meta-scriptPhil Lesh, Bob Weir Of Grateful Dead Announce First-Ever Duo Tour | GRAMMY.com
Phil Lesh, Bob Weir Of Grateful Dead Announce First-Ever Duo Tour

Phil Lesh and Bob Weir

Photo: Patrick McMullen/Getty Images

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Phil Lesh, Bob Weir Of Grateful Dead Announce First-Ever Duo Tour

The pair has scheduled a six-show tour in March 2018

GRAMMYs/Dec 12, 2017 - 02:07 am

Following the success of the Fare Thee Well 50th-anniversary shows in 2016, and subsequent extended tours across 2016–2017 as Dead & Company with guest guitarist John Mayer, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh — — two of the "core four" co-founders of the inexhaustible jam band the Grateful Dead — have announced their first-ever duo tour.

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The three-city, six-show Bobby & Phil tour will be produced by Peter Shapiro, the concert and festival promoter best known for his Arrington, Va., Lockn' Festival and who helped put together the Dead's 2015 farewell shows.

"We're going to play everything we can think of," Lesh said in a statement to Billboard. "We're going to do [Bob Weir's] stuff, we're going to do my stuff, we're going to play [Jerry Garcia's] stuff, we'll do Grateful Dead stuff and we'll do covers. We're going to try and play everything we've ever played together and maybe some new stuff too."

The tour kicks off on March 2 at New York City's historic Radio City Music Hall, and wraps up in Chicago at the Chicago Theater on March 11.

"Verified Fan" presale opened today via Ticketmaster, and tickets for the general public will go on sale on Dec. 15 at 10 a.m. local time. More information is available at BobbyAndPhil.com.

New Photo Book Chronicles Grateful Dead's 30-Year Tour Run

GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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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.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

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."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

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.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

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." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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A Beginner’s Guide To The Grateful Dead: 5 Ways To Get Into The Legendary Jam Band
The Grateful Dead (from left): Bill Kreutzman, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Brent Mydland and Mickey Hart

Photo: Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS/VCG via Getty Images

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A Beginner’s Guide To The Grateful Dead: 5 Ways To Get Into The Legendary Jam Band

Not a Deadhead? Dread not; GRAMMY.com offers a few suggested routes to begin your long strange trip with the Grateful Dead.

GRAMMYs/Sep 11, 2023 - 01:58 pm

Just because you never traded bootleg tapes with strangers or dropped acid to experience that Timothy Leary whacked-out feeling, you can still appreciate the Grateful Dead. 

When the Dead began their psychedelic trip back in the late 1960s, the media categorized their followers as lazy, counter-culture drop-outs. The reality: these devotees, known today as Deadheads, were just music-lovers that shared values and believed in the power of community, peace and love. Today, Deadhead culture and the band’s popularity is as relevant as ever. Even as the original fans age, new Gen Z disciples arrive each year to carry on the jams.  

Flash back to San Francisco, 1965. The original lineup, calling themselves the Warlocks, formed from the remnants of Palo Alto band Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions and Bay Area folk group the Wildwood Boys. After learning of another group called the Warlocks, the band became the Grateful Dead overnight. The story goes that guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia picked the band’s name randomly from the dictionary. 

The earliest gigs under this new moniker occurred at Ken Kesey’s infamous Acid Test parties. Founding members were: Garcia; Bob Weir (rhythm guitar/vocals); Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (harmonica, keyboards/vocals); Phil Lesh (bass) and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. Robert Hunter and Mickey Hart joined the group in 1967. 

The Grateful Dead were a free-flowing fusion of folk, rock, soul, blues and jazz, and their improvisational approach to the music created a new classification in the lexicon: a "jam band." A Dead concert was all about the songs, the feelings, and the interplay between musicians. The jams mattered, not perfection. 

