Whether you’re a fan of bustling, 70’s-driven Northern Soul, or all-out disco with a soulful vocal punch, chances are you’ve sung heartily along to a tune or two from Evelyn Thomas’s catalog before. The Chicago native got her professional start in the early 70’s doing stage work in New York for Broadway shows such as The Wiz before striking gold in the UK with 1975’s “Weak Spot” - the first of many collaborations with Northern Soul impresario Ian Levine. What followed over the next decade was a handful of striking LP’s that impressively melded the influences of classic R&B and dance-driven club sounds. 1978’s I Wanna Make It on My Own, ’79’s Have a Little Faith in Me, ’84’s High Energy, and ’86’s Standing at the Crossroads didn’t all hit paydirt for the gifted vocalist; but established her internationally as a commanding vocalist and performer equall y adept at tackling fiery dance numbers and smooth grooves - not to mention her own composition, “Spread Love,” from Fatback’s Is This the Future? LP.
Since the mid-90’s, Thomas has been working as a free agent, lending her voice and songs to a number of varied projects. There’s her autobiographical stage show (and companion soundtrack) Witness; her collaborations with Danish soul/pop producer Soren Jensen on his 2008 all-new compilation CD, The Plan; and several works produced with Miami underground dance collective Groove Box.
Speaking with Evelyn is just as enjoyable an occasion as listening to her recordings. Because of her down-to-earth, enthusiastic personality, interviewing her was more like having a fun conversation - as you will read and hear. She discusses her youth; her first professional experiences; the ins and outs of recording deals,;and several promising independent ventures here, in an exclusive interview conducted on June 29, 2009.
Justin Kantor: It’s a thrill for me to be speaking with you. I’ve heartily enjoyed your voice and your music for the past 12 years, ever since a friend of mine made me a copy of that "High Energy" music video for New York Hot Tracks years ago. That was my first introduction to you and I’ve been hooked ever since. Your fiery vocal delivery, and your vivacious live performances are truly great.
Evelyn Thomas: Thank you!
JK: You’ve had quite an amazing and musically rich, impressive sales-wise career so far too, so I’ll try to do it justice by going through it. So, take me back a little bit. I know that you were born in Chicago. Tell me about your childhood, growing up there.
ET: Well, I am the youngest of three girls, and I have one younger brother. I had one older brother, but he passed away; he had cerebral palsy. He was supposed to live until he was 18, but he actually made it to 21.
JK: That’s a really tough disease to fathom. I’m sorry for your loss.
ET: Well, that’s the way life is sometimes. He understood what was going on, so he knew, that’s the way it goes. So actually I have three sisters and one younger brother, and my childhood was very interesting. We had a lot of music in our house. My mother was the organ player for the church, and my grandmother used to sing in the choir, so there was always a lot of music in the house. My mother would have the piano and the organ rockin’ every day. That’s just the way it was in our house.
JK: You guys were jamming.
ET: Yeah, we were jamming all the time. When people came over, we had to dance for them and all kinds of stuff, so we had a good time in the house.
JK: So music was in your blood from the beginning, pretty much?
ET: Oh yes. My mother was a singer as well and as a matter of fact, when I sing, I can hear her voice.
JK: Oh really? What was her name?
ET: Her name was Doris.
JK: Doris. Okay, so how did you feel about school, growing up?
ET: School? I hated it. (laughs)
JK: I was going to ask if you had any favourite subjects, but maybe not. (laughs)
ET: No. But I went, you know, I just didn’t like it.
JK: It’s good that you went. That probably helped a little bit, down the line.
ET: It helped, but my interest was music, and they didn’t have any, so my opinion was, “Why am I here?”
JK: I can understand, because if we hadn’t had music when I was in school, I probably would have liked it a lot less myself. You went to college though, right? Didn’t you graduate from a school in Chicago?
ET: I graduated from Inglewood High School.
JK: I was reading something about business studies you had done. I might have gotten confused, because I did read that after you finished school, you moved to New York for a little while.
ET: Oh, I went to an acting school in New York and I did very well there. I did so well that they wanted me to travel. There was a play that they were travelling with, but I just couldn’t go at the time. I just wasn’t ready to go.
