artists like Monophonics and Jungle Fire, and soon after, Orgone and Durand Jones and the Indications. We are forever grateful to Terry, Bob, and the rest of the crew for believing in our music and our four LPs and countless 7" releases partnership.

Durand Jones and the Indications - Durand Jones and the Indications (2016)

Terry: [Guitarist] Blake Rein was visiting his family in Cincinnati and hit me up and said he could fix my Hammond M3 to make it run to my Leslie. And I was like, "Bro, that's all you have to say. That's reason enough to hang out if you can fix that for me."

And then he said, "I'm in this band, Durand Jones & The Indications" and sent me some MP3s of the entire album. I had the CD in my Cavalier and the song "Make A Change" came on, and my ex-wife said she liked it. I remember thinking, Well there's no way I can put this s— out, because she and I had very different music tastes.

Then I was playing whatever's on my iTunes over the speakers [in the store] and enough people kept asking about it and I was like, maybe we should release this. And we already had plans to release a 45", but that was what motivated me to be like, "Blake, we should just do the whole record."

Durand Jones (singer): We owe our careers to Colemine, because those dudes believed that we had something. We couldn't even convince ourselves that we did — we were thinking that we didn't have a concise collection of songs. But we were young and we had so much more to learn about ourselves, and about art and music, and what it can be. And Terry opened that gate in our minds, and I really appreciate him for that.

I was working in a science lab and the boss was trying to convince me to go into science full time and give up the music thing. And when that record came out, I'd be walking down the street in Bloomington, Indiana and random folks would stop me just to let me know how beautiful that record was. And I really do believe that that record gave me a second chance at a career in music, because I thought it was lost.

Terry: The release night in Loveland was crazy. We started playing [the album] and selling them way before the street date and so, when they came to play the release show on June 15, the place was packed. This little tiny store that could probably legally only hold 30 people, there was, I think, 150 people packed into this tiny room. That record obviously changed the trajectory for us. The first week it came out, the record immediately sold out, through distribution. And that's the first time that it happened.

Soul Slabs Vol. 1 (2017)

Terry: That time period's fun because it's varied [in terms of the sound of our releases]. Soul Slabs 1 came out that year and was a huge release. That was such a monumental thing to put a comp together to showcase all of the sevens. Because sevens are such a hard push for stores. And to put all these things together into one package, that's an easy sell. It's like, "Oh hey, here's the first hit. You'll love it." And then you're hooked.

The Flying Stars of Brooklyn, Ny - "My God Has A Telephone" (2017)

Terry: I didn't even know what the f— Spotify was and, all of a sudden I saw all this money coming in from our digital distributor for "My God has a Telephone." It was on these massive playlists generating crazy revenue.

It was also just fun, Aaron [Frazer] and I working on that stuff, and trying to figure out a way to market our private press, gospel lo-fi thing. And it really was foreshadowing Aaron's provincial solo career. Because, the idea was to make a Flying Stars LP, but it was like, "Oh no, Aaron's probably just going to make his own record."

It was also the first time Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty tweeted about us, which has forever been in my phone as Rob Thomas Day: Nov. 22

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio - Close But No Cigar (2018)

Terry: The Delvon record was significant because I always wanted to do an organ trio or a proper organ-centric, prestige, Booker T, Meters vibe. So much organ s— is just wanking, just playing as much as possible. And Delvon plays so melodically, and singably, and Jimmy [James] and David [McGraw] are so pocket.

I knew I liked it, but I was pretty blown away with how other people responded to it as well. That's one of those records that we sell to metalheads, to punk dudes, to jazzers, and soul dudes. It also broke us into the Pacific Northwest.

Kelly Finnigan - The Tales People Tell (2019)

Terry: I think that's one of the best records we've ever made. There's a lot of people on that record — he's got his core crew and then there's lots of friends; he did some of it with me in Loveland, and then with Sergio [from ORGŌNE] in L.A., and his dad's on there, and [drummer] James Gadson's on there.

Kelly and I just have the exact same stylistic, aesthetic desires. Every time he called me with a demo, I was like, "Yes, just do it more, and dirtier. And more drums." We were just constantly sending inspirations and vibes, and aesthetics, and track references, and just came very, very naturally. At the end of it, we looked back and we were like, "God damn, this record f—ing smashes."

