I read that you are from Windsor, Ontario?
How far is that from Toronto?
Well, about a four-hour drive or a forty-five minute flight on a little prop plane.
I haven’t figured out the Ontario thing. It seems like every time I hear Ontario I think people are closer than they are to me in Buffalo.
Yeah, well, I wasn’t close to Buffalo. (laughs) It’s a hop, skip, and a jump from everywhere.
How did you get started?
I did a lot of things in Canada, like singing for the Prime Minister, YTV, which is like Nickelodeon. I was really in the right place at the right time.
Did you get discovered in Canada or did you come to the States to make it happen?
Actually I was discovered in Canada. Warner Bros. flew me out to LA to meet with them.
Where did that take you?
Well, they signed me to a record deal, but unfortunately the guy who signed me was let go. So I stayed there for a little while and I went to a party for Luther Vandross and met Quincy Jones there. He was working on an album, Q’s Jook Joint, and I sang and he brought me to the studio the next day.
When you go to parties like that, are you overwhelmed?
Not really. At the time I thought it wasn’t going to be what it was.
So you were signed, but walking around without a record.
Yeah. So then when the whole Quincy Jones thing happened they shifted me over to his label, Qwest, which is a subsidiary of Warner Bros. And now I’m on Elektra and it’s a new day.
And Elektra being a subsidiary of Warner Bros. too, right?
With so many record labels, I have a hard time keeping up.
When you had the first album out and started getting all those Grammy nominations, how did that hit you?
I was stunned. I mean, I went in with no expectations, but it was a pleasant surprise.
What did you want to accomplish with Nu Day?
Well, the last album took me like two or three years to get out. I just wanted to make sure this album was getting out.
What was the holdup with the first album?
I went through like five different presidents. So each one came in and each one had an idea of who or what I should be.
When you went to Elektra did you come in and say you needed things to be a certain way or it would be hard for you as an artist?
Yes. I sat down with Sylvia (Rhone, Elektra’s President) and we were both on the same page. That helps.
Was it her idea to bring Missy Elliot in?
Yeah, it was her idea. As an artist, it’s good to try things that you might not have otherwise. I think she is a great performer and producer. We had such a good time that she was only supposed to do one track and ended up doing three more songs. (laughs)
You have an executive producer credit. Is that because you oversaw what happened or because you were very involved with what happened?
Oh, yes, I was very involved. I’m over letting others dictate what I do. I’m all up in it.
Some artists do just go in, sing, and leave.
Yeah, that is true.
Do you flow with the songs?
Yeah, I flow with it and hope it comes together.
Do you look back at songs and see what you were thinking about at the time?
Yes, and not only at the time but in the past.
What about the album before?
No. Even though I co-wrote most of the songs, it was a real confusing time for me and I think you can tell from the songs. I’m in love, out of love, in love, out of love. I either like you or I don’t like you.
As a songwriter do you want people to come away with their own message?
I really do. That is why I like to collaborate with other writers too. Because you get two different stories and you fuse them together and create an experience people can relate to.
Were there songs or artists growing up that really touched you?
All the stuff my mom listened to, like Patti LaBelle (Tamia starts to sing “Lady Marmalade”). I was like six, but it was the music and voice that touched me.
What about your teen years?
I think music is really a great way to get through it all because it shows you that you aren’t alone. When you find a song that relates to your situation at the time, that is a great feeling, because you realize you aren’t the only one going through this.
What are you listening to right now?
Everything from the Winans to Creed. I’m in love with (She starts to sing “With Arms Wide Open”). I love that song. I think a great song is a great song. It doesn’t have to be R&B or anything in particular.
A great song will shine through whether you throw a million dollar production at it or just play it on guitar.
It’s so true.
What have been the biggest changes in your life since this has all happened?
Well, demographically things have significantly changed, but I’ve grown a lot in the last few years. At nineteen I think I had no clue, but now I’m learning some.
Still writing the book?
Yes, I’m still writing the book. (laughs)
Was it hard to grow up so fast?
Yes. It really forces you to grow up. You learn quickly or get left behind.
What has been the good and bad?
The fact that you get thrown into the fire. You don’t know much about the music business, and all of the sudden you have lawyers, agents, and all those things. Those people get paid. There is a reason why it’s called the music business, because there is a lot of business that goes on before you get on stage. The best part is getting to meet new people.
What about the future?
I take everything day by day. I’ve had a lot of great experiences and I try to enjoy it as it comes.
+ charlie craine