JK: Weren’t you on The Wiz cast album?
ET: I used to do the backup. When different plays came through Broadway, they had different people, and when you had certain people, like investors come to invest in your play, they would give a preview of the play, and I was in that troupe of people, that would do the music for The Wiz, or whatever play it was. There were quite a few plays, and that’s where that came from.
JK: Okay, so maybe they used some of those performances from that group that you were in for the actual final product of the soundtrack.
JK: Okay, because I had always wondered about that, if it was a different Evelyn Thomas. As you said, you moved back to Chicago shortly after that, right?
ET: Yes. Well, I had never really moved back to Chicago. I moved back and forth. New York became my home for 12 years, and then after New York I moved to London, and stayed there for about another 5 to 6 years, and I was just back and forth. I was stationed in New York, and I never went back home to Chicago. After so many years of New York and London, I moved to Florida, and I’ve been in Florida ever since.
JK: So for a while, you were bi-coastal and bi-continental, and then you just decided to settle down.
ET: Yes, it was time to actually settle somewhere, to say, “This is home”.
JK: I lived in New York for a couple of years, and I don’t know about you, but I could vouch for myself how financially difficult it could get.
ET: Tell me about it.
JK: It was on a trip back to Chicago where you had your chance meeting with Ian Levine, if I understand correctly?
ET: Well, the way I met Ian Levine was, I was in this band called The Mood Mixers, and there was a guy in the band, his name was Pumpkin. I don’t know his real name. I just know that Pumpkin was the one who was instrumental in me meeting Ian Levine. Nobody had ever known that. He told me that he was going to try out for a recording contract, and he asked me to go along for the ride, so I did. After he got there, and he did an interview with Ian, I was sitting in the room with him, and Ian liked his voice, but he had somewhat of a skin condition that Ian didn’t think the public would be pleased with, which I thought was wrong, but anyway, you’ve got quite a few people in the business that have that, so it’s not a big deal. Anyway, he didn’t take him, so Pumpkin came to me and asked, “Why don’t you try out?”
So anyway, Danny Leake asked Ian, because we were at Danny Leake’s house, and you know Danny Leake is the producer of Poison.
JK: I’ve seen his name on all the Ian Levine disco-era records, and I didn’t realize he was the guy who did Poison too.
ET: He’s a huge producer now. Danny Leake is the one who told Ian, “Sit down and listen to her” because he didn’t want to listen to me. He said, “Sit down and listen to her. You never know. So, I sang a song called ‘Neither One Of Us’ by Gladys Knight and the Pips and he jumped up off the couch, and he said, “Oh, you are wonderful! I’ve never heard such an angelic voice! Oh my God, would you like to be in the music industry?” So, that’s how it happened (laughs).
JK: So, it was within a pretty quick time frame?
ET: Yes. It happened real fast, and the next thing I knew, I was in London.
JK: And you did the recording there for those first singles, ‘Weak Spot’ and ‘Doomsday’. Had you ever been overseas at that point, when you went over there? What was it like for you?
ET: No, and it was probably a culture shock, if anything (laughs).
JK: I remember seeing the performance of ‘Weak Spot’ on Top of the Pops, when you were in your cute little cap and all that, so you seemed to fit right in with the fashion sense.
ET: That was so funny, because I really wasn’t ready for television, and I said, “Oh my God! What will I wear?” so I put on my little blue jean outfit with my little cap and I had some boots on, so it worked.
JK: I liked it. I thought it was very clever.
ET: Actually, the thing that really did excite me about that is the fact that Andy Williams was on the same show, and he had always been an idol of mine. Oh, I love the way that man sings. He is so smooth. I liked his vocals. Everything he’s ever done from movies, tracks that he’s done, well I got a chance to meet him! It was wonderful. That was the highlight of the whole thing for me.
JK: Meeting an idol, definitely. Speaking of that, who were some of your influences growing up? I know obviously the church was a big influence, but what artists did you listen to, and who, if anybody did you want to emulate?