Kelly Finnigan (singer, keys): It was an extremely organic process. I did not plan on making a solo record; I was simply writing songs, coming up with ideas and putting them together in the studio on the spot. Once I got a half a dozen songs completed, I realized I was onto something. Terry Cole encouraged me to finish it,  and his guidance was crucial to the success of the project. It was a very fulfilling experience, I enjoyed making the album and I’m very proud of it.

Black Pumas - Black Pumas (2019)

Terry: Ah the Black Pumas. Adrian Quesada sent me that record in December of, I don't remember what year, and it took me too many weeks to get back with him. As soon as Bob and I heard it, Bob was like, "It kind of reminds me of Alabama Shakes in a way." And I was like, "But that's not Colemine."

And I was like, "Here it is. Let's do it. This is Karma Chief." And it was a one LP deal. Adrian's such a sweetheart, and a good dude to work with, but it really took on a life of its own beyond what we could properly service.

Rudy De Anda - Tender Epoch (2020)

Terry: Rudy is also a very different style for us, which goes to the whole aesthetic of Karma Chief. The only reason we sign people is if I like the music, and we like the people. And I've always loved Rudy as a person, but musically what has always grabbed me about him is the level of authenticity. Rudy knows he's not the greatest singer in the whole world, but I believe everything that Rudy says.

Rudy De Anda: As a Chicano, it was truly great to release a record with both English and Spanish. I'm honored to be a part of a label that's vinyl-forward.

Terry: Rudy was the first one that was bumped [because of the pandemic]...  and I was nervous because this was going to be our first thing we're going to release on Karma Chief during the pandemic. But, it sold out pretty instantly. It was the third or fourth Karma Chief deal.

Monophonics - It's Only Us (2020)

Terry: Monophonics always felt like one where I was like, oh man, I can't wait to get to the point where I can feel really good about having the financial resources and the human resources to be able to service this band. So going into that record, it was a big deal for us. And the record came out on Friday, March 13, 2020, which is like D-day; that was the weekend when s— really started to shut down.

There's a lot of very doomsday, weird songs on that record. It sort of ended up being this strange soundtrack for the pandemic in a lot of ways; there's songs of hope on there, but there's songs of massive despair on there as well. Everything about that record ended up being very, very successful — physically, digitally, sync-wise — in spite of the circumstances.

Brighter Days Ahead (2021)

Terry: This was sort of a marketing campaign that grew out of necessity, because the pandemic just totally f—ed our release schedule and all of our plans. Everything was on pause; the pressing plant was closed down for several months; we couldn't have staff and Bob and I had to revert back to shipping packages. I had a real sense of guilt for our artists; I was like: Man, I wish there was something I could do.

[Brighter Days] felt like a way to keep artists happy, and if we can do it collectively as a Colemine family, it can become more impactful than any of those individual releases. Every Thursday night, we would premiere whatever track was coming out on Friday on YouTube. And then it would almost be a mini DJ set basically from the artist, where they would just pick 20 to 30 minutes worth of stuff. And we'd just be in the chat room talking s—, and just talking about the songs, talking about their song, talking about their record.

It became this little community building exercise. We never had more than 150 or 200 people in those chat rooms, but it felt like it just kept swelling during the whole campaign. And it really felt like it gave folks something to look forward to.  

Kendra Morris - Nine Lives (2022) 

Terry: We put out 16 LPs this year, so it's hard to pick. But it's really nice to have some women on the label being top artists for us. Our staff is women at the shop and the label. And so it's like, it's always nice to just not work with a bunch of white dudes all the time. Or just dudes, dudes being dudes.

When Kendra put out her first stuff on Wax Poetics' [label] back in the day, I remember just thinking she has a unique sound, like this dark, mysterious, weird s—. And I was just like, God, it'd be fun to work with her one day. Her stuff always felt a little bit contemporary and it didn't necessarily fit into this Colemine model. And so once Karma Chief was a thing, I hit her up and I was like, Hey, let's revisit this conversation.

Kendra Morris: It's incredible to have Terry and a label that allows me to grow and to try new things. I just love that there's artist development, and that you come up with an idea and they're super encouraging of that. Growth is painful, and probably a lot of people don’t want to watch your pain or be a part of your pain if their dollars are on it. But you have to go through those things to find a diamond.  Terry loves being a part of that. I’ve never felt so secure as an artist. To have creative security, that’s the best feeling in the world.

