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Life Lessons Behind Lessons Learned: An Interview with R&B Sensation Lorraine Reid
By Liz Singer
(more articles from this author)
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I grew up admiring the stunning vocals of sensational artists like Lauryn Hill and Mariah Carey, trying to mimic their soulful songs as I sang in my room. After hearing Lorraine Reid's new album "Lessons Learned," my ears were happier than they'd been when Lauryn Hill was still making records. This 7-time Juno nominee and breakthrough solo star not only poured her heart into her album, which served as both therapy for the past and inspiration for the future, but also shared the details behind her success as today's voice of R&B and soul with an edge. More importantly, the wise teacher/singer/songwriter offered some lessons of her own for all audiences to reflect upon.

[Liz Singer] Every time I listen to Lessons Learned, I become more and more in love with your amazing voice. When did you begin singing? And when did you know you wanted to pursue music as a career?

[Lorraine Reid] Wow... well, my first public performance was on Parents' Night in Junior Kindergarten... (I sang the "ABC's" while my teacher played it on the piano). I remember always singing in church, and loving church hymns as a child... I've always had a knack for hearing a melody or lyric once, and being able to mimic the vocal. I'd obsessively harmonize with songs on the radio, or commercial jingles on TV, and it's always been really easy for me to pick that kind of stuff up. I think once the 'Whitney/Mariah' era hit, I knew that I wanted to pursue music as a career.

[Liz Singer] It is truly astonishing that Temperance was nominated for 7 Juno awards, a feat that no other dance group has achieved to date. How did your previous experience with the group influence your readiness to make the switch to a solo career?

[Lorraine Reid] I did so much learning and even more growing - personally, vocally, emotionally - during my experiences with the group Temperance. Those years were the absolute best 'lessons' I've had in my life to date. That being said, it was never easy... quite the opposite, at times, in fact. I mean, I was young when we started out- about 17, still in high school - and quite nave to the harsh realities of the biz... But thankfully, because I was young, I was also still fairly resilient. It's taken me some time- several years - to come down from it all and find myself again (still working on that)...and recording this album was part of that process. The R&B was always there; the soul was always there, so that transition was not difficult at all. As for pursuing an R&B career, I had no idea whether or not I'd record on this level again; but I did know that certain conditions would have to be met before I'd even consider the rest is now history. Doing this record has helped me reconnect with my passion for music.

[Liz Singer] Since you have been involved in the education world as a teacher, do you feel that your time spent in the field has influenced your music career, in terms of providing content suitable for all ages, much unlike many contemporary artists?

[Lorraine Reid] Definitely...I am very conscious of the fact that my students will listen to my work...and I teach all grades from Kindergarten to Grade 10, so no age is really 'safe'. Generally, I've never really been interested in supporting any material with overt connotations - I don't consume it, [and] would never produce it.

[Liz Singer] On Lessons Learned, which track did you enjoy recording the most? Which is your favorite to sing? And which will be most influential to listeners?

[Lorraine Reid] Enjoyed recording the most: "No More" (most challenging vocal to deliver). Favorite to Sing: "No Coming Back." Most influential: I actually thought that "No Time to Throw Stones" would be the most influential...I wrote it to say something about the state or our communities...but it turns out that "How Can I Keep Him," the first single, is striking a chord with many...that song's a pretty personal one for me, and people are being inspired in so many different ways by it.

[Liz Singer] Clearly all of your fans will appreciate such a brilliant effort made on Lessons Learned. What aspect of this project gives you the greatest sense of pride?

[Lorraine Reid] This record is really my baby. It's been a multi-step process, and we didn't take the short road with it, I'll tell you that. This project is also a true reflection of my 'new' voice, which I've had to embrace and get to know all over again. It's the first project I've been attached [to] that I actually feel represents me completely. I don't even listen to it that critically anymore, and for me to reach that level of comfort with my own work? ...that almost never happens...that means a lot to me.

[Liz Singer] I got the impression that Lessons Learned is really about the ability of an individual to make it on their own; to move past heartbreak and become even more independent than before. I also felt an overall attitude of optimism for the future, despite whatever pain had been suffered in the past. Was this your intention for the album's message?

[Lorraine Reid] You are absolutely bang on. The last thing I wanted - and something the team was very concerned about - was for this to come across as another 'All men are dogs' record. Granted, on it I don't have much positive to say in the relationship department, lol...but I'm thankful for every painful experience I thought I'd never recover from... they not only made me stronger, but they inspired some real emotion in studio...and on this record. The optimism you sense is very real, and I'm glad we captured the emotions I've experienced, 'cause I don't plan to stay there much longer!! I almost can't wait to hear what my writing sounds like once I change phases again.

