Q&A: Andra Day - A YouTube Phenomenon

"These days people don't listen to music anymore, they want to watch it first"

By William Welfare
Friday, 16 August 2013 14:14
Andra Day
Andra Day
Courtesy of buskinentertainment.com/andra-day

Her live recording got Stevie Wonder's attention and she has over half a million Twitter followers, but Andra Day finds time to jam with her sister. The "retro-pop-soul" diva and YouTube phenomenon talks to William Welfare about music education, being a cover artist, her highly anticipated debut album and going viral.

You've spoken fondly of the San Diego School for Creative and Performing Arts you've attended which exposed you to jazz and classical music. What role did music education play in your rise to online stardom?

Music education plays an integral role in any creative success I have in my life, whether it be getting the attention of fans and record labels or simply creating a song I like and believe in. I'm not a genius or a walking music catalogue, although I wish, but it definitely gave me a deeper well of ideas to pull from, which meant a new world of possibilities. It also boosted my confidence. I believe that in every aspect of life, no matter how you increase your knowledge base, you increase your potential.

You've also spoken fondly of your great production company – your manager, your producer – Jeffrey Evans and Buskin Entertainment. In a nutshell, what goes down behind the scenes before and after posting one of your YouTube videos?

Chaos [laughs]! No I'm kidding. Honestly there is no structure to how we come up with content to post, it's just a collaboration of ideas between myself, my manager Jeffrey Evans, my producer Adrian Gurvitz, and whoever else gets caught up in the mix. The Notorious BIG and Marvin Gaye mashup was birthed out of a jam session with my sister in her bedroom. We decide what we want to post, hash it out with my guitarist Dave Wood, and keyboardist Charles Jones, then my man Kai Streets hits record on his camera and we're live. After we post the videos we'll promote them on our regular social media sites and let faith do the rest. The process is a ton of fun.

Multi-media and internet artist Parker Ito defines "going viral" as "when you reach really far beyond your initial social networking sphere and the end location is somewhere you usually never expected or planned for the work to end up." Would you say that your YouTube videos were designed and styled to go viral?

I would say so. The response far exceeded my expectations, but the point of putting them up was to get looks and gauge people's reaction. You get out of something what you put into it. They weren't big productions because we wanted them to be completely organic, but we also wanted them to look nicely done and convey the message that myself and the people I work with, care about.

"These days people don't listen to music anymore, they want to watch it first." What do make of this statement?

I think it's true, and if I may speak frankly, there are pros and cons. Fortunately, now there are so many more outlets for artists and musicians to get exposure and connect on a more personal level with fans. Unfortunately, I hear this all the time, "Wow this person is amazing, but he/she doesn't have the right look." We're all visually stimulated as much as sonically so it makes sense, I just wonder if a "plain" visual should disqualify an amazing sound. In recent years the tide seems to be slowly shifting though.

If I may ask, how does one get over half a million Twitter followers in 2 years?

I'm probably supposed to say, "I don't know, we just put up a little old video and didn't expect anything to happen," but that's not the case [laughs]. Like I said, you get what you give. My manager paired his brilliance with this guy who specialises in online promotion. We worked to get my name and these videos in front of the right people and they really liked them. We were fortunate enough to get picked up by some great blogs and even news outlets. People within the music industry got wind and shared with their peers and so on. My suggestion? Do your research, and always have a plan.

You've showcased your performance talents by covering established artists' songs, went viral, got singed to a major label and now you've got your debut album on the way. Do you now feel any pressure as a songwriter to live up to the expectations of fans who might be expecting a string of hits from you?

There's always pressure, but I try not to let it affect me or the production process. It's too easy to get stuck in an endless cycle of second-guessing. I love and believe whole-heartedly in this album. I've prayed about every song and have given my truth and perspective with every lyric. Vulnerability comes with the territory... you just have to go for it.

Sound-reference-wise, what can we expect from your debut album? Will it be acoustic-driven like your cover songs?

It's not acoustic although we plan to do acoustic versions of some of the songs. I call it retro-pop-soul and almost everything was played live. It's a blend of jazz, 60's pop, Motown soul, with a touch of hip hop.

On a few occasions you've mentioned that you and your sister, who's also a musician, jam together occasionally. Did she have input on your debut album?

Unfortunately she did not. Although, we have a song in the works that I'm excited about. She is an incredible musician and I respect her instincts. She'll have a much greater presence on my follow up album. You'll be seeing a lot of her in the future.

What would like to communicate with your album?

All of these things will sound very cliché but truth, redemption, forgiveness, and hope. I've made a lot of mistakes and dealt with guilt, been hurt and felt pain, and made it all worse by being dishonest and running from it. I hope the message people take from this album is be honest in all that you do, no matter how hard, it's freeing. Don't let pain and impossible circumstances be debilitating, take the lessons those situations have to offer and grow from them.

Scroll down to watch Andra Day cover Muse's "Uprising".


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