Wendy Moten has made a career of being able to adapt to her surroundings. She tells Justin Kantor just how she was able to travel the globe with the likes of Julio Iglesias, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill and still find time to record her own soulful homage to Memphis, Tennessee
JK: It’s a pleasure to speak with you in real time, after chatting with you on facebook. What are you up to now, musically speaking?
WM: Musically speaking, I just finished my Christmas project that I am very proud of, because it was the first project I’ve ever done on my own, whereas with a record company, it’s everybody else’s ideas. It’s okay; it gets you out there. You have to do what you have to do. So, what I want to do is to continue to create whatever it is I’m into. That’s what’s great about globalization and the Internet, because now you don’t have to be locked down per se in one category. I want to be like Linda Ronstadt. Linda Ronstadt, she recorded wherever she wanted, and that’s what I want to be.
JK: You’ve explored a lot of genres over your career, even in the few albums you did back in the 90’s. Your first album mixed R&B and pop ballads, and then ‘Life’s What You Make It’ had more of a Rock feel to it, so I guess that’s a big part of your artistic direction, is musical diversity?
WM: Yes, and why not? Our generation was influenced by so much music. There’s just too much out there. I love Coldplay, I love Aretha Franklin, or The Strokes, and all of that. I like it all. I like Megadeth too, as well as Gladys Knight.
JK: You’ve spent a good part of the last decade with someone in a very different genre than what we’re speaking of now, by touring with Julio Iglesias. How did that all come about?
WM: That was fate, because at the end of the 90’s, I was actually trying to get out of my contract with EMI Records, because we didn’t see eye to eye on things, and that was right before EMI was closing its doors in the United States, except for the Christian part. So, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do, and then this opportunity came, that somebody saw me with Michael Bolton as his opening act, and they presented this, you know “Hey, I work for Julio Iglesias, he’s looking for a new girl, and would you be interested in singing duets with him?” I was like, “You know what? Maybe I’ll try this out.” I might actually learn something, because he is a living icon. I’m a new artist, and I’m sure there is something I can learn.
I decided to take the chance, and the first show was in Atlantic City, and that was the first time I ever met him, he’s very charming and everything, and he said, “Okay, let’s sing the duet.” He’s seen my CDs, he knew that I worked with David Foster, he had worked with David Foster and we had some of the same people that we have worked with, so he just wanted to see how easy, or not, it was going to be to sing together, to see if he could feel comfortable with me. He was comfortable, he made me sing the duet three times in a row, and I’m like, “I’m a failure. He didn’t like me.” Yeah, I panicked. Julio Iglesias doesn’t like me. I am a loser, okay?
When I found out, after my little audition, people were saying, “Congratulations” and I said, “What?” they’re like, “Oh, you got the gig” but he didn’t say, “You’re hired”, it was just one of those things. They said that while he was behind me, the first time, he thought I was lucky. The second time, he thought I was lucky. The third time, he’s like, “Okay, she’s real”. I’ve been learning from him ever since. I just love singing with him.
JK: Were you familiar with his music before you started working with him?
WM: Well, the name is iconic, so you know the name, but I didn’t know the whole history of music, and of course ‘To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before’, we all love that one, but I didn’t really know as much as I know now. Then, I just knew he was an icon, and he’s a living legend.
JK: For me, even the name is iconic, but I don’t know his whole catalog, so when I saw that you had been working with him, I thought that was pretty impressive and surprising. I notice you’ve gone to a lot of different countries, and how has it been, particularly touring with him, some of the more out of the way places that you’ve gone to, like Algeria, Paraguay, Zimbabwe, Lithuania. Where have you gone with him, and what has it been like, travelling to those places?
WM: I’ve always travelled, since high school, so I was very fortunate to do that. I always travelled, even did the whole Mediterranean. I went to Turkey and all these places, so I’m used to travelling a lot, going to Japan a lot, and then when I met him, it just got out of control. It was like travel on steroids or something. We’re in Syria, we’re in Serbia, we’re going to Israel, we’re going to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, yeah! I remember when we were going to Angola, and Angola had only stopped fighting for 3 years. That’s not long enough when they’ve been fighting for 27. For years, you were not really sure yet.
There we are in Angola, playing for the President of Angola, and we had to take shots and stuff. We were at a show, he had a concert that night, and everybody was getting shots, and one girl was about to get married, and she was like, “I’m not going, because I don’t know what’s going to happen over there” and the other girl was like, “My mommy said I can’t go”. She can do what she wants; she’s a grown woman, but she said, “This time, my mommy said I can’t go.” He looked at me and one of the other girls and said, “Are you scared to go?” I said, “Of course not, let’s go” even though he was going anyway, I was letting him know. When am I going to get back to Angola? Never! He knows I have this sense of adventure and just want to go and see these places, and he likes it.
