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Soul Express Interview with

Mikelyn Roderick

Ex-By All Means singer
now on solo career

Soul Express: You were part of the group By All Means, which recorded three excellent soul albums for Island and Motown in 1988-1992 – all of which Soul Express contributors rated in their top albums of the year. Can you please tell us about those times with the group?

Mikelyn:  I was hired as a background singer along with Jimmy Varner (keyboards) for the Bill Withers Tour.  We met Stan Sheppard around that time and it was then that he introduced us to his brother Billy, we started talking about putting a group together, Stan reached out to Bobby Ghossen at Island, we sent him a raw demo, a photo and literally were signed the next day. Bobby Ghossen was an amazing human being and awesome A&R rep, especially for us entering into the world of “recording artist” for the first time; he really took care of us.  “You Decided to Go”, The More You Give, The More You Get”. “Think I Fell In Love” “Feeling I Get” are my favorites of the By All Means tracks!
We moved to Motown when Gerald Busby who was president at the time, expressed interest in the group and was excited about the idea of remaking “Let’s Get it On”.  It coincided with his vision to bring back a sound that put Motown on the musical map.  I think that he felt that we were the sound that could get the party re-started so to speak.

Soul Express: What was the music business like back in those days compared to today? Any difference?

Mikelyn:  Back then the focus was on getting a record deal.  People wanted to be signed to a major label, to be associated with the prestige that the label brought.  It had its pros and cons. Being signed to label didn’t necessarily give you the creative freedom, especially if the company had a strong idea about which direction that they wanted to take you.  If you could sing then it was about finding you the right “hit” song. I think when the Internet download happened and when Prince decided to become the symbol he/it made a major statement for all of us, creatively and financially.  Now the music arena is filled with everyone trying to do their own thing and not have the powers that be deciding your musical direction, we decide our musical direction and hope that people can feel what we are trying to say. Being independent does require a more hands on approach in every aspect of your record, but at the end of it all it is very rewarding.

Soul Express: Who would you cite as your greatest influences? 

Mikelyn:  My parents for playing Billy, Sarah, Dinah, Ella, Duke, Ray, Frank, everything that was jazz and swing and letting me hear it. Cape Verdean music, Burt Bacharach, James Taylor, Bill Withers, Barry White and my greatest, Diana Ross, when I saw her live, that was my first live concert, I remember being blown away, it confirmed my direction. Of course there are so many others but this interview would never end (smile)!!!

Soul Express: Do you know what are the other members of By All Means doing these days? Are they still singing or recording?

Mikelyn:  Jimmy Varner is in Los Angeles, still producing music; he has been working with our daughter on her own musical project, as well as with some young new artists. I haven’t seen Billy unfortunately in awhile but I know he still writes and produces.

Soul Express: After the By All Means period, you have contributed at least to Rahsaan Patterson’s recordings. What else did you do in the latter part of the 90s?

Mikelyn:  I actually went in a somewhat different direction; I started working on my production chops.  I worked with producer Terry Carter on a girls groups called Fyne Lyne, the girl never manifested a deal but they were hot and we wrote a lot of good songs.  After that I went on tour with Barry White.  I was signed as a writer for Windswept Music and co-wrote with Rahsaan Patterson and Jamey Jaz.  We co-wrote “Back To the World and it ended up as Tevin Campbell’s titled and first single off of that record.  I wrote songs for film and in the midst of all that did some acting.  I worked on television and in a couple of films. The latter 90’s were awesome for me.

Soul Express: Have you been working with other recording artists (than Rahsaan Patterson) recently?

Mikelyn:  Yes, I co-wrote songs with Babyface and DJ Rogers Jr.. I worked with Kirk Franklin, Chrystal Lewis and Maxwell. I just did a show opening for Frank McComb at the Café De Paris in London.  It was so great; there were so many By All Means fans in attendance. 

Soul Express: You had two songs on the James Day’s excellent Better Days project, and these songs (She’s Not the Girl, Remember When) were released on the pre-release EP of the album. However, when the final CD was published, the same songs were sung by Audrey Wheeler and Catherine Russell. What happened?

Mikelyn: That was a little crazy, and it’s the kind of thing that can mess up a beautiful project, cause you have to deal with the business aspect, always.  I was supposed to sing on the full CD, but there were some minor issues with the contract that could not be rectified before James’s release date, so I had to come off.  That was the question from a lot of people for a while.   I know that part of the business must be done; cause you have to handle your business, but it can be a major vibe breaker.  But James and are cool and hopefully our schedules will allow us to work together again.

Soul Express: How did you end up with a deal with the U.K. label Dome?