ET: Well, one was Nancy Wilson, that’s for sure. She was the first. Classic. Then there was Gladys Knight and the Pips, and we had Dionne Warwick, and I liked a lot of the male groups, too.
JK: Okay, like who?
ET: The Four Tops, The Temptations, and people like that.
JK: A lot of the Motown artists?
ET: Yes, Motown for sure, and I love Diana Ross.
JK: So, you did really well for yourself with ‘Weak Spot’ and obviously you recorded a few other singles, maybe not quite as successful, but that definitely at least became favourites of people who are into Northern Soul with ‘Love is Not An Illusion’, and ‘My Head’s In The Stars’. Those are some of my favourites. I read that in that period of time, you had some contractual difficulties with another manager that you had previously?
ET: I had this guy named Vinnie Coleman, who used to be with Earth, Wind & Fire, very good friends with them and we all knew each other. Vinnie Coleman was a very good manager. What happened was, when Ian and I signed with each other, we signed a Recording Agreement, and it didn’t have anything to do with management. My manager asked him “Well, do you want Evelyn all the way, or what do you want to do?” So, Ian paid him some money, and I didn’t know I was being bought. He had paid him money to take me. My manager let me know. He said, “Look, this is what we did, and you’ll be better off with Ian because I really can’t do anything with you now.
JK: So, tell me about the recording process back then on those early singles. What was that like? Obviously those songs have full orchestration and a really great sound, which you rarely get these days in R&B music. What was it like, working with Ian and the other musicians in the studio?
ET: In the studio, it was a lot different than the way it is today. In the studio, of course we had all the musicians to come in. It’s not like today, where you can have this keyboard sound and that keyboard sound. We actually had the violinists come in. It was wonderful. We had one violin section come in, it was actually 10 to 15 violinists in the studio at one time, and we had the keyboardist come in, the bass player, and sometimes they would all be together playing. It was like doing a concert inside the studio, really.
JK: It sounds like it on the records.
ET: Oh yes, and Fiachra Trench who was a wonderful arranger and composer. Without "Fi," I don’t think there would be ‘High Energy’. Also Hans Zimmer. Hans Zimmer is the one that came in and actually pumped ‘High Energy’ to put a certain sound on it, and that’s what gave ‘High Energy’ its sound. That is from Hans Zimmer. That guy is brilliant.
JK: So you’ve had the opportunity to work with some pretty cool people who have went on to do a lot of other projects.
ET: Oh, absolutely. I wish I could catch up with Hans right now (laughs).
JK: That’s a good connection to have. So, after your initial success in England, did you feel that this was something that you wanted to be involved with on an ongoing basis with the music industry, or did you have doubts about it? How did you feel about it?
ET: Ever since I was 7 years old, that was what I was going for, to be an entertainer and to sing.
JK: So you were always sticking to the plan.
ET: Yes, sticking to the plan. That was always my aspiration. Always.
JK: Like you said, you moved over to England during this time period, around the late 70’s or sometime thereabout, and you did an album which was picked up by Casablanca, with ‘I Wanna Make It On My Own’. I know you were still relatively new to the industry at that point, but do you know anything about how that whole deal came about, being with Casablanca as opposed to 20th Century Records, which you had been signed to before?
ET: Well, Ian was making all the deals, which I knew nothing about. Like I said, [oftentimes] you’re young and you don’t understand the industry.So I didn’t have any control over the deals he was making or how he was making them or what he was making them for.
JK: One thing I’ve read about that album is how they apparently didn’t release a single from it, in the US at least, which is kind of unusual. I know in the UK that a label called Pye had licensed one of the songs for a single, which was ‘Thanks for Being There’ but in the US, from what I understand, Casablanca just put the album out there without any promotion, so I didn’t know if you knew anything about that.
ET: I have no idea what happened with that. I don’t know what kind of money was transferred or passed or what. I never got a penny for it.
JK: Then there was the album on AVI, Have a Little Faith In Me, which was short but an excellent album. I like all the songs on there a lot. From what I read, I know you recorded a few songs that were supposed to come out on Salsoul that weren’t released until a few years later. I’m talking about ‘Sleeze’ and ‘Summer on The Beach’ and ‘Love In The First Degree’.
