In a twenty-five year career, evergreen soul singer/songwriter Angie Stone has learned how to roll with the punches. She talks to soulmusic.com about her latest challenges: sustaining a career in an economic slump and dealing with the death of her father while recording her latest album, “Unexpected”.
JL: You know, I have to say, I wanted to tell you on the last album, because that was in my car for months and months on end, and then with this album, I was thinking, “there’s no way she’s going to better that album”, and then with this album, you came out with another banger!
AS: Thank you! I’m glad you liked it. I went a little left field, but I’ve done all this music for years, so it’s still Angie. Do you know what I mean?
JL: Why do you feel you went left field?
AS: Well, when I say left field, I stretched out, I did an Auto-Tune song, and I just had a lot more fun on this album I think, because everything being so serious is not like me.
JL: ‘Free’ is a different type of song as well.
AS: ‘Free’ is good though; the message is strong.
JL: When you get into starting the process of writing songs, and I know this album is different because your Dad died in the middle of it, but how do you say, “this is what I want to come up with”? To be honest with you, if I hadn’t heard, and if I didn’t know who you were, some of these songs could have been written for a brand new 20-year-old artist. You have a very contemporary feel.
AS: Right, and that’s why I wanted to let people know that because music is so diversified and so universal, that you can do that. It’s okay to do that. You still have your standard Angie Stone with ‘Maybe’ and ‘I Ain’t Hearin’ U’. Those are typical Angie Stone songs, but then when you get to ‘Free’ and ‘Why Is It’, you’ve got that compelling artist that you can’t tell whether she’s 25 or 30 or what. It needs to speak that so I catch the ear of the listener. I’m going to start saying this because I think it’s very relevant, it’s like being in the pulpit; a minister. Most kids don’t like to go to church, because they feel like the minister is a grown man, and all he’s talking about is God, but after a while, and the kids start to grow up, the minister is still growing older, but your understanding of it changes, because you are now meeting at the same place. I’d like to say that my music speaks to adults, but to some degree, young and upcoming artists are meeting Angie Stone at the same place now, because I’m also stepping back a little bit to help them get through. My thing is that I’ve got to be able to reach everyone, and in order to do that, you’ve got to either change a little bit, or go left, or go right. If you’re going to stay on the same path you’re on, it’s like Sade. Sade will always get a Sade audience. Maxwell will always get a Maxwell audience. Angie Stone will always get an Angie Stone audience, but Angie Stone wants more than an Angie Stone audience. I want people of certain age groups to take a listen to the message in my music, because it’s so important.
JL: Do you find with these contemporary-sounding songs, that you have stirred up interest in the publishing world, or with other record labels and people wanting you to write for their artists or be a ghostwriter? How is your position in the industry?
AS: It’s so funny, because I got approached today to help an artist that Jive just signed, and she’s a teenager. I think more importantly, one of the things that I’m looking forward to, is that everything was unexpected for me this year. I’m getting ready to go overseas to do a tour, and one of the things that I’m going to be trying to do is to solidify other situations overseas, to tap more into that world from a writing and production standpoint, trying to get behind the scenes with films a little bit more, and I think this gives me an avenue and it affords me an audience. I was just invited to T. Pain’s party, or A&R’s party tomorrow night and it’s only because, for the first time in a very long time, that age group is now saying, “Oh wait a minute, she matters.”
JL: That’s great. It’s interesting, because not only can you write for singers that aren’t vocally in the same league as you but then you can go and sing songs and do the Chaka Khan tribute and things like that.
AS: Did you see that?
AS: How did you like it?
JL: Oh, I liked it. I’ll always remember when I was watching a Prince show in New York, and he called you up onstage and you just tore straight into it and hung with him, so you’ve obviously got the chops, where other singers just can’t hang in that environment, because his show is so free-spirited.
AS: Right. That’s what I’m talking about; that spontaneity, being able to fit in where you get in, and my whole thing is, what blows everybody away is that they didn’t know I used to do hip hop, so it really blows people away when they call me onstage and they try to challenge me and I do a rap and blow them away, they’re just lost for words.
JL: On this album, what are the most personal songs for you?
AS: ‘Maybe’ and ‘Think Sometimes’.
JL: Why those ones in particular?
AS: Well, ‘Maybe’ speaks to so many situations in terms of life in general, because we all put ourselves in a position to be toyed with emotionally, and tolerate some stuff we shouldn’t, for an unprecedented amount of time. ‘Think Sometimes’ is the passing of my father when I said, “Funny how the way they used to make you laugh, they slip away so fast and now they’re in your past. You wonder if there’s anything you could have done to make it different.”