Mikelyn: While I was in London to do the show with Frank, I also did some radio interviews and the DJ’s started playing songs from my EP.  When I got back to the States there was somewhat of a buzz and I just put out into the universe that the full CD was coming.  Rahsaan suggested that I send Peter Robinson the EP, and the rest is history.

Soul Express: Has the CD been released in the U.S.A.?

Mikelyn:”Copasetic Is” is available through my company, Hip T & B Music. Until we hook up with a major, the CD can be found on CD Baby.

Soul Express: Which songs are your personal favourites on your Dome album?

Mikelyn: They all are, really but Slick and Deep really stands out.

Soul Express: I also especially love the jazz-oriented cuts like Slick and Deep and the title track Copasetic Is. They are both written and produced by you together with Mark Rasmussen. Can you please describe these two tracks a bit more detailed – writing of these songs, the overall atmosphere you tried to create…

Mikelyn: Well Mark was sent to me by God because he really gets me!  I am not classically trained but I hear the song complete in my head.  When you have limitations you have to recognize when you have someone that can understand what you trying to say. Mark to me is brilliant in that way, and he is so freakin patient with me.  I have worked with a lot of folks and he is The Patience Buddha!!!  Anyway, I first heard the bassline for Slick and Deep, and the tempo for Copasetic Is was kind of a mistake but we liked it and I just started singing to that offbeat rhythm. When he played the chords, the lyrics just poured out of me.  Slick & Deep is my cleansing song. It speaks about the shit I was going through for awhile and like it says “Had to go through it all”  we all have to go through it, to come out refined and clear so we can get on with what God has planned for us. I won’t say I was trying to create an atmosphere but I was creating a process for healing.

Soul Express: The Dome label is probably best known for strong club-oriented soul/funk tracks, and on your album probably tracks like Slippin’ are closest to the “typical” Dome style, with its compulsive rhythm track. On your live performances, do you think the audience expects you to play the more R&B-inclined and dance-oriented material or the ballads – or both? At what type of clubs do you typically perform?

Mikelyn: Hopefully the audience will get into the songs and maybe identify with something I’m singing about. I do love an intimate setting, but I clearly see myself on the Hollywood Bowl Stage, (an amphitheatre in Hollywood, if you’ve never been!) singing to thousands of people.  That would be grand.

Soul Express: I understand that you have already visited U.K. at least once or twice. Can you please tell about these gigs – where did you perform and what kind of response did you get?

Mikelyn: I first went to the UK with By All Means to do some promotional dates and to meet Chris Blackwell.  The second time was with Barry White. And then recently as last year I was asked by James Day to come to London and open for Frank McComb at Café De Paris. The response was great, but I was truly blown away by how committed the UK fans really were.  I hadn’t been there since the first By All Means record, and people were yelling out requests and after the show handing me their personal copies to sign. It was great. Just great!

Soul Express: Is there any chance to see you perform in the UK or elsewhere in the Europe in the near future? Maybe some soul weekender in the UK would be ideal?

Mikelyn: Oh I would love that, we are working on that right now!!

Soul Express: I noted that on CDBaby site your CD was recommended for people who like the music of Sade, Chaka Khan and Mica Paris. The last mentioned is an interesting point of reference, since I have also mentioned in my reviews that your vocal style strongly reminds me of Mica Paris – who happens to be my favourite UK soul singer of all time. Are you familiar with her work?

Mikelyn: Very familiar, I love Mica!!!  When I went to London for the first time with BAM, she was already huge over there, so the A&R person for Island gave me a copy of her album and when I heard “Don’t Give Me Up” it was over me.  I had not been moved by a voice in a long time and that sister did it.   I must have played that cassette tape to death but I couldn’t get enough of her voice.  Being label mates allowed me to finally meet her in Los Angeles.  I think I still have a picture of Mica, myself, Miles Jaye, Jimmy Varner and Will Downing.  And yes, a few people have told me that I sound like her!!!

Soul Express: If you were able to choose your own “dream team” of musicians and producers with whom you’d love to work with on your next CD, who would you choose?

Mikelyn: I already have them!!! Mark, Rahsaan, Jamie. I have a few others that I would love to add too the mix, but it will be a surprise!

Soul Express: Have you been impressed with any other female vocalist’s recordings or performances in recent years? 

Mikelyn: Oh yes, most recently, Corinne Bailey Rae. Alicia Keys, still love Mary and Mariah. And if you haven’t already, you must check out RaRe Valverde. And the angel voice, Trina Broussard, but my heartbreaker and spirit soother is Miss Fantasia.

Soul Express: Anything else you would like to add?

Mikelyn: Just thank you for asking me to do this interview, and for your continued support of Independent Artists.  Be blessed!

Ismo Tenkanen
Soul Express

Read the review of Mikelyn's debut solo set:
Mikelyn Roderick: Copasetic Is

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