"Call Me Adam" catches up with recording artist Shayna Steele about her sophomore album Rise, which will be released January 20, 2015. We also discuss Shayna's most recent single "Can't Let Go," working with Jazz vocalist Sachal Vasandani and Kelly Clarkson as well as how being a new mother has influenced her music.
1. This January, you are releasing your sophomore full length album Rise. What excites you about this upcoming release? The idea of putting another record out into the world excites me, because it's another piece of work that I leave behind before I leave this earth. A recording is like a fixture in time. It's timeless and I'm psyched to feature these songs and these musicians.
2. What did you enjoy most about making this album? I enjoyed recording "Gone Under" again after the Snarky Puppy release on Family Dinner. It’s an entirely different performance with a whole new vibe. I really enjoy that two versions of this piece will be out now!
3. What do you hope fans come away with after listening to Rise? I hope they're inspired to create something of their own, musical or non-musical. Everyone has the ability to make something beautiful. I hope it can get someone through a hard time. Music has that kind of power.
4. The most recent single off your new album is "Can't Let You Go," which features jazz vocalist Sachal Vasandani. I feel "Can't Let You Go" really captures the strength of your non-belting voice and blends wonderfully with Sachal. How did you and Sachal come to work together? What was the best part about working with Sachal? Thank you! It's nice to take a break from the belting and the hollering! I met Sachal through my husband David Cook (also my writing partner/MD) at a University of Michigan event. Sachal was performing and I was immediately drawn to his voice. We've become really good friends and we like to crash each other's gigs, too.
5. What made you want to release "Can't Let You Go" as one of the singles off the album? I really wanted to feature a completely different sound. Not a lot of people have heard me sing something so vulnerable and exposed. I really love the song, too.
6. Starting in February 2015, you are going on tour around the world in support of Rise. What is the best part about touring and getting to meet your fans from all around the world? I hope it's the entire world! Doing some hits in Europe and the U.S. and I have a few guest performances with Snarky Puppy later in the year. The fans are so amazing. I remember playing this tiny town in Slovakia and I had a one hour conversation with 3 fans who barely spoke any English. We had such a deep talk about hopes and dreams and fears. It was so rad. And the beer was really good.
7. How do you feel you have grown as a singer/songwriter with this album? When I started writing for this album, I was in a place of uncertainty. By the time I'd finished writing for it, I'd become a mother so it was a journey I'd never been on. I also write songs now that I’d want to listen to. Before I thought you had to write songs that were radio friendly?? Where’s the fun in that? For me, well. If I’m not feeling it, what makes me think for one second my fans will dig it?
8. You have worked with some of the greatest singers of our time: Moby, Bette Midler, Dolly Parton, Kelly Clarkson, Rihanna, Queen Latifah, and many others. What is like working beside these artists? Who did you learn the most from and what did you learn from them? Some of these artists I either spent 1 day working with them or several years behind them and learned something new from each one. Best lesson I learned was it taught me to know what kind of artist I wanted to become once I stepped out on my own. I still sing with Kelly a lot and she has impressed me so much. Not only are her vocal performances so sick, every single time, but the way she treats her band and staff is so refreshing. She’s a true professional and a super cool chick.
9. What is the best advice you've ever received? Don’t let fear sabotage your goals. That goes for music and for life. I have to remind myself to let the fear go about 10 times a day.
10. What have you learned about yourself from being a singer/songwriter? That sometimes I suck. Sometimes I write really bad songs and I have to finish them and throw them away. I’ve learned that it doesn’t come easily to me. I’m not the kind of person that can just pull lyrics and melody out of thin air 5 times a day. Maybe 5 times a year! I tend to write mostly when I’m not distracted…usually when I’m overseas traveling. I don’t watch TV when I’m there and I’m usually away from my friends and family. So I focus on the writing. It’s the way I escape the sorrow I have for being away from my loved ones.
11. You recently became a new mother. Has motherhood changed the way in which you make music? Most definitely. I don’t know how to explain it. Now when I write, I think: My daughter will hear this. Her friends and her friends parents will hear this. I don’t want to embarrass her! No seriously, she is my biggest inspiration. She’s so sweet and smart. It’s like I’ve been given another chance to live those years all over again through her. She’s absolutely the best thing that every happened to me.
12. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? The super power to sprinkle happiness and love over violent people like terrorists, crooked politicians and rapists…so that they can never, ever hurt another living soul. I think that’s a pretty good super power. The news these days…I'm sick about it. Especially being a mother. The tears I’m shedding this week over those innocent children dying could fill an ocean.
13. If you could create your own signature drink, what would you call it and what would the ingredients be? I’m a wine drinker. So something red, spicy, super dry and very interesting.
14. How do you want to be remembered? I want people to say: She was loyal and a solid, trustworthy friend/colleague/mother/daughter. Best thing anyone could ever say.