JL: Do you think there is anything that you could have done?
AS: I do. I think I could have spent more time with my father. I got so used to taking care of my family, that I spent a lot of time on the road, I travelled, I toured, always working, and last Christmas was the first Christmas I didn’t spend with my Dad, and it kind of blew me away because I didn’t know that I wouldn’t have another one. If there’s something that I could have done, I definitely would have been there a little bit more, just to get a little bit more laughter, and a little bit more jokes. My dad cracked a lot of jokes, and the last year of my Dad’s life, for some reason, I would go to my Mom’s house and I would want to sleep in the bed with my father, so for a straight year, I would evade my room and go to his room and lay in the bed with my Dad, every time I went home. He would let me lay there, and part of that little girl kept coming out. I was just so grateful that I had those times to remember.
My last Christmas gift that my father gave me, even though we didn’t spend it together, he sent me a video camera, and it was after Christmas that I went home, and on the video camera, I was trying to figure out how it worked, all I did was take pictures and video of my Dad, my son and my grandson, and I filled up the whole memory in the camera with my Dad. I went and pulled the camera out a couple of weeks ago, and there was a timeless moment that no one would ever be able to recapture; him with his grandson and his great-grandson. I’m gonna get those pictures blown up, because they are the only ones of their kind.
JL: What do you think you got from your Dad in terms of your personality? What did he give to you?
AS: Oh, everything. I am my Dad’s daughter. I have the heart of my Dad, I have the passion of my Dad, I have the competitive edge of my Dad, I have the vocal ability, the athletic ability, and a lot of my dad’s values and morals are who I am.
JL: How do you think that what he’s given you, and that kind of strength in your personality has helped you overcome a lot of the things that you’ve gone through in your life? With the music industry, it’s always up and down, and then personal relationships are always up and down.
AS: I think my Dad was the most practical guy on the planet. A lawyer, who was Caucasian, and he worked for, he was their appointed speaker, and the one thing he said was that with my Dad, what you saw was what you got. He didn’t make a big fuss about a whole bunch of stuff, he did what he did and he did it well; he was confident. Whatever he got accolade-wise from it, he was completely satisfied with it, because he wasn’t doing it for anybody other than himself, so I got that.
JL: If they were making a movie of your life, what do you think the scenes would be that everyone would be talking about the next day?
AS: I think that some of the scenes that people would talk about is that they didn’t realize how giving Angie Stone was, and just how many sacrifices she made that others would come to value. That’s the one thing that I always do, I give and give and give so much that it’s become the legacy of Angie Stone and my very close circle.
JL: Do you find it easier to not be on a major, but to be kind of doing your own thing? Even though you are distributed through a major, but I think it’s less of an invasion on your creativity.
AS: I think it has its ups and its downs, its yes’s and its no’s, pickups and setbacks. I think it’s interesting, because coming from a major to a minor label, when you’re accustomed to having the crème de la crème and now you’ve been demoted down pretty much to a level or status of “we can’t give you everything that you’re used to getting, but we can give you all we can give.” When I look at that big picture, it does make a major difference, because I’ve always been on a major with the exception of Sugar Hill, so when I went to Staxx, I thought it was a great idea because I was the first artist and I knew that I would be a priority, so to stray far from the level of success I was used to, or attention I was used to was going to be minimal.
JL: What do you think have been the hardest things, in terms of your profile in the industry, and how have you overcome it
AS: I think the hardest thing is survival, in terms of what the promoters feel your worth is, and your value is, because one of the things that has not changed for me in so many years is the amount of money that they offer me. Even though the times have changed, the $10,000 offers, the $20,000 offers, the $25,000 offers, they are the same, and the economy is steadily growing. I think that’s been my greatest disappointment, because I think I’ve given a hell of a lot of great music, and a lot of myself, and when you’re talking about paying a band, and flying a band, and housing a band, and everything that encompasses touring, they still have me on a new artist kind of budget. That’s been very difficult, because I’m having to explain it, which can account for how many times I have to change bands.
JL: Is that difficult for you?
AS: It is difficult to have to keep changing bands, because when you have the likes of people that are making $50,000 to $100,000 a show, and they can pay a musician say $2,000 to $3,000 a week, and then you have a musician that’s making $1,200 a week for three or four shows, you do the math. My greatest asset is that I give my musicians front and centre stage, because they deserve it. The setback to that is, when I give them that entrance, other people see them and offer them more money, and I can’t tell them to stay.
