Monday 5 November 2018

Lucinda Slim: "The Wrath of Lucinda Slim" [Interview]

(c) Holger Menzel

Lucinda Slim's musical output has been so intrinsically linked to that of The Haggis Horns over the past few years that the launch of her debut release under any other label home than Haggis Records just wouldn't have felt quite right.

Haggis Records of course boasting the release of the last two albums by one of the UK's mightiest and most respected funk & soul acts, The Haggis Horns, and their albums 'One of These Days' (2017) and 'What Comes To Mind' (2015), both of which featuring the incredible vocal talents of Lucinda Slim, most notably on the former album release and its epic single 'World Gone Crazy'.  Spawning a wave of remixes by the dream team line-up of Smoove, Lack of Afro and Sam Redmore, the anthemic 8+ minute protest number was very much the centrepiece of the album and an awesome showcase for an awesome vocal talent.

Yes, this EP has been long-overdue but now it's finally here, it absolutely should be embraced by fans that have finally had their patience paid off.

Although seeking heavy inspiration from classic funk and northern soul stylings as laid down down by the genre's heroes like Lyn Collins and Brenda Holloway, Lucinda uses the eight-track, self-titled, release to firmly establish her own style and cement her name as a forerunner in voices amidst an ever-flourishing UK scene.

Clearly an artist that thrives on collaboration: as well as chalking up studio and touring time with The Haggis Horns, Lucinda can also boast having featured with Rickey Calloway, Youssou N'Dour and Zap Mama amongst so many others; that spirit of collaboration is carried over to the EP as well with production from Belgian artist Krewcial, co-writer DJ Keb Darge and Daptone Records head-honcho Gabriel Roth on 'Love Thief'.  Throw The Haggis Horns into the mix as well and we end up with a true gem for 2018.  Highlights on the release are in abundance but the sweet soul of 'Borrowed Love' and the bonus track 'All This Time' are particular treasures.

Fingers crossed that the success of this project spawns more material imminently but in the meantime we have this stunning release to tide us over from a genuine shining light of contemporary funk & soul music.  It's an incredible privilege to have secured time with Lucinda Slim to discuss the new project and some of the incredible highlights of her career thus far.

Congratulations on the release of the new EP: this feels like a long-time coming?
Indeed, the first release of the vinyl EP in 2015 did get some exposure but we always felt without a proper digital release the album was doomed to disappear into wax oblivion so when Ben Barker (guitarist and label owner of Haggis Records) offered to release the album digitally it really felt like the right thing to do.  We have been working together for many years on each other's albums, so the collaboration felt natural and we are working on a new album as well.  The digital release also took some time because I am a single mum, trying to make a living as a singer/singing teacher supporting other artists so life took over for a few years.  It is really hard to make a living off album sales nowadays so I had to find the time and resources before I was able to focus on my own music again.

Who were some of your musical inspirations growing up?
My very first musical crush when I was 12 was Billy Holiday.  I spent hours listening to her albums and writing down all the lyrics, singing them along and I also discovered Betty Smith through her.  These women sang passionately and I was able to identify with their voices and I found an escape through their music.  Miriam Makeba, the early Pointer Sisters, Motown, James Brown and Mica Paris were also big inspirations.

You've obviously been affiliated with The Haggis Horns for a long time: how did you first meet them?
I met Malcolm, the 'knock-yer-socks-off' trumpet player, at Zen Sai in Camden, where I was deejaying and he had arranged to meet his friend Keb Darge, who I had a DJ night with; Hootenanny.  One of the Haggis Horns founders, saxophonist Jason Rae had sadly passed away a year before and they were in a transition period.  We really clicked, decided to stay in touch and after some time I also met other members of the band.  They asked me to write vocals on a track which would later become our first collab, 'Pass It On'.  We worked really well together and inspired each other, it was the start of a long-term musical relationship and many adventurous tours.

When did the discussion turn to signing with Haggis Records?
We decided on that in 2018 but it was something we had talked about years ago.  I like working with people I am close to and the Haggis Horns almost feel like family so it really made sense.

