(Shayna Steele – So Real (The Blue Note Jazz Club NYC))
Boasting an industry resume as long as your arm, singer/songwriter Shayna Steele has acquired many labels over the course of her 12 year career, from “Broadway crooner” to “disco screamer,” “Chaka Khaner” to “R&B belter,” and “jazz chanteuse” to “electro diva.” But, while each denotes a unique facet, no one term is able to capture the whole. With her latest album, Steele delivers her most confident and cohesively eclectic set to date, answering the question “Who is Shayna Steele?” with a definitive (and defiant) I’ll Be Anything.
Shayna’s album “I’ll Be Anything” was released on August 29, 2012 Japan-wide. Get to know more about Shayna and her music.
Q1. Can you introduce yourself and your music to the soul music fans here in Japan, including a brief overview of your career so far?
A1. My name is Shayna Steele. I am a singer and songwriter based in New York City. My music is influenced by the sounds of soul, jazz and R&B from a time when it was about interesting melodies, meaningful lyrics and good musicianship. I’ve been singing from a very young age and moved to New York in the mid-90’s to pursue a career in musical theatre at first. I went on to do 3 Broadway shows: Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar and Hairspray. It was when I was in Hairspray that I turned myself over to being a full time singer leading me to many recordings with Moby, a #1 U.S. Billboard Dance Hit “Disco Lies” and singing background vocals with Natasha Bedingfield, Lizz Wright, Bette Midler, and most recently Rihanna.
Q2. How and when did you know you wanted to record soul and R&B music?
A2. I’ve always listened to Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan and had in the back of my mind that if I ever wanted to make a record like them, I needed to have a record deal. I quickly learned how much the industry was changing and that it was possible to make records independently and get them out to masses one sale at a time. Once I started my band with my co-writer and musical director David Cook, he opened my eyes to that possibility. I now have 1 full-length album, and an EP and I start work on my 3rd album later this year all without the support of a label.
Q3. Can you explain to me in detail how your songwriting is done? For example, is it made during sessions with a band?
A3. My songwriting is super organic and almost childlike. There are several ways I write songs. Sometimes a melody pops in my head and I immediately sing it down with words that make no sense. I later take that melody and start writing lyrics, I scribble pictures or write stories or experiences I’ve had or witnessed and then I create a song around that. I then take the melody to my pianist or sometimes I collaborate with a guitarist or bass player and then a song is created. Sometimes people come to me with just simple chords and I write a melody and lyrics to that. Most recently I started writing chords, melodies and lyrics, although not perfect (I don’t play an instrument) I’ve been able to finish a song on my own with no collaboration.
Q4. Can you tell us a bit about the city you are currently living and the influence it has on your music style if any?
A4. New York City is like no other place on earth. I sometimes say this city has a pulse and is alive and aware of everything and everyone in it. It’s electric and impossible for a human being to just sit there and let life pass you by. You will be jolted out of your seat and forced to keep going, to keep being inspired. New York City IS the backdrop to my songs. I’ve traveled to many places around the world (my favorites being Madrid, Tokyo and Rome) that have influenced some of the newer stuff I’m writing. Before living in New York, I was in Mississippi, so a lot of my music and my sound nowadays is influenced by the old blues and simpler melodies from the 30’s and 40’s from the deep south, but New York is the heart.
Q5. How do you describe your music to people (if they have never heard your music)?
A5. Well my album is called “I’ll Be Anything” for a reason. I should’ve called it “I’ll Sing Anything” or “I”ll Write Anything” because each song is a genre of it’s own. Soul, Jazz and R&B with songs who’s sounds range from Chaka Khan to Erykah Badu, Stevie Wonder to the standard jazz ballad.
Q6. Tell us about your album, “I’ll Be Anything,” the individuals you worked closely with, and how long it took to record?
A6. It took 3 years to make this record. My intense work schedule as a session singer and background vocalist along with my co-writer and producer David Cook’s schedule (he is the musical director for Natasha Bedingfield and Country superstar Taylor Swift) and producer Ben Yonas who lives in Oakland, California made scheduling difficult.
I worked very closely with the 2 producers, the band and singers, plus we had 2 mixers, 1 engineer and someone to master which I was rarely there for. Most of my time and energy went into the songwriting, vocals and vibe, artwork and pictures and setting up live shows.
Q7. In your bio I read that you are influenced by artist such Karen Clark-Sheard, Rachelle Farrell, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, and the Temptations. Can you tell me how you are personally influenced by these artists, and if there is any part of “I’ll Be Anything” influenced by one of these artists?
A7. If I had a “This is Your Life” episode focusing on each of these artists and their influence on my life it would explain a lot. I sound nothing like Karen Clark-Sheard or the Temptations, but at some point my father or my choir director introduced me to them. I don’t know all of their music, but their influence somehow affects me today. Other artists that also influence me are Whitney Houston, Big Mama Thornton, Ledisi, Lizz Wright, Ella Fitzgerald… the list is endless.
Q8. Can you tell me the concept behind the entire album? What were your conceptual goals when you set out to record “I’ll Be Anything?”
A8. My goal always is to write songs that I connect with. That move people. There was no concept until we had the songs recorded. Once it was finished we decided the order of songs like mini-sets of a live show. Like 3 different sets of music. I thought it was a brilliant idea and it’s important to listen to the songs in the order they are in to get the full experience. We even added a few seconds of time in between each section to set them apart.
Q9. Could you recommend to me a few songs from your album and tell me why you recommended those songs.
A9. ‘4AM Song,’ ‘Right on Time,’ ‘You Didn’t,’ and ‘We’ve Already Been Here Before’ are my favorite songs off this album. They are a true representation of the band and level of musicians I was working with. ‘4AM’ is sexy and all about setting a cool vibe, ‘Right On Time’ gives you a latin jazz feel with an incredible solo by Grammy-nominated saxophonist Donny McCaslin, ‘You Didn’t’ IS the entire band in full force and an anthem for women who need the guts to walk away from a bad relationship, and ‘We’ve Already Been Here Before’ is the song I’m most proud of as a lyricist.
Q10. Do you know or listen to any Japanese artists?
A10. I don’t listen to any only because I’m not exposed! There are many Japanese jazz musicians living in NYC that I know and I’ve seen live. Incredible musicians. I went to Tokyo for the first time in April 2012 and I spent several hours watching music videos and was absolutely fascinated by how different popular music is there. I’m familiar with Utada now, because my co-writer David Cook played keys for her and did her U.S Tour a couple of years ago. I was impressed with how young she is and that she plays and writes her own music. Her fans LOVE her! I hear she lives in NYC part time. I guess to feel normal. Few people over here knows her, so if she wanted to walk into a café and have lunch alone, no one would bother her!
Q11. How does it feel to finally have “I’ll Be Anything” released in Japan? And do you have a message for the Soul and R&B listeners of Japan who will listen to your music?
A11. Japan has always been #1 on my radar for releasing my music. With the few CDs I sold with a small project I did several years ago, 80% of my buyers were from Japan, so I knew I had to wait for the right time to release “I’ll Be Anything” to the Japanese market.
I feel like the Japanese audience gets it. They welcome a fresh, new sound with open arms and they are warm and generous people.
It feels good to know that the time has come that you will all know me and I hope you like my music. I worked really hard to make a great album and look forward to the day I get to come back and share it live with you!