Debelah Morgan – Interview

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debelah morgan

hanging with debelah morgan

Debelah Morgan was transplanted two years ago from the West Coast to the heart of New York.

Has life been getting more and more chaotic closer to the albums release?

Yes. My schedule, my responsibilities, and my anxiety level all have been increasing. (laughs) Its okay.

Has life been getting more and more chaotic closer to the albums release?

Yes. My schedule, my responsibilities, and my anxiety level all have been increasing. (laughs) Its okay.

I noticed you have a bunch of shows coming up.

I have a lot of radio shows. Actually, tomorrow I leave for the beginning of the radio shows. I was told that sales are doing well, and because we are getting requests for tv, Ill be doing some of that. Also Im doing a tour with Macys and Thermasilk. Thats a great opportunity, and as a girl I cant complain because Ill be in a different mall every week. (laughs) I just have to schedule some shopping time in.

Are you preparing now for the shows?

Yeah, but I just did a show last Tuesday and the showcases for Atlantic. So Im okay, but there still is that level of nerves and butterflies. Its new material, but weve been rehearsing and I have some great dancers. It was great because Atlantic let me put together the type of choreography that I wanted. Im really happy.

When I got the album, I never read the bio before I listen, and I thought for sure you had to be a new artist because of your level of singing ability, so I was surprised to see you had two previous albums. Is it weird because a lot of people dont realize you arent a new artist?

No, not at all. My life has been a struggle. Ive had to work and fight for anything and everything. I personally made bad legal decisions and there were times that I wasnt as focused as I am now. My first album on Atlantic was an initiation. I didnt know what the music business was about. I didnt understand the politics. My brother, Giloh, and I recorded the new album in our basement in New Jersey. We recorded the first demo together that I got signed off of, but when it came to getting signed, there was a production involved and other middle people and they told me what I had to do. They wanted me to do a hip-hop album, and I allowed people creatively what to do. That is good if its constructive criticism, but not if its destructive. For me, that is what it ended up being. I ended up having an album that didnt represent me as an artist. I didnt write any of the songs and it just ended up being very disappointing. But I had to learn.

It seems weird that someone would want to do that with you, especially after hearing the power in your voice.

Awwwww. Thank you.

Honestly.

A lot of times its just a person who sees an artist and thinks they can make a lot of money off of them and create their career. Whoever is responsible for [introducing] the artist is the person who takes the credit. If it is an artist like myself who is a writer and producer, and my brother who is also a writer and producer, between the two of us, we play everything and record everything. And honestly, what is there left for someone else to do? I think that is why in the first situation they wanted to get me with their people, so they can get the credit instead of myself and my brother. Unfortunately they didnt get me with the right people. Ive studied voice my whole life, and its just ridiculous to put a vocalist in a room with a producer and within ten minutes that producer assumes he knows every vocal trick and color and texture of the singer. And then all of the sudden you are just a puppet behind the microphone, singing how the producer wants. Where I felt a certain emotion and wanted to hit a high note, the producer wouldnt let me if he didnt come up with the idea. That is so hard as an artist. Like I told Billboard, its like telling an artist what to paint. If you think about it, youd never tell an artist what color to use. That is taking away their creativity, and that is what happened. At the time, Brandy was on Atlantic, and honestly she had a better album than me, because the people I had didnt pick the most quality people. They thought based on my voice they were going to win. But I think people are really into the songs and the emotions. That is what makes songs special. After I left Atlantic, I got a little depressed. I gained ninety pounds. So I was recording demos, but no one wanted to sign me because I wasnt marketable anymore. That was tough to deal with too. I know so many women that deal with that on a daily basis, but when your career is based on it, that is even harder. Then I was signed to Mercury, which I thought was going to be amazing. They wanted me to be their Toni Braxton. Then they were rumored to be purchased by Universal, so they moved me to Motown. There again I had the same situation, people wanted me to record an album that was very urban and hip-hop, but I just didnt want to sing to one group of people. I want to sing songs for everyone, like Im into the pop/R&B thing like Whitney, Lionel Richie, and Stevie Wonder. The one great thing about the Motown deal was that I was able to travel to fourteen countries and sing all over the world. It just made me realize just how much people are really alike and ingrained in my mind how much I wanted to make an album about the songs, not about the color of my skin or my audiences skin. When I came back from overseas, Motown decided not to release the album in America because the merger just went through. (Universal and Seagrams combined to buy up many record labels) They wanted me to record a new album, but for Universal, not Motown. Then Universal didnt want to record a pop album.