Terry: Damn, that's the highest praise you can get from an artist.

2023

Terry: We have so many things [for 2023]. We're reissuing Kendra’s Babble, expanded. There's Steve Okonski's first record which is called Magnolia; Steve is the keyboard player in Durand Jones. GA-20 have a Live In Loveland record, which was the last show before the pandemic. Andrew Gabbard has a country record out, it's adorable, it's called Cedar City Sweetheart; his mom told him to make a country record, so he did. The Ironsides is the biggest sounding record with a full orchestra, really going at the David Axelrod vibe.

I'm not saying we're at the apex of record labeling, but we're obviously at a point where I don't have that pit in my stomach that I used to, where I felt like something I was doing was somehow a limiting factor in the success of a project. It's a good feeling to be confident in what you're giving your artists.

Next year, we're going to try to not only stock our friends from Big Crown and Numero Group and Daptone, but other releases that are independent that we're like, "Hey, this is dope." The idea of Colemine still being a label primarily, but also becoming more of this curator. If we do grow as a brand or whatever — or as a curator or editorial, whatever it is — it only enhances our ability to offer services to our artists. It only brings more eyes to them and that's the ultimate goal.

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Durand Jones_WaitTilIGetOver
Durand Jones

Photo: Rahim Fortune

interview

How Durand Jones' Debut Album 'Wait Til I Get Over' Helped Him Explore His Roots & Find Self-Acceptance

The soul singer — best known for his work in the quintet Durand Jones and the Indications — reflects on home, family and having faith in yourself on 'Wait Til I Get Over,' his debut solo album.

GRAMMYs/May 5, 2023 - 01:06 pm

Durand Jones has been around the world — traveling much further than his humble beginnings would belie. As a founding member of popular soul group Durand Jones & the Indications, the 30-year-old singer has packed the Hollywood Palladium and sold out European tours; he’ll soon head to Japan as a solo act.

Yet the independent artist wanted his debut solo album to be an evocative, almost visceral portrait of the unincorporated hamlet along the Mississippi River where he grew up. "I wanted it to sound like hot, musty, zesty, sweet magnolias on a hot July day," he says.

While that may be a highly specific sense tied to memory, it’s with good reason. Jones is from the sugarcane field-laden Hillaryville, Louisiana, a town in the Atchafalaya Basin wetlands about an hour from New Orleans. Hillaryville’s history, characters, sounds, and smells are the bedrock of Wait Til I Get Over, the singer/songwriter’s sonic memoir.

"Leaving Hillaryville for the very first time, I realized just how special it was, and how unique it was — the people, the music, the culture, the art of it," Jones tells GRAMMY.com. "I wanted to tell my story…but where does it begin? And it didn't begin with me. It began after the Civil War when these eight formerly enslaved men created this town. And so I wanted to start there and find a way to capture that musically."

The results are a cornucopia of Southern soul, from its roots in gospel and blues to fuzzy, muddy rock and spoken word. Throughout, Jones creates nuanced portraits of the characters that have populated his life — his grandmother, members of his church, a married lover — whose presence help Jones investigate his sense of self. Faith, queerness and determination all feature in the 12-track LP, which is equal parts earnest reflection and deep groove.

Jones has carried that bounty of emotion ground with him throughout his musical journey, yet Wait Til I Get Over (out May 5 via Dead Oceans) is the first time he’s truly dove deep. "Too many of us in places like where I'm from are often shut down, or just made to believe that you're not capable of doing something like this," he says. "But if I could tell my 17-year-old self that he’s worth it, I would." 

Durand Jones doesn’t have his bags packed in the hours before flying from his home in San Antonio to Bloomington, Indiana — where he went to college with members of the Indications and where he’ll rehearse for his upcoming solo tour — but he was ready to dive into the baggage of youth, place and the concept of home with GRAMMY.com. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You went to college at Indiana University, Bloomington; it's funny that that's still kind of a home base for you.

I know! They have a little term in Bloomington: the Bloomerang. I just keep going back. I’m a Gulf kind of guy, so it's weird to me to fall in love with a place so landlocked. There’s something about it, got a little charm to it.

Home is obviously a major theme that runs through your record; when did you leave Hillaryville?

