Phone interview conducted November 18, 2010
Fatin Dantzler and Aja Graydon are musical survivors of the first order. This husband-and-wife team have established themselves on both sides of the Atlantic as solid purveyors of contemporary soul music, with three fine albums to their credit. Raising a family of six – with the birth of a second son earlier this year – Fatin and Aja have kept the faith, creating a web series and starting to work on a fourth album. On the verge of their first visit to the UK in a few years, David Nathan catches up with two of his self-confessed favorite peeps…
David Nathan: Alright, well I want to welcome today to Soul Music.com two of my favorite people from Philadelphia. I had the opportunity, when I lived there, to sit down with Fatin and Aja and to do their bio for their very last album. Also, it should be noted, that on the day Barack Obama was elected as the current President of the United States, I was at Fatin and Aja’s Kulture Shop in Philadelphia watching with everybody else and as I drove away with my friend Marcus, we found out that he had won the election so I’ll always remember Fatin and Aja for more than just music. I want to welcome today to Soul Music.com, as I say, officially Kindred The Family Soul and the occasion for which we’re talking to both of them is their upcoming visit to the UK. So let’s start out there, but first welcome! Fatin Dantzler: Hello man! What’s going on with you? DN: All is well in London town. Tell us a little bit about how your upcoming visit to the UK got set up and when was the last time you were here also?
FD: OK, well, the set-up basically came through a good brother, promoter Simon Presilla over there in the UK, who reached out to us about getting us some dates and of course, naturally we obliged. We were very interested in getting back over there. We hadn’t been there actually since 2007 …
DN: Wow, wow.
FD: …which was actually the second album. It’s been a little bit more difficult these days to really get rollin’ over there. The third album wasn’t actually released in Europe, for whatever reason and so there wasn’t really a lot of buzz and press going on over there so that made it a little bit more difficult to really secure some serious dates. But you know, thankfully, God works in mysterious ways and we were able to, as we’re still working the third album, you know, slightly, while working on this fourth album, to get a chance to come over there and maybe drop a little something new on everybody but also catch them up on what they missed with the third album. Even though I know some die hard fans may already have the album and are following along with what we’ve been doing. But for the most part it’d be a thing of just trying to make the people aware of where we been and what we got going on.
DN: Well that’s great and of course you know that that third album is my personal favorite of the three, and not just because I did the bio, but because I just loved it. And I’m really excited with the fact that you’ll actually be doing some of that material here because as you point out a lot of people didn’t even get to hear it here. So that’s going to be a great opportunity to finally present them with this material. So let’s catch up with you a little bit about what you’ve been up to since the release of that, which of course was in 2009, am I correct?
FD: Actually, it was released in October of 2008 .
DN: WOW, wow. Just shows you how I’ve lost track of time but go ahead, yes, yes, yes.
FD: It’s ok, it’s ok. You know the fourth quarter is always kind of like, pretty much gets pushed into 2009 because the business for the most part pretty much shuts down after November. And because it got kind of released mid-October it can, kind of, get lost in the shuffle. But since then, we released a couple of videos, we toured extensively for the most part with that album and we started a web series television show about the ongoings of our everyday life, our family and making our music. We had another child. We had our sixth child, actually in early 2010. My son, my second son. A lot’s going on in that period of time. My store that was actually the store that you came to The Kulture Shop that we were talking about where we were the night that Barack Obama was elected, is actually closed down now unfortunately. The recession thing that kinda came through and stormed through the country and throughout the world I suppose, definitely put us in a place where we really needed to think about the types of monies we were spending and how we were going about what we’re doing and make those necessary adjustments because everything is a little different these days. But thankfully, we’re still here and we’re still trying to make it happen. Still making music, working on the fourth album, like I said now and trying to get better, get stronger.
DN: Tell me a little bit about how the touring went in the States for that album? Did you go throughout the country, did you do a lot of stuff? And tell us a little about that television show.
Aja Graydon: Well, we were able to tour pretty decent on the third album. We went out and went to try to support it as best that we could. We got an opportunity to hit a lot of the markets that have always been like really supportive of us. Chicago, DC, Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta., Detroit…[we] hit all of those places and so we really got a chance to really see our true fans, the people who really are fans of the music, who listened to the albums….as opposed to maybe just the singles on the radio and that kind of thing. So we were able to really pull together people who have been following our career.