ET: That’s Ian Levine again, making all the deals. Nobody knows anything. I’m going to be honest with you here. I never got paid for ‘High Energy’.
JK: Are you serious?
ET: It sold 20 million copies. Let me tell you something, man. I never got paid. Ian Levine got paid, but he didn’t pay Fiachra Trench, he didn’t pay myself, or anybody, but he got paid.
JK: That’s unbelievable. That record, to this day, is always being remixed, and it’s just an anthem.
ET: Almighty Records just brought it out again, and here I am again, it gets me nothing. It’s one of the biggest records ever. I got my money through my shows, I’m also a fashion designer, and I do things outside.
JK: I was thinking, since you design fashion, maybe we saw some in the video you did recently for YouTube?
ET: Oh, yes.
JK: Speaking of ‘High Energy’, that has been a defining song for you, so how does it feel to be associated with such an impactful song for dance music? It’s made its mark and continues to. It’s been a favourite of gay fans worldwide and audiences in general, when it comes to good music to dance to. What are your thoughts about the song, and the legacy it’s helped to create for you?
ET: I’ll say this: That song really helped my career just soar. Monetarily, as far as the song was concerned, I wasn’t so happy, but the fans, and the things that the song actually did for me as an entertainer, it kept me alive. I appreciate each and every one of my fans. I really, really do, because without those fans, I really couldn’t have made it. The fans are the ones that kept me alive and kept me going.
JK: So it’s kind of like the moral fiber, or spiritual support.
ET: Oh, absolutely. When you see 20,000 heads going up and down at one time, that’s pretty high energy. It’s a big rush.
JK: Well, it showed in your performances, because that was one of the things that really struck me when I’ve seen the different performances you did of that song in particular. You were high energy. You could really tell that you were into what you were doing, and singing. It was really convincing. It wasn’t like “Oh, it’s just another singer, singing a song that they were given”. You might not have been crazy about all the material, but whenever I’ve seen you performing your songs, you just seem to be really into it and really enjoying yourself.
ET: Oh, I do. With every song that I sing, I enjoy myself. Most of the songs that I had were leftover songs that nobody wanted to do. They were all the hits.
JK: Like ‘Masquerade’?
ET: Not exactly ’Masquerade’. ’Masquerade’ was designed especially for me, but ‘High Energy’ and ‘Weak Spot’ were leftover songs.
JK: Oh, that they were going to use for someone else or something?
ET: No, they had Barbara Pennington, L.J. Johnson and a couple more people that had already picked all the songs they wanted, and ‘Weak Spot’ was the song that was left over. That’s when I first came in, and ‘Weak Spot’ is the only song that did anything. That was the biggest song, and nobody said they wanted it. It was a very simple song, but it was cute, and people loved it. ‘High Energy’ was one of those songs that was offered to a couple of singers and nobody wanted it.
JK: Interesting. You said that ‘Masquerade’ was designed especially for you, and that brings me to a question I was going to ask you. With a lot of those songs from that era that you were doing, the lyrics were almost like a fantasy world. Listening to ‘Masquerade’ or ‘High Energy’, they have a very dramatic and out-there feel. What was your take on the songs, as far as the lyrics and all that?
ET: Well, that’s Ian Levine’s lyrics, so he’s like that. That’s just the way he is.
JK: When I listen to ‘Masquerade’ and hear you singing “When I’m giving interviews, and they ask me how I became the star”, it’s not your every day lyrics, so I just wondered, when you were singing it, if you were thinking “Yeah, I really relate to this”, or “This is a little bit out there”.
ET: All of those are Ian Levine’s lyrics, so all the singers used to get on him about his lyrics, because he was kind of out to left field as far as we were concerned. He had a few songs where the lyrics were pretty cool, but some of them we were like “What are you saying?” The last 3 songs we did together, Ian and I wrote the lyrics together.
JK: ’I Can’t Give You The World’; wasn’t that one of the songs?
JK: I saw that on YouTube. It was a really nice song.
