Interview: Jill Scott
Since her 2001 debut 'Who Is Jill Scott?' the three time Grammy Award winner has consistently produced real, honest music of the highest order. Jill Scott is currently getting ready to return to London to perform at the Somerset House this summer. The Wrap Up's James Walsh had time with the soul superstar to speak about the inspiration behind the recent album, her excitement at performing in the UK once again and her pretty crazy career highlights...
The Wrap Up: Hello Jill! Taking things back to the beginning, who were your earliest musical influences growing up?
Jill Scott: My earliest influence was Quincy Jones. I thought 'The Wiz' soundtrack was the most amazing thing I'd ever heard. It was my first record and you had Michael Jackson, Ted Ross, Nipsey Russell and Diana Ross on it. I even took it to show and tell in third grade!
TWU: You started out as a spoken word artist. How did you progress to singing and how do the two mediums compare for you?
Jill Scott: Everything starts with writing. I heard Nikki Giovanni and was blown away. I just thought ‘wow’; she was writing from a black girl's perspective and the imagery was so vivid that I started doing spoken word. I was singing then too; I'd been singing my whole life but it was only in private. I felt if I started singing publicly then my life would change and I wasn't ready for that for a long time. Then one day at a poetry reading I simply started to sing.
TWU: Bringing things up to date, your last album 'Light of the Sun' was released last summer. Can you tell us how you went about making the album and how the collaborations with Anthony Hamilton, Eve and Paul Wall came about?
Jill Scott: It began in freedom. I invited great musicians to play and to see what happened. I allowed myself to be free. I didn't want to create, I just wanted to be. Eve is from Philadelphia too and we've been meaning to work together for some time. She had the right attitude for a song called 'Shame'. With Paul, I've loved his flow from the first time I heard it. I called him and he happened to be in Cali that day, so it was all very natural.
TWU: The success of both yours and Anthony Hamilton's recent albums suggests there's a big demand for real soul music and not just pop. How refreshing is that to you?
Jill Scott: It's great. I've always been a firm believer that soul music never dies. The artists we still listen to today, years after their music was first heard are mostly soul artists; Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Chaka Khan. We still sing along to all of them with our hearts. Soul music is about longevity and reaching and touching people on a human level - and that's never going to get lost.
TWU: I hear you. How would you personally describe the album and what do you hope people take away from it?
Jill Scott: It's like a perfume. The longer you wear it, the better it smells. Some songs you'll understand right away, others you won't get until maybe a year from now. Just as I didn't understand everything Billie Holiday was singing about when I was a child, some people won't understand some of the tracks on the album - yet. After going through things like heartbreak, I understand what Billie was saying and I understand Nina Simone. It's the same with my music, people will grow into it. That's how soul music works and I want people to understand everything derives from the soul. I'm not trying to be perfect, we're all human and everybody has their flaws, it's a very genuine album.
TWU: Do you have your own favourite track from it?
Jill Scott: 'When I Wake Up'. The sentiment of the song is that whatever I went through, it's in the past, yesterday is a thing of beauty and the next day will be wonderful. I use it like medicine when I'm having a difficult time. I always start my day with it.
TWU: You're performing at the Somerset House here in London on July 9 and 10. Are you looking forward to the shows?
Jill Scott: Absolutely. I love how the UK crowds really listen. I performed at Shepherd's Bush last time, the space was packed and people were growing on the walls but the focus was so tight, when I was silent, everyone was silent. It was a very powerful and spiritual experience and my musicians are just so freaking talented it's going to be magic. There's always a great energy in the UK.
TWU: And what can people expect from the shows?
Jill Scott: There'll be 22 songs and I'm going to be doing some of everything. It'll be two hours’ worth of singing where I don't leave the stage or change my clothes. Every song is in a different voice, some are soft and sultry and others are aggressive. It'll be a challenge but it's what I do.
TWU: You've won three Grammy's and performed at the White House, amongst a host of other great achievements. Is there a particular career highlight that stands out for you?
Jill Scott: There is one moment. I was backstage at the House of Blues in L.A where I was about to perform and Stevie Wonder and Prince turned up at my dressing room together! Stevie started beat boxing and Prince started singing one of my songs, all of a sudden it was like I was in a cypher with these incredible artists. I played 'Under The Cherry Moon' in my youth and I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder playing in the house. It was such a crazy highlight; it was like being in a dream world!
TWU: That's incredible! Finally, after the Somerset House shows what are your plans the rest of 2012?
Jill Scott: I'm going to continue touring and to get out as much as possible. I'm in Istanbul, Spain and the Netherlands over the summer and will then start working on more music, perhaps later this year. I've really enjoyed my career so far and I will definitely continue to do so.
For tickets to see Jill Scott at the Somerset house in July visit their website here.
Stay up to date with Jill Scott on Twitter.
Words: James Walsh (@JW_DittoMusic)