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::EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW::   
LE Newsletter - December 15, 2005

 

  Jully Black Exposed

I finally got the opportunity to interview Canadaís Miss
Jully Black on Monday night at Irie Food Joint.  We laughed and we cried (really!) and the true essence of Jully came out Ė not to imply that she hides behind a faÁade.  On the contrary! Jully reveals her thoughts on her career with the release of her much-anticipated (and aptly titled) debut album, This Is Me (available at www.jullyblack.com or any retail outlet).  We also discussed the music industry, her lifeís struggles and triumphs, the CUMAs and a fanís near suicide.  What I came away with was less of an interview and more of a discussion among friends, even though this was the first time we sat down together.  Her clarity of self transcends into her music Ė what you get is the real, the exposed Ö Jully Black!  
 

LE:

Youíve been working in the industry for quite awhile.  What would you say is the thing you are most proud of at this point in your career? 

JULLY:

My perseverance and my will to win.  The fact that I didnít give up.  It doesnít matter how many accolades you may receive or not receive or nominations or whatever, itís just the fact that I kept going and Iím still on my path.  Thatís what Iím most proud of.

LE:

Did you ever want to give up when you were on your way up?

JULLY:

I never ever totally wanted to put it down and say thatís it for me.  However, I felt very very weak.  Iíve been on my knees but not all the way on the floor.  Metaphorically speaking.  Absolutely.

LE:

Youíre also well known for your dynamic songwriting skills.  Who is your dream to work with on the songwriting tip?

JULLY:

David Foster, Diane Warren Ė true songwriters.  Babyface and R. Kelly Ė true songwriters.  Anyone that can write for both Celine and B2K Ė itís all good! (laughs)

LE:

What are your thoughts about the Canadian music industry and whatís been the biggest challenge?

JULLY:

As far as Black music in Canada, itís still in itís infancy but weíve come a long way.  The biggest challenge would be having people realize that my audience is broader than just urban.  Because when I go to my shows, I perform primarily for a white audience but yet radio needs to understand that the music does translate.  So, thatís been the biggest challenge. 

LE:

What do you think about the current state of urban music in Canada?

JULLY:

Even in the past year or two years, itís funny because itís bittersweet.  CHUM FM has been a supporter of Jully Black before my album was even completely recorded.  Just taking a chance based on a good song.  Iíve seen more than one artist come out per year as far as Black music is concerned.  Normally itís one a year Ė itís Keshiaís year, itís k-osí year or whomever.  This year we had myself, Divine (Brown), Kardinal (Offishall), Melanie (Durrant), Juice (aka Rochester), Carl Henry Ė all in one year.  But my fear is, is Canada ready for so many artists at once or are we splitting the difference Ė are we splitting votes so to speak, as far as sales? 

LE:

What would you say is the unique contribution of Canadian urban music globally?  Is there something you hear outside of Canada about our music?

JULLY:

Canadian artists, I would say, how trained and how good we are at what we do.  Because we do have a training camp; VideoFact so youíre comfortable in front of a camera, Factor so you can actually record a record and hire some people and pay your friends that are good at what they do as well.  As far as urban music, most of us are of Caribbean descent so around the world they always say I have an accent but you sing Ďlike usí.  I donít hear my accent.  I mean, Elton John has an accent; Celine Dion has an accent, etc. etc. 

Our uniqueness is that weíre Canadian and that weíre just as good if not better Ė often I would say that weíre better but weíre just not looked at as much.

LE:

Do you think thatís a confidence thing from our end?  I feel that weíre responsible for how the world sees us Ė just like in life; youíre responsible for how other people see you.  Whatís the key to unlocking or getting a closer understanding of who we are?

JULLY:

Pride.  Canadian Pride Ė thatís the bottom line.  What you project is what you reflect so if youíre projecting that Ďoh, itís good for a Canadianí then thatís exactly what youíre going to reflect.  We need to go as an army and let the world know.  Like the people in the UK Ė half of them we donít even know but theyíre selling platinum!  And you know who we could learn from?  We could learn from Quebec.  We can learn from French Canadians because they totally embrace their own. 