ET: Yeah, and we wrote a song called ‘Million To One’, and we wrote another song called ‘Pounding the Pavement’. It’s a very good song. I think that’s the strongest. I think it’s his follow-up to ‘High Energy’.
JK: It has a title that grabs you, so that’s good.
ET: It’s heavy. It’s probably one of the best songs he’s written in a long time. We wrote that song together, we collaborated. I wouldn’t come back with him unless he said, “Let’s do collaboration”, because you grow up in the industry and you find out that all the money is in the writing. You’re not going to do that to me this time.
JK: You learned the hard way.
ET: Yes, my dear.
JK: There was one song on the ‘High Energy’ album that you co-wrote, ‘Shy Guy’.
ET: Yes. I loved that song.
JK: On a different note, I wanted to ask you, and a friend of mine, when I told him I was interviewing you, he also said to ask you about this. I think it was actually done shortly before ‘High Energy’, but you had some involvement with the band Fatback.
ET: Oh yes, Fatback. ‘Spread Love’.
JK: And you wrote that song. I saw the name Jerry Thomas in the credits, now was that a relative of yours?
ET: No, and everybody asked me, “Is that your brother?” but no we just happen to have the same last name. And I get paid very well from that.
JK: That song was somewhat popular here on the R&B charts, as well as ‘Is This The Future’ you sang on that. So, how did you hook up with them? How did that come about? You were living in England at that point, right?
ET: Bill Curtis, I used to sing with his orchestra, and they were a sister-band of Fatback. Fatback used to get so many gigs, that they had to give gigs away, so I used to sing with the orchestra that would go on these corporate gigs.
JK: Was there a name for this group?
ET: It was called Fatback. Fatback Band. It was just another Fatback band. He had 2 bands, and I was with that particular band. That’s how I met him, but I met him through another guy named Warren Daniels, and Warren introduced me to Bill Curtis. Bill Curtis is the owner of Fatback, and he’s been very good to me. ‘Spread Love… there’s a couple of other artists overseas that have done it. Quite a few people have re-done it and I’m quite happy. I hope they keep doing it.
JK: Did you re-record the vocals for the remixes? It sounded like it was updated.
ET: I did, and I plan on doing it again.
JK: Hopefully that’s bringing you in a little bit of money, because I saw that’s for sale via download on a lot of stores.
ET: Well also, I am going to re-record ‘High Energy’ with new vocals. Since I can’t get paid that way, I’ll get paid this way (laughs).
JK:That's smart. You've got to be enterprising, that’s good.
ET: Well, I have my own company now as well. I have an entertainment incorporated company.
JK: What’s that called?
ET: It’s called Eljopan Entertainment Incorporated.
JK: Is that a combination of names?
ET: Oh, you’re smart!
JK: Well, I read that your real first name is Ellen.
ET: Yes. There are 4 people inside the corporation.
JK: I wanted to ask you: I guess it was around the late-80’s when you moved to Florida, because there was a record that you did there with a label called Paris International Records, called High Voltage.
ET: Yeah, stick your fingers down your throat. That guy. Hmmmm. You know, he never paid me a dime for that, and I was real sick when I did that record. I had the flu or something, and I couldn’t sing how I wanted to.
JK: I noticed you sounded a little different on it.
ET: Yes. I was very, very sick that day, and I really didn’t want to record that day.
JK: I don’t know if it’s something that had been recorded before it actually came out, but I think after you moved back to the States, there was one other single that came out that you did with Ian, which is ‘This is Madness’.
ET: Yeah, that’s exactly what it was.
JK: So, when you moved to Florida, was it your plan to lay low for a little while, or what did you have in mind when you moved back to the States?
ET: When I moved back to the States, I thought, “I have to get back to a place where I can re-invent myself and collect myself, because this is the industry that I want to be in. This is what I want to do.” Being a fashion designer at the same time, I came back and started doing my prototypes with fashion, really getting into the business end of it, so putting together a company. My husband, by the way I’ve been married for 18 years this year, he’s a musician and an engineer, and we had been doing nothing but recording music, and holding it, and now we’re ready to release some things. We got fantastic backers, investors helping us, and we’re getting ready to do a tour. Things are working out.
