Crossing all genres and having a strong lyrical point of view is what you’ll find with this year’s assemblage of vocal artists. Each share thoughtful and compelling personal stories and career perspectives for the benefit of fan and musical peer alike. Join us for conversation with Austin-based singer-songwriter-instrumentalist Bonnie Whitmore, Nashville veteran Wendy Moten, Lake Street Dive front person Rachael Price, Body Count lead vocalist and solo rapper Ice-T and the legendary Sir Tom Jones.
Contact: [email protected]; lakestreetdive.com
Since 2004, the quintet known as Lake Street Dive has steadily built a reputation as a band that musically delivers on all fronts. National Public Radio proclaims “They take all the most fun bits of pop, soul, disco, jazz, rock & roll and stitch them together into something all their own.” They’ve amassed a hefty catalog of fine original recordings, culminating with their latest full-length release Obviously (Nonesuch). Lead vocalist Rachael Price sheds light on her personal journey and the band’s approach to the creative process.
First Professional Gig
I’ve been performing since I was 13 or 14. But I think my first recollection was opening up for Joshua Redman at a jazz festival in Iowa. I started traveling with a jazz trio when I was 19 or 20 and that was one of the first gigs I got. It was crazy.
Performing Cover Songs
We look for a few things. Will the song work if we completely take it out of context that people know it? So, if we change the feel drastically, does the song still have legs? We’re aiming to make people feel comfortable by a song they know, but we want them to be surprised hearing it in a new light.
It’s like being an athlete. You have to approach things holistically. You have to get a lot of sleep and drink a lot of water. You have to meditate and exercise to keep your body and brain healthy. You have to deal with stress and anxiety because singing is physical, but there are a lot of mental hurdles you have to get over to perform.
We’ve always written songs in the classic form, with our feelings. Therefore a lot of our songs have centered on love and heartbreak. But we’ve moved into a territory where some of our songs deal with social and climate change and gender inequality. Over time we’ve stumbled a little bit, in terms of focus. But I think a lot on the current album is very focused on these issues.
Singers should study singing from a historical perspective. Don’t just focus on yourself. Do a really deep dive into your favorite singers and find out who influenced them. That’s a way to form a deeper and more profound sound when you sing. •
Contact: Tom Estey, [email protected]; wendymoten.com
Wendy Moten is revered in industry circles as a singer’s singer. Since the early ‘90s she has carved out a career as a first-call session musician and side person to the stars. She’s sung everything from pop and R&B to jazz. But Moten has truly found her calling in Nashville as a member of Vince Gill’s band and recording her long-awaited traditional country album I’ve Got You Covered.
Background and Vocal Training
My dad was a choir director. When I was eight or nine he would make extra money teaching local choirs new gospel songs. I was with him and got all that ear training and watched him work with, and empower, non-professional singers. I also worked at a theme park in the summers as a teenager. That taught me how to be at work on time and keep my voice together. We had four 20-minute shows a day. That was the first time I ever got paid to sing. I couldn’t believe it.
Vocal Coaches, Techniques and Support
In L.A., I’ve worked with Seth Riggs and David Stroud, and Brett Manning in Nashville. I wanted to try and see what I could add to my arsenal. They were all very helpful and never tried to change me as a singer. I vocalize more when I’m getting ready to go into the studio than live. And I don’t know why that is. Maybe because in the studio you can hear everything (laughs)? I also drink Alpine Apple Cider tea. It’s a nice flavor and just warms everything up. I drink that before every show and every session.
Television theme songs are where my first ear training came from.
The Perry Mason theme and Hawaii Five-O were brilliant compositions. They just intrigued me and I needed to memorize them. In the ‘60s and ‘70s integration was a new thing and television was a way to invite people who don’t know anything about you into your world. It was a way to teach us about each other without having to leave your home.
Working in the Studio
In the early days I completely relied on my manager and producer because I had no idea who I was as an artist. I didn’t have the vision. Now that I’ve been in the music business 35 years I know who I am. And when I’m working with a producer, if they match all the things on my checklist then they’re the right person.
On “I’ve Got You Covered”
I was working with Vince Gill and I talked to his steel guitar player Paul Franklin about my idea for a solo album. He thought it was a great idea and encouraged me to mention it to Vince. To my surprise, Vince helped me choose the songs and produced the album as well.