JL: Angie, when do you think in your life you were happiest?
AS: I think I was probably happiest when I was with D’Angelo, and there was a completion there. I had the perfect balance of someone who spared no expense as far as loving me or taking care of the needs that we had for each other, and just doing great music together, because it came naturally. I think having that fulfilled had a lot to do with me being completely happy.
JL: Have you ever come close to that level of happiness since?
AS: I’ve come close.
JL: What do you think is your greatest fear?
AS: My greatest fear?
JL: This is the way we really get to know Angie Stone, with these questions.
AS: I think my greatest fear is being in a situation where I’m not able to take care of my family financially, and not having the deal in place to accommodate the lifestyle that I have afforded my family for almost 30 years.
JL: Have you taken steps to try to safeguard that, like “if the records don’t sell, if I don’t get booked on tour, I’m still going to have a certain amount of cash coming in”?
AS: Well, yes and no. You’ve got to look at the big, big picture, the economy. When you’re moving around from show to show, and you’re paying out money, and nowadays you have to promote an album with no income, you have to look at it. I can honestly tell you that I have been blessed, because I’m making millions of dollars a year within the years, but when you’re the sole provider in your situation, the money that you make is absorbed by the bills that you pay on all fronts. I’m a single parent, so that has a lot to do with it. I have to put my daughter through college, I still have to put my son through college, both of my parents, with the exception of my father passing, I retired my mom over 25 years ago, so I have been taking care of them as well as myself, as well as my daughter, who is still in her last year of college. When you look at the big, big, big picture, where they’re trying to make room for all of these other things, I do think that it can and will happen, but I really think that for right now, I’m just grateful that I’m able to work, and I’m in the middle of creating a few foundations and doing some stuff that would safeguard my lifestyle. I think that 2010 is going to be an interesting year for Angie.
JL: What is your daughter studying?
AS: My daughter is doing Marketing.
JL: How did she feel about all these years of Mom being a famous singer? How does your daughter feel at this point, in college, and all her friends are aware of who you are?
AS: My daughter is super-talented, but it’s a strain, because my daughter does not want to make it because of Mommy, she wants to do it on her own, so where you would think it would be great, it’s very strenuous, because I want to help her, but she is very independent. She’s been doing a great job. She’s actually featured on the song ‘I Don’t Care’; you can hear her voice. So, that’s a good thing, and overall she’s excited, she just doesn’t like living under the guise of Angie Stone’s daughter, because she feels like people look at her for me, and not for her.
JL: I felt that way when I saw Chaka Khan, and her daughter opened for her, and everyone would always be comparing her daughter to her mother, and I thought, “Wow, that’s really tough.”
AS: It’s a tough spot to be in.
JL: If you could say sorry to anyone, who would it be?
AS: If I could say sorry to anyone, I would just say I’m sorry to my children.
JL: Why, Angie?
AS: Well, because I have been on the go since I was 17 years old, and when I had my children and retired my parents, even though I’m an only child, I knew early on, that I left school to pursue music, and when I did that, I had to make some tough choices throughout life, and I’ll give you an example; it’s heartbreaking for me: I’ve never missed any of my kids’ birthdays. Last year was the first time I missed my son’s 11th birthday, and now yet again, they booked a tour on my son’s 13th birthday, and I cant get those days back, or those moments back. It’s very disappointing for me, because I try to make those days open and clear, but when you’re providing a living for your family, we have to expect children to understand what they’re not supposed to understand.
JL: Have you talked to them about it, and do they understand?
AS: They say they understand, but it does not replace the fact that they’re lonely and they wish they had their mother.
JL: I have two kids myself, so I know exactly where you’re coming from.
AS: Yeah, you can’t get those. You can blame the world, but when you look at the creature comforts of life, these are the things that we live for. My thing is, how do I explain to my son this birthday that I won’t be here again?
JL: What’s in your iPod, Angie?
AS: The Most Played stuff that I think I’ve played in the last few months is Mary Mary. I love Mary Mary, and I love Marvin Gaye. I listen to oldies but goodies.
JL: How do you get such a contemporary feel in your music when you want to do it? What do you listen to, of the new stuff, where you say, “I really like what they’re doing and I could do something in that vein”?
