Introducing, Marley Munroe, aka Lady Blackbird from LA, a vocalist who has been a revelation during these uprecedented and strange times. Marley is a singer, songwriter and drawing many comparisons with the likes of Billie Holiday, Chaka Khan, and Amy Winehouse, amongst many others. You may know her as Lady Blackbird. Welcome to 1BTN, Marley, how you doing?
I’m doing well, how are you?
I’m very well thankyou very much, I’m good.
Thank you you for that wonderful intro! (laugh)
My pleasure! For those out there who might not have heard of your work yet, would you kindly tell us a little about your background?
Sure, I grew up in a small town in the south west and grew up singing. I grew up singing all around in churches, weddings. You know, there’s not too much a small town can offer, but I’ll tell you what, my mother found it! (laugh) If it was there, my mother would find it. We would drive all around the south west area, different churches and I was actually signed to a Christian label at 12 out of Nashville, Go To Records. So, I have always done my own little recordings. We would get the money together and go into the studio, I think I recorded one of 5, and one at 8, so, you know, I have been at it quite some time! I was born in the south west and then I spent alot of time in Nashville, Miami and eventually moved to New York, which I still consider home; although i don’t have a home there anymore. From New York i made it hear to LA. I was signed to Epic Records for a short time back in 2013, and there was just some creative differences there and we parted ways musically, yeh, i just kind of went on reinventing everything and rewriting and writing songs and new material and I linked back up with one of the new producers I had worked with before named, Chris Seefried, we started back in the studio and he started bringing this team in and they liked the material and what they were hearing and then this new project started from that.
Your voice is so powerful and emotive, it belies your years somewhat. Who influenced you growing up?
Growing up I had the legends. I had the greats of Bobby Womack and Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway and Chaka Khan. So, that’s who I listened to growing up, who I learned from, who I wanted to be like but now you might hear Jay Z playing, you know, I love Coldplay, I love The Killers, you know. I love music.
You mentioned Chris Seefried there, how did you and Chris initially connect?
Me and Chris connected here, we were set to work on a project, I can’t remember what that was for, but some project that we that was going on that we were shooting for. We loved working together, so we stayed connected and wrote a few songs together, not like what we have done here, it was a different kind of sound then. After that, we didn’t necessarily lose touch but we both had lots of stuff going on within our lives. When we came back together I started doing some background vocals for him and this and that, whatever he may need. Then we started writing again and we had the idea for this project. I have been doing this for a while and tried my hand at different genres but this was really about stripping everything down, let’s create a project that’s raw and vulnerable, basically going back to basics. Focused around my voice, not so much a big production that I had always done. That’s how this project ‘Black Acid Soul’ came to be.
So, the first single released this month, the beautiful Blackbird. I have got to be honest, when I first heard that I actually thought it was an alternative version cut by Nina Simone.
When I heard it was you i was blown away. It’s is a stunning interpretation and a big introduction from Lady Blackbird to the world. What drew you to that record? Also, did the political climate in the States influence your decision to cut that?
No. Thats a song – and I find that not a lot of people are familiar with that song – that’s always been one of my favourites of Nina’s and that was the very first song at the start of this project that I had brought to Chris that I had always wanted to do something with. I even tried to sing it live once and i just couldn’t quite work it out but I knew that I wanted to do something with the record. He actually loved it. The story is that we were in the studio and he played this awkward song and says go in there, lets do a quick, you know, vocal just to see and it was to no drums, you know, because there is really no beat to this song and i’m kind of all over the place! (laugh) so I sang this quick vocal to this weird noise and then that’s the only one that we actually recorded in Chris’s studio and the band went and played around me, rather than all together because that was just supposed to be a demo. The song was just working and then as far as when it got released, it was already chosen to be the first single, so, no, it didnt have any impact like that at all in choosing to release it, it was absolutely, actually, extremely unfortunate that we could even talk about how much that relates…but it was already chosen to to be the single.
I think its made it all the more of an important record because its such a deep record in the first place…
What followed shortly afterward was quite incredible
Was there any story behind you recording at Prince’s famed Sunset Studios? I had read somewhere that Chris, your producer, and Prince were known to each other and collaborated back in the day.
No, that’s just where we chose to record…yeh. Ah, what an amazing time that was though, to be in there and just…you know, you work hard for a long time, so when you finally start to see some payoff and things really coming together, its wonderful.
So, how was recording in Prince’s own, Studio B? I imagine there was a wonderful energy in there.
Boy, is there! (laugh) I tell you, we were all taking pictures, and … oh, my god, it was amazing, yeh! I was…I felt so lucky and grateful to, you know, not only to have seen this project come to fruition and…but, yeah, the little perks like that (laughs)
So, tell us about the band you had playing with you because there is some real heritage within that group there you got.
Ah, I’ve got Darren Johnson on the keys, he played with Miles Davis and just … unbelievable, I’ve got Johnny Flower on upright bass and then, Chris is actually playing guitar. When we first started, the first five tracks was just me, Darren and Johnny, and then Jimmy Paxson we had brought in on the latter half, so we brought in drums then, and he’s…you know, Fleetwood Mac! These players are absolutely…I’m the luckiest girl in the world to have such a band so stellar, so phenomenal. Seeing them play half the time, you know, because this is the first time I had recorded it like that. You know, usually the track is produced and down and you go in and, you know, record over whatever piece by piece. So, we went in and recorded top to bottom, everybody live, one take all the way through and I tell you what, sometimes you get so caught up in hearing them play, its so gorgeous, you damn near forget to come in! (laugh) “Sing Marley, sing!” (laugh)
So, going back to first single release, Blackbird. I guess somewhat unusually for a straight up jazz record, remixes followed quite quickly and two lovely reworks, one from our own, Emma Jean Thackray, producing a wonderful shuffling, electronic jazz version, and then a deep house rework from New York’s, Foremost Poets. I’m guessing you were aware of them before they remixed the records.
