Singers Sound Off!

Singers Sound Off! - 2018

We’re back with our annual singer’s roundtable for 2018. It’s a diverse array of vocal stylists featuring up-and-coming singer-songwriters Rozzi and Jade Bird; Alter Bridge and Slash frontman and solo artist Myles Kennedy; guitarist-vocalist and 2016 The Voice finalist Laith Al-Saadi and The Godfather of Funk, George Clinton.

Luke Burland, [email protected]

Singer-songwriter Rozzi was discovered by Adam Levine at 19 years of age after he heard one of her songs. In fact, Levine created a record label and signed Rozzi as his first artist. Soon after, she was sharing the stage with his band Maroon 5 and honing her craft at various venues around the country. Since then, she has taken flight on her own, releasing her newest single, “Never Over You,” as well as her debut album later this year on Small Giant/Columbia Records.

What vocalists have influenced you?
Lauryn Hill is one of my favorite vocalists ever. I’ve never heard such emotion in a voice. Amy Winehouse is another one. She never sang anything the same way and was so in the moment. I love Paul McCartney. He has different personalities he can effectively pull off. Beyoncé too, because she is so appreciated for her looks or moves but is so underrated as a singer.

Do you remember the first time you sang in front of people?
It was first grade and I sang a Jewel song. I thought this was what I wanted to do the rest of my life. It chose me.

What was your first professional gig?
I was a background singer for Sergio Mendes. I was 19 years old and a student at USC. I had to learn Portuguese and sing in unison with other vocalists. That was my first professional tour to Europe during my sophomore year. After that I got a gig with Don Henley, which was very different, but equally inspiring.

What is your personal regimen to prepare for a show?
I am obsessed with vocal exercises and warmups. I almost feel like it’s being an athlete. They are life changing for me.

What do you do to take care of your voice?
Talking is much more exhaustive than singing. Sometimes if I’m on tour and feeling tired I’ll just not talk much for a day or two. And then technique and singing correctly is important too. Sleep and what I eat and drink is huge. But I make a point to live my life and not let it control me too much.

Challenges to performing a great vocal?
There are so many challenges. I kinda live for that moment in a song where I can’t sing something. And it just kills me because I wanna learn how to do it. In college I would learn albums note for note. I became obsessive with learning the parts I couldn’t get. I finally realized I can sing almost anything, it’s just a question of taking the time and figuring it out.

What is the mix of covers to originals in your live show?
It depends on the show. Especially, now that I’m doing more original music I don’t do as many covers.

Is there a concept behind your new material?
Most songs are about my ex-boyfriend. I wrote some before and after our break-up. But I think the bigger theme behind my songs is strength in my vulnerability. And the more I’ve gotten into writing I’ve found the bravest thing I can do is be honest. And being honest is being open and emotional. That empowered me and I think you can hear that in the music.

What do you look for in a producer?
If I’m writing with a producer it’s nice if we can be open with each other. And if we’re finishing a song I like to work with someone that doesn’t wanna distract from the vocal and lyrics.

What is your proudest vocal performance?
I’m really proud of my performance on the song “Uphill Battle.” Online I did a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” that I think represents me well too.

George Clinton
Chrissy Walter, [email protected]

He’s a singer, songwriter, producer, bandleader, author and auteur. He’s the Godfather of Funk and, undoubtedly, has influenced practically any hip-hop, R&B, electronic and modern rock act you can name. He’s been at the helm of Parliament-Funkadelic and all its related off-shoots since the late ‘60s. Ladies and Gentleman…. please give it up for Mr. George Clinton!

Who are some of your favorite artists?
Smokey Robinson has influenced so many as a writer and singer. I like Sam Cooke, Sly Stone, Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis. I like hip-hoppers like Rakim and Eminem. And then the rock singers like Robert Plant and Freddie Mercury.

First time you sang in front of people?
That would be in 1956 in grade school. We sang “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.”
First professional gig?

It was with Parliament in 1966 when “I Just Wanna Testify” came out. We played a show in Palisades Park, New Jersey for a deejay named Hal Jackson. The very next day we did a show in New York for another deejay named Frankie Crocker.

