In person interview conducted at The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan in February 1976 during the "California Soul" event hosted by Warner Brothers Records
Ashford and Simpson are back in business after a lengthy sabbatical. Here they expound on their new album — how it reflects the changes they've gone through and how it extends a helping hand to today's people...
AFTER a year's relative silence, it's more than refreshing to report that one of the most innovative and talented teams are back in business and more than ready to conquer the world! Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson opted for a year's hiatus to their home in Connecticut, during which time the lady gave birth to the couple's now year-old baby daughter, Nicole, and the team conceived a brand new album, which is due out momentarily on Warner Bros.
Entitled "Come As You Are", it represents a definite departure from the team's previous two albums for the label — "I Wanna Be Selfish" and "Gimme Something Real" — in that a preplanned concept is involved. On a recent visit to Los Angeles to perform at the NAACP's Image Awards, Nick and Val took some time out to explain the thinking behind "Come As You Are" and the different attitudes they now project towards their career.
"The album is different in that it's not just a collection of songs", explained Valerie. "That's basically what the previous albums were. But I personally found that with having the baby and taking time off to be at home, the picture generally became a whole lot clearer for me".
Nick agreed: "The album is really a statement about where we're at mentally now — how we've changed. It's really meant as an uplifiting statement. You see, there are so many negative attitudes prevalent in the world today that we wanted to say something about how people can change what's happening around them. We're all conditioned to feel a certain way, whereas we should be free inside. And it's by looking inside that you can come through with the right answers."
Explaining further, the couple took the song "Somebody Told A Lie" as an example: "That song says a lot about what we're talking about. People are constantly looking for a miracle-to happen and they don't realise that it's necessary for you to come back to the power within you."
However, rather than approach the idea in a sense by preaching, the team feel that the message is there in the music "and that you get to it in your own way. Hopefully, people will check out the music and the message will seep through. It's like what we're saying is, this works for us — try it and see if it'll work for you! We just want people to overcome so much of that negative thing that abounds today."
Basically, Nick and Val admit that the album is a definite reflection on the changes that they've been through as people. "It's like we were finding ourselves all over again. It's almost that with the birth of our baby, our heads just started to flower. We changed as people too. You find it becomes necessary to be totally honest with yourself and "Tell It All" on the album is really in essence what we're saying. Be honest, don't hide whatever you have."
Valerie explained how she'd been through some particular changes. "I used to be in that situation where I'd have to be doing something all the time. But that's just nervous tension. I'm no longer afraid of space. It's like a lot of times, people feel that it's necessary to talk when they're in the room with someone else — but you should only say something if you've got something to say!"
"Yeah, if everyone was relaxed then we'd all be able to be ourselves — your friends would accept you as you are and not how they want you to be," Nick agreed. "So many times, we're trying to live up to the image that people want to create for us. We've gotten so far away from ourselves and it's important for us to get back to being who we are. That's one of the messages that we hope slips in there through our music. Because music really expresses today's moods and we feel — just from talking to people — that there is a definite spiritual undercurrent of things happening today. We hope our music reflects that too".
It's evident that the couple are more than proud of the album and now they are anxious to see "if we touched the pulse of today's people. People are tired of fakin' it — they want the real thing. We hope that this album will reach somewhere inside people — it's meant as 'encouragement' music! If you're on the right road, we want to push you on further — we want you to take a closer look at yourself, the way we took a closer look at ourselves!"
Reflecting briefly on some of their writing accomplishments — the team have penned some of today's contemporary standards, a list which would fill the page — they agree that each song is personal to an extent — "it must have a little bit of something that's directly personal in there" but basically they don't go backwards.
"We really are surprised when we hear our material because really the songs are like children that have gone on and grown up and left home!" Valerie revealed that once Nick has written his lyrics and put them down on tape, he'll forget them!
Defending himself with a smile, Nick added: "Well, for me each moment is new. I'm constantly demonstrating where I am now, not where I was before. You'll stifle yourself creatively if you don't constantly change." Naturally, everything that Nick and Val touch has a strong professional air to it but Valerie explained that "the technical side is important — you've got to apply what you know — but make sure that it doesn't stop the flow." Nick himself took some musical lessons not too long ago and Valerie laughingly confided that "his piano playing got so good, I got worried that he might need me anymore!"
The 'secret' to some of their best compositions is simply, the team agreed, "that we don't strain at it — if a song strikes a vibe with us both, then we go ahead. If not, then we'll leave it where it is. It's easy once one of us gets that enthusiasm — we just pass it on to the other. But it's no good trying to force it to happen — once you start trying to do that, you lose that feeling."
Of course, on top of that, it's important to remember that for the couple, writing is a part of their life — "it's a natural part of us — something you do constantly and we're virtually writing what and as we live."
With the release of the album, Nick and Valerie seem to have adopted a whole different attitude towards their career. Whereas before they were somewhat reluctant to perform there is now a definite enthusiasm and excitement about it all.
"For myself, I guess it was a thing of being afraid of rejection," Valerie explained. "Plus it might get tough out there — audiences can be cold! And I figure if you want to be good, you should aim to be dynamite!"
Nick added that the couple feel that their career is a more total thing now. "We can see now what we want to do and there are so many areas for us to achieve our goals in. Like our publishing company — it's still important for us to have people record our tunes. And there's production." At the present time, the team are being considered as producers for Diana Ross again (they worked on the lady's initial solo albums after she left The Supremes) "which would be real nice" and Warner Bros. are submitting a list of artists from their roster for the team's consideration. Yet another possibility is a trip to Europe "if the album shows any signs of doing anything over there."
Meanwhile, the couple will be performing at selected gigs on both coasts and generally working to promote their new album. Unquestionably, there is a new air of confidence and positive thinking that pervades their conversation and as Valerie explained, "having the baby kinda cemented the deal between us!".
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.