Playing live was where the Grateful Dead made their money (they were one of the top grossing touring acts for decades), playing some 2,200 plus concerts globally in its 30-year career. Deadheads recorded these shows, traded tapes, and followed the white line in VW vans from town to town to take communion with the group night after night. No two shows were the same. Songs meandered longer or shorter depending on where the music — and the Deadheads — led them on any given evening. 

When Jerry Garcia died on Aug. 9, 1995, the remaining members said without their charismatic leader, the Grateful Dead (at least in name) was dead. However, the spirit of the band has carried on with the various solo projects, the Dead & Company (featuring some of the original band members) and countless jam bands. 

The Dead defined an era. The band represented a subculture that influenced the mainstream for decades from lifestyle to fashion; from music to marketing. More than 50 years since the Grateful Dead started jamming, Deadheads are still grateful for the music. 

How do you get into — but also get —  the Grateful Dead? There is no one way. Like all music, to quote the prophet Robert "Nesta" Marley: "when it hits you feel no pain." The important thing with the Dead’s music is that you feel something.  

With the release next month of a deluxe expanded and remastered version of Wake of the Flood (the band’s 1973 debut on Grateful Dead Records), here’s a primer on how to get into these merrymakers, who received a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. Start that long strange trip with these five ways to appreciate — and get to know — the Grateful Dead. 

Start With The Classics

Released just five months apart in 1970 Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty are the touchstones. This pair of albums represented a shift for the band from its psychedelic roots to an Americana road of devotion; the influence of the Bakersfield sound is all over these songs. Do a deep listen of these records and hear some of the Dead’s best-loved classics and Dead show setlist staples for decades. Discover the beauty of the music, the complexity of the arrangements and the heartfelt harmony. 

Workingman’s Dead, released in June 1970, opens with "Uncle John’s Band" — one of the band’s most well-known songs and most oft-covered — it was also the band’s first chart hit. Among the rest of the eight songs here, "Casey Jones," about a train engineer speeding down the tracks "high on cocaine," is another classic.   

American Beauty, the band’s fifth studio record, showcased the Dead at their creative heights and has gone on to double-platinum certification Arriving Nov. 1, 1970, the album is an Americana masterpiece that features acoustically-inclined country-rock numbers mixed with toe-tapping, groovy psychedelic jams. 

Put on your headphones to truly savor the 10 songs that include live regulars: "Friend of the Devil," "Truckin,’" "Box of Rain," "Sugar Magnolia" and "Ripple."

Jam On: Appreciate & Listen To The Followers

The Allman Brothers Band are a close cousin of the Grateful Dead; they also loved to jam and fuse genres. In the 1980s and 1990s many other bands became Dead disciples, among them Phish, Widespread Panic, Blues Traveler, the Dave Matthews Band, Government Mule and the String Cheese Incident. 

These groups continue the jam band tradition for new generations. This in-the-moment, letting the music go where it was meant to go, is their guidepost. The jam band spirit is evident in this 11-minute live version of the Allman Brothers' "Whipping Post" recorded at the Fillmore East in 1973. 

And, let’s not forget those Vermont boys Phish, who showcased their ability to jam with the best of the best during a string of 13 concerts, from July 21 to August 6, 2017 at Madison Square Garden (MSG), dubbed The Baker’s Dozen. Each night of the residency — which has continued, with slightly fewer dates, for years — featured a different set list with no songs repeated throughout this residency at MSG. Night four included a 29-minute jam of their song "Lawn Boy."

Keep On Truckin’: Follow The Long & Winding Road To Uncover More Dead Songs 

The Grateful Dead released 13 studio albums and 77 live records. Their archives are vast and deep, and new live recordings are being released every year. The joy of getting into the Grateful Dead is that there is no rulebook. Just as their shows had no set structure, becoming a Dead fan has no defined musts. That said, here are another trio of songs you must listen to to better understand and appreciate this band.

"Friend of the Devil"

The second song from American Beauty, this acoustic number is a quintessential Dead track. 