LE:

I think itís also important to convey that this translates into the boardrooms too.  Not just artists.  Because if we approach things like Ďoh please give this Canadian artist a listenÖí

JULLY:

Yes yes!  Yeah, youíre begging.  Itís desperate.  Thereís no way you should have to beg and plead.  Especially with the Americans, theyíll look to Canada and see how an artist is doing in their own country.  And really, itís not a reflection of how good we are.  [Example:  Gold status in Canada is 50,000 units sold Ė in America, itís 500,000!]

LE:

Unless the American wants to make an effort to understand the culture, then theyíre going to pass.

JULLY:

And most times they do Ė theyíre not willing to make the effort.

LE:

I find it interesting that more and more U.S. record labels are asking to be put on my distribution because I believe that they are peeping Canada.

JULLY:

Thereís some diamonds in the rough and theyíre trying to figure it out.  Youíre in the streets with us Ė the people in the business suits donít know so to speak.  Even the presidents of a label Ė you want to know whatís going on in a company, go ask marketing or promotions or publicity.  Youíre not going to go to the president because 9 times out of 10, they donít know. 

LE:

What do you like most about being a Canadian artist?  The least?

JULLY:

I only consider myself a Canadian artist by birth.  So, I donít have likes and dislikes. 

LE:

When you sang I Travelled at the Gospel Jubilee, there wasnít a dry eye in the place!  How is it that you can evoke such emotion from your audience?

JULLY:

Itís definitely not contrived.  I come from a truthful place.  Even if Iím singing ĎMary had a little lambí, itís going to be truthful.  Thatís whatís missing in music now, especially in R&B is that itís kind of identifying whatís going on in the world Ė itís fast-paced and itís 'wham bam thank you maíam.  Come and get a piece of my body and keep it moving.  Look at my bling, look at my grill, look at my ice.'  So, thereís no real truth to it so when I perform, thatís where I get to be me

Thatís where the realness is because you can pick up ĎThis is Meí and come see my live show and itís two different things.  The live show, youíll connect the dots once you see me live.  It doesnít matter if I have a room full of enemies, Iím going to sing to them with love.

LE:

I just love that you keep a diary on your website.  You really reveal your true self in this Ė why did you choose to use this forum?

JULLY:

I look at my fans as my one best friend so there could be millions out there but I speak to them as though Iím speaking to the person I trust the most.  And your fans know you best, especially if they listen to your lyrics.  I donít think the fans just need to know me if Iím having a good day.  You cut us, we bleed red.  We just happen to have a cool job.  And so what?  A cool job could be waitressing Ė to that waitress, thatís her cool job.  I meet people, I get tips, I get to speak to people.  So, I decided to take the diary route, not only to speak to them but to keep it fresh and to keep myself on my toes.  Because we can get caught up and can lose ourselves.  And that keeps me very grounded where fans come up to me and say Ďoh my gosh, I read your diaryí and Ďyou helped me get through thisí or ĎI canít believe that you love Oprah like I doí. 

LE:

Youíve suggested a few times that youíd love to be on television or host television Ė has there been any headway on this?

JULLY:

As far as television, I would definitely say that thereís been headway with eTalk training me, trusting me and having me do some great interviews.  Iím interviewing Shakira tomorrow so thatíll be pretty cool.  Iíve interviewed Aerosmith, Alicia Keys, Sean Paul and now tomorrow Shakira which are my one-on-one sit down interviews and then Iíve done red carpets at the Emmys, film festival and the MTV Music Awards in Miami.

Again, itís just being me and I love doing it.  Maybe because I was the youngest of nine and I didnít get that much attention so Iím like Ďlook at me, look at me!í  Itís really fun to interview other artists because weíre speaking like weíre friends.  Even my interview with Aerosmith which is one of my most favourite interviews Ė it was hanging with the boys but them being mentors and legends so I learn from these interviews.  And I also study the interviewee so now when Iím being interviewed as Jully Black, how do I steer the conversation etc. 

Thereís a lot on my plate but Iím just letting destiny do its thing.  Thereís a lot going on in the world and once upon a time I was complaining more than I was appreciating so I have a new perspective now Ė Iím getting older and wiser. 

LE:

Who are some of your influences Ė not just musically but anyoneís whoís made their mark for you?

JULLY:

Of course, my mother is my #1 influence in my life Ė my queen, my everything.  Maya Angelou, Madonna, Oprah (of course), Queen Latifah.  Whatís sheís done with her career is unbelievable.  Sheís a Cover Girl, sheís a plus size woman, sheís a Black woman defying all the odds.  I would say those are my key influences. 