JK: Speaking of that, leads to several questions. One is: I’ve heard some of the music online from the ‘Witness’ CD that you did, which I really enjoyed, songs like ‘Take Me Home’ and I was wondering, is that something that you have an actual CD of it for sale, or what’s the deal with that?
ET: We’re putting that together, and it will be for sale soon. We are re-recording a lot of that stuff, and having mixers doing some remixes of it. We’re also doing a jazz album, because that’s really where I came from. I was doing a lot of jazz before I ever met Ian. I’ve always loved dance music, so it was the two genres I loved. You notice I said Nancy Wilson.
JK: I did see on one of the profiles that you put on-line, that you mentioned jazz was the main style on the Soundclick website, where I heard some of those Witness tracks. I really enjoyed that song ‘Take Me home’ and also ‘Do What Cha Gotta Do’.
ET: (singing) Do what cha gotta do!
JK: Did you actually tour at some point with ‘The Witness’ musical? I had heard about it, and this is going back 7 years.
ET: I did, here in the States, and it went over really well.
JK: Did you do a national tour of it?
ET: I have some people who want to invest in it, and it will probably end up that way. It’s a great show.
JK: Where did you perform it before, when you got the good reception?
ET: We did it here in Miami, and another place called Fort Myers, and Sarasota. We were doing previews, just to see if people would like it, and they loved it! The house was packed, and they loved it.
JK: Tell me about the play. What would you like to say about it?
ET: It’s just the story of my life, never getting paid! (laughs)
JK: So it’s a first-witness account.
ET: It’s a story about perseverance, you know?
JK: What made you decide to return to doing the type of music that you became famous with? You’ve been doing a lot recently. You’ve got the songs on The Plan album, and I know you have a couple of other tracks that haven’t been released yet, and you’ve been doing the stuff with Ian again. Was there a certain opportunity that came along that started it?
ET: When I did the tour, the RTL tour, which was last June…
JK: Is that Return to Love?
ET: RTL is a tour that’s done overseas, in France. Well, a lot of different producers had asked me for some single deals, and since I was in business for myself, why not?
JK: Do you license the songs to them, or how does that work?
ET: If I have a song that I have written, I license the song to them. If they want to do something different, I license my voice to them.
JK: Like an independent contractor.
ET: Absolutely, and you know the music industry is bad for some, but good for others. It depends on how you perceive it, because for me, it’s good. I don’t have to depend on companies per se, to do certain things for me, because I have my own record label now. I don’t have to worry about that, and I can do my own single deals or what have you.
JK: Even though, unfortunately with the illegal downloading, that’s a downside, but a real positive side is that artists who might not necessarily have a major label deal or be the commercial thing right now, I think it’s easier to carve your own niche, and you managed to find your fans online. I myself, I’ve rediscovered a lot of artists that I loved growing up, that I found out are still doing things, and they sell their product on CDBaby or iTunes or any number of these websites, and like you said, you can get paid for them.
ET: Personally, what I think is happening to the industry, what’s happening with everything including the economy, is that technology has changed, and then everything had to change. Because of the change, we all have to change. Even in the industry, most of everything is downloads. Some people thought that the computer was something that was a want and not a need, but now they’re going to find out that the computer is a necessity, just like the telephone. You’ve got to have it to do business. You can’t do business without it, so technology has changed, the music industry has changed, even the grocery store has changed. Everything has changed. Jobs have changed, so we have to change with the times. We have to go back to school and re-educate ourselves, because some of us technically don’t know what the heck is going on. You need to catch up the people you’ve left behind.
JK: It’s a whole new way of life in certain ways.
ET: Yes. I don’t like to get into politics, but a lot of these problems we’re having are because of bad decisions and wrong decisions, but at the same time, technology has definitely changed all of our lives.
JK: Oh, absolutely. You’re right. There were two other songs that you had mentioned, and I was wondering if they’re still coming out. One was ‘Prove It’ with Evolusound?