AG: That kind of pulls into what we’re doing today where Fatin came up with the concept of really reworking our whole internet presence and reworking our whole website so that we could really build a community based on these kind of fans that have always been following our work and can really relate to our lifestyle and support it. So we reworked our Kindred The Family Soul (site) completely from scratch. And one of the first main projects that we did associated with the website was developing the web series, which is based around all of the, like Fatin said, daily goings on with us being such a big family, having six children…and being eight of us in total and us trying to perform and tour while I was pregnant with our sixth child. The whole first season is the leading up to him being born and the season finale for the first season was the birth episode where we taped the entire birth and really kind of…
DN: The actual birth?
AG: The actual…
FD: We had a home birth.
AG: Yeah, we had a home birth. Many people close to me, they know I’m a big supporter of home birthing and mid-wifery and so most of my children have been born at home with the exception of the twins who were a high risk pregnancy and my first child who was in a hospital.
AG: But they were all welcomed into the world by way of mid-wifery and so we wanted to kind of share that with our fans. So it was a very beautiful experience that we were able to share. And so after we had our sixth child and we worked on the second season of “Six Is It”, which is the name of the series, did we mention that?
FD: No, we didn’t.
DN: Six Is It? (laughs)
AG: “Six Is It”…
FD: Six is IT!
AG…that’s the name of the series. (laughs)…well, when we went to season two we decided to open up season two. We ended season one with a birth and we opened up season two with an episode about Fatin getting a vasectomy. Sooo (laughs), we ..
FD: To ensure six is it!
AG: To ensure that the name of the show stays “Six Is It” and not “Seven Is Heaven”.
FD: Yeah, right ok.
DN: And you’re not kidding are you?
AG: Not at all.
FD: No she wasn’t kidding.
AG: But we got a lot of glowing feedback from that episode. Apparently, it’s a really hot button issue with folks. And we just happened to kind of, hit the button with that.
DN: Wow! (laughs). I have to be honest, you kind of threw me off a little bit here. I mean, I may have had some prepared questions but they kind of went away just now.
AG & DN: (laugh)
DN: So the first question I have for you is, how have people responded to this? Because it sounds really great.
FD: People have been very very supportive. People responded [with] really good, positive feedback for the most part. We’ve been on a couple of major syndicated shows and what have you spreading the word about it and of course like she said, it’s all about really increasing our web presence. That’s a very important piece in the puzzle these days, having your web presence up. And I honestly think that it’s the best web series on the internet.
DN: Well, that’s great, man.
FD: I may be biased but I don’t see a lot of them, especially ones that do it in the way that we do it. One of the things that is…
FD: …unique about it is that we tape it ourselves for the most part. So therefore, it allows us to get very genuine moments. It’s not really scripted and I always say…
AG: It’s not scripted at all.
FD: It’s not scripted at all. I mean, I always kind of say it’s like a moving photo album that you would see in someone’s home as opposed to us doing a photo shoot where we all get kinda of dressed up…and you know made up and what have you and we’re trying put on this certain air that we look a certain way. This way, it’s just a genuine realness of life, you know, transformed to tape and edited for entertainment. You know of course, we edit it…to try to get the best story line that we possibly can after we have viewed what it is that we taped. But other than that, for the most part it’s just actually what has happened to us and what has transpired. What we find is that, that’s the most relatable thing. And it’s kind of very similar to our music. I feel like one of the reasons we started to do the web series was because of the question people always ask us: how do we do it, we have all these kids, we make music, we travel the world, you know what I mean. And they think that we have a healthy relationship which is very true. So we just wanted to give them an inside glimpse, a look into the window of our lifestyle.
DN: Well, let me ask you on a practical level, do you walk around with a video camera?
AG: It doesn’t always work like that. When we first started the show, we had like a lot of Flip cameras, like small digital cameras that we just had. ..like you could throw in your pocket. And you know, we would go into all our major events, you know, kids’ schools, stuff for the kids, school…
AG: …taping my mid-wife appointments, all kinds of stuff like that. So it wasn’t really something that required a lot of production value in that sense. So we did, I guess technically yes, walk around with cameras because that’s just what we had.
FD: But it was no different than a regular person would have their cameras on them.
