New York, April, 2006: Though well respected among singers and musicians in their homeland, Brit soul act, Hil St. Soul have realized that the States is where their musical future lies.
Hil St. Soul’s Hiliary Mwelwa is a rare commodity: a U.K. soul singer that can not only compete with but better many of her U.S. counterparts vocally. Over the last few years Hil St. Soul, via two well received albums, “Soul Organic” (1999) and Copasetik & Cool (2005) has carved an important niche in the landscape of credibly cool, underground soul. It’s valuable terrain artistically because it means forgoing obviously commercial sound for something that comes directly from the soul. If hit records were sold on artistic credibility alone Hil St. Soul would be multi-platinum by now.
Such, however, as been the frustration that Hil St. Soul, feel about releasing their particular brand of music in the pop orientated UK market that they (being Mwelwa and regular co-writer Victor Redwood Sawyer) have decided to forgo their homeland and sell their new album, “Soulidified” directly to the US, via Shanachie Records.
And what a good album it is, from the beatific bitter/sweet “Goodbye” to the bluesy, soulful ballad “We Don’t Talk” which seems tailor made for Mary J. Blige and the mellow neo-soul of “Smokey Joint” and “Baby Come Over” with Dwele, Hil St. Soul have crafted an album that is being touted as one of this year’s best true soul albums.
Born in Lusaka, Zambia and raised in London from the age of five Hil St. Soul’s Hiliary Mwelwa was raised on a diet of classic US R&B (Stevie, Marvin, Aretha etc) via her father. After graduating with a degree in biological sciences from Westminster University, Mwelwa decided to pursue her musical dreams. Her two albums to date have secured her a cult following in the UK & US that has seen her tour with the likes of Macy Gray, Angie Stone and D’Angelo.
The overseas acclaim led Mwlewla to collaborate on the new album with a host of different songwriters from both sides of the pond and is by far her most ‘US’ commercially viable album the North Londoner has released to date.
Q: I noticed that this album has a far more US influence than your other two, both in the sound and the people who worked on it with you – musicians, writers and guest artists.
HIL ST. SOUL: When I did my last album, this went a bit pear shaped so I ended up spending a lot of time in the States through my publishers BMG. I went to a writer’s convention in Nashville and spent time in New Jersey and Philadelphia. Many of the songs were great as they were so we kept those and we had some featured artists, too. It wasn’t intentional but it happened that I was in the States a lot so we had a lot of input from American writers and musicians.
Q: Do you have any favorites on the album?
HSS: “Time For Love”. A friend of mine, a great singer/songwriter wrote that song for me and it really captured my sentiments on the way the world is right now. The world can be quite depressing when you watch the news and seeing what’s going on, so that song acts as a form of relief.
I like the Dwele, “Baby Come Over” because it’s a duet and he brought his vibe to the table.
Q: What are the most personal songs for you on there?
HSS: The most personal ones would have to be “Goodbye” and “Okay” I wrote “Okay” having been pissed off at the world and dealing with turmoil in my personal life and just coming through the other side. It was a turning point for me.
“Goodbye” – It’s about a relationship breakdown and going about the process of healing to a point when you feel good about yourself and optimistic about the future.
Q: Do you find it easier to get attention from men in the UK or the US?
HSS: I get more attention in the States but I think the attention is more superficial. I heard this from other girlfriends who are over there. Americans are fascinated by the whole English accent. I’m cautious but and I know you can’t paint everyone with the same brush but it’s almost like it’s a holiday vibe – the novelty factor. I’m not sure how real it is.
Q: Obviously your music has an immediate fan base in the US and now your primary label is a US label and you’ve worked with a lot of US musicians, it seems logical for you to move to States to live.
HSS: It’s something I would consider if everything was in place but the thing I do miss when I’m over in the States is my family and friends as I don’t have that many friends in the States. If I was to settle down with someone over there, maybe it would be different but my whole life and lifestyle is geared to England.
Q: I know it can be frustrating for British soul acts because the environment in the UK is generally so pop orientated.
HSS: This new album hasn’t even been released in the UK. I get more attention in the States for the type of music I’m doing. I don’t really have to explain myself. In the UK, it’s all geared around the pop world, so if you want to fit in here it’s a huge compromise musically and I find that very frustrating.
The problem with a lot of us British artists is that we look at the UK like it’s the be all and end all and there’s a huge world out there – not just the States but the rest of Europe and Japan. A lot of people are into the type of music that I do.
Q: Have you noticed a difference in production styles and taste in urban music between the US & UK?
HSS: I think in black UK music, the soul thing has become even more underground because people are focused on other types of music like grime and that’s what’s happening among the you kids, so the soul thing has taken a back seat. It’s a joke. You have for example, someone like Terri Walker who has an incredible voice but it’s just hard work.
Q: What was the last CD you bought?
HSS: The last CD I bought was Anthony Hamilton because I’m such a fan of his voice and his music.
Q: In your as yet to be written autobiography what chapter/paragraphs would be the most shocking or surprising?
HSS: I think if I was to write an autobiography of my life I really can’t say anything crazy as happened. It’s not like I’m a Britney Spears with all this drama happening. I really have a quite peaceful normal life. I go through the same normal stuff as a lot of other people.
Q: Do you find men are attracted to you because you’re an artist and singer or does that intimidate them?
HSS: The level I’m at is not like I’m a Mariah Carey, I’m not a superstar or anything. I love singing, it’s what I do. I’m fortunate to do it and earn a little bit of change at it and pay some bills, so it’s never been an issue. I’m also a quiet, reserved kind of person that stays at home a lot anyway. It’s not like I go to a lot of clubs or things like that.
Q: I know other musicians and artists respect you musically because there’s so few true soul acts around any more, in the US & UK.
HSS:I think people respect me for sticking to my guns and doing the kind of music that I believe in and I haven’t sold out to just try and get into the charts over here. This is my third album and with each record there’s an improvement.
Q: Has it helped being signed to a major publisher, BMG. Have they given you any good connections?
HSS: They’ve been very helpful. When they first asked me to go to Nashville, I wasn’t too sure about it. I mean it’s the home of country music which isn’t my thing but it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had because country music songwriters have to be the best writers out there because their music is all about the song. There’s no real gimmickry. I learned a lot from working with other people because it brings out the best in me and keeps me writing. The songs may not be for my project but it keeps the creativity flowing and ultimately I’m all the better for it.
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.