"Franklin’s Tower"

First released in 1975 on Blues for Allah, this rollicking number with its repetitive chorus telling you to "roll away the dew," is one of the Dead’s most catchy numbers. Just listen to the live version on Dead Set and try to disagree. 

"Touch of Grey"

The Grateful Dead got another mainstream bump in the late '80s thanks to MTV. The video (the first ever official one made by the Dead) for this single from the 1987 album In the Dark, featured the band turned into life-size marionette skeletons playing this song live. The memorable refrain: "I will get by/ I will survive," and heavy rotation on TV, helped this song become a Top 10 Billboard hit (the group’s only Top 40 charting song of its 30-year-career), bringing the Dead’s music to a new generation. 

Get Turned On & Tune Out 

After listening to some of the Dead’s best live records like Europe ‘72 and Dead Set (1981), subscribe to the Grateful Dead’s YouTube channel. Make sure you’ve got time on your side; for if you go down this rabbit hole, there is no telling when you might resurface. 

That's not a bad thing. Get a taste of what it was like to attend a Dead show. Watch a Dead concert from different decades like this show at the famed San Francisco Winterland on New Year’s Eve in 1978, this one from California’s Shoreline Amphitheatre in 1987, or this one from 1990 at Three RIvers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Read On! The Dead Are Far From Dead 

Thousands of scholarly theses have been written — and continue to be published — on the band; college courses have been created and even a journal is devoted to discussing the cultural significance of the Grateful Dead. Marketing gurus have shared business lessons learned from the band such as the innovative ways they sold and promoted their music. Head to your local library or independent bookstore and ask what books they have on the Grateful Dead. 

A quick Google search reveals dozens upon dozens devoted to this American band: from memoirs written by Dead members Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh, to academic explorations and longform odes by Deadheads. Ready to dive deeper? This film offers an in-depth look at Deadheads’ devotion and gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the connection between a fanbase and a band. And learn more here than you ever thought you wanted — or needed — to know about the Grateful Dead. What a long, strange trip it’s been. 

No Accreditation? No Problem! 10 Potential Routes To Get Into Jazz As A Beginner

Cautious Clay's 'Karpeh' Is & Isn't Jazz: "Let Me Completely Deconstruct My Conception Of The Music"
Cautious Clay

Photo: Meron Menghistab

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Cautious Clay's 'Karpeh' Is & Isn't Jazz: "Let Me Completely Deconstruct My Conception Of The Music"

On his Blue Note Records debut 'Karpeh,' Cautious Clay treats jazz not as a genre, but as a philosophy — and uses it as a launchpad for a captivating family story.

GRAMMYs/Aug 23, 2023 - 02:27 pm

Nobody can deny Herbie Hancock is a jazz artist, but jazz cannot box him in. Ditto Quincy Jones; those bona fides are bone deep, but he's changed a dozen other genres.

Cautious Clay doesn't compare himself to those legends. But he readily cites them as lodestars — along with other genre-straddlers of Black American music, like Lionel Richie and Babyface.

Because this is a crucial lens through which to view him: he's jazz at his essence and not jazz at all, depending on how he wishes to express himself.

"I'm not really a jazz artist, but I feel like I have such a deep understanding of it as a songwriter and musician," the artist born Joshua Karpeh tells GRAMMY.com. "It's sort of inseparable from my approach to this album, and to this work with Blue Note."

Karpeh is talking about, well, KARPEH — his debut album for the illustrious label, which dropped in August. In three acts — "The Past Explained," "The Honeymoon of Exploration," and "A Bitter & Sweet Solitude," he casts his personal journey against the backdrop of his family saga.

As Cautious Clay explains, the title is a family name; his grandfather was of the Kru peoples in Liberia. "It's a family of immigrants. It's a family of, obviously, Black Americans," he notes. "I just wanted to give an experience that felt concrete and specific enough — to be able to live inside of something that was a part of my journey."