ET: Yes, that’s Frank Savannah. I spoke to Frank, and he said he was waiting for some re-mixes to come back. That is a very powerful song.
JK: I like the name itself, so it was interesting to hear it.
ET: It’s about a young lady saying, “If you want me, you need to prove it.”
JK: That sounds good. There was another one called ‘Another Night’?
ET: Yes, that’s by Tony Powers.
JK: Is that something that’s going to be released? Do you know anything about that?
ET: Yes, it’s going to be released on Energise Records.
JK: Is it under a certain name that we’ll have to look for?
ET: Evelyn Thomas. It’s a single.
JK: Because there were all these groups, I know even back in the 90’s, there was Groove Box, featuring Evelyn Thomas on a couple of songs. Okay, well I look forward to hearing those. Was it while you were in France that you hooked up with Soren Jensen for The Plan?
ET: Oh, God that’s a funny story. When I came over from the RTL tour, I was in France, and Ian Levine says “Evelyn, since you’re going to be in France a while, why don’t you fly over, or take the train over to London?” I said, “Okay”. He introduced me to Soren. He said, “I have a friend, his name is Soren Jensen, and he’s doing one of his first albums. He would love for you to sing on this album.” Since I was doing my own deals and stuff, I said, “Okay, just give me his number.” So, he gave me his number reluctantly, and we talked, and that’s how I met Soren. When I came over to London, Soren was there working with Ian at the time, but he and Ian had differences of opinion later, and Soren ended up with his own company, and him and Ian sort of parted. It was the best thing he could have done for himself, really, and that’s how ‘Stick To The Plan’ came about.
JK: Since you wrote that with Soren, what inspired that song?
ET: Well, Soren and I wanted to write something together. I told him that the only way I would do any business with him, is that I had to be in on the writing. So, we came up with this song, and he called it ‘Stick To Your Guns’. I said, “There’s a lot of guns going around lately. People are walking into places, shooting folks. You don’t want to do that. Why don’t we just say Stick To The Plan?” and that’s how the title came around. We started writing and corresponding back and forth over the Internet before I met him, so the song was written by Clive Scott. Clive Scott wrote all the music. Soren’s whole album is Clive Scott, and for the last 16 years of Ian Levine’s music, that’s Clive Scott.
JK: I heard that he was very instrumental in his career.
ET: Clive Scott also wrote ‘Pounding the Pavement’, which I’m telling you right now, it is another ‘High Energy’. That thing is powerful.
JK: ‘Stick to the Plan’ is a great song, great re-mixes.
ET: ‘Infidelity’ is doing pretty good too. JK: I saw that he’s starting to get it out to more people. There are some retailers in the U.S. now that are carrying it online, and I was informing him about some specialty stores here in the States that might want to carry it as well. I know initially, it was just through his site, and a couple others.
ET: Soren is a very nice person. I like him a lot. He’s honest in business, keeps everything above-board, and I like his ethics, I like the way he treats people, and he’s a good guy in the business. That’s hard to find.
JK: What music do you like these days?
ET: I’ve been listening to a little bit of everything. I’m very interested in the Trance scene. It’s interesting, how they take different music and slow it down a little bit, put it in these different mixes. I like it. I love music, period. I like R&B, I love me some good dance music! I like something that’ll make you move. I kind of like the new R&B that’s coming out too, and I like that music that’s overseas. It’s a new type of music, and I’m trying to think of the name of it right now. It’s very interesting, kind of slowed-down R&B-ish.
JK: Like Duffy?
ET: Duffy, there it is! Yes, I like Duffy. All she does is cry, but I like her. (laughs)
JK: I’m going to have to listen to more of her music, because I didn’t know that she was crying all the time.
ET: She’s in a limousine, or some ride she’s in, and all she’s doing is crying, and the darn thing’s not going anywhere, but she’s so theatrical, that you can watch her cry for a whole 7 minutes, it’s cool. I like her. I like her a lot.
JK: She seems very talented. That first song she had that was really big had a real classic kind of feel to it.
ET: It’s a new music that’s coming out. To be honest, I’ve written quite a bit of that type of music and held it.