AG: But because they were so small and compact, it didn’t feel like a spectacle. And for us, that’s what truly worked for us because it wasn’t the first time that we had been approached about doing a “reality show”, quote, unquote. And we were just reluctant to do that because we knew that once it was in the hands of producers…we didn’t have the creative control and they could just tape us and edit things in such a way that might be detrimental to our children or whatever, you know what I mean. We just didn’t know what to expect. And being in the entertainment industry, we had friends who worked in reality TV, who worked in those kinds of environments who really were not particularly feeling that it would be something that…and they know who we are as parents, and knowing us they were thinking “Hmmm, this might not work for you guys.”
AG: So the web series for us is a great way for us to share, but to also at the same time be protective. And even though we are protective, we are very careful to make sure that everybody understands that it’s very real and that it doesn’t serve us or our fans at all to not be real with them. So that’s one of the things that I love about it, especially looking back on it, that the realness of it and the rawness of it, I think is what really makes us special.
DN: Well, so obviously anyone in the world can go check it out. So is season one and season two both on there?
FD & AG: Kindred The Family Soul.com
DN: Wow, well you know after we complete the interview, at some point during this weekend, I’m going to go watch. You know that, don’t you?
AG: You have to.
FD: If you want to link it to…
DN: Oh we can link it at the website, absolutely. We’ll link it. When we post this interview online, we’ll put a link right in there.
FD: No problem.
DN: And the only thing I should tell you Aja is I’m probably not going to watch the birth.
AG: (laughs) No, there’s no money shot.
FD: It is, well it is rough. I mean, you know, to some degree.
FD: But it’s not what you’re thinking. I mean, we don’t get down and dirty with it.
FD: We do show the reality of a baby being born, but it’s nothing grotesque or..
DN: I understand. I’m just not sure if I can handle it.
FD: We still got to be protective.
DN: I understand.
AG: I’ll keep it real with you, there’s no money shot, so you don’t have to worry about that.
FD: It does have moments though. There’s some moments in there.
DN: I’m sure there’s some moments, yes. Well, alright, at least I’ve been pre-warned, right?
FD: There you go.
DN: Alright, well let’s switch gears, very slightly, not in a major way. You made reference earlier Fatin to working on a fourth album. So would you like to give us some idea of how you’re doing with that and where that’s at in terms of its movement.
FD: We’re a good fifty percent into the record. We’re looking at titling the record, “The Great Recession”. We have some collaborations on there. We just finished a collaboration up with Snoop Dogg. We’re working on some other collaborations as well. It’s coming along really good. And we’re looking at trying to get it released by like February of 2011. Hope to get a single out by the end of this year.
FD: You know, just trying to return back to our roots of live instrumentation, live music and what really got us here. You know, what people really enjoyed about the experience of watching Kindred The Family Soul when we perform. We want to translate that to tape. We want to be, you know, naturally truthful and honest with the people again and real about where we are in our lives and where we been and where we’re going. And bring some great classic songs that can possibly live on through the test of time. That’s always our agenda for the most part when we make music, but even more so than ever now, you know what I mean, with all of the hardships and different things that people have experienced over the past couple of years, we want to definitely put that into the music as well as give some optimism and some hope to people and a lot of love, as always. And just hoping for the best with that.
DN: Yes, well I have to say that, you know in these days and times in the music industry, for anybody, for any act at all, any artist to get to album four without having had, you know, a massive, massive hit is quite an accomplishment. I mean, the fact that you’re on album four at all is quite an achievement and of course I don’t mean that in any way to be disrespectful and is in no way a reflection of your music but it’s more the state of the music industry.
FD: None taken. Totally understood.
AG: You know, one of the things that we feel is that’s a general kind of sentiment in terms of anything that people are able to keep going now period, not just people in the music industry. And people are able to kind of look back on their lives and their accomplishments with a new sense of perspective, in terms of in definitely understanding the blessing in just survival in and of itself. Because these days, there’s a lot of people who are, their definition of “doing well” has really changed. So we understand that that’s just something that in general, we’re hoping that people will be able to relate to because that’s the case in every case. There was a time when people were thinking “oh I don’t have the right job”. But now people are just grateful that they have A job.
DN: Yes, yes. Absolutely. Well, tell me specifically in regard to you and your record company, how have you been able to do this?
FD: What? Get to album four?