On KARPEH, Cautious Clay is joined by esteemed Blue Note colleagues: trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, vibraphonist Joel Ross, guitarist Julian Lage, and others.

Vocalist Arooj Aftab and bassist Kai Eckhardt — Karpeh's uncle — also enhance the proceedings. The result is another inspired entry from Blue Note's recent resurgence — one lyrically personal and aurally inviting.

Read on for an interview with Cautious Clay about his signing to Blue Note, leveling up his recording approach, and his conception of what jazz is — and isn't.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Tell me about signing to Blue Note Records, and the overall road to KARPEH.

I kind of got connected to Don [Was, the president of Blue Note] through a relationship I had with John Mayer, who had, I guess, connected Don to my music.

Don reached out via email probably a year ago, and so we connected over email. And I had sort of been in a situation where I was like, OK, I want to do something different for this next project. We kind of met in the middle and it just made a lot of sense based on just what I wanted to do, and then what they could potentially kind of work with on my end. 

So, [I was] just recording the album in six days, and doing a lot of prep work beforehand and getting all these musicians that I really liked to be able to work on it. It was just a really cool process to be able to unpack that with Blue Note.

That's great that you and Mayer go back.

Yeah, man, we have a song. We worked on each other's music a little bit together. The song "Carry Me Away" on his [2021] album [Sob Rock] I actually worked on, and then we did a song together called "Swim Home" that I released back in 2019.

You said you wanted to "do something different." What was the germ of that something?

I felt like it could be interesting to do a more instrumental album, or something that felt a little bit more like a concept album, or more experimental. I wanted to be more experimental in my approach to the music that I love.

I wanted to call it a jazz album, but at the same time I didn't, because I felt like it wasn't; it was more of an experimental album.

But I felt like calling it jazz in my mind kind felt like a free way to express, because I think of jazz much more as a philosophy than necessarily a genre.

So, it was helpful for me in my mind to be able to like, OK, let me completely deconstruct my conception of the music I make and how I can translate that music.

And then it eventually evolved into a story about my family and about American history to a certain extent in the context of my family's journey, and then also just their interpersonal relationships. That sort of made itself clear as I continued to write and I continued to delve deeper into the process.

Not that KARPEH ended up being instrumental. But instrumental records are lodestars for you? I'm sure that blurs with the Blue Note canon.

There's a lot of different stuff. There was that red album that Herbie Hancock released [in 1978, titled Sunlight] that I really liked. "I Thought It Was You" was super inspirational — sonically how they arranged a lot of that record.

Seventies jazz fusion was an overall influence. I felt inspired by the perfect meld of analog synthesizers, and then also obviously organic instruments like horns and guitars of that nature. So I wanted to create something that felt like a contemporary version of what could be a fusion record to a certain extent.

Any specific examples?

Songs like "Glass Face," for example, are pretty fusion-y, but also very just experimental in a way that doesn't feel like jazz, even.

My uncle [Kai Eckhardt] is a pretty big-time bass player, and he played on "Glass Face." I just was like, OK, dude, do your thing, and he just did this sort of chordal bass solo. Then, I did all these harmonies over top of the song.

And then, Arooj Aftab is a really good friend and musical artist; she was able to work off of that as well. So, it was an interesting journey to make a lot of these songs and sort of figure out how they all fit together.

How did you strike that balance between analog and synthesized sounds?

I recorded most of this album at a studio, which is very different for me.

I don't normally do that. I use a lot of found sounds like drums and stuff that I've either made or sampled, but I did all of the drums and bass and upright and electric guitars we'd recorded at a studio called Figure 8 in Brooklyn. That was the backbone for a lot of the music that I created for the album. 

Then, I took it back home to my home studio. After we had recorded all of the songs, I essentially had some different analog synths and things that I wanted to add into it either at the studio that I worked at or my own personal studio, which happens to also be eight blocks [away] on the same street away.