JK: I was going to ask if you planned on doing any of that when you mentioned that you were enjoying it.
ET: Yes, we’ve already written some. We did that way before it came out, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.
JK: What about your fashion company? Are you selling stuff now?
ET: I have a line of fashion. When it’s coming out, I have no idea at this particular time, but I’m working on it, I have all my prototypes, I have everything I need to work with. I’m working on some prints.
JK: Is it something you plan to sell online?
ET: I’m going to sell online, and in the stores. I’ve got quite a few people interested in it; some big money people that love what I do, so we have to take it one step at a time with that. You know when you step out on that one, you had better step out good!
JK: Step out on the runway in full force.
ET: If you step out wrong, you can forget it.
JK: A lot of famous singers have started lines, and they are disasters because it’s not well planned or executed.
ET: Well, I’ve been sewing since I was 7, so I’m really hands-on in everything. I actually make the garments myself for the samples.
JK: There is one other thing that I wanted to ask you. Have you ever kept in touch with any of those artists who were in that initial stable of artists that you went overseas with, like Barbara Pennington or L.J. Johnson?
ET: Barbara and I speak at least once a week. As a matter of fact, I spoke to Barbara earlier.
JK: How is she doing these days?
ET: She’s doing fine! Barbara is just as funny as she wanna be. She’s as pretty as ever. That girl can sing! Oh my goodness. She’s working on some things herself; she picked herself back up, so she’s doing some things of her own. She’ll be doing some things with my company.
JK: Is she there in Florida as well?
ET: No, Barbara is in St. Louis. JK: She’s closer to the home turf. What about L.J. Johnson?
ET: She stays in touch with L.J. I spoke to L.J. a coupe of months ago. He’s doing fine. He just retired from being a postman.
JK: He still did that all those years?
ET: Yes, he just retired, so he’s cool. He’s doing some music now. We plan to get together, the three of us.
JK: That would be great, a triple threat.
ET: I have a studio at my house, so they are going to come down and we’re going to record together.
JK: That would be awesome! I know a lot of people will love that. These recent songs you’ve been doing, have they been recorded in your studio?
JK: The ones we were talking about, like ‘Prove It’, ‘Another Night’ and all those?
ET: No, ‘Prove It’ was recorded in London at Laurent Schark’s studio.
JK: Wasn’t there one song, ‘Why Must The Sun Rise’ that you did in your studio?
ET: ‘Why Must The Sun Rise’ was recorded in my studio. That’s a beautiful song.
JK: It is really nice. You were talking about the slowed-down stuff, and there was a re-mix on that bonus disc that I really liked. It’s neat to hear a slow song like that re-mixed, but it’s not done like dance, but still it’s a really good re-mix. What is your studio like? Is it computer-based, a big console, or what kind of setup do you have?
ET: I use ProTools and computers. Everything is digital. It’s a digital world.
JK: Are you going to be doing any touring or performing in the near future?
ET: Yes, we are putting together a new tour right now as a matter of fact. I have a few investors who want to make sure that my tour goes well. It won’t take off until next year, but we’re putting everything together. It takes a while to put that together.
JK: Will there be any of it in the States, or is it just going to be overseas?
ET: It’s going to be both. We may do Statewide first, and then come overseas.
JK: I would love to see a show of yours. I’ve never had the opportunity, so that would be great.
ET: We have 3 backup singers now, we have a couple of dancers; we have an 11-piece band. It’s a live show.
JK: Okay, so not just track dates, it will be a band.
ET: No, but some would be tracked, it depends where we are.
JK: I guess it’s a matter of space sometimes.
JK: Well that sounds exciting! I’m so glad I got to talk with you. It’s been a real pleasure. You’re so sweet.
ET: Well, thank you so much for calling!
Justin Kantor is a freelance journalist based in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He has published his own magazine, The Hip Key, as well as contributing prolifically to the All-Music Guide and Berklee College of Music’s The Groove. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com
About the Writer
Justin Kantor is a freelance music journalist with published works in Wax Poetics and the All-Music Guide. A graduate of Berklee College of Music's Business and Management program, he regularly writes liner notes for reissue labels.