PHOTOS: Derek Blanks
One of this fall's most anticipated new music releases is Lalah Hathaway's Where It All Begins (iTunes). The critically acclaimed musician, songwriter and vocalist's sixth solo album and second for Stax Records dropped two weeks ago.
Born Eulaulah Donyll Hathaway, Lalah has often been referred to as the "First Daughter of Soul" because she is the daughter of the iconic Donny Hathaway. But the title has been earned: Lalah Hathaway released her self-titled album in 1990 and since then has become a Grammy-nominated artist, featured on more than a dozen soundtracks. Hathaway's trademark sultry voice stands out among a cluttered musical landscape of over-produced and over-sampled "singers".
Where It All Begins is a stylistic and artistic homage to the late and great Donny Hathaway. Lalah covers his classic song "You Were Meant For Me" with a beautiful contemporary tribute. Oh and aficionados of both father and daughter will love, love the deliciously retro cover: It's a collage of Donny Hathaway album covers ... with images of Lalah.
"I wanted the music and art to reflect my love of art," Lalah tells Rod 2.0. "I wanted the CD to look like an album. You know the type that we grew up with, the albums that you would take in the bathroom and read," she adds with a deep, infectious laugh.
Listen to the interview:
Watch Lalah perform AFTER THE JUMP ...
"Sometimes it is difficult to [cover] my father's music," she explains. "Sometimes people are crying while I’m singing, so that gets to me. But [this] was an easy song to cover. The color of the song … it fit in so well with the more uptempo [direction] of this record. My friend John Stoddart came in and orchestrated. He made it so beautiful. My intent is to pay homage to the original and also to create a new standard."
Lalah also opens up about the now-famous "Unsung" episode that TVOne devoted to her father. "I didn’t watch it for a very long time and then I [finally] watched," she says, somewhat quietly. "It’s always interesting to watch something that you [personally] saw played out. I wished they focused more on my father’s contributions to music. But I understand that his story is very compelling. Ultimately it brought his music to more people."
Hathaway is known as a more sultry and jazzy singer. Where It All Begins is more mid-tempo and sounds like a departure for Lalah ... but she says it isn't. "It may sound like a different sound to you but to me it isn’t a different sound," Lalah tells R20. "It feels very reminiscent of the first album that I released. It’s an expansion on what I do naturally, but to everyone else it sounds different. But my intention [was] to do something brighter and with more color."
Watch Lalah perform AFTER THE JUMP ...
Why the album now? It’s a different sound for you. Why choose to go in this direction at this time?
It may sound like a different sound to you but to me it isn’t a different sound. It feels very reminiscent of the first album that I released. It’s an expansion on what I do naturally, but to everyone else it sounds different. But that was my intention and hope. I wanted something brighter and with more color. Just changing the timber, just a little.
Okay, I see where you are coming from. I know you primarily as a more sultry and jazzy singer. The new album is fantastic, it’s very dynamic.
Thank you so much.
Of course the one thing that everyone is talking about are the tributes to your father, vocally and visually. The CD cover is phenomenal. How did you come up with that concept?
Thanks, thanks so much. The covert was created by a guy in Dallas named Chris Harod. (coughing)
Are you okay?
No, I’m good …
Do you need some water?
(LAUGHS) He presented me with this beautiful cover, it was a piece of art. I knew that I wanted to present some art and make it … a totality. I wanted the music and art to reflect my love of art. I wanted the CD to look like an album. You know the type that we grew up with, the albums that you would take in the bathroom and read. (LAUGHS)
And read for hours ….
Visually it’s very compelling. It’s an homage to your incredible father. The artwork and centerfold are so captivating.
Thanks. That was my intent. I’m always so happy when people get it.
I’m not sure did you know this, but the gay boys are looooving you for this CD.
Yes, I know. Thank you. Honestly, they are a huge part of my audience. A very big part. Much respect.
We love a woman with a powerful voice. And you stand for so much. We appreciate it.
Let me ask you—and if it’s to personal, please let me know—is it difficult to sing your father’s work?
Sometimes it is. I get caught up in the moment, or caught up in his memory. As an artist, my approach is to sing, but I’m also his child. It makes a very big difference. But sometimes [it is difficult]. It’s a natural thing. And sometimes people are crying while I’m singing, so that gets to me. It moves me in that direction?
Was it difficult to cover you were meant for me?
No. That was an easy song to cover. The color of the song … it fit in so well with the more uptempo [direction] of this record. My friend John Stoddart came in and orchestrated. He made it so beautiful. So this was not a difficult song to cover and make it really good. My intent is to pay homage to the original and also to create a new standard.
I really appreciate the fact that you put your twist to it. It has a 60s/70s vibe but it’s very fresh. And goes well with the protests and push for social justice that is happening right now.
Absolutely. I agree. A lot of the music that [my father] made—a lot of music from artists of that time, really spoke to the community, in ways that music doesn’t anymore.
You’ve been backed by some great writers on this project. What was Rashaan Paterson like?
Rahsaan Patterson is one of my favorite writers of all time. Lyrically. He also has such a way with phrasing without being to clever—
Without being “too cute”—
Yes, yes. I love writing with him. We enjoy hanging out a lot. We’ve been friends about 15 years.
You’ve been friends that long?
Oh yea. I met him at the top of my second album which was … 1994? And we’ve been friends ever since.
I know you only have a few minutes, so just a few more things—
No, take your time.
Thanks. I really liked your re-working of “I’m Coming Back” with Rachelle Ferrell. It’s a great sound.
Thank you, she’s the best. I feel so lucky that I can call on people like that to come and bless the track. That was one of those sounds that I’ve been playing live for 20 years for the fans. I wanted to capture a Polaroid moment.
That’s the song that many people fell in love with you.
I agree, yes.
You’re about to tour. Tell me your ultimate tour.
Oh my. These questions are so good, I think about things like this every day. I’d like to have different parts of a tour. I can do many different things and have done many things. It would be fun to tour with Rachelle, Rashaan Patterson and maybe Eric Roberson. Then it would be nice to go on a bigger tour, all over the world, with Sting, Peter Gabriel and maybe Stevie Wonder. There are so many ways you could break it up, because I do so many different things. I’d love to do a gospel tour, and maybe a folk or acoustic tour—
That would be phenomenal.
Yeah, yeah, lots of fun.
Final question: What did you think of the ‘Unsung” episode?
Hmm. I thought it was …. interesting. I didn’t watch it for a very long time and then I watched. It’s always interesting to watch something that you [personally] saw played out. I have no words really. I wished they focused more on my father’s contributions to music. But I understand that his story is very compelling and not very well. Ultimately it brought his music to more people.
Thank you so much for speaking with. I love the new music.
Thank you, Rod. I appreciate it. Bye bye!