LE:

When people hear you sing who do people compare you to?

JULLY:

Iím always compared to Mary J. Blige but note for note, we sound totally different.  Sheís passionate and sheís a legend now.  Sheís definitely helped the altos of the world.  And Lauryn Hill is another influence.  But my musical influence is Etta James.  And Gladys Knight.  They both have a rasp to their voice that helped me to accept my rasp. 

LE:

Was that a challenge?

JULLY:

Hell yeah!  For instance, I started singing when I was 6 years old so I had a kid voice but a higher register.  So, when people hear that you can sing, they say Ďhit your highest noteí.  It was a challenge but it had me train my lower register which broadened my higher register so I started singing a lot of Anita Baker Ė a LOT of Anita Baker Ė at a young age, like middle school and that made my higher register that much higher because most women canít sing low.  So, that was my strategy.  I learned that at a very young age. 

LE:

Did someone tell you that if you train your lower register itís going to affect your higher range because I didnít know that.

JULLY:

No.  But itís just like math Ė it makes sense.  Thatís why I know that I was born to do something with this gift because there were a lot of things that I figured out on my own.  I just started vocal training this year and that totally changed my voice in the most amazing way.  I have to send a shout out to Falconer, the greatest voice trainer on the planet!  I love him!

LE:

The rasp to me Ö even if you werenít passionate about delivering a message, it could sound it.  It sounds heartfelt.  Thereís many things that we canít embrace about ourselves until we get some knowledge about it but itís obviously made a change in your career too. 

JULLY:

Iím with you on that!  Totally.  Itís your uniqueness.  I just said, this is my blessing, this is my gift.  Not everybody could do what God wants me to do and thatís the raspiness in my voice. 

LE:

Thereís a lot of talent in our city Ė who are some of your favourite Canadian artists?  Favourite overall artists?

JULLY:

Alanis Morrisette.  I respect her not only as an artist and songwriter but I respect her taking the chance in changing direction with her sound and with her imaging.  She embraced it, loved it and stayed with it.  K-os, Kardinal, Saukrates.  I would say Michie, Maestro Ė the pioneers.  Definitely Dallas Green of Alexis on Fire.  He has a solo album out.  My backup singers actually, DShon and Tonya Renee Ė those two are insanely talented and they are artists in their own right. I always say that your background singers should sing better than you or equal.  Itís just as important.  They are part of my DNA. 

LE:

The CUMAS.  I have to talk about that performance.  Were you feeling being there because you were sooo great.

JULLY:

That was an interesting night to say the least.  But one thing I never skimp on is my live show because that is where Iím happiest no matter whatís going on off the stage.  I decided to do a song thatís not a single for a reason.  A lot of artists are afraid to take chances and they want to just do their single because they want the pre-applause. 

Before This Is Me came out, I was doing songs that no one knew.  Itís still that whole message that music is the only language we all speak.  Itís my slogan, my title, itís my email.  So, with whatís going on in the world and in Toronto with the violence, lyrically, Living In The Ghetto Ainít Easy was the song and the message I wanted to convey and let everyone know that it ainít easy but dreams do come true so stick to your vision.  Iím a Jane and Finch girl! 

LE:

Itís part of who you are and itís in your delivery of songs.  Almost every time Iíve seen you perform, itís been a goosebump experience and the more Iím in the industry, the less that happens.  That was the song of the night for me!  It has to do with you knowing you. 

JULLY:

It comes from love Ė again.  In a weird way that night I kind of felt I was in my own box.  And the only friends that I felt were there were my band and of course my amazing manager, Sandi.  The night was very heavy and kind of emotional.  In the past, I may have handled it differently but I just put it into the performance. 

LE:

Why was it emotional for you?

JULLY:

Unfortunately, the urban industry in Canada and specifically in Toronto has a far way to go with true, sincere, genuine solidarity.  Not just fair-weather solidarity when the cameras are on or when youíre at an industry event.  Shout out to Ngozi Paul, one of my Ďkinkí ladies [ĎDa Kink in my Hairí theatre production] for producing the show and putting a lot on the line. 

LE:

What pieces of advice would you give to a young artist that wants to enter the business?

