Lalah Hathaway is a singer-songwriter, pianist, arranger and record producer and needs little introduction. Hailing from Chicago, Illinois, she is often referred to as the first daughter of soul. Not also was she born in one of the most pivotally influential musical places in the world but both her parents were established musicians.
All these elements indicate that her talent and musical inclination is no surprise.
Her father, Donny Hathaway is a name forever affiliated with soul music. In 1970 Rolling Stones magazine marked him as a major new force in soul music, which was a precise summation as he remains such an iconic figure in soul music and the music industry in its entirety.
Lalah is fresh from a Grammy win in the category for best R&B performance along with Snarky Puppy for Brenda Russell’s ‘It’s Something’. I chatted with Lalah from Los Angeles, California ahead of her pending two dates in London’s Jazz Café on the 9th and 10th of July 2014. We discussed music and new bands on the scene. In addition, I learned that she has recently launched a PledgeMusic campaign; an effective online plateau that facilitates musicians directly reaching out to their fan-base and that she is currently working on a new live album, due for release after the summer.
You started writing songs at the age of about 15. Considering your parents being such accomplished musicians, when did you realise that music would be such a powerful force in your future? Did you ever consider any other career path?
I was studying music from the age of about three or four and continued my studies in music and went to The Chicago High School for the Arts and continued studying music from there. It was always in my life, it was a natural movement really, and there was no real specific moment. You know, I considered many things like being a comedian, a painter or an actor. I knew it was always in the creative field that I wanted to work. I am a very expressive person and always knew I would do something creative.
You continued your studies in music went to the very prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, where you were trained vocally. Your vocal range is very diverse, from alto to contralto. How do you sing two notes at the same time, was it an acquired skill or was it one you always had?
I can sing two or three notes at once since I was about twelve or thirteen years old, I discovered I could do it when I was messing around and by manipulating of my vocals. I really demonstrated this ability on the recent record with Snarky Puppy.
Congratulations are well in order on your recent Grammy win for best R&B performance with Snarky Puppy for “Something”. It is possibly a bit of a redundant question but was it an epic and defining career moment?
Yes I really think so. I always say it came after a bend in the road and only took 23 years to happen!
In Berklee you recorded your first self-entitled album in 1991 and your second came three years later entitled A Moment. Then you took a five year break. Did you use the time to develop creatively or did you take a break entirely from the music industry?
No, I didn’t take a break, I was always doing it and I featured on other people’s records during my hiatus. My hiatus was not intentional as such. It was more about me finding my place in the industry and where I wanted to fit into it on my terms.
Do you think that the music industry today is inclined to be less about the music and more about the image and gives us more generic offerings. What ultimately is the message you want to project in your own music?
Generic is a good word……Yes, especially with regards to soul music here in the States, some of it you could paper the walls with. I grew up with music was not only substantial but fun too; it was also about fun times, thinking of songs like Disco Duck. Ultimately, music should make you feel. It should uplift your emotions and transport you to that place.
You signed to Stax Record in 2007 with which you released two albums Self Portrait and Where it all Begins. What was it like to be signed to such an iconic label?
I am not with Stax anymore but my time with Stax was so lovely. I have great memories of that time. I had complete creative control there too and it was a great experience to be signed to such a legendary label so synonymous with soul music.
In addition of course to recently working with Snarky Puppy, you have collaborated with many greats like Marcus Miller, Rahsaan Patterson and Robert Glasper. Is there any more collaboration anticipated for the future and any upcoming bands you have on your radar?
Yes absolutely. There are so many established artists like Pharrell and Sting on my wish list and newer artists like Sam Smith I would love to do some work with. I am really into a band called Little Dragon and a good friend of mine Jeff is in a band called The Stepkids-they are pretty amazing.
You are working hard at the moment. You are coming to London to perform in The Jazz Café on 9 and 10th July. In addition to the touring and gigs have you any projects in the works?
Yeah, I am working really hard at the moment. I have a gig tonight and this weekend as well as gigs next week and I am pretty excited about coming to London and playing The Jazz Café. I hope to get a little holiday soon! I have launched a PledgeMusic campaign and have a live record due out this fall, which I am working on at the moment. I have no specific dates but I am on Facebook and Twitter and I update my accounts regularly.