Interview With Alison Crockett
On Becoming A Woman
Title: On Becoming a Woman
Label: Sol Image Records
Among the varieties of funk, soul and jazz, Alison Crockett's alto makes a personal triumph of musical creativity. In a genre that commercially beats the same sounds to death, Crockett has a freshness reserved for the best. Her voice has the class and richness of imported chocolate coffee with lactose-free cream. She occupies a space influenced by the blue but cool Sade, the ethereal Meshell Ndegeocello and Jill Scott's spiritual poetics.
Music fans who dig beyond the big charting names know Crockett as a versatile musician in the soul/jazz/dance vein. Pundits of the so-called neo-soul movement try to claim her, but there is so much more to soul music drawing from the past than natural hair, bohemian fashion and a certain kind of revered obscurity. Besides, Crockett's music is quite modern and most of her most obvious inspirations are from her peers. However, her musical ancestors of the jazz, funk, and R&B kind do come through, but there is nothing nostalgic about her style.
Collaborations with Us3, Blue Six and King Britt introduced her to different audiences as a whispering breeze, warm as amber coals.
On each project her voice stood out as a mature wind instrument capable of conveying complex emotion. Those chops, developed over the years from her training at Temple University, The Manhattan School of Music and live performing, needed to make a statement about Crockett the solo artist.
The Washington D.C. native relocated to Brooklyn, New York, set about the business of her own music after touring with Us3. Her first commercial results came in the form of the Azure EP, recorded under the Dive Blue name in 2001. The four-song project was lead in popularity by the single "Alive," which international DJs quickly absorbed into their playlists. Yearning to release all of the sounds she heard inside herself, Crockett went to work crafting a full-length project helmed at the production by her brother, Teddy Crockett.
In approximately 60 minutes, On Becoming A Woman reveals an inner place inhabited by different stages of love, self-acceptance, spiritual recognition and pure soulful affirmations. The music conveys emotion like most great music: a combination of sounds familiar enough to bring the listener on the ride comfortably, yet moving somewhere else not new but individual. Alison Crockett's muses come out at you, but they don't suffocate the unique voice she has carved for herself among a number of projects, performances, practices and everything else it takes to make an artist tick breathe and create.
Cover songs usually annoy fans of the original, but there is excitement in the swank way Crockett reinvents Janet Jackson's lighthearted dance classic into a seasoned slice of jazzy R&B. She slows it down and sings flush notes accompanied by continuous chimes playing the lead melody.
Ms. Crockett's strongest mastering of making the nuances of different sounds serve her expression are evident in "Alive." A Roy Ayers-type groove moves underneath Crockett's singing, as subtle P-Funk keyboard blasts walk in deliberately. The conga makes it festive like Earth Wind and Fire's primetime. There are flakes of two-step beat influences in the music, yet the articulation of the time being on the one is why she could be mistaken for a funk-edged Sade or a jazzier Meshell Ndegeocello. You could imagine Crockett in the studio with Timbaland or Roy Hargrove.
"Nappy" also brings up her soul sister equals in a terse song applauding the natural coils in her hair. The drum programming and guitar snarls seem to emulate the textures of the curls in her hair by the way they conflict with each other in a flow of rhythm. Her lyrics can't help but remind you of Meshell's "Dreadlock" as she scats in a style not unlike her peer Jill Scott. Indeed, through all the memories of other bands, womanhood in song comes across as absolute Alison Crockett. The best part of her first album is its building of expectation for the next one.
When the album reaches it's end mark, you are left thinking, “Just who is this artist?” Thankfully, Crockett opened-up and took the time to explain the places On Becoming A Woman came from and where she is with her newest work.
[Tamara Harris] How would you describe your sound and where does it come from?
Alison Crockett I don't know how to describe my sound. People have told me I sound like a downhome Sade. I've told people that I'm a cross between Jill Scott and Meshell Ndegeocello. It's just my music. It comes out of what I listened to as a child and as an adult: jazz, pop, R&B, classical ... and the artists I listened to.
[Tamara Harris] Why did you call your album On Becoming A Woman? How does the music reflect that title?