Wow.

At that time, I was in financial trouble and I had to file for bankruptcy. I was sitting in my basement and refused to be depressed again, so my brother and I were sitting in my basement and started writing and writing. Wed only come up for air and Burger King. (laughs) My management were totally in support and they said, Deb, we see your vision and we support you. I had no deal and we just continued writing, and Atlantic of all places fell in love with the demo. The president and heads of all the departments were at our initial meeting and they didnt even remember that I was on the label before this. It was the middle people involved that kept me away. I think they did that because they knew if I was able to meet the president and other people at Atlantic, that person would have been told they were crazy to stop me from recording the album I was dreaming of recording.

Did it take a lot of pressure off of you because you were doing it on your own and you didnt have that third person breathing down your throat telling you what you needed to do?

Yes and no. Yes, because you dont have the issue of the record company telling you if they like it or dont, but at the same time there was a lot of pressure because I didnt have a record deal. I didnt know if I couldnt get another one. Then at the same time it was tough trying to pay my rent, and at the end of the day I knew we had to find a home for it. I am really glad that I didnt have someone from the record company there giving me their opinion.

Had you worked a lot with your brother before this album?

Well, we were going to on the first album, but they said maybe he could come in for the second one. So he had a lot of tough issues to deal with because I was being told what to do and what to sing. On the second album, he was able to write and co-produce some of the songs, but we had someone who was interfering there too. That person ended up really screwing us over and he told us, Your time will come, but he told us that he got us the deal, so now I want to make sure my name and my songs are on this project.

Geez. It sounds like youve gone through every bad scenario there is in the music industry.

I dont know. I hope I have, but I seriously doubt Ive gone through it all. (laughs)

Is it actually on the other hand helpful because youve gone through all this trouble, so now you have the foresight to watch out for trouble?

I feel like you should never say never. I mean, I never thought all this would happen to me, but I will say Im happy because I think Im far more appreciative because this has happened to me. Its the small things that I take in now because I know that it took so much to get to this point, and if people are appreciating me and this album, Im loving it. It brings so much joy.

How long did you work on the album?

Three or four months. “Dance With Me” was the last song we recorded.

Was the use of “Hernados Highway” subconscious or did you look to rework the song your own way?

It was a little of both. We were playing around with the idea of Latin flavor mixed with hip-hop. I just love to dance, especially if you go with friends who dont care how you dance and you just go out to have a lot of fun. It can be the best thing. You dont have to drink and it doesnt have to be about cute guys. Its great to just go and release your frustrations. I just love that energy. I remember when I was in high school, and Id go to college parties with my brothers and that was what the vibe was about. It was about having fun and doing cool dances. So I wanted to do something around the Latin feel and I personally love cha-cha, so the end part of the chorus is something used a lot in the Tango movement. So it was a bit of the classical Tango movement and a little of the “Hernandos Hideaway” track.

When you get together and write, do you write to beats or bring lyrics in?

Honestly, each song is different. It could either be my brother coming up with the melody, melody and lyrics, or I do. It changes for every song. We really feel where the emotion goes. I really feel that weve all lived different stories, but weve felt the same emotions. Whatever your happiest moment is and what mine is are completely different moments, but that extreme joy we both felt is the same. When we write, we try to write from an emotional place. Its great when you write with a family member because you dont have to worry if that person is going to laugh at your lyrics or think its corny.

Theyre not judgmental.

Right. And there is no ego of who wrote this or that. If you have that ego problem, you just kill the creative process. Ive had that and its terrible. My brother and I often share the same opinion, so that helps. The other great thing about working with my brother is that if I want to change something he doesnt put his foot down and stop me. He allows me to blossom even more. Honestly, for an artist, the greatest gift you can have is a producer that supports you.

Early on was there a bit of a stigma because you wrote songs and werent ready to just be a singing puppet?

As far as the label being afraid of that?

Yeah.

Definitely. However, in my situations the decisions of the songs werent coming from the record company, it was coming from the middle people. It was the main producer or the production company.

See, and when I just listened to the record without reading the bio, I honestly assumed you just sang someone elses songs. To me, that adds a whole other dimension to the record.

Thank you. I know what you mean about that as a fan too. I love when an artist takes a personal interest in an album by writing songs.

Plus, when you feel the emotion and you know that artist wrote the song, you know the emotion isnt faked.

Awwwww.

Its much more real.