I struck a balance just mostly with it in the context of working at a very formal studio and then having an engineer and just getting sounds that I wanted that could be organic and more specific in that way. And also using some of the synths they had.

In terms of the approach, I kind of wanted it to be different. And so part of that was just being at more of a formal studio and having an engineer and overseeing the overall process outside of just being inside of my Ableton session.

Tell me more about the guests on KARPEH.

I knew Immanuel through a couple of mutual friends, and he has a certain sort of bite to his sax playing that I felt was so juxtaposed to my sax playing.

And same with Ambrose. I feel like his trumpet style couldn't be more esoteric and out, in the context of how he approaches melodies. It's almost in some ways like, Whoa, I would never play that way.

They're also soloists, and conceptually for me, the idea of being in isolation or being in bittersweet solitude was conceptually a part of the last part of the album. They as soloists have so much to offer that I feel like I can't do and I don't possess.

So, I wanted to have them a part of this album, to demonstrate that individuality within the context of what it takes to make a song.

Julian is just a beautiful and spirited man, a beautiful guitar player. I've liked his sound for a while. I think it was back in 2015 when I first heard him; he had a couple of videos on YouTube that I thought were just super gorgeous.

I feel like he just has this way of playing that's folky. Also, it's jazz in the context of his virtuosic playing style, but it's also not overbearing. I felt like as a writer and as a musician, it would be a really great connecting point for a few of the more personal songs on the record.

And then my uncle Kai as well, — he's not on Blue Note, but he used to play with John McLaughlin and run bass clinics with Victor Wooten and Marcus Miller back in the early 2000s. Dude is a real heavy hitter, and he happens to be my uncle, so it's just cool to be able to have him on the record.

Cautious Clay

*Cautious Clay. Photo: Meron Menghistab*

With KARPEH out, where do you want to go from here — perhaps through a Blue Note lens?

I really love a lot of the people there, and I feel like this could be the first of many. It's also a stepping stone for me as an artist.

I feel really connected to the relationship I have, and our ability to put this out. It's hard to say what exactly the future holds, but I am genuinely excited for this album. I feel excited to be able to put out something so personal and so connected to everything that sort of made me, in a very concrete way.

From what I understand, this is a one-time thing, but it could potentially be two. It depends, obviously. I'm very open-minded about it. I'd love to keep the good relationship open and see where things go.

I really have enjoyed the process and I feel like this next year is going to be something interesting. So, we'll see.

On Her New Album, Meshell Ndegeocello Reminds Us "Every Day Is Another Chance"

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

Photo: Paras Griffin/Getty Images

interview

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

On her new album 'Proof of Life,' the Nigerian American singer/songwriter shares how she’s learned to embrace herself, remain hopeful, and be present when collaborating with her heroes.

GRAMMYs/Apr 28, 2023 - 02:09 pm

In the first single off her forthcoming album, Proof of Life, Joy Oladokun sings, "I hate change, but I’ve come of age/Think I’m finally finding my way." Part of her coping strategy of late — in dealing with a world on fire, waters rising, anxiety rocketing — has been to sink deeper into her feelings, to reach a point of "pure acceptance." 

"Living in America, I think we can very clearly see the damage that being resistant to the way the world changes can do to us," she tells GRAMMY.com. Two days before we spoke, six people — three of them children — were killed by a 28-year-old who fired 152 rounds of ammunition at a school in Nashville, where Oladokun has lived for the past six years. "Children are getting killed because we are intentionally misreading a document from 200 years ago."

Yet Oladokun was raised in the small farming town of Casa Grande, Arizona  — a place where "people shot guns for fun, and we went mudding in our trucks."  She continues, "I don't think people understand that I understand the culture because of what I look like."

An unabashedly queer Black singer/songwriter, the 31-year-old uses music to plant her flag in the ground of a world that has traditionally been presumptive and unwelcoming to someone like her. Someone who grew up listening to Bob Marley and Linkin Park, and was ostracized from the church-going community she was part of when she came out; someone who "hits all the high notes but still don’t got a seat in the choir." 