There's no need to sugar coat it, since her impressive credits speak for themselves. Her colleagues praise her ability, her dedication and drive to perfecting her craft as a professional singer and knockout performer. On stage and in the studio, New York City based vocalist and songwriter Shayna Steele proves she is a vocal force to be reckoned with.
Born in Sacramento, California, to a black father and a white mother, Steele lived the itinerant childhood of an American Air Force brat. Moving from California to Oklahoma and then to Ramstein, Germany, where she spent seven formative years, she had little chance to contemplate her racial identity until her family landed in Biloxi, MS in 1985. She explains, "[Ramstein] took up quite a bit of my early childhood and had a big influence on how I viewed life, the world and especially racial tension. Living amongst the safety of an Air Force Base in Germany with many other children from bi-racial families gave me a false sense of security and I wasn't quite ready for the criticism and ridicule I would receive when we moved to Mississippi." Feeling "awkward, out of place and unsure where to fit in" in Biloxi, she dove headfirst into music, entering (and winning) several pageants and talent shows, including an appearance on Ed McMahon's Star Search at the tender age of 15. Star Search was her first experience performing in front of a nationally televised audience. After losing by a 1/2 star, Shayna returned to Mississippi to finish high school and pursue a music degree before exposing herself to the cutthroat "reality" of the business. "I was embarrassed and defeated. I wanted nothing more than to go home and crawl in a hole."
"I never really felt 'grounded' until I moved to NYC. It was then that I really opened up to different genres of music other than R&B." Schooled in jazz by her Godfather, self-taught and guided by her musician father and gospel by her choir director, the Grammy-nominated Michael McElroy, Steele began to develop her sound, blending new influences, from Ledisi to Rachelle Farrell, with her childhood icons Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan and the Temptations. A completely unexpected call in 2005 would drop her squarely in the middle of genre she had absolutely no experience with: Electronica. Hearing that Moby "needed a screamer" for a track off his new album Hotel, a mutual friend recommended Steele, resulting in the disc's second single "Raining Again". Two years later, she was back, laying down vocals for "Extreme Ways (2007)" - Moby's theme song to The Bourne Ultimatum - and in early 2008, "Disco Lies", the first single off Moby's 2008 release Last Night. The song reached #1 on the US Billboard Dance charts and went on to be featured in J.J. Abram's summer blockbuster Cloverfield and the movie The Backup Plan starring Jennifer Lopez. Her voice has remained high in demand with recent vocals on Hairspray (movie soundtrack), 2012's The Bourne Legacy, Sex and the City 2, NBC's Smash, 2008 Summer Olympic highlights on BBC, The Shanghai Restoration Project and HBO's The Sopranos.
Steele started writing music with partner David Cook in 2002. The two quickly developed a creative synergy, collaborating on Steele's eponymous debut EP in 2004. Though self-released, the album's breakout soul-funk single "High Yella" achieved the attention she needed to raise her solo profile. She and/or her band have since shared the stage with luminaries Ledisi, opening for George Clinton and the Sugar Hill Gang, a featured singer with Bjorkestra and Grammy winning conducter/composer/trumpeter Dave Douglas, featured with Snarky Puppy in 2014 at the Nice Jazz Festival, the Estival Jazz Festival and the North Sea Jazz Festival, the Grammy- nominated Broadway Inspirational Voices and as a sideman with Lizz Wright, Bette Midler, Natasha Bedingfield, John Legend, Matthew Morrison, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton, Rihanna and Kelly Clarkson.
It was the release of Shayna's first full-length album I'll Be Anything co-written with Cook that put Shayna on the map as a legitimate solo artist. She was soon sought after by clubs in Los Angeles and San Francisco, New York City, Milan, Rome and Zurich, welcoming her to packed rooms and a dedicated fan base. Shayna and the band have toured and continue to tour extensively throughout the United States and Europe. In 2013, Shayna's original song "Gone Under" was recorded live for DVD on Snarky Puppy's Family Dinner, Volume 1, where the band received a Grammy Award in 2014 for their performance of "Something" with Lalah Hathaway.
Her experience has lead to appearances on: Conan O'Brien, The Grammy Awards, The Tony Awards, The Tonight Show, David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, The Oprah Winfrey Show, American Idol, The Brit Awards, Jimmy Fallon, Good Morning America, The Today Show, The Billboard Music Awards and The Academy of Country Music Awards as well as contracting and/or doing vocals for Season 1 and Season 2 (contractor) of NBC's Smash and America's Got Talent and the shows Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar and Hairspray on Broadway in New York City.
Most recently, Shayna went to Paris to record a song for saxophonist/songwriter Manu Dabango's (Soul Makossa) upcoming project. Shayna continues to work non-stop in music out of their home teaching privately, recording, writing and creating in addition to being one of the most high in demand and sought after gigging musicians. Tour dates in support of Shayna's sophomore album Rise are already booked in Geneva, Zurich, Bologna, Paris and Berlin in February of 2015.