FD: Consistency, you know what I mean. Through, thankfully that people appreciate what we do, people continue to follow what we do, people continue to catch on to what we’ve done. You know, I think that is a very important piece to it as well. You know, with the invention of the internet and all of these different things that people who may not have been around on the first or the second or the third album, still get an opportunity to catch up to it through people who loved it from the very beginning, you know, spreading the word about it. Because now there’s so many different ways of promoting your music and for your brand to kind of be marketed through people respecting it and wanting to share that with whoever their audience is without you necessarily having to pay big money for advertising and all those things. Facebook and all of these different social media outlets and sites, on any given day on Twitter or Facebook, we can just you know pop in a search of our name and see lots of people sharing our videos or our songs with different people who would not have ordinarily been familiar. You know, that is something that you really can’t pay for and that is a very big blessing to you as an artist.
FD: There’s artists from, you know, from way back in the day, the 60’s, the 50’s, the 40’s, the 30’s or wherever, everybody’s music is now available. So while on one end it may hurt…
FD: …the music industry and the sales of different things like that but in terms of…
FD: …awareness, it’s key. You know, so that is something to be thankful for. It’s a good thing that we stuck with our heart and that we did have a catalogue of music that people could continue to enjoy. And it’s no different than in the early 80’s and the 90’s and stuff when people (were) sampling music and you’re finding out about music of the past that a lot of the younger generation wasn’t familiar with that gets reintroduced to them through [a] rapper or through other people putting their music and fusing it in some other way. That’s how you become aware of it so…
AG: One of the things that helps us, one of the things that’s been really key has been my husband embracing the idea of social media really kind of early on, even before Facebook when it was like MySpace and stuff like that where he really started to understand early on about interacting with fans and building that kind of community with your fans and so that kind of worked to our advantage in terms of people just staying up on what we were doing. So we kind of lessened that feeling of “oh whatever happened to Kindred” kind of thing, because people kind of always knew that we were still doing our thing.
AG: Even though it may not have been as…
FD: In their face.
AG: Yeah. It may not have been as blown up on television and things like that like maybe it was prior, that people still knew we were out there and we were still making music and that we’re still doing our thing. And so, him embracing that and really kind of, trying to constantly work on that, last year which I think was pretty much a tough year for everyone, music business, the world, the country period, last year ended up being a year where our awareness of the group actually increased.
AG: Yes. It actually increased because of that, because of that embracing social networks and really getting on the internet and the web series and people just being tied into us. And maybe they didn’t necessarily have an album to hang onto or a single that they were listening to everyday on the radio, but they were interested in who we were and kind of staying in contact with us. So that really helped us.
DN: That’s brilliant. That’s absolutely brilliant. I mean, and it’s really refreshing to hear you share that because I think one of the things it does is it lets people know that an artist isn’t a hundred percent dependent on a record company, isn’t a hundred percent dependent on radio play, that you actually have created a way to be in touch with the people, to reach out to people and as you said create awareness that was absolutely impossible even probably ten or fifteen years ago. There was just no way to do that. And you really were dependent on those things I just mentioned: record company support and of course, radio airplay and just the things, the traditional ways of getting people to be aware of a brand. So it really is phenomenal that you embraced it and did that early on.
AG: People say that our demographic is not interested in the internet and they’re not very digitally savvy. And in the past I think possibly that may have been the truth. However, now with like I said the popularity of things like Facebook and other social networks, Twitter and what not, that is actually changing quite a bit. And so, our “demographic”, quote, unquote…whatever that is, but our demographic, people who generally listen to our music, they are definitely tapping into wanting to reach people a lot more and…
AG: You know, my mother is sixty…blahblahblah
AG: (laughs) Sixty-one years old and…
DN: (laughs) Ok.
AG: My mom, this is how she keeps up with our family members…
DN: I love it, I love it.
AG: …and stuff that’s going on in the family and through friends and things like that. So this has been something that our demographic has slowly but surely kind of caught on to…and I see that once they’re there they ‘re extremely loyal and very responsible and so I think that’s going to just generally get better for us in that way.
DN: OK, well I have two more questions for you. The first question related to what you just shared. I asked you about your ability to hang in there and I mentioned about the fact that, of course, you’re on album four so one question is: did you have to persuade the record company to let me make album four or did they come to you and say “let’s keep going”?
FD: There is no record company right now, David.
DN: OH! Ok, well that’s the end of that one then. (laughs)
FD: You know, we are the record company.
FD: Everything is Kindred The Family Soul right now, for the most part.
AG: Just to be clear, we were offered an opportunity to make album four with the record company, but we just chose not to.
FD: We chose, you know, in these times like we were discussing and because we had that springboard - and much respect to the record label Hidden Beach that gave us our start - and gave us that springboard and introduced us to the public. You know we are forever indebted to them in that way, that they did give us that opportunity and without that opportunity we would not be here.