How does the process of writing and creating new music usually work for you?
There are different ways, I will suddenly hear a melody in my head or a groove, it might happen while I am watching a movie or having a walk, or even inspired by a tune I heard (but not blatantly ripped off!).  Or an event inspires me for lyrics, words, phrases.
I record ideas on my phone, or Garageband and write ideas in my notebook.  Then I take the pieces one by one and puzzle until I have a song.  I usually work out a rough arrangement, bass line, chords and harmony, then get together with a producer or musician to finalise the song completely.  What is also very important for me is establishing a groove and a 'sound' that works for a particular album or project.  Almost like a soundtrack.  I usually have that sound or groove in my head and can hear it but it can be tricky to translate that to someone else who doesn't hear what is in my head.  That is why it is so important to work with people who understand your inspirations and vision and who enjoy this process.
Another way to write is the way we do it with the Haggis Horns.  For example, they will send me an instrumental, which inspires me for a melody line and words, this process is actually the quickest way.  I will record a rough vocal melody, words, etc, verse/chorus on top of the instrumental, send it back to them for review and we go back and forth like this a few times until we agree and record the final version in the studio.
(c) Holger Menzel

Can you talk a little about what went into the making of the EP?
Some of the songs were already written a few years before: 'All This Time' and 'Borrowed Love'.  The other songs were inspired by some of the Northern Soul/rare Sixties Soul I discovered through the Northern Soul Scene, Keb Darge's extensive rare vinyl collection and some of my own discoveries.
When I toured Europe with Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings as her backing vocalist, a Little Ann and Irma Thomas compilation was playing in the tour bus and I came back to London buzzing with inspiration.  Keb and me co-wrote lyrics for some of the songs and soon after that 'Love Thief', 'Whirlpool' and 'Wrath of the Law Men' were made and I decided to record a version of two of my favourite tunes, 'Two Winters Long' and 'You Don't Mean It'.
Gabe Roth from The Dap-Kings became a good friend and he sat down with me, helping to arrange a few of the songs in London but also at the Dap-King Studio in New York.  We recorded a rough version of 'Whirlpool' and 'Love Thief' over there.
I took this back to Europe, got a fantastic band together with the help of Krewcial; we rehearsed beforehand, then recorded the album in two days, all live takes.  The Haggis Horns added their magic on top of the tunes and that was that.
I also received a lot of support from GUS, a producer/rapper/DJ from Gent, the three of us [with Krewcial] used to make music together years ago and he helped with boosting the album and shooting the video.

You've toured/performed/written with some incredible artists: what's been a real career highlight for you so far?
Performing with Zap Mama at Carnegie Hall, recording with Sergio Mendes, touring Africa with Youssou N'Dour have been incredible highlights, but I have two super 'pinch-myself' moments:
one was when I visited John Lee Hooker's residence in San Francisco with Marie Daulne (Zap Mama) and Spearhead's manager who arranged the meeting.  I have always been a huge John Lee Hooker fan so this was a dream come true.  He was very charmed to received us two tall ladies at his place and I remember looking at his big hands who had played and created all these incredible Blues songs.  We talked all afternoon, sang him an African acapella song, talked about African and American Blues... it was incredible.  At one point I was a bit hungry, hadn't had breakfast and cheekily asked his housekeeper if they had a little snack.  She told me to make myself at home and so I made myself a sandwich in John Lee Hooker's kitchen!
The second incredible moment was in Japan with Youssou N'Dour, at the Tokyo Jazz Festival.  We had performed two days and were about to leave for the airport when my purse got stolen (I know - nobody steals in Japan, but hey guess what, my purse did get stolen).  My flight tickets, passport, phone were gone, so the band had to leave without me while I had to stay behind a day or two until I had an emergency passport.  It was the weekend so everything was closed.  The promoter was a star and by chance Herbie Hancock and Chaka Khan arrived to play at the Festival that night.  I ended up hanging out with them, Jeff Ballard and other amazing musicians before their gig that night.  They felt sorry for me, alone in Japan so told me to stick around and I ended up listening to them rehearse 'What's Going On', in the Green Room, and got invited to join in with backing vocals for that song for Chaka Khan (who had been super lovely to me by the way) as the last song of the concert by Herbie Hancock.  Suffice to say it made my day, year and decade!!

Who would be a dream artist to either record or perform with?
I would absolutely love to work or record with Ali Farka Toure, the amazing West-African Blues guitarist.
Or with producer Willy Hutch if he was still alive, he produced such incredible tunes.
Gamble and Huff would be fantastic too...
Too many I would love to work with but these people immediately popped into my mind.

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