For this year’s exclusive, genre-bending singers roundtable, we talked with vocalists who have sold millions of records (CeeLo Green), performed blistering sets at major festivals (Meg Myers); recorded an album with Gwyneth Paltrow (Pete Yorn), performed at Madison Square Garden (Local H’s Scott Lucas) and attended the Berklee College of Music (Native Construct’s Robert Edens) to find out how they keep their pipes in check. Halls honey-lemon drops or whiskey? Light a candle or call the doctor (Schulze)? Read on to see where these singers’ preferences lie … and why a certain mic is always a Shure bet.
Contact: Jessica Nall - Atlantic Records, [email protected]
CeeLo Green got his sea legs with revered Goodie Mob, catapulted into the mainstream as one-half of Gnarls Barkley, then launched a solo career that has netted him multiple Grammy Awards. With the five-times-platinum single “Fuck You” and a stint as a judge on The Voice, CeeLo turned himself into pop’s most recognizable Soul Machine. His new single “Working Class Heroes (Work)” is featured on his recent solo album, Heart Blanche, and the soundtrack for Barbershop: The Next Cut.
What makes you a better singer today than when you started?
Oh, just the experience, you know. Something or anything that you profess over the last 20 years you do become just that, professional. I think just time has allowed me to become better.
What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced as a singer?
Well, there is strain, there is being stretched too thin sometimes, supply and demand can be very draining physically on the vocal and on the voice. You don’t have to pace yourself, but of course it’s always at odds with the emotionally involved being that you always want to give a 100% every time.
Have you had any formal vocal coaching? What effect did it have?
I have had just a small amount of vocal coaching. It is something that I tried later in my career––maybe only a few years ago was my first time I ever sorted it out as an option. I do still practice a few techniques that I learned, so I found it to be very practical and resourceful for me, at times.
How do you warm up your vocal cords before a performance?
A little, through cold tea or raw ginger. Dr. Schulze’s nasal spray is a singer’s saving grace. It just depends on what you are using or what you have available for you at the time. I try to travel with an assortment of these things, and they kind of keep me going. Also a licorice mint called Vocal Zone. Those are really good too.
What are your diet do’s and don’ts (alcohol, caffeine, weed, etc.)?
No carbs, lots of water. As far as do’s, do what you like. [Laughs]
How do you shake out any stage jitters, or cope with red light fever?
Well, you do a get a bit of agitation, you know, just to know there is a packed house and they are anxiously awaiting you, and you just kind of want to put out a good performance. I think fear and anxiety and stage fright are three totally separate, different things, and I don’t have [much of any of them]. Just a little natural anxiety [about] going onstage. But once I lock in, [it’s] show time.
How do you calm yourself and focus? Do you meditate before a performance?
Yes, I require a moment of quiet time and introspective-thought meditation. [I] dim the lights, light a candle, just kind of sit a bit by myself for maybe 15 minutes or so, before a performance. And then, of course, we also christen each performance with a group prayer.
What are your favorite personal performances of yours, live and studio?
Oh, there’re so many … It’s kinda hard to just pick one. That is a very difficult question to answer … But I guess my Grammys performance with Gwyneth Paltrow was, I mean, way over the top and one of my all-time favorite performances I’ve ever done. Also, the Billboard Awards performance with the levitating piano later that year [in 2011]. Yes, both of those performances are two of my all-time best.
What are a few of your favorite all-time recordings or performances by other singers?
Ah … I love “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers because his voice is so unassuming and playful, if you will, but riveting and affective. And when he hits that long note … [it’s] really impressive, the breath control and resilience that it takes to hit a note like that. So that’s one of the records that I love. So many to name.
What are your most memorable stage mishaps? And how did you deal with them?
I slipped and fell in front of an audience while I was speaking in Chicago once. I tripped over the light in front of a stage before. I had a few mishaps. And you just kind of laugh [at] it. You just keep going. The show must go on.
Are you loyal to specific types and brands of microphones and in-ear monitors? If so, which ones?
I use the Telefunken mic all of the time, that’s probably the only mainstay. All of the other elements are kind of optional. I don’t have a preferred monitor. Sometimes [it] is very difficult to be partial, and you are doing different venues that may not have the most high-end equipment available. So you just have to … have good people around you or have the means to rent additional equipment. •