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.
"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<em></em><em></em>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.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photos: JC Olivera/Getty Images; Milton Arellano; Lorne Thomson/Redferns); Josh Brasted/FilmMagic
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.
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.
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.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].