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Soul Express Interview

Introducing Terisa Griffin

The most outstanding new voice on the soul scene since Ledisi's debut

Read the review of Terisa Griffin's Naked Soul album

When did you last hear a vocalist that impressed you that much that you instantly realised that you are listening to a new major talent? I think it was back in 2000 when I first heard Ledisi singing on her debut CD Soulsinger. It was over 6 years ago, and now we finally have an artist whose voice sounds so brilliant it almost makes you speechless. Those who have tried to describe her vocal style, have used words such as mesmeric, stunning and dynamic, and trust me, her vocals are all that and more!
Indeed, her voice melts the senses and warms like a full-bodied Cabernet, as it is been described on her website, and you only have to hear her singing to get that spine-tinging feeling. Terisa is already well-known in her local Chicago music scene, but her first full-length album My Naked Soul should spread the word about this phenomenal vocal talent to the soul lovers all over the world. We decided to have a small chat with her.

Soul Express: While listening to your voice on your new CD, My Naked Soul, it becomes instantly clear that you have had a gospel background, and it comes as no surprise reading from your website that your father was a minister. Was singing gospel music a significant part of your childhood?

Terisa: Gospel music was a wonderful, influential part of my childhood. My dad was a Southern Baptist Minister who was known for his very expressive - I dare say theatrical - sermons. People were captivated by his ability to set the gospel on fire. I learned the value of true soul singing and how to invoke the power of gospel singing into my songs. And because all my sisters are wonderful singers, I learned not to envy anyone's talent and chose instead to appreciate the various gifts that God issued to all of us.

Soul Express: In your biography, you mention Luther, Aretha, Tina Turner and Patti LaBelle as your early influences. Today, only a few classic soul artist have contracts with major record labels, and some great singers have been dropped from these majors, while at the same time the sales charts are full of hip-hop and current R&B acts that are not always that great as singers. Do you feel that the music business still appreciates strong vocalists?

Terisa: The major labels within the music business appreciate anyone who brings in a quick profit. As the entrepreneur behind My Naked Soul Records, I share their appreciation for a good profit. What separates us from the major labels is our unwavering appreciation of artist who writes great songs, who invokes the magic in the studio and best of all, who sets souls on fire in concert! Those are the qualities I appreciate as an artist and label owner.

Soul Express: In your opinion, what is the current state of R&B music? Do you like listening to the music that gets airplay in the R&B radio stations these days?

Terisa: I believe the current state of R&B is great, but you wouldn't know it listening to traditional radio outlets. There really are some incredible artists out here. However, radio seems terrified of R&B, perceiving it as old and outdated. Whether hip-hop infused or by creating the neo soul moniker to give it a youthful facelift, the end result remains the same. It's all Rhythm & Blues (aka R&B). Yet, airplay remains elusive for traditional R&B (even with a neo-soul moniker). I can't re-program radio programmers. So, I spend my energy providing the ultimate Naked Soul experience with my audience. Radio is all about advertising dollars. So are we at Naked Soul Records. It's true that teens spend a lot of money, but my audience has the greatest amount of disposible income. They're demanding, but they won't hesitate to spend premium dollars for a premium entertainment experience. My company specializes in delivering premium entertainment experiences. That's how we built our reputation. Saavy, forward-thinking advertisers would do well to give us a call.

Soul Express: In her Soul Express interview, Karen Bernod stated that the current major labels are simply "cloning what is hot," but thank God for the Internet" it gives talented artists a channel to make their music better known. Many recent singers have started as recording on their own labels and distributing their CDs over the Internet. Do you think artists are still dependent on major label deals or do you think it is possible to get wider recognition through the internet and other channels without a major label deal?

Terisa: Karen is right - thank God for the Internet! This interview is a testament to the power of the Internet. I believe that if you are a rebel for your cause and musicianship, then you've got to think out of the box. When one door closes, God opens another. We only need to have the courage to walk thru it and the fortitude to stick with it.
For me, having my own label wasn't optional. The industry had very strong opinions of how I should sound, how should I look and the types of songs I should sing. But, I know who I am as an artist. My honesty is my connection with my audience. They confirmed that if I remained true to my artistry, they would remain true to me. Now, would I prefer to have someone else deal with the not so easy aspects of running a label? Certainly. Would I change the learning experiences and insight gained as a successful independent? Not on your life!