I left for the first time when I was 17 years old in 2007. And then I went back to Hillaryville around 2014. I didn't think that I was going to stay a while, but there were different plans from the universe. And I stayed there until the end of 2020.

I was just getting the small-town blues, honestly. It was nice to be at home when I was on the road for 200 days of the year, but being in Hillaryville during the pandemic every day, small town things started to get to me. It made me realize I still need to travel and see the world and do things.

Did you ever think you would be homesick or wistful for this place that you've spent so much of your life?

I never thought I would. I started to get real homesick once I started to realize just how special it was to me and to the people in the community, even though it's no longer what it once was.

Why was it important to you to put those feelings out and use this place as the setting for your debut?

Well, I wanted to tell my story. My work with the Indications is done collectively, so you're only getting a part of me — you're not getting the full thing.

I was really inspired a lot through books like Sing Unburied Sing and Mean We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward; Citizen, Claudia Rankine, Just Above My Head and Fire Next Time by James Baldwin; Grapefruit, Yoko Ono [and] Toni Morrison. These books really inspired me to tell a story in a memoir or a novel form, but through music.

So I wanted to hit these things that I was going through. I wanted to capture the essence of it all. [Secretly Group Co-Founder] Chris Swanson asked me what I wanted this record to sound like, and I straight up told him I wanted it to sound like hot, musty, zesty, sweet Magnolias on a hot July day in Louisiana. And he wrote with me with that [in mind].

I really wanted to have night sounds and the feeling of being next to the river. We gathered pictures of Hillaryville — specifically my father's trailer — we wanted these raw raucous sounds to be there as well as some sweet and tender moments. [We wanted to] capture the essence of my grandmother and the elders.

As somebody who's been following your career for a while, it's easy to follow the musical through lines from revivalist soul to disco to gospel and beyond. But when we spoke last about Colemine Records and I asked how this album was going, you sort of took a deep breath and said, "Man, I made a rock record."  Why was that definition nerve wracking to you?

I really built this house of sorts with the Indications. We've been moving towards a sweeter and sweeter sound as our records progress, which has been really great for me because it's challenged me so much to learn how to change my voice and mix it up. It made me fall in love even more with artists like Luther Vandross and Dionne Warwick. But deep in my soul, I'm such a student of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. And those were parts of myself that I really desired to express.

So during this record, I really wanted to go back to my roots a bit and, and push myself a little more and push the band a little more too. I'm really, really proud of the outcome.

The album has all of these big, kind of operatic songs. As a whole, Wait Til I Get Over moves from somber and a little serious to rocking and exploding with joy. Was the expression of joy important to you?

Definitely. I almost named this record A Letter To My 17-Year-Old-Self, but in a way it's still a letter to not only that 17-year-old kid within me, but also to all of these other kids in the rural South. I hope that they will have a chance to see or hear this record and hear that joy and hear the seriousness, the pain, the triumphs, all of it, and know that they could do something like this.

Too many of us in places like where I'm from are often shut down or just made to believe that you're not capable of doing something like this. But if I could tell my 17-year-old self that he’s worth it, I would. Lose that impostor syndrome. You deserve any seat you get at any table.

Did you feel like you were put down or not encouraged in the way you would have liked to when you were younger? Or was your family generally pretty supportive?

It was very contradicting, it's so weird. My grandmother, from the beginning, really supported me. She was the light in the darkness for me and my siblings growing up, because we were estranged from my mom. I didn't know my mom. She left me when I was about 3 years old.

My grandmother really stepped in and really helped my dad take care of us. She was the first person that took me to get my very first musical instrument — a saxophone — and she always encouraged me to go beyond and do college and do music. [My dad] was like, "great, but I'm not going to pay for anything." And I appreciated that because it made me work really hard, but it did kind of sting.

Doing all of the recitals and all of those different things and seeing other friends’ families fill up and like my family, not, it really kinda hurt. Once I started to do stuff with the Indications and people started to ask him about what I was doing while he was at church, he started to get interested. Once he saw me on TV then really got interested.

Are the characters on this album — Gerri Marie, Sadie — real people?

Yes. I love starting this record with Gerri Marie, because it really embodies the spirit of her. She has such a welcoming spirit and presence. She has this pristine quality about her that feels expensive, but she's also like a Southern lady. So like she still has that hot sauce in her bag, you know?