Over the course of three albums, Oladokun has created a safe space, for herself and others, to deal with the highs and lows that being true to yourself can bring. "Most of my songs should feel like having a conversation with me on my porch; I tell you something deep about myself and ask if you’ve ever felt that way," she says. 

Like many of the artists she grew up admiring, Oladokun’s music is rooted in folk with dashes of R&B, pop and an occasional sprinkling of Afrobeats mixed in — as evident in the Proof of Life track "Revolution," which features Nigerian American rapper Maxo Kream. Whether her voice hovers along a pristine guitar or piano track, as it does on "Somehow," or reaches for the edgier side of her personality, like on the sassy "We’re All Gonna Die" (featuring Noah Kahan), she never falters to be forthright and faithful to her values.     

Oladokun played music throughout high school and worked as a church music minister with the intention of becoming a pastor before she lost that job when she came out. After landing in L.A., the singer thought she’d write for others as a living. Instead, she took a chance and started writing for herself. Now, after more than six years in Nashville, Oladokun’s songs have featured in shows like "Grey’s Anatomy" and "This Is Us", and she’s collaborated with Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell

She spoke with GRAMMY.com about accepting herself, keeping hope alive through her guitar, and getting advice from John Mayer.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

You're on tour with John Mayer. What has that been like so far?

It has been absolutely amazing and challenging and scary. I really, genuinely, am a fan of John Mayer's music, and I felt this way on the My Morning Jacket tour; I felt this way touring with Maren [Morris]. When I get called to play with people that I really respect, some nerves come through. But I do feel like I've been rising to the occasion and I spent a lot of time working on my craft and guitar playing. And not every show has been perfect but I feel like they've been good, and I've been able to be myself in some of the biggest stages and rooms I've ever played. 

And just the fact that it's a solo acoustic show, and that John's been so kind and accommodating. Like yesterday, he gave me advice on how to deal with when people talk s—about you on the internet. 

Yeah, you’d mentioned on Twitter about having a little difficult time. Did his advice help?

It totally helped because it also is like, Oh, he feels that way, too, you know? My favorite people to work with are the people who admit that they're still human and still processing how weird this job is on us as humans. 

People were making comments about my laugh, which is like, I can't change that. I'm gonna be super candid: I'm a Black queer person doing something that I think at least 10 percent of the people in that room don't think I should be doing, just by virtue of me being me. 

You have such a great laugh, though!

If you're not used to it, it can be sort of jarring. [Chuckles]

How have you learned to become more vulnerable in your songs?

I think it's mostly about dealing with the feelings. I have this deep, honestly kind of dark, obsession with artists that have died young, and I think about it a lot because I just am someone who struggles with my mental health. 

I think I am trying to carve a path for all the people like me, or the people who have gone who were like me, to be able to do this, and to stay healthy, and to stay hopeful. And to say no, if they need to or to be human, and cry in front of people. I don't think people get that I am an actual human being with feelings and thoughts, who is processing the fact that I got asked to go on tour with a hero, and that is just as confusing to me as it is to you. 

I sit in my hotel room, I practice guitar and I write songs. And I do everything I can to put my heart and my soul and myself out there in hopes that people of all different walks of life can relate. And that it will cause some people to think twice when they meet people like me in their day-to-day life. That’s what's driving me, and I think that's what brought me here. 

On the days that it's scary and sad and I feel isolated, or I feel like everybody hates me, or I feel like I'm embarrassing John in arenas, it is good to remember that sometimes it might just help one person to see that I am me, and that I am doing this. And it doesn't matter how well I do it. It just matters that I'm here.

Are you reaching a point where you really recognize the part that you play in the world around you and articulating that?

I think I've always been a very purpose-centric person and artist, specifically. I have this painting in my studio that says "Remember why you started." I look at it every day, and I just remember when I started, when I inched into the music industry, I was like, "I’m gonna write songs for other people." And I just wanted to write songs that help. 