Personal regimens or warmups before a show?
Not really. I’ve been through all the variations over the years of things to do. Now it’s about sitting down and chilling. We don’t have a set-list. I usually have to study the audience. I’m thinking about what kind of vibe is it and when’s the last time we played a place. We’ve played some of these venues so many times that it’s never the same show twice. When I see a crowd, I have to have an open mind where to go. So that’s how I prepare.

That sounds like a very spiritual way of looking at things.
Well, there’s so much to consider. I’ve gotta make sure that our new music is involved as well as the older stuff. And the older stuff is like new to the younger fans who’ve only heard Parliament-Funkadelic through samples. Also, I’m of a clearer mind nowadays and not doing those trendy chemical substances. It’s a lot more fun to come back to some of these venues now. I’ve got my grandkids out with me. And then there’s the young people in the band who keep things fresh and up to date. We’ve got families coming to our shows now. It’s like the circus.

How do you take care of yourself and your voice?
I lost about 100 pounds since I started drinking this tea. I forgot the name of it, but it works real good. I don’t eat so much anymore and I just feel good as hell! I’m grateful to be almost 77 and still be running around doing what I’m doing.

Latest project
The new album is called Medicaid Fraud Dog. It’s a Parliament record and Scarface is on there. It’s a concept record about all the insurance and meds bullshit we’ve got going on in this country right now. All the pharmaceuticals and opiates are still the main thing out there. Funk is still the best medicine you can get, as far as I’m concerned. Sir Nose/Dr. Funkenstein is at it again! “I’m Gon make U Sick O’ Me” and then give you the antidote. That’s the new single that’s out now.

You wrote a memoir in 2014 called Brothas Be Yo, Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? Please talk about that.
Well, “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You” was a song that came out last year featuring Ice Cube and Kendrick Lamar. It was off the Funkadelic album Shake the Gate, which was the first album of new material we’ve done in 33 years. I had to do something to make this whole reemergence of myself and the group mean something. So, I cleaned up, I did the book, I did the album with 33 songs on it and I got married. All of these things came together at the same time. The book was my way of telling the story with what was going on with the sampling and all the business things that I was going through. But I also wanted to touch on the lighter stuff that people wanted to hear. It was also a celebration of me cleaning up too.

What’s your take on where pop music is going today?
I listen to a lot of what the kids are doing. We used to call it teenybopper, but it’s still the key to what’s going on. Kids between 9 and 13 are the ones that get excited about records and stars coming out. Music that gets on your nerves or what parents hate is usually a pretty good gauge on what’s the next shit.

Myles Kennedy
Kevin Chiaramonte, [email protected]

Myles Kennedy has been a first-call vocalist and guitarist in rock circles for well over two decades. From his beginnings with Mayfield 4 to his critically acclaimed stints with Alter Bridge and with Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators (featuring Slash) he’s proven to be a singer for all seasons. No doubt, his most challenging and personally invested project yet is his current autobiographical solo release, Year of the Tiger.

What vocalists have inspired you?
Early on, Stevie Wonder was one of the first. I took a long time learning Stevie’s approach and inflections. Jeff Buckley was a massive influence. Another one is k.d. Laing. I often forget to mention Corey Glover. We toured with Living Colour a few years ago and he is just outstanding.

First gigs in front of people?
I played in a cover band in my early 20’s. We would do a jazz set and then follow up with some R&B/Top 40 songs. But before that, as a teenager, I sang Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” at a battle of the bands. I was scared out of my wits.

Regimen for warming up?
I used to spend 45 to 75 minutes warming up. But what I learned was that it was burning out my voice. Now I keep it to about 15 to 25 minutes. The biggest thing is trying not to talk a lot during the day. I just remember that the show is paramount so however I use my voice that day affects it.

Challenges to performing a great vocal?
There are so many variables. If your voice is tired or you have allergies, or catch a cold, that can certainly get in the way of things. Above all, what’s really important is to make sure you’re relaxed. If you’re tense or obsessing about things, that will really tighten your voice and affect your range.