I wanted to capture all those beautiful things about her. She's someone that I truly love deeply. I just don't know if I can be the guy for her that she wants me to be, because I'm such a rolling stone. I showed the song to her and she was really ecstatic about it; very tearful.

Sadie is a lady I met in New Orleans. And I was a young 20-something guy, naive and gullible. And once we met, she would invite me over to her house for crawfish etouffee. One thing will lead to another and we would end up fooling around, which was cool. But she was married.

I think I was looking for love in all kinds of crazy places. But I realized that those kinds of thrills lead to nothingness. And that's not what I'm looking for. [When] my friends hit me up about the music for "Sadie," I immediately knew I was going to write about this lady. But I wanted to do a turn in the lyrics and make it seem like the husband found out — he didn’t really find out.

We might not be having this conversation if he did.

Hell no! I'd be six feet in somebody's casket, for real. My homewrecking days are over.

Speaking of love in all its permutations, "That Feeling" is really tender and the first love song you’ve written about a man. I'm curious why it's taken you until now to come out with your music.

I'm starting to ask myself why it's taken me so long. And I think a lot of that had to do with I was so afraid of what my small little community would think. And in a lot of ways, I'm still afraid; I haven't been back to Hillaryville since that song has come out. But for the most part, I've been met with love and acceptance and empathy. It’s been such a beautiful process for me to come out as a bisexual dude.

I think the answer is why it took so long is, I had to unpack the trauma that I held deep inside of myself. I grew up in church and I love my pastor — he gave me my first car, granted it was like 1996 Honda Elantra, little rinky dink car, but he think me to be like, really exceptional —  but also at the same time, nearly every Sunday, he was talking about how homosexuality was wrong. Being gay was bad, you're gonna go to hell if you do s— like that.

Anytime he would bring that stuff up, it always felt like a knife to the heart and it would make me so frickin' anxious and really sad. I remember just being an adolescent and like praying to God and being like, If you love me like why did you make me this way?

I had to unpack all of that stuff. And I've learned through James Baldwin that if I wanted to overcome this, one of the best ways to do it is to do art in vulnerability, because that's an ultimate form of strength. And if I wanted to tell my story, this had to be included within it.

Speaking of church, the title track features a choir to fantastic effect — but it’s really your voice layered multiple times, and recorded in your bedroom. Why did you choose to record yourself as a choir as opposed to using an actual choir?

There was a sound that I was going for that I knew couldn't necessarily be taught. There's like, knowledge and wisdom; you live to get the wisdom and you learn to get the knowledge.

I felt like doing it myself would be a real big challenge, but also I could try to honor the folks that are big inspirations for me vocally that were at home. Like this man Jardino, I tried to sing like him in there; I tried to sing like Miss Dawn, like Vanessa …. I tried to emulate these different voices. At first I was afraid it would sound like a bunch of Durands, but I've been surprised that people don’t know it’s all me.

There's also a line in that song that really stuck with me, "Getting by with just self-esteem." Can you tell me a little bit about what that line, or that theme, means to you?

At the time I was writing these tunes, I was literally getting by with nothing. Like I didn't have any money. At the lowest point, I was working a minimum wage job and they would schedule you like 37, 38, 39 hours a week just so they could make sure that you wouldn't get 40 hours so they didn’t have to give you health insurance. That job, and going back and forth to court to keep felonies off my record, and all of this bulls— that happened in Indiana, right when I was finishing grad school, which was insane.

All I had was the belief that I still was worth it. I still had something to give, something to say in this music, life, world, place. Sometimes for you to be successful, you need to fail. Fall right on your face. Maybe once or twice, maybe three times. I'm still falling on my face. And I feel like failures are just as important as the success. 

Joy Oladokun's 'Proof Of Life' Honors Her Own Experience — And Encourages Others To Do The Same

Photo by Rosie Cohe

interview

Indie Singer Kendra Morris Discusses How Heartbreak, Unexpected Life Changes And Imperfections Led To Her Intimate Pop-Soul Album ‘Nine Lives’

The New York artist’s new LP, 'Nine Lives' blends dynamic vocals with the sensitive sensibility of classic singer/songwriters. After spending the past few years doing backing vocals for others, Kendra Morris is officially reclaiming the spotlight.

GRAMMYs/Feb 17, 2022 - 09:12 pm

"I've always felt like I've lived multiple lifetimes," singer/songwriter Kendra Morris says.