[Liz Singer] How do you feel that your own past has influenced the album's content? Do you think that one's past is always incredibly influential, or is it possible to move forward and make a completely new start without looking back?

[Lorraine Reid] I don't think we can separate ourselves from who we are; I think those that try end up living in denial and pain, and sometimes we sit up and watch them on reality TV...I believe we're all a mosaic of our previous thoughts, choices and experiences, and I thank God for that. I am so thankful to Him for the opportunities I've been blessed with so far in my life.

[Liz Singer] How have your career transitions and hardships with your health, with your vocal nodule surgery, provided inspiration for this album? How have these challenges influenced your attitude towards life?

[Lorraine Reid] I had vocal nodule surgery in the fall of 2005, and this record was recorded once I retrained my voice and found my new sound...I'm still getting used to this new voice. I try to take each day at a time and I'm very humbled when it comes to my voice...always have been.

[Liz Singer] Overall, what would you like listeners to gain most from listening to your record? What is the primary message you would like to send out to all your fans who will listen to Lessons Learned and fall in love with the beautiful melodies and influential lyrics?

[Lorraine Reid] The primary message I want to share is that no matter where we are in life, it is important for us to keep it real. That may mean admitting truths that are embarrassing, or appearing vulnerable at times, but that is when we are most human. I am still learning this lesson.

[Liz Singer] What artist or band do you remember being influenced by as a child? And how have those impressions affected you into adulthood?

[Lorraine Reid] Michael Jackson; Mariah Carey (in her 'Vision of Love' days); Sam Cooke; Whitney Houston; Mary J. Blige...perfect combination of soul, texture, emotion and grit that I strive to emulate.

[Liz Singer] Who are your favorite artists/bands? What are the last 3 CDs you listened to?

[Lorraine Reid] Faves: depends what day you ask, they are Mary J. Blige, Jaheim, Alicia Keys, Sarah Vaughan, Tracy Chapman...I could go on & on... Last 3 CDs: Amy Winehouse's Back to Black; LJX's Two Chord Skankin'; Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

[Liz Singer] In regards to your personal life, how have you been balancing a music career and personal relationships? Has it been a challenge to "do it all" while pursuing your dream of recording a solo album?

[Lorraine Reid] I'm always challenged by the demands of my schedule and my desire to connect with the important people in my life. It was especially hard for me during the writing process to be emotionally available to others, because everything for me was living on the surface, you know? Very cathartic, yes, but also very emotionally taxing. Plus, I essentially have two full-time careers, so sometimes, even now, I'll just go MIA - you know, to preserve my sanity... maybe even sleep in??!!!...and people don't know that I'm in overload because I don't share a lot. My family, especially my mom, is very understanding and supportive; my close friends...they are the ones who truly 'get' me, and respect why I am the way I am.

[Liz Singer] As an artist, what has been your greatest accomplishment? And in your life in general?

[Lorraine Reid] In my life in general, I think my greatest accomplishment has been being a mentor and role model to others. As an educator, you really have no idea who you've inspired, and sometimes once you find out, you're more than surprised! I'm also really proud to be able to say I have two baby brothers...they're 23 and 25, far from babies, but I just like saying it.

[Liz Singer] What are your main goals for the future? Do you see yourself recording more R&B albums, or are there different plans in the works for your music career?

[Lorraine Reid] I just wanna sing...I don't really concern myself enough with the business aspects of things, and although that probably isn't very savvy of me, it is part of what keeps me passionate about performing. We've already begun to conceptualize and pen tracks for the sophomore album so music is here to stay. I look forward to hearing how my sound will change as I gain more writing experience and maturity as a vocalist. Plans for the future...well, I'm game for anything, as long as I get to stay true to me...

[Liz Singer] As your album is clearly an inspiration to all aspiring, honest artists, is there any other advice you'd like to give others who want to follow in your footsteps? Is there anything you wish someone would have told you when you were starting out as an artist? And in your life, what has been the most valuable lesson that you have learned?

[Lorraine Reid] Thank you, Liz. Life is just one big classroom: some of us are the teacher's pets, some of us are unpopular, some of us get the lesson the first time, every time; some of us need to experience it again, or pay closer attention; some of us even go try the remedial classes and still, nothing But seriously, the most valuable lesson of all for me has been that on this journey called life, sometimes if we are not careful, we can miss the lesson, which is different for each of us. I wish I'd known that earlier - although I have no regrets. My advice to other aspiring artists is to take the time to figure out what your life lesson is; the rest will fall into place.

You can expect to see the highly anticipated Lessons Learned to be released this summer, and while you're anxiously awaiting that day, go see Reid live at Michigan Reggae Festival this coming August. This follows on her successful performance at the Montreal Reggae Festival on July 12.

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