New solo album Year of the Tiger
The whole story is about when I lost my father as a child. I especially focus on how my family picked up and moved on when it happened in 1974, which in the Chinese calendar is the year of the tiger. It turned out to be a very cathartic process for me in writing this record. I’m so glad I decided to tackle it.

Is there a song or vocal, either live or studio, that you’re most proud of?
That’s a good question. There is a Mayfield 4 song called “Summergirl.” That vocal was a demo I cut in my basement one night and it just had something special. That stands out for me.

Laith Al-Saadi
Kevin Daly, [email protected]

Singer-songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Laith Al-Saadi has regularly played the Michigan and Midwest nightclub circuit for over 20 years. In 2016 his fortunes changed when he became a finalist on NBC’s talent-search series The Voice. His gut-wrenching versions of classic rock, blues and soul tunes captivated audiences and prompted vocal coach and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine to claim, “Laith is one of the most diverse talents we have. He’s an incredible guitar player and singer.”

Who are your vocal influences?
I got my degree in jazz so Johnny Hartman, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles and Nina Simone. In blues I’ll say Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy. And in rock I have to mention The Beatles, Jackson Browne, Robert Plant, Geddy Lee, Jon Anderson and so many more.

First time you sang in front of people?
I started singing with the church choir when I was four or five. I knew after that I wanted to be some kind of performer. At age seven I was in Leonard Bernstein’s Mass at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. It was with, what became, the Ann Arbor Boys Choir. That was my first professional theater gig.

How do you take care of your voice?
I smoke marijuana (laughs)? I don’t know. I do try and take care of my voice. Hot tea and lemon is good. I try and keep myself hydrated and try not to do anything that hurts my voice.

Appearing on The Voice
A bunch of people at my shows were telling me to try out for The Voice. So, I decided I wasn’t gonna cancel any of my regular gigs to wait around a building and try to get an audition with a TV show. But, maybe if they contact me directly, I’ll do it. Lo and behold, the show contacted me via email and gave me an appointment for an audition. I was pushing 40 so I thought maybe I should take this opportunity for a break. To my surprise, I was able to choose songs I loved by The Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker and The Beatles. And I was even able to play blues by Albert and B.B. King for a national audience. I was humbled and amazed that I made it to the finals and the producers of the show encouraged me to play more blues.

Life after The Voice
I’ve been able to play more concert settings across the country. I’m able to focus more on the music I want to present and not just play a bunch of cover tunes. I can curate the kind of shows now I want to do.

Jade Bird
Cami Opere, [email protected]

Twenty-year-old U.K. singer-songwriter Jade Bird has been active as a professional musician since the age of 16. Her critically acclaimed debut album Something American was released in 2017. She’s followed that up with career bolstering performances at this year’s SXSW and a new single, “Lottery.”

Who are some of your influences?
Alanis Morissette has been a huge influence. On the deluxe version of Jagged Little Pill she does these Indian-inspired acoustic versions of her songs, and it is just fantastic. I’ve also been getting into a lot of soul, like Ann Peebles.
First live performance in front of people?

I did a competition when I was 12 or 13. I used to write songs at an early age. Because I was too young to play in the pubs, the only way I could perform was at some of these music competitions in Wales where I lived for a while. I moved to London at 16 and gigged around there for two years.

Personal regimen to prepare for singing?
I work with a vocal coach, but I’m not really strict with it. I like to keep my music raw and ready.

Any accoutrements to assist your voice?
I drink Throat Coat tea when I’m recording. I use a steamer that really does the job and hydrates my vocal cords.

What do you look for in a producer?
I’m looking for someone who can bring something out of me and not oppose my style with their vision. Everything’s got to be a collaboration or it’s not gonna be unique.

What vocal performance are you most proud of?
There is a song I do live on piano called “If I Die.” Lyrically and vocally it hits very close to home.

To read last year’s Singers interviews (featuring John Oates and Florida Georgia Line) visit musicconnection.com/feature-singers-sing-off-2017