Its true. Im able to write things that I truly feel. There are songs I felt that we should give to another artist because maybe I didnt really feel it. Im also very conscious about writing songs that are about love, not about sex in a trashy way. I think when I was growing up listening to my idols, the songs werent about that. I dont think the songs have to be trashy today either. I think parents should be able to buy albums for their kids without having to censor them. That is very important to me.

I think what happens is you get someone that is a decent singer, so they have to jack up the shock value for marketing the artist.

Yeah. That is so true. It is sad too. If you think about the greatest artist of a certain genre and what the songs are about, its about the beauty of love. Its about those true areas. Its not about Baby, I want to take you home.

Especially when you talk about Stevie Wonder.

I know. His perceptions of love are just amazing. When I dream of being a great songwriter, I want to be a combination of Stevie Wonder and Diane Warren. I love writing.

Maybe its only me, but I always wonder when a really great singer realizes they have the ability to sing so well and when did you think you could make a living doing it?

I think in high school. Ive always felt that I could sing, but I never thought of myself as a really great singer. I just felt there is room for me and an audience that will enjoy the way I sing. I didnt start so I could conquer the world, you know?

Yeah.

I feel that there are a hundred slots on Billboard, and if I can get in the upper half, maybe upper quarter, then Ill be happy. (laughs) But as the problems started, I began to second-guess my talent.

I think what they were hoping is that they have another Whitney and five albums in the bag. They could stand out and say, I made this.

Right. I totally get it how artists let that happen. But then there are people like Tina Turner who at one time was singing the blues, but then had to do what she loved. Its a different feeling, a different energy. When you see her singing the music she wanted to sing, you can see how much she enjoyed it. That is after Ike. Tina AI, after Ike. (laughs) Janet is another person like that who I admired. She was singing these songs that didnt work for her at first, and then she started doing the songs she loved and it showed.

I think that is why someone like Madonna is so important.

Exactly. She is a perfect example. And she just keeps reinventing herself.

Even though she reinvents herself, you feel that she is doing what she wants to do.

Yes.

She doesnt have the record execs telling her what she has to do. She sets the trend.

Exactly. Alanis had the same issues. She was singing pop in Canada, but her heart wasnt there. And Shania too. They didnt want her writing her own music.

And you know what is funny about that? As soon as the label lets them do songs they want to do in their heart, the artist gets huge. Why is it that the industry keeps making the same mistakes?

I dont know.

Its insane. Now when did you realize you could hit those super high notes?

I grew up in church and sang in the choir, but when I was eleven they realized I was very talented at singing. My mother is from India where people dont have the freedom to do what they want to do, so this was all so amazing to her, and she wanted me to get voice lessons because she knew it would make me happy. Then my dad, who is African-American, is a doctor and didnt know his father until he was in his twenties, and in his mind he wanted me to go to school and get my education. So they pushed once they knew I wanted voice lessons. I started classical training, and its amazing because you listen to something like “The Magic Flute” by Mozart and I really got into it. So I started singing in different languages. I also realized that the same vocal chords that it takes to sing pop and R&B are the same as it takes to sing classical. So I stretched my vocal chords so I could sing up there, and I think its truly a gift from God, but I did put in a lot of practice.

I was like Wow as soon as I heard you go so high. I think everyone only associates that talent with Mariah Carey.

Right.

And I guess since I honestly believe you have all the talent needed to become a huge star, how will you keep your feet on the ground and not get a huge ego?

I think because I know the industry is easy come, easy go. And that I know just because you have a record deal, it doesnt mean anything. And my family keeps me there. I also really do enjoy this and I always want to be the same person. If I change who I am, I dont think Id enjoy it anymore.

I think they need you on the VH1 Diva show.

(laughs) You are too kind. I think Ill be a divette. (laughs) Im a little diva.

Well, good luck with the shows and I hope the album does great.

Thank you. I cant wait to get on the road. I love to travel.

Really?

Yeah. I go overseas in a while too.

Wow. How do you find time for yourself?

I used to live in LA and I went to this gym called Bodies In Motion and they had a slogan that said, You can sleep when youre dead. (laughs) So in December when I get back, all Ill want for Christmas is a big blanket and pillow.

Overseas traveling is tough because it messes up your internal clock.

Yeah. For so long after my other tour overseas, I couldnt wake up until two in the afternoon. I tried to tell myself but my mind wouldnt listen. My brain was like, You dont have any interviews, no shows, no work, so all I want to do is rest. (laughs)

Your brain went into hibernation mode.

Yeah, hibernation mode. I never thought of that. I have to remember that so I can use it. Thanks! (laughs)
+ charlie craine

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