Eclectic artist to play at Anthology on Wednesday
Singer, songwriter, bassist and recording artist Meshell Ngedeocello flies into San Diego this week, to promote her latest release, Devil’s Halo. Ndedeocello will be performing an intimate show at Anthology, located in Little Italy, on Wednesday.
The petite, tattooed, bisexual musician with closely cropped hair, thinks media attention focused on her sexuality is boring. She may be right. It certainly isn’t the most interesting thing about her, by a long shot.
She first got interested in performing at 15, when Prince blew her mind with his over the top style and presence. She counts Prince and also Sting, as two of her earliest bass influences and you can still pick those influences out in her music today.
Her categorization on iTunes™ under “R&B/Soul” is rather a misnomer; the fact of the matter is, you never really know what you’re gonna get with Ndegeocello.
“It is really disturbing when the color of your skin affects what genre of music you should be playing,” she said recently.
The most unfortunate aspect of that miscategorization, is that a lot of people will miss out on what a truly amazing, edgy, eclectic and talented musician she really is. Her influences and appreciation for music genres vary far and wide, which could also describe her own musical journey. She seems to pull ingredients from all those genres together, throw them into a blender with a few ideas of her own, and produce a frappe that is all of them, yet none of them. She is not afraid to take chances, and it shows.
Ndegeocello is not hung up on who gets her music, either. “You either get it or you don’t,” she has said. You won't know if you get it or not unless you give it a listen - and everyone should - because she just might surprise you.
Devil’s Halo, her eighth studio album, is much less personal and less autobiographical than her previous works. She tends to write songs that offer a look into her soul. This time, she steps out of herself and becomes the looker, instead of the one being looked at, and has written songs looking into the souls of others.
Almost every track on Devil’s Halo tells a story that could have easily played out on the rough and tumble streets of a town she’s spent a day walking through, or in a bar that she’s sipped a scotch in from that corner seat. It’s definitive storytelling, combined with tragic lyrics, steady back-beats and the most luxuriously melodic tracks you may ever hear, laid right on top.
She has never cared for her own voice, but that is not easily understood. On tracks such as Tie One On, White Girl, Blood on the Curb, Crying in Your Beer and the title track, she seems to settle in somewhere between Sade and Joan Armatrading, lending it a familiarity that is at the same time, clearly and uniquely hers.
SDGLN got the chance to ask her a few questions recently, in advance of her arrival. Here’s what transpired:
SDGLN Your privacy is obviously important to you. Why was the fact that you identify as bisexual something you decided to let be known?
Meshell Ndegeocello (MN) Someone asked the question and I told the truth. I was naïve not to know it would be a big part of my marketing but I didn't. I don't regret it but it has been defining in a way that's confining.
SDGLN "Ndegeocello" means “free as a bird.” What language is it derived from and how did you come to choose it as your surname?
MN Swahili. Seemed like what I was trying to achieve, feel, be.
SDGLN You’ve said that you are a “bass player above all else,” and you have played your bass alongside the greatest of the great, but you are also a songwriter with 8 albums of songs and a dozen more you wrote for movie soundtracks. What truly fulfills you the most – writing, singing or playing - and why?
MN I like recording. I love making the music, hearing the parts, putting them together, exploring the sounds, and making new sonic environments. I love to play. Singing is definitely not my favorite.
SDGLN You were one of the first artists that Madonna “chose” for Maverick Records. I have to ask..is she really involved in the whole process, and how was it to work with her?
MN That was 20 years ago. I'm sure Madonna is entirely different than she was then, as I am. She was involved in signing me, but not in the records I made with Maverick.
SDGLN You toured with the first Lillith Fair, did you enjoy it and would you do it again?
MN I loved it. Really nice people and really good food. I'd consider it again but it would probably depend on the line up. I don't know who the Lilith artists might be nowadays or if I'd fit the bill.
SDGLN What is the difference (production-wise) with how you made your current album, “Devil’s Halo” with Mercer Street and say, “Peace Beyond Passion,” with Maverick?
MN This record was played and recorded as a live band. We all played together, rather than parts recorded individually. I also produced this record with Chris Bruce, our guitar player, and it was generally a more intimate production. It was one of the most satisfying record making experiences I've had.
SDGLN In 2002, you participated in a benefit for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) at Carnegie Hall. Is Carnegie Hall everything that its cracked up to be?
MN Definitely. I've played there since then, too and remembered how intimidating it is to look up at those steep balconies. It's incredible sounding. The acoustics are singular.
SDGLN What musicians inspire you? What inspires you in life?
MN My band inspires me. Chris Bruce makes me work harder. Mark Kelley, our bass player, makes me humble. Deantoni, who plays drums, just blows my mind. Right now, David Bowie and Stevie Wonder are topping the list but I listen to a lot of music, cycle through inspirations on a regular basis. There's something to find everywhere. In life - my family. My imagination. I live in the country now, so I've got the natural world to dazzle me too.
SDGLN You once were a judge for the Independent Music Awards. What advice do you have for up-and-coming independent musicians?
MN Dig deep to determine if you want to play to make music or for fame and fortune. It's not the same road.
Ndegeocello presents “The Best of Bitter” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Anthology, 1337 India St. in Little Italy. Call (619) 595-0300>