DN: Yes, yes.
FD: And we respect them very much for that. But in this time of where the music industry is and what valuable knowledge we have of it and what we’ve learned, we decided that we would take matters into our own hands and just try it on our own. So far, even though we have not necessarily released a record, in terms of the visibility and keeping the awareness of what we’re doing out there and getting the people ready for a new record, we been doing that pretty successfully.
DN: Yes, yes.
FD: There’s a lot more to do, but I think the end result is about how good the music is that we make that we’re trying to bring to the people and if we can make great music that people are going to be interested in and utilize these digital platforms and other forms of getting the music out there, then I think we will be on the right track. We may do something in terms of a distribution type of deal or something of that nature but other than that, we’re just kind of doing it on our own.
DN: Well, I will share with you because this is relevant to what you’re talking about, that there are some artists from the US who have done exactly the same thing that you’re talking about, of course. And one of the things they’ve done very successfully is make sure that their music is licensed in countries like the United Kingdom, Great Britain here, to make sure that their music gets out in Britain, sometimes the same time it comes out in the US and even sometimes before it does. Because recognizing the response of British soul fans and how loyal they are, they’ve discovered there’s a couple of record labels in Britain that are very supportive of the music. And so I think that’s one thing to look at and also the fact that ultimately what’s most important is you have ownership of your own music.
FD: Absolutely. I mean, you’re hitting the nail right on the head and hopefully we’ll be taking some meetings when we’re in Europe about some of these very issues.
DN: Very good. Well, the last question I have for you is just a very simple question and you probably answered this through your web series but I want to make sure we get your answer, ok? How on earth (laughs) do you manage to keep going? You mentioned of course, having six children. Most families have one or two. Most families are probably sensible enough not to be in the music industry. But you clearly, I know you’re not crazy so therefore…
FD & AG: (laughs)
DN: …well, maybe you are. But really, how do you keep it all going?
FD: The question is really hard to answer. It’s more like you gotta see.
AG: Yeah…me and Fatin we come from the kind of stock, the kind of parents, the kind of people that…
FD: They ain’t having it, that’s all.
AG: …that just don’t give up and that just don’t allow any kind of thing to deter them from taking care of their families. You know what I mean?
AG: I was raised this way. Fatin was raised that way. That’s one of the main things that he and I have in common is a certain level of tenacity that just is in us, we’re bred that way, you know what I mean?
AG: So there is no giving up when you have children who are dependent on you and you just don’t do that. And the second thing that I think keeps us going is that Fatin and I do have a strong believe in our talent. So we know that it’s just a matter of time and effort before that gets recognized in such a way that..
FD:..that is extremely beneficial to us.
AG: ..yeah, that, exactly. We’re not going to stop doing what we do best and then go do something else that we don’t know whether or not we’re good at or we’re best at and take a chance. We’d rather just continue to push and work and give the hundred percent of our effort towards what we know we can do. That’s something that, I don’t know if we ever sat down and said, “yeah that’s what we’re going to do”, that was something that we decided when we started Kindred The Family Soul. That’s like the whole reason Kindred The Family Soul exists, is because of the acceptance that this is who we are and this is what we do. And our kids have accepted this too. This is just their family. They’re no different than anybody else. They look at it like this is just our reality, this is what my parents do. Your parents get up and they go to the post office or they go to the hospital or they go to wherever they work and my parents pack a bag and they go and perform.
DN: Ok, alright. (laughs) Well, you know what, that is the perfect, absolute perfect closer to our interview. I mean, you just said it so I guess next week, well by the time people actually hear this interview and read it you will probably have already packed your bags and be on your way to Britain so we really look forward to seeing you here. I just really want to thank you both for taking time to share with us, ahead of your visit, and hopefully anyone who has not yet bought their tickets to see Kindred in Birmingham and London should go do that as soon as they hear this interview because I’m sure by the time you get here they will be completely sold out, if not already.
FD: We appreciate that very much David. Thank you for your support always.
DN: And I’m looking forward to seeing you both in London because you know, every time we’ve met we’ve had a great time so it’d just be great to see your faces in the place.
AG: For sure.
FD: It will be great to see you too, man.
DN: Alright, take care now.
AG: Bye-bye, bye-bye.
FD: Alright, you take care. We’ll talk to you soon.
DN: Ok, bye
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.