Alison Crockett I called it that because the music reflected my journey of moving towards moving from feeling like a girl to feeling like a woman. The themes in my songs, to me, reflect an adult sensibility, not a teenage one. I'm not meeting a boy for the first time, nor have I had sex for the first time, and men and sex are not the only things to talk about.
[Tamara Harris] What kinds of things influence you in your songwriting and creation of music?
Alison Crockett Time. When I can get some, I write. The world influences me ... my experiences or my imagined experiences. I also am not interested in repeating myself so I try, and I reiterate, try to find something new and fresh every time I sit down. I don't always succeed, but I try.
[Tamara Harris] Can you describe the creative process and the part of it you like most?
Alison Crockett I like all of it, with the exception of engineering. I'm not really a technical person so I have difficulty getting into that aspect of it.
My creative process is being alive. I sing a lot in my head and so when I have a moment, I jot stuff down on a piece of paper. I try to keep that stuff, pen and paper, with me all the time, just in case. I have a horrible memory and if I don't write stuff down, and preferably play it on keyboard, I forget it. I've lost a lot of songs that way.
[Tamara Harris] Has the birth of your son, Kissiah, changed your attitude to your craft and the way you view the world in general?
Alison Crockett It's my daughter, Kissiah, by the way. She's changed the way I look at children in general. They really do change your life. I can't look at things that show children getting hurt in any way. I always see her, and I can't take her getting hurt, so ... Things haven't changed as far as the music. I still pick the same types of themes, now I just don't have as much time to flesh out stuff since I'm with her a lot.
[Tamara Harris] What's the difference between your American audience and your audience abroad?
Alison Crockett Those in America who love what I do are really passionate and great fans. I love them. However, Americans are a bit provincial in my opinion. They also follow what they are told to like. Therefore, they miss out on a lot of music that's really good. Also, they are not as open to hearing something new, unless they are told by someone that is important that it's good. And even then, they are slow to embrace things. Europeans tend to be more eclectic in their tastes and are willing to try something new. But just like Americans, those who love my music are really supportive.
[Tamara Harris] Where do you see yourself in the commercial scheme of things? Would you want to take your music to one of the bigger labels?
Alison Crockett Of course I'd love to have my music on a larger label so I would be able to reach a larger audience and therefore have the ability to perform more often, which is what I love to do. Commercially, I think there is a real audience for my music and for artists that are similar to me. However, the record companies haven't figured out how to market my type of music. I think they've made a tactical mistake over the years by buying out all their smaller competition. There are no small or mid-size labels that can build an artist and if you don't sell the magic million copies, then you are dropped. Kind of the same in movies, if you don't do well the 1st weekend, you are gone.
[Tamara Harris] Of the current hip-hop, soul and dance artists, is there anyone you would like to work with?
Alison Crockett Gosh, there's a lot of people. I'd love to work with Mary J Blige, Joss Stone, maybe Talib Kweli. I'd love to work with Raphael Sadiq. I think he's really original and unique. I would love to work with Snoop because of the way he lays down rhymes, the phrasing is brilliant. I don't know ... there are a lot of interesting people out there, known and unknown, that I would love to work with. Collaborations are great fun.
[Tamara Harris] Will you be doing anything else with Us3?
Alison Crockett You'd have to ask them. I'm not against anything happening in the future.
[Tamara Harris] Are there any particular challenges or biases you face as a female artist in the industry?
Alison Crockett I haven't had any challenges, really, because I'm a female. I have to overcome more things because I'm a singer, and most musicians and business people think we're stupid and don't know anything about anything. They think that because for the most part, that's true. I have to overcome with musicians that I actually know about music and can write things as complicated and as simple as any instrumentalist. With business people, it's they want to hear me on stage, and that's about it.
[Tamara Harris] What should fans be looking to receive from you next?
Alison Crockett Well, I have a new remix project coming out, featuring the talents of old and new friends like DJ Spinna, King Britt, and Landslide. I'm starting to put together music for the next record. I'm trying some different sounds and things. Hey, it'll be a surprise to you and me both....
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