Tracey: Which types of music do you remember listening to as a child?
Shelley Nicole: There was a bit of every kind of music between my and my grandparent’s houses. There was Jazz, Blues and Classical at my grandparents and Soul, R&B, Funk, Gospel and Hip-Hop at my house. I’m from the suburbs, so my best friend who was Jewish, hipped me to classic and contemporary Rock, which included everything from the Who to the Police to Van Halen. So that could explain why my music has turned out as it has. Also radio was very different back in the day. I remember being able to hear Bill Withers and James Taylor next to Labelle and Parliament Funkadelic. You would be hard pressed to hear Beyonce next to John Mayer on the radio today.
Tracey: Who would you say has touched your life the most in your lifetime so far?
Shelley Nicole: My grandparents. They raised a family, bought multiple properties, sent three children to college and then had the nerve to go back to school after their kids finished! They will be married 60 years in August. They are still in love and they are my inspiration. I don’t have any right to complain about anything looking at all that they have done. What I’m writing here is really only the tip of the hot plate for them. They are two of the most incredible people I know.
Tracey: Do you have any brothers or sisters or even a family of your own?
Shelley Nicole: I have 1 stepbrother, 3 half brothers and two half sisters. I don’t have any of my own children. Maybe one day if the Universe sees fit to keep the old eggs fresh!
Tracey: What was the name of your first band and how long have you been with your current band blaKbüshe?
Shelley Nicole: I don’t know if I would call this a band, but the first group I was in was called the ‘5th Sunday Singers’ because we sang every 5th Sunday in church. We were a group of young women who were already singing together at youth choir, but then we split off and started an ensemble. Now my first secular music group was the ‘Respectables’, appropriately named because we sang all Aretha Franklin covers! Imagine that! We were the bomb if I do say so myself. I know those tapes are going to show up one day when I least expect it. Yikes! I have been with my current band since 1999. There have been some personnel changes, but all in all that’s when it started.
Tracey: Can you tell us a little bit about the other members of your band – how did the group come about?
Shelley Nicole: The first person I went to with my music was Jerome Jordan my guitarist. I had played with him in other bands when I was a backing vocalist. I asked him if he would help me get my music together, when I got it together, and he said yes. That was 1998 and he’s been fighting the good fight with me ever since. Ganessa James, my bassist, has been with me since 2001. I saw her playing with her sister in their band the ‘Onliest’. When my regular bassist had to leave town for a gig I had her sit in. I never looked back. Shawn Banks is my percussionist and he’s been with me since the beginning as well. He’s someone I knew throughout the NY music scene and I call him my cousin (long story). He’s one of the best percussionists out there and the brotha can sing too! Achuziam Maha is one of my backing vocalists. I met her while singing backup with her for a wonderful sista named Tamar-Kali. After that I knew I wanted her to sing with me when I got my thing going. She’s been with me pretty much from the start and she also leads an awesome band called ‘everyanything’. Tiffany James is the other half of the ‘Onliest’ and she came on board after the band took a road trip to Atlanta and I needed another vocalist. She sat in and I never looked back. She is a wonderful guitarist and songwriter in her own right. My drummer situation has been a revolving door, but I’ll shout out Clayton Craddock for holding us down this year. He was my first drummer and will always be my #1. He’s a drum scientist!
Tracey: Would you say politics plays a large part in your music?
Shelley Nicole: I don’t purposefully set out to make my music political. I just write about what is happening around me and currently the climate calls for someone to say something about the mess the powers that be has gotten us into. So much is going on in the world that needs to be challenged whenever possible. I don’t think there is enough voices being heard. People are shouting, but we can always use stronger lungs and a bigger bullhorn. Just a side note on politics: Remember that even love songs have their politics. There are negotiations, demands and even a few mind tricks involved. Politics are not just relegated to the boardroom. There are lots of politics in the bedroom.
Tracey: You are a businesswoman as well as an artist - do you enjoy promotion? Here at Just Soul, we enjoy showcasing new talent – i.e. try to give an outlet to everyone - a chance of shining as an individual. It is good to know you showcase new talent.
Shelley Nicole: I believe that there is room for everyone on this landscape. So why not share the stage with other wonderful artists. There are supporters for everyone.
I don’t promote as much as I used to. It can be challenging to wear so many hats as an independent artist. But when I do get a chance to let people know about other wonderful artists I know or have seen, I shout it out.
Tracey: When you get any ‘relax’ time, what type of things do you enjoy doing?
Shelley Nicole: I like to read, go to the ocean, sleep, take a drive, do yoga, visit friends, watch bad TV, meditate, go for walks, lay in the grass, go to see a show, travel, and on and on. Hmm… I think I need more downtime.
Tracey: You have named some of your early influences as Sarah Vaughn, Marcus Miller, Dr. Dre, Mary J Blige, Angie Stone, Nona, Sarah and Patti Labelle, Janis Joplin, Gladys Knight and Stevie Nicks, a gumbo of artists, musicians and producers. Whose CD’s have you bought recently which you like to play?