Working With Julio Iglesias
I was his duet partner for 15 years. He taught me a lot about being a great storyteller and communicator. I felt I was getting paid to become a great artist. He was a perfectionist and had high expectations for me. I learned how to sing in several languages where I was given songs at sound check and had to learn them quickly. I developed a system and it prepared me for working with so many other great artists.
There is no competition. The competition is between you and yourself. There’s only one Whitney Houston, and I was never gonna be like her. There’s only one Whitney and there’s only one me. You’re challenging yourself every day. You wanna do great because “YOU” wanna do great, and you wanna grow. •
Contact: Joe Sivick, [email protected]; tomjones.com
“It’s Not Unusual,” “Delilah,” “What’s New Pussycat?” and a host of others are standards that emerged from the ‘60s musical movement known as the “British Invasion.” The voice behind those hits was none other than the now legendary Sir Tom Jones. At 80 years young, he’s riding high on a career resurgence that began in 2010, with the blues and gospel-driven album Praise & Blame. Spirit in the Room (2012) and the auto-biographical Long Lost Suitcase (2015) followed. Jones’ new release Surrounded By Time (S-Curve Records/BMG) embellishes on that path and may prove to be the beloved Welshman’s most significant and personal statement to date.
Surrounded By Time
This is the fourth album I’ve done with producer Ethan Johns (the Staves, Kings of Leon) now. My son Mark co-produced the album and it is different from the previous three in that we used different sounds. They told me they wanted it to sound different and I thought that was fine as long as it still sounded like me. And the songs are important too. To me, these songs are more important to my time in life than songs I’ve done in the past.
Specific Songs on the New Album
I’ve got a great keyboardist, Neil Cowley, on this new album. I mentioned the songs being important. “I’m Growing Old” is just me and Neil on piano. I got that song in the ‘70s when I was in my 30s. Bobby Cole, who wrote it, was working with a trio in Las Vegas. It wasn’t right for me in my 30s, but I held on to it all these years. This was one of the first songs I showed to Ethan. I felt now I was old enough to do it. And the Tony Joe White song “Old Mother Earth” was important for me to do because it applies to climate change and global warming. We can’t keep taking from the earth. We’ve gotta give back!
I drink a lot of water, I sleep and I use these lozenges, called Vocalzone, developed by a Welsh doctor. It’s like this menthol licorice thing, and I pop a couple of those in my mouth before a show. It really keeps your airways open. I also try to avoid two shows a night. In Vegas I used to have to do that for a month straight. You don’t wanna warm your vocal cords up, cool them down and then warm them up again. It’s better to do a two-hour show straight through, which is what I do now.
I grew up in the ‘50s listening to Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry. When I had my TV show This Is Tom Jones in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s I had Jerry Lee on the show. I also did a Midnight Special with Chuck Berry. These were all very memorable for me. I sang with Elvis Presley in Vegas in his suite most nights after a show. I also got to sing with Aretha Franklin. I was so lucky to have worked with these people.
The Most Unusual and Challenging Songs to Sing
In 1965 I had one hit record with “It’s Not Unusual.” My manager Gordon Mills wanted me to meet Burt Bacharach, who was writing music for a Woody Allen film called What’s New Pussycat? He wanted me to singthe title song. I met Burt at his London flat and he starts playing me the song on the piano. I had never heard a melody like this before, and Burt starts singing it—and he’s not a singer! It was crazy (laughs)! I said, “You’re putting me on, right?” But he insisted that was the song and he wanted me to sing it with aggression like “Midnight Hour” or something. I eventually got in the studio and recorded it, and then I got it. So, thankfully, Burt believed in me.
Another time I was recording the title song for a James Bond picture called Thunderball. There is this section at the end of the song where I have to hold this long note while the orchestra plays on. You’re always taught to take a breath before you hold a long note. But, being a schmuck, I went straight through and hit that last note on “Ball!” On the record you can hear me going flat at the end. I had closed my eyes. When I opened them I thought I was gonna pass out!
There’s a song on my new album by Malvina Reynolds called “No Hole in My Head.” The words are “Everybody says my head’s full of nothing. They wanna put their own special stuff in. Fill up the space with candy wrappers. Keep out sex and revolution. But there’s no hole in my head. Too bad!” That’s a message to tell any young person who has a point to make. Don’t let people tell you otherwise. If you have something to say, say it! You can learn and take in a lot of things, but the song says do your own thing.” •