AS: It’s really funny you ask that, because I really don’t listen to a lot of contemporary music, but I love great producers, and I think that Warryn Campbell, J. Moss, and a lot of the Gospel producers give us that diversity that we need, and of course there’s Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Fantasia, and there are all these people that, every now and then, you hear a song. I really don’t get caught up in that, but I have to say, who I listened to this past summer, it’s T. Pain. I love T.Pain.
JL: That’s not something most people would expect.
AS: That’s very unexpected, but it’s very true.
JL: Why did you call your album Unexpected?
AS: Because my Dad died unexpectedly.
JL: Oh, I see. What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
AS: I think that if I could afford to just sit back sometimes and help develop some new talent and bring my expertise to impart on their lives, what would be necessary to become a superstar, that would make me feel complete.
JL: Have you met any artists that you think are incredible?
AS: I have met some incredible sounding artists, however the status of the industry has changed so much that now you’ve got to sink so much money into these artists so they are kind of prepped for radio before the labels will even look at them anymore. Again, that’s something that’s time-consuming.
JL: What’s on your schedule for the next few months, with this record?
AS: Well, with regards to the album just dropping, outside of Christmas and New Years, I’m scheduled to travel overseas for 3 weeks on a tour.
JL: Where are you going?
AS: Oh, everywhere. We’re going to Germany, London, Switzerland, Belgium, Amsterdam, and Poland, just to name a few.
JL: I know from talking to other artists, in this economy, travelling overseas, especially with a band, is really expensive, and that’s why not a lot of artists do it anymore.
AS: It’s rough, and it’s sad because with a lot of the UK artists support the American artists, they should be able to come over there and do it, but you gauge a tour for $300,000 to bring 10 people overseas. When you look at the big picture of what it’s going to cost you in flights, maybe $70,000 in flights, and then hotels, another $26,000 to $30,000, per diems and salaries run anywhere from $30,000 and then you talk about renting a bus over there to take you from town to town and city to city over there, you’re looking at another $30,000 so when you look at that whole $300,000 it has been absorbed to actually accommodate the tour, and the artist walks away with a little over nothing, because it took all of that to just get over there.
JL: Who puts the money up for those sorts of things?
AS: Well, the promoters sell tickets. What they do is they send you a deposit of whatever the guarantee is of the show, and that could be anywhere from 5% to 50%, but if your show is only $20,000 well what is 5% of $20,000?
JL: It’s not a whole lot.
AS: Right, so when you’ve got about $40,000 worth of tickets, where is it coming from? It’s difficult. There is a process, and a strategy to this madness, but at the end of the day, it’s worth it if you can get an artist over there. A lot of the UK artists do not want you to do under 2 hours, but a lot of artists only do an hour or hour-and-a-half set in the States, but you have to prepare yourself to work twice as hard when you go over there, for less money.
JL: Who has taught you the biggest lessons in the business?
AS: Trial and error has taught me my greatest lessons.
JL: Have there been any artists that you’ve learned from, in particular?
AS: I can honestly say there have been a couple of artists that I can admire from afar. Have I actually learned something from them? No, because I have not been able to apply it on that level, but I can sit back and see where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
JL: Where are you living these days?
AS: I’m in Atlanta.
JL: How is it for you there?
AS: It’s nice. It’s very nice.
JL: Is there a good musical community that you work with so that when you get a song idea, you can just call someone up and people will come over and start giving you tracks and laying stuff down?
AS: Oh yeah. That’s every day.
JL: That’s how you put this album together, was it?
AS: Kinda sorta. I kind of went with some new people and a few old people that I worked with, and gave them the scenario of what I wanted the album to be like, and they came back with some recipes.
JL: The last question is this, and it’s kind of a crazy one, but if you had one year left to live, which hopefully won’t happen for many years to come, and you had an unlimited amount of money, and the money can only be spent on you personally, what five things would you have to do?
AS: Wow. I would probably take a trip around the world with my family and show them all the things that I’ve seen, go to every place that I’ve performed at and played at, and show them what it’s like to be outside of the United States. I think that would take up a whole year.
JL: That’s a good one. Well listen, good luck with this album. Is there anything you want to tell me that I haven’t asked you?
AS: Oh, no. I just want to say Happy Holidays to my fans. Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me, and being so informed about Angie Stone and Angie B.
About the Writer
Jeff Lorez has enjoyed a long and varied career in the music business. As a journalist he has written for a slew of publications and web sites including, Blues & Soul, Billboard, Yahoo.com and the Daily Telegraph and as a music publisher he has been involved in recent chart topping hits by Alexis Jordan and Cher Lloyd.