The past 10 years alone have certainly warranted that feeling: Along with releasing several singles and EPs, Morris has toured with guitar legend Dennis Coffey, played in a band with Scarlett Johansson, collaborated with icons like MF DOOM and DJ Premier, had a child, and turned a visual arts hobby into an animation career.

It's fitting, then, that her second LP is titled Nine Lives. The 10-track album (due Feb. 18 via Karma Chief Records, her label debut) is intimate, showcasing Morris' heartfelt songwriting on the delicate "Penny Pincher," but never shying away from highlighting the fullness of her range on reverb-drenched power anthems such as the sun-soaked "This Life" and the operatic "Who We Are."

The Tampa-raised, Brooklyn-based singer has an Americana cool aesthetic — big blonde hair, cut in a shag; oversized glasses; a wide smile with a gold tooth; a flair for '70s and '80s era vintage clothes — and a booming, throaty voice that belies her petite frame. Morris is similarly cool carving her own musical lane, deftly navigating pop, rock and soul influences. And after spending the past few years doing backing vocals for others, she is officially reclaiming the spotlight.

Ahead of the release of Nine Lives and an upcoming tour opening for labelmate Neal Francis, GRAMMY.com spoke with Morris about vulnerability in song, her creative process and favorite collaborations. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How long have you been working on Nine Lives?

It's been about nine years, it's a continuation of [my 2012 debut LP] Banshee.

The last one I wrote for the album was "Drag On." It was when we were all just finally able to start going out again as COVID first was starting to let down around the springtime. I just remember having social anxiety of like, I don't know if I want to go outside. I don't know how to talk to people. I feel like [lockdown] did something; I don't know how to be the same person I was before this or how to socialize the same way.

And even before then, I've always felt like I've lived multiple lifetimes. I think everybody goes through multiple lives in a lifetime, hopefully. That’s how you grow, through phases and mistakes and shedding stuff. 

Beyond the pandemic, what else has happened in your life since Banshee?

I've been an on-and-off sober person; right when Banshee came out, I was sober for four years. I fell off of that, and then got pregnant and had a kid [which was] not planned — nothing in my life has ever been planned. The only thing that I've ever had my eye on is just music and performing, and writing and being an artist, being creative, and self expression to keep me alive. And hopefully, other people can tap into that as well. 

With these last 10 years, I was never like, "Oh woe is me, how can this be?" It's always been roll with the punches. If you roll with it, if you follow the current, you're going to surf the wave, you're not going to have the current pull you under. 

With having my daughter, I was in the middle of touring Europe [on] pretty big stages. You wouldn't believe the amount of people that think that, as a woman, if you have a child, that you have to quit everything. I had so many people that were like, "So what are you gonna do now that you can't be a singer?" Or "You can just be a mommy now." I just was like, why would I quit? I'm just gonna find a way to make it a part of my life.

As always, it's an uphill battle. Relationships, people in your life, are not guaranteed; I've had some major heartbreaks in my life. And I just really like to write those experiences into a song. If I'm hurting, that's how I can write myself out of the emotions — find the right words for them, and then try to move on from them.

Yeah, I can hear the frustration in your voice on "Who We Are." Your vocals on that song are so powerful and commanding. Are there any songs on this album that are particularly meaningful?

["Who We Are" is] one of my favorites to do live. It's definitely the hardest vocally to do — I can't move around on stage. It's a powerful message and I feel I need to harness all of me, down to my belly button, to really sing it to the back of the room.

I love "Penny Pincher" because it's so naked and vulnerable. I love imperfect music. I think that's why I'm so drawn to old soul music and vocalists of the '60s; you heard their voice as it was. I love some of those really young girl groups and [songs like] Penny and the Quarters' "You And Me" or even Little Ann "Deep Shadows" because you can hear their voices crack — you can hear how this young girl was sitting there, just letting it out, and there was no technology to Melodyne it. The reverb was because of the room they were in.

One of the reasons I love "Penny Pincher" is because I can hear where my voice was very imperfect. It wasn't my best vocal take, but it was my most emotional vocal take, and that was really important for me for that song.

Then you have a song like "This Life" — I was really happy when I wrote that. I was having a lot of fun playing blackjack, hanging out at the casinos in Tampa all night with a bunch of old men.