All these remixes have come from my team. From Chris, Ross, Allen…yeh. They are putting all these fabulous people on it, and I am so blown away by everyone that I hear. I said before, this is the first time I have actually heard anybody remix any of my material. So, to hear these songs that start out as jazz, you know, just soft thing, and then to get it back and just, you know…yeh, fantastic! (laugh). Its amazing what these remixes, and how it can elevate it and take it just to a whole other world.
I was going to ask you, actually, how you feel when you get these remixes back. So, you get a brand new 4/4 house rework, for example, which is so different from the way you recorded it. Does that throw you, or is it more of a wow moment?
Its just, Wow! Because, you know, my interpretation of is what you heard, so I would have never thought to even hear it like that, you know, its amazing. They have done some amazing work, each and every one of them.
The remixes are all really great, no question. So, following that first single release we have second track from the album ‘Beware the Stranger’, which is a stunning rework and a reiminagination of ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ and both the original by Crystal Generation and then the later cover by Voices of East Harlem are up tempo soul classics. Again, you’ve managed to flip that and make it completely your own. How did that record connect with you and lead you to record such an earnest and intense downtempo version?
That one…Ross brought that one on board and, to be honest, when I first heard it I was not familiar with the song and I wasn’t even sure that it fit me or this album, you know, not something that I would have done. We were in the studio and we were listening through and it’s that end part, that quiet piece at the end, that really kind of like struck a chord and Chris is like “lets do it from there and kind of stay on that for a while” which is then, you know, rolled into Black Acid Soul. But, it was that quiet part that really, um, gave the inspiration to slowing it down and then we continued and made the whole thing, we flipped the gender…(laugh)…changed the name! I was like, “OK, I get it for me now!” and luckily it seemed to work.
You are so adept at completely changing the feel of the original song, it just wasn’t the same record. Its not really until the lyrics drop and you go “Hang on a minute, I know this!” Flip side of the coin, almost, I suppose, that record. Its quite an incredible shift.
You know, its weird, its like this Northern Soul tune and like, we are making a jazz album, what are we going to do? (laugh)
Yeah, an amazing piece of work and, again, the remixes are incredible. That Ashley Beedle remix by the way! They have all been on every rotation at 1BTN. You’ve got legends there; Matthew Herbert, Ashley Beedle, obviously Chris doing a remix himself. I guess Ross Allen has a lot to do with introducing you to a number of these UK producers.
LB: Oh, absolutely! (laugh) Yeh, he’s killing it with these producers! I’m so thankful.
So, the third and latest release from the album, an absolutely lovely rework of a classic soul record ‘Collage’ recorded originally by the James Gang and the Three Degrees. Your version stayed quite true to the recording by The Three Degrees, whilst retaining the Lady Blackbird originality. Tell us about that, and was that one of your choices also?
That was another, Ross! Yeh, the amount of songs in his head never ceases to amaze. So, we started listening to that and, yeh, The Three Degrees is the version we ended up liking, you know, between the two that we were kind of trying to go more towards. So, yeh, that one’s not changed too too too much, but [laughs] maybe a little flair, or something. We kept that one pretty true.
Were you expecting all this? With this crazy year being as it has, so many artists have been super productive and lots of them haven’t been heard amongst the influx of so much choice. Yet others have soared above the rest and really made an impact, and you’re certainly one of them.
Well, you know, you never…you never know. This was so new, who knew that this was going to hit, and who knows what to do, you know, or what the right move is, but I do have a great team that is helping to really just propel everything and get it out there and I’m very grateful for the positive response. Yeh, we were supposed to be doing these live shows. Its not quite as envisioned but, you know, you gotta do what you gotta do.
I guess despite everything its been a blessing for you to be able to get into the studio still and record, right?
I tell you, I’ve been in the studio a lot. I did a feature on Trombone Shorty’s album that will be out next year. Also, a band called Vintage Trouble, I feature on that as well. I’m just writing for the next album, you know. We have been in there writing for the next album already, and its just staying creative, staying creative and trying to stay busy.
So, we all wait eagerly for your debut album Black Acid Soul; you’ve mentioned it there a couple of times. Tell us about that and when does the drop?
That will drop soon, its looking now. Yeh, keep your ears peeled for singles and remixes and…maybe a little bit more to come (laugh)
Alright, fantastic. You just mentioned you were recording album two already?
Not recording, but we are starting to write. We are starting to write.
Wow! No letting up.
(laugh) You can’t!
This year has been such an odd and very strange one. If there is any upside to this, its when we finally cut loose, there’s going to be this incredible body of work from artists thats been recorded in 2020 that are going to get out and tour it. Do you get to put dates in the diary yet or have you just got to sit tight and wait and see what happens?
We’re kinda sitting tight but talks on this year, perhaps a trip to London, to the UK. So, hopefully that all…is true [laughs]
Fingers crossed for that. That will be incredible.
Yeh, fingers crossed for that. Maybe we meet in person in April.
Yeh, that would be lovely, yeh! Would be hard to come by a ticket, I would imagine, but I’ll be pulling out all the stops!
Well, I just want to say, thankyou for such incredible music that you have produced this year and the thing that you’re doing is such an original, breath of fresh air…
I think that’s what’s caught people’s imagination more than anything else. Its almost like its throwback to this incredible era of golden singers but in such a contemporary style…I want to thank you so much for your time Lady Blackbird. Thank you very very much.
Thank you for having me. Thankyou.
Its my pleasure, and you keep doing what you do, and we’ll hope to see you soon in the UK, for sure.
Absolutely, thank you so much for having me. Ciao!
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