Shelley Nicole: Funny thing I don’t buy a lot of music, but the last CD’s I bought were Feist (Let it Die) and Johnny Cash (The Best of…). The Feist album is off the hook. Check it out. I listen to that album a lot. You know I think I’m going to put it on now. As for Johnny Cash, I saw ‘Walk the Line’ and realised that I’m real late on Mr. Cash. At the risk of sounding really, really late, Johnny Cash was damn good!
Tracey: What has been the most embarrassing moment of your career?
Shelley Nicole: I don’t know how embarrassed I was, but I’ve done a couple of shows where “the girls” have popped out. You know when that happens; you just laugh, pop them back in and keep rockin’! Ahh…The show must go on. *wink*
Tracey: Which would you consider being the highlight of your career so far?
Shelley Nicole: I don’t know if this is a highlight, but it is certainly legendary. I did a show in the early days of the band in a yellow latex dress, electric blue, knee-high boots, yellow Afro wig and Pocahontas ponytails! What?! The stage was on a balcony so I’m looking down on the people. I’m so HOT in that dress (in both senses of the word) that sweat was dripping down my thighs. Jerome’s pedal board blew up and we still rocked it. It is one of those “had to be there” shows that people still talk about. Either you saw the latex dress or you didn’t. Mark my words, it will never show itself again. Also at the risk of sounding corny I have to say that every time I get an opportunity to perform it’s a highlight. I get that ‘high’ feeling at a show when everything comes together and it’s like magic. That doesn’t happen at every show, but when it does - when you transcend - it’s just amazing. I think another highlight of my career has been keeping my career going against the odds.
Tracey: You have been quoted as saying your favourite colour is red. What makes you see ‘red’ as in what makes you annoyed in life?
Shelley Nicole: When I say my favorite colour is red it has nothing to do with being annoyed. It has to do with personal power. Also we are in the summer season. The element of the season is fire and the colour is red, which is about sensuality and the erotic. So red for me is not about anger, but about living life with passion.
Tracey: Your debut album ‘she who bleeds’, released in 2003 has an interesting title. What were your exact ideas behind the title?
Shelley Nicole: There is a saying about women on their cycle that states, “she who bleeds, yet does not die.” This album took three years to make. That’s a lot of blood along with a very long labour, but I did not die even though there were days when I felt like giving up.
Tracey: If someone were to cook you a meal right now, what meal would you chose and have you ever cooked for your band and if so, what is your speciality?
Shelley Nicole: I would like a baked stuffed lobster, steamers, my aunt Hatti’s clam chowder, mixed greens salad and a glass of wine. It doesn’t even have to be expensive wine. Now you see the New England coming out in me! Yes I have cooked for my band. In fact I just cooked for them. I think my specialty is salmon cakes.
Tracey: I believe theatre was an early passion for you. Is theatre something you still do today or intend doing again?
Shelley Nicole: Theatre is a passion and if you see my show you’ll see where I add it in. But I do plan to get back to acting one day. Sometimes I really miss it. I can still hear my mother saying that I should be an actress for all the “drama” I pulled around the house! I really took that to heart in a good way.
Tracey: Is life on the road lonely? Do you feel loved up at the moment or in need of more love?
Shelley Nicole: Well I don’t know about life on the road for long periods of time. So I can’t really comment, but as for needing more love, I think we can all always use more love. Giving it, receiving it, being it. Love is the only thing that’s going to save the world. It’s the only thing that will make us whole, but it starts with self.
I know I have lots of people in my life who love and support me and I do not take that for granted.
Tracey: How important do you think it is to play live and is it something you enjoy doing?
Shelley Nicole: It’s very important to play live. I believe you have to be able to back up your product. If you don’t have a show then what do you have? I mean you can make a great record, but in the end you have to take it to the people. I believe that if your album is incredible then your show should be phenomenal! Think Prince. His albums are off the hook, but his live shows are out of this world! No matter what you do, you have to keep pushing yourself to places you never thought you could go.
Tracey: There’s definitely a strong ‘woman’ vibe to you and your music. Do you have a point to make with your music?
Shelley Nicole: The point is that I’m a woman - so what else would I talk about? Of course there are other viewpoints, but why shouldn’t mine be first? Women (especially women of colour) should continue to sing and shout about their love of self. The fact that they get along with and love other women, sing their struggles and triumphs, sing resistance, fight back and love every moment of being a women in spite of everything around that tells us that just our being is not enough. Much love to the women out here who struggle every day just to be whole.
Tracey: Do you have any exciting projects in the pipeline, which you can share with us?
Shelley Nicole: I just started recording my next album. We still have lots of work to do, but I’m very excited about what we have so far. I know this next project is going to take us to the next level.
On behalf of Just Soul, thank you for completing this interview Shelley and I wish you continued success on your musical journey.