There are a lot of ballads on Nine Lives; some are really hopeful, some seem sorrowful and others are both within the same song. I think it builds to a really interesting album and highlights your complexity of emotion.

I finally sent it to my parents and they're listening while they play dominoes. My mom's like, "I didn't know you had such depth." Thanks mom! [Laughs].

When I'm out, I can come off as a very silly, goofy person. But I'm actually really shy and awkward, and I have a lot of social anxiety. My logo is a sad clown — it's an old tattoo flash design that my husband drew for me — and that kinda is me. I'm allowed to like goofiness and silliness, but also, I can be very withdrawn and am thinking all the time. That's the way that I come out in my music, and my music is always vulnerable. You'll find the most honesty of me in a song.

For "Circle Eights," I was going to a bunch of rooftop Jonathan Tobin Our Wicked Lady parties. I remember, one night, standing outside of the bar, looking around and feeling totally alone. And feeling like I was just watching New York from a distance and watching everyone; I felt outside of my body. That song is just about… these are all these nice new people, but do they really care about me? And I think we all go there sometimes when we're out at night, but I think New York is a big, lonely city.

It certainly can be. I'd love to hear about the album creation process. Who from the big lonely city is in your band?

Jeremy Page — I've worked with him for years, we've been writing partners, and he's produced me since Banshee. When you look back at a lifetime and nine lifetimes, there's usually some sort of common thread that stitches it all together. He's definitely part of this one stitch with the music. He's been a constant.

I'm a fan of habits, even though they kill me sometimes. [Jeremy] is in Bushwick and it would always be going over there and writing twice a week. That's how this record kind of came to be too — him messing around with some sounds and then me kind of doing the diary entry of what was on my mind. Even during COVID, I was still over there, double masked up, and writing through it.

In so many ways. I've had the same crews of guys on all this music. And that's been nice to have relationships with the same people for 10 years. But Jeremy is the one who will bring in and kind of set [the players].

You put out a few singles between Banshee and Nine Lives, as well as an EP, but you've also done a lot of work with other people. Tell me about your favorite collaborations.

My favorite has been all the CZARFACE stuff. On "Phantoms," which was MF DOOM and Open Mike Eagle, they used a sample from a really old song of mine called "Spooky Boy." Even though I didn't get to meet DOOM, it was still such an honor to be on tracks with him and to know that he heard me.

I also really love working with [TV on the Radio's] Dave Sitek. I did a girl band with Scarlett Johansson, who's a buddy of mine, and my best buddy Julia Haltigan. We did that mostly out of just wanting a reason to hang out and make some music together, but I met Dave through that. Nothing really came of it, but it was another part of another life. It all comes back to, like, do cool things with people you care about and enjoy every minute of it. Enjoy even the s****y moments.

You also toured with famous session guitarist Dennis Coffey. How did that come to be?

Dennis Coffey is the most sampled guitarist of all time in hip-hop. When I signed with Wax Poetics' [record label], the first thing that I put out with them was a converse split 45 with Syl Johnson on one side. This guy, Chris, who lived in Detroit was a big Wax Poetics fan and he just happened to be managing Dennis Coffey.

Chris put together a band and recorded a comeback record for Dennis. And he's like, "we're going to be doing dates and South by Southwest and we need someone to sing on all these songs he played on." [Dennis] played on Stevie Wonder's early tracks, he played on the Temptations, he was a part of Motown soul. I was just a sponge around him.

I'm a big, firm believer of just saying yes to things and being open to opportunities and chances.

You've been posting a lot of fun, interesting promo videos for your album and have done a lot of them yourself.

I've always been into visual arts and was always drawing, making my own clothes. I used to bartend in the East Village at Library Bar for 13 years on really boring day shifts, and I would sit alone at the bar and collage on anything, like matchbooks. I would create my own CD covers and pass them out.

When [Banshee came out] it was important to have videos and video was really expensive —  there was no such thing as apps. I was like, well, I can't afford a music video, maybe I'll just try to learn animation.

I spent a summer doing a stop motion thing and I found it was kind of a meditation. People responded to it [and] I had a lot of fun, so I just kept doing it. CZARFACE saw me posting stuff… suddenly it was like I just kept going down the rabbit hole and challenging myself to do more.  Now I've had a whole second career; I just did a Kangol campaign, [turning] their whole campaign into collage animation. I did a new video for Skinshape — I [previously] did a video for his "I Didn't Know."