Soul Express: I can truly believe that - like Karen also mentioned, the major labels try to tell the artists "what to sing, how to sing it, what the lyrical content should be, and how they want you to look". Having an own label at least give the artists her own autonomy and a chance to decide herself what to record.
I still haven't heard your first CD, Songbird, which was a 5-track EP. Was that your first recording and how would you describe it?

Terisa: Songbird is my first-born and I would describe it as an honest, "get your feet wet and see what people want" project. It was a sexy little EP to say hello world -- here I come.

Soul Express: Songwriter Gordon Chambers says you are "bringing back the old school simplicity, elegance, and emotion" - how would you describe your own music on your new CD, My Naked Soul?

Terisa: Retro-Soul R&B; a revival of the Rhythm and Blues of your heart; a lyrically honest in-depth look at life thru soulful life expressions and experiences. It is an emotional retreat in the soul… My Naked Soul. The Ice Man, Jerry Butler sums it up when he ask the audience to experience "the soul and science of Ms. Terisa Griffin."

Soul Express: A UK compilation "Southport Weekender Vol. 5" contains the dance mix version of "Sunshine," which is very different from the other material on the album. What's the story behind the dance remix version?

Terisa: A wonderful producer, Terry Hunter, called me and asked about doing a remix of "Sunshine." I was honest-I would love a remix, but I didn't know how to do it and was financially strapped at the moment. He gave me a track and we headed into the studio. I arranged and cut the vocals and together we birthed the remix of "Sunshine." I know Terry Hunter is a Godsend because I trusted him with something that was precious to me - my lyrics and vocals - and he delivered a hot to death miracle baby! Thanks Terry, you talented mother...

Soul Express: Furthermore, while googling the Internet with your name, I found that you have toured with Patti LaBelle and performed with George Duke singing his song "More To Love" originally recorded by Dianne Reeves. Also, you have been performing songs of classic queens and divas of R&B/soul music, on some local Chicago scene. Can you please tell me something more about these?

Terisa: I have been blessed to work with several artists. Patti LaBelle, the Iceman Jerry Butler as well as Diana Ross. Diana with her beautiful spirit passed me the microphone during a performance on the Oprah show. She called it passing the torch. God, I have been blessed!
After that, I was inspired to start a series of "One Woman/One Voice" shows that pay tribute to some of the great women of music. There is a tribute to the Great Women of Song and Stage (focusing on jazz) and the Queens of Rhythm & Blues (focusing on R&B). The wonderful thing about living in Chicago is that Chicagoans are music-saavy and very serious about their R&B. They also enjoy a good stage show. They are open to an artist evolving and changing. I'm a much better songwriter, artist and label head as a result of Chi-Town's demanding standards.

Soul Express: Singing classic jazz and soul songs has become extremely popular in the past few years, when artist like Regina Belle, Patti LaBelle, Maysa and now in September also Miki Howard released their own all-cover albums. If you would record a similar set, do you have some certain classic soul or jazz favourite songs you would definitely include in your own CD of cover versions?

Terisa: Oh my… yes! I love songs like "At Last" by Etta James, or "Oh Me Oh My" by Aretha Franklin and the classic jazz song "Lush Life." That's the beauty of great songwriting. The songs are timeless.

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?

Terisa: I'd have to start my Dream Team with all of the phenomenal musicians that worked on My Naked Soul. Musicians like Chris Rob, Ron Walters Keith Henderson, Terry Hunter, Demo and Nut are just some of the outstanding musicians that must be called. Rounding out the Dream Team would be Prince, Quincy Jones and Gordon Chambers.

Terisa: Have you been impressed with any other female vocalist's recordings or performances in recent years?

Terisa: Oh God yes! Anything by Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner makes me wanna have a "Cigarette In The Rain." Same is true of Jill Scott and Ledisi just to name a few.

Soul Express: Just check Terisa's website where she is performing herself in the near future. For us European soul fans we still have to wait for Terisa's first event here, but meanwhile we can listen to her wonderful debut CD My Naked Soul.
-Ismo Tenkanen

Read the review of Terisa Griffin's Naked Soul album

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