I was doing a job where I was listening to the radio a lot, and I didn't relate to anything. So I just wanted to write songs that people could relate to. I still have that at the core of everything I do and say; it's just desperation to hold onto my humanity, and how that translates into art. 

I'm not special. Like, I get that I sing songs for a living, and that not everybody has to like those songs. But I do know that in my heart of hearts, my purpose, and my role, and my goal is to just write songs that help me deal with life, and hopefully help one or two other people. That is something that I feel like I've been accomplishing so far. And until I feel like that isn't happening anymore, I think I wouldn’t continue on this path.

Can you pinpoint when you realized the power of being able to express yourself in a song?

My dad is a huge music fan. I’ve been thinking a lot about Bob Marley's impact on what I do. I think it was growing up listening to a lot of artists who were purpose-centric, like, just so rooted in, "I have something to say," or something to share with, and explain to, the world.

Lauryn Hill opened up the possibilities of hip-hop and how it could combine with folk and soul. Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon were combining folk, rock and West African music and sounds and influences. I think it was growing up listening to people that were really intentional about every aspect of what they make. I feel like I went to school [by] listening to records.

Your Twitter bio used to say you were the "trap Tracy Chapman"…

It did. I am, right? [Chuckles]

It fits, yes!

Tracy Chapman being herself on stage allowed me as a kid to find an art form that helped me express myself and positively deal with a lot of heavy emotions. I think I'm, like, fine at what I do. I sometimes am a little confused as to why I get the opportunities that I get, but I do know that just by being as much of myself as I can, in whatever venue that I can be, I am doing that same thing for other people. And maybe that's just the value. Maybe I don't have to be the best. 

Maybe in two years people won’t remember my name. But there will be a few hundred people who were scared or shy or felt like they were too Black or too queer or too different, whatever, to do anything, and then they show up to a John Mayer show too early, and here's my goofy ass thriving. Maybe that’s just it. Maybe I don't have to win awards. Maybe it really is just honestly, lighting the torch for someone who might be better than me to be able to do the same thing for other people. 

"Sweet Symphony" is a lovely duet with Chris Stapleton about your parents. Have you tried to write about them before?

I have a few songs in the past that I've written about my parents. There's one called "Let It Be Me" that I wrote about my dad doing a really beautiful 180 when it comes to my sexuality. I have like this Crosby, Stills and Nash rip off thing apologizing to them for being chaotic when I was a kid. 

One of my favorite things about my parents is that they're just in love. I would say my parents are two of the most in love people I've ever seen in my life. Growing up when my dad would come home from work, he would bring flowers from the store and then he would sing my mom like some goofy Motown song or whatever for the first five minutes when he got in. I just wanted to write a song that my dad could sing to my mom. I was in my apartment when I started it. I loaded up a piano on Logic, and I just started playing cheesy Motown chords. My dad still has the demo as his ringtone for when my mom calls. 

We talk about all the things that have been hard between us but I think I explored that a lot in my last album. I am the fruit of my parents' love, and to be able to celebrate it with a really cool, amazing duet with Chris Stapleton feels like a blessing. 

You performed at the White House during the signing ceremony for the Respect for Marriage Act in December last year, and yet you’re still  self-effacing and unassuming. Are you able to realize the significance that your work, your music, has?

I am working through imposter syndrome. I think that's the current change that I'm dealing with. That's why the internet stuff it's hard, too, because not only do I not always feel worthy, I also feel, you shouldn't be here, too. 

But I am trying to remember that it's not an accident that I am who I am on this planet at this time. And that's why being so vulnerable has become so important to me. I just try to bring that into every room. I've stopped joking about being mediocre. But I've honestly stopped grading my work. I don't know if it’s good or bad. I just work and create, and perform, and hopefully the heart of it, which is the most important thing to me, is what comes across. 

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