JK: A few years ago, and I don’t know if it was your first time in this genre, but you also got experience in the large scale in the country music field when you toured with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Tell me about that experience.
WM: That was just being in the right place at the right time. A friend of mine, her name is Bekka Bramlett, she’s an incredible singer, and her parents are rock & roll legends too, because her Dad, Delaney Bramlett, he had a Soul band in the 70’s, and Eric Clapton joined his band; that’s just how bad they were. So, Bekka, she’s used to Jimi Hendrix sitting in the living room, and all these rock & roll legends just hanging out. She is a well-known singer here in Nashville, and she does a lot of sessions. Her and Faith work together a lot, and she knew Faith before.
Bekka was writing songs with Faith, and they became close friends, and then Faith had to do a television show in 2005 for NBC, a Christmas show, and she said, “Hey, can you do it?” and I said, “Sure, okay.” I learned the music quick, and I was like, “Oh, Bekka’s doing it, so I’ll do it” and Faith was great, I really liked her a lot, and I love the music. In 2005, I did the show, and I was filling in, because one of her friends got sick, so then in 2006, the tour came open, and they said, “Hey, do you want to do it?” Of course I talked to Julio first, and Julio didn’t tour that year, but he said, “Make sure you come back” and I said, “I know.”
JK: Recently, you worked in yet another music genre; you did some work with Buddy Guy on his last album Skin Deep. How did that project come into your life?
WM: That was fate too! Bekka called and said, “Hey, I got this session. Do you want to do it?” and I said, “Yeah.” I got there, and it was for Buddy Guy; I didn’t know. Then, the producer was like, “Can you do some of these ad-libs?” It was kind of like a semi-duet on a couple of tracks, and I said, “Of course.” I just happened to be at home at the right time.
JK: Was that something that you had imagined you would do at some point, working with someone like him, or was it a surprise?
WM: For me, when it’s those things like that, it’s a gift. It’s a perk, because he’s a living legend too. It’s a perk that you can do that, and it’s in history forever.
JK: Do you have a favourite genre to work in, musically?
WM: No, not at all. I love it all. I’m working on a Soul project right now. It’s Memphis Soul, so a little James Brown, so Aretha 70’s and some Al Green. I’m just gonna take it all the way there.
JK: That sounds great! I know a lot of people will be looking forward to that. So, is this something that you’re going to do independently as well?
WM: Absolutely, because this is the way to do it. I did the Christmas project to see if I was capable of pulling it together, and now that I know I can pull it together, now I can go out and do all of the stuff that I didn’t do with this project, get the support I need, whatever it takes to get out there. Thank goodness for the Internet. Thank goodness for the idea that the market changed, because record companies are not interested in signing middle-aged artists. I understand, it’s a youth-oriented business; that’s reality. The way the market is now, for people like myself, who may have some success, or who hasn’t, it’s open. It’s so open, this is like the best time of my life, right now.
JK: That’s awesome! Can you tell me about anyone that you’re working on this project with, production or songwriting-wise, or what kinds of things you’re contributing to it?
WM: Right now, I’m going to be songwriter/producer, like I did with the Christmas project. Produced by, created by, blah blah blah. My fiancée, David Santos is a bass player, and he plays bass with John Fogerty and has for years, he plays with Crosby Stills & Nash, he started on the Soul project with me before Christmas, so we’ll probably end up writing more songs, and if anything, it will be him being my collaborator.
JK: Is it going to be all original songs, or will there be any cover songs?
WM: It will be all original.
JK: Are you going to do the recording for this new project mostly at home in Nashville, or is it going to be when you’re on the road touring, whenever you can get it in?
WM: I think that I will probably do pre-production stuff on the road, and then I’m going to cut with live musicians in Memphis. It will be both computer stuff, some programming, and live musicians. I need it to be a live feel, like it was in the 70’s, so I need the people in the room.
JK: You want it to be real, without putting you in debt, basically.
WM: Yeah, exactly.
JK: That’s one of the advantages of programming and everything, is that you can record much cheaper, but the downside is that a lot of times, you lose that realness that made a lot of the classic Soul music so special.
WM: Exactly, and that’s what I want to bring to it: authenticity. I need that live feel. It’s a fine line. I believe that the guys in England, they really figured it out, how to have that old sound, and make it so new, like they did with Amy Winehouse and Duffy. They were able to capture that stuff, but they made it so refreshing. That’s going to be the fine line that I have to create to.
JK: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me about your career and everything. It’s been a lot of fun, and I hope we’ll stay in touch.
WM: Thank you for taking the interest! I appreciate it, because the more I talk to you, and to different people along the way, the more it fine-tunes what it is I’m trying to do.
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.