JULLY:

  • I would say to really explore who you are trying to be, not necessarily who you are but who you are trying to be.  Itís two different things.  Who are you really trying to be?  Are you trying to be the humanitarian, the philanthropist?  Are you trying to be the vixen?  Who are you trying to be?  What risks are you willing to take?  How long are you willing to wait? 

  • Also, groom your craft.  Try different things.  If youíre a vocalist, experiment with different genres Ė dig in the crates!  Thereís nothing original Ė learn from the foundation.  Thatís what has set the industry.  The pioneers set up the wall and built the foundation. 

  • Donít be afraid to fall and get back up.  My Mom always says you canít go further than the ground.  Get up Ė you know where you fell already so donít fall in that same spot. 

  • If you donít write songs, just try.  Thatís your power Ė your power is in your songwriting.  My publisher always says that your publishing, or your writing, is your pension plan.  Even if youíre not writing for yourself.  Once youíre comfortable as a writer, you can write for other people.  So, know who you are trying to be.  Are you always trying to be in the spotlight or are you ok with being a spotlight songwriter like Diane Warren.  Sheís the Michael Jackson of songwriters. 

  • Know that youíre a product.  You ARE a product.  Are you going to buy the beaten, battered, bruised apple?  Or are you going to buy the shiny one.  It looks nice!  Everything is affected Ė know that relationships are affected Ė personal, business, your family.  Thereís a lot you have to sacrifice but if you know that youíre doing it for yourself and therefore once youíre happy, your friends, family and fans will be happy too and youíll be ok. 

Everything you go through in life, youíve been given the grace to deal with it before the problem.  All you have to do is believe and the hardest thing is believing, having that faith and the will.  Can you imagine?  Itís like ďHereís your ammunition Ė go fight!Ē  Thatís all it is.  God says "Hereís your grace.  And itís all going to be ok." 

When I look at my life as having been signed to MCA etc. etc. Ė I would trade it all in if I could have one minute with my sister that passed away.  I would trade it all in and work at McDonaldís Ė for one minute to just be able to give her a hug and to say I love you.  Everything else just doesnít matter.  (crying)

 

We break while we take a moment to speak about Jullyís sister who passed away in 1990 and how much she misses her, how much her family has grown closer because of this tragedy and how her legacy lives on. 

LE:

What do you want people to remember you for?

JULLY:

I want people to remember me as a loving, sincere, passionate person that just happens to be a singer.  Who just happened to be a songwriter.  I donít want what I do for a living to be my memory.  I want the person first then my career second. 

One thing that Oprah said on her recent Letterman appearance was even if you donít have ĎOprah moneyí or ĎLetterman moneyí, it doesnít take much to make a difference in somebodyís life.  When you make a difference in one personís life, that chain is where it starts.  You think that you have to go around and break the bank but really itís if you truly affect one person Ö

I got an email from a fan who was suicidal and heard I Travelled and decided not to kill himself Ė long story short.  That alone shocks me Ė I havenít even responded yet because this one, I need to sit and really speak to this person and let him know that he has affected me.  And thatís the ripple.  Where he feels that my song saved his life, his honesty has given me the courage to keep going.  Especially in a country that doesnít get it yet. 

Thatís the one thing that we all have in common too Ė that weíre all on our journey.  Day to day, minute to minute.

LE:

Just recognizing that it is a journey Ė itís not over if this doesnít happen Ö or I donít get this record contract or recognition Ė itís that it will always be ok.  Itís what you do with the Ďokí part.

JULLY:

Thatís IT!  Exaactly.  

LE:

If you could work with any artist, living or past, who would it be?

JULLY:

Etta James first.  I would say Marvin Gaye.  Classy music about love and even about sex, sexuality, sensuality that wasnít raunchy.  And of course, the voice.  If I could bring him back after his father killed him Ė imagine what heís got to say!

LE:

So, whatís in your CD player right now?

JULLY:

Michael Buble right now.  I definitely put him in the ranks of a top Canadian artist who struggled for 10 years in Vancouver.  Struggled with nothing, nothing!  And David Foster, another great Canadian artist.

LE:

Any message for your fans?

JULLY:

I love you.  I donít even feel to push the record down peopleís throat.  I sincerely love you and to quote Donny Hathaway Ö Ďmore than youíll ever knowí. 

 Thanks both to Jully Black and Myrinda Makepeace for making this interview happen.  A true artist with a real message.