Creativity is like this current that flows, and if I'm spending time doing visual arts and music videos and then I go back to writing a song or singing, it's like I'm reinspired.

What do you think your next "life" will look like? What do you hope Nine Lives will bring to you?

I like when people send me a message like, "Hey, I'm listening to this and it's really helping me today." I know that sounds corny, but I want to share this way that I deal with things and see things. I love tapping into that energy, I love singing, and I hope that this record will just keep me doing it.

Everybody has their calling. I will do this for one person until the day I die, for 20 people, for 2,000 people, for 2 million people. I do it because it's just who I am. That thread of nine lives is made out of iron.


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Rebelution

Rebelution

Photo: Rebecca Sapp/WireImage

news

Rebelution Plots Good Vibes Summer Tour With Protoje, Collie Buddz & More

The reggae band from California will bring its get-away-from-it-all vibe cross-country this June through August, with even more show dates added

GRAMMYs/Mar 1, 2019 - 05:46 am

Rebelution, the GRAMMY-nominated reggae band from Santa Barbara,Calif., has added even more dates to its recently-announced Good Vibes Summer Tour 2019 with  Protoje, Collie Buddz, Durand Jones & the Indications and more. The 30+ date tour kicks off on June 13 in Albuquerque, N.M., visiting amphiteaters and other summer-ready outdoor venues across the country, closing out at the Beach at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Aug. 30 and 31.

Towards the end of the tour, on Aug. 24 the band will make a stop at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colo., where they recorded 2016's Live At Red Rocks album. This scenic show will feature support from both Protoje, who's joining the first nine shows, and Collie Buddz, who joins for the tenth, as well as a special appearance from GRAMMY-winning reggae group Morgan Heritage, plus the Meditations and Judge Roughneck. Durand Jones & the Indications are on board for the first 13 dates, after which Iya Terra will swap with them for two shows in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Rebelution's most recent album, 2018's Free Rein, was their fifth time breaking into the Billboard 200. Discussing its track "City Life," Eric Rachmany told us it inspires getting away from it all to "beautiful, pristine places," which follow him when he performs it. "I'm like 'oh, as soon as this tour is over I'm gonna go lay low on a beach somewhere in Hawaii,'" he said. "Every time we play that song live, that's what I think about."

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Recent first-time GRAMMY nominee Protoje will supporting 20 of their dates. He was the featured artist on Rebelution's track "Inhale Exhale" from their 2016 album Falling Into Place, which was nominated for Best Reggae Album at the 59th GRAMMY Awards. Protoje's 2018 album A Matter Of Time was recently nominated in the same category at the 61st GRAMMY Awards.

Tickets are on sale at Rebelution's website, including details regarding the changing lineup. DJ Mackle will be supporting the group throughout their tour. 

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One Take: Rebelution's Eric Rachmany On Touring & Good Advice

Billy Joel
Billy Joel performing at Madison Square Garden in 2023

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

news

How To Watch "The 100th: Billy Joel At Madison Square Garden – The Greatest Arena Run Of All Time" On April 14

"The 100th: Billy Joel At Madison Square Garden – The Greatest Arena Run Of All Time" will air Sunday, April 14 (9-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on CBS, and be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

GRAMMYs/Apr 14, 2024 - 02:16 pm

Legendary singer/songwriter Billy Joel, a five-time GRAMMY winner with 23 nominations, has always remained in the Recording Academy's spotlight, even during his lengthy hiatus from pop/rock music.

At the 2024 GRAMMYs, Joel marked his grand comeback with his new single, "Turn the Lights Back On" — and it was like he never turned them off at all.

Now, the era of Billy Joel rolls on. Tonight, April 14, viewers can witness his record-breaking 100th consecutive performance at Madison Square Garden, a streak that started when his franchise run began on March 28. Joel holds the amazing distinction of selling out Madison Square Garden more than any other artist.

Here's how and when to watch "The 100th: Billy Joel At Madison Square Garden – The Greatest Arena Run Of All Time."

The special will air Sunday, April 14 from 9-11:00 PM, ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. This is Joel's first-ever concert to air on a broadcast network — so don't miss the Piano Man at work, whether you watch on the night of, or stream it after the broadcast.

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