Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

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Feature

Angela Johnson: Up close and personal

Angela Johnson @bluesandsoul.com
Angela Johnson @bluesandsoul.com Angela Johnson @bluesandsoul.com Angela Johnson @bluesandsoul.com Angela Johnson @bluesandsoul.com

New York contemporary soul singer/songwriter/producer/instrumentalist Angela Johnson this month follows-up her 2008 LP âA Womanâs Touch Vol. 1â with the more uptempo, dance-oriented direction of her new, fourth solo album âItâs Personalâ. Which - in addition to the recent European dance-floor favourite âBetterâ - also includes songwriting input from fellow Dome Records artist Eric Roberson, plus Josh Milan of legendary New Jersey Garage music trio Blaze.

A classically-trained violinist, keyboard-player and vocalist, Angelaâs music career began at State University of New York - where she formed a band with three other students that would later evolve into the critically-acclaimed soul/dance outfit Coolyâs Hot Box. Meanwhile, after recording two well-received albums as singer and keyboardist with the band, in 2002 the diversely-talented Ms. Johnson released her debut solo album âThey Donât Knowâ. Which she has since followed-up with two further solo sets - 2005âs âGot To Let It Goâ plus 2008âs aforementioned âAngela Johnson Presents A Womanâs Touch Vol. 1â (her first âproducerâ album, which featured fellow prominent indie-soul vocalists like Rahsaan Patterson, Maysa, Eric Roberson and Frank McComb).

Meanwhile, with Angela set to revisit the UK in May to make her solo debut at The Southport Weekender plus a return to Londonâs Jazz Café, she now reacquaints herself with Pete Lewis to primarily discuss her already-acclaimed new LP.

âWith this album I definitely wanted to kind of go back to my rootsâ, begins an ever-charming and articulate Ms. Johnson: âYou know, when I started out in Coolyâs Hot Box I was dealing with uptempo, danceable tracks. Which is something I feel very comfortable doing, but wasnât necessarily something I tried to do with my FIRST couple of solo projects - where I was really more trying to establish myself as a producer-and-arranger and really test the water. Whereas with this NEW album Iâm comfortable where I am, and I want to DANCE! This time round, instead of hiding behind the keyboards, I want to get up in front of the stage, have a good time, and share that with the audience!â

âBut then, in addition to giving you something to dance to and celebrate with, with this new project I also wanted to get a little more PERSONAL with myself through my musicâ, continues the instantly-chatty New Yorker: âYou know, Iâm a mother, a singer, a songwriter, a recording artist, a producer, an arranger⦠And, amidst all that, I have to try and balance my life the best way I CAN! So the title âItâs Personalâ does signify how I wanted my audience to really get to know me as a person, and also just as a woman in this business. I wanted them to know that Iâve had lots of ups and downs in life, that Iâm not always happy - even if I AM usually doing happy music - and that my life isnât perfect! And at the same time, I also wanted to send a message that itâs OK to not be perfect, and that you can still receive love and support from your family. Which is something that I do have, and that Iâm very appreciative of.â

Indeed, one of the songs that arguably best describes Angelaâs attitude to life is âIndie In Meâ, the sassy, funky ode to independence that she co-penned with fellow indie soul pioneer Eric Roberson: âWell, Eric and I go back a long wayâ, she explains: âSo, after all the shows weâve done together in the last couple of years, I approached him to write a song for me. Which, outside of Coolyâs Hot Box, is something Iâve never done before - you know, have someone else to write for my LYRICALLY. And, with this being a project where I was basically stating who I am as an artist and a human being, it was something that could have proven a little tricky! â

âSo what Eric actually did was e-mail me a bunch of questions about certain parts of my life, so he could apply that information to the song he was writing!â, she recalls with a smile: âSo I filled out his questionnaire - which really was like an interview! - and sent it back to him⦠And then, when he eventually sent the song to me, I thought it was PERFECT! It was exactly what I was looking for - and I particularly liked the way heâd written it as though he was going to sing the song HIMSELF! You know, one of my favourite things about Eric is how he phrases things sometimes like a rapper when heâs singing. So Iâd especially asked him not to smooth it out when he was working on the demo, because I wanted that feel on my record.â

With Angelaâs records being released in the UK through respected British soul independent Dome Records, she unsurprisingly has strong feelings about the state of todayâs indie soul scene in general: âWell, Iâm happy where weâre GOING - even though weâre not exactly where we WANT to beâ, she asserts with honesty: âYou know, I do think the indies today are showing more power, and that weâre definitely making our statement in terms of the kinda music that we wanna put OUT. But at the same time it is unfortunate that we are still fighting to be heard on major radio stations! I mean, I canât speak for everybody on the independent scene, but something I think that we all are trying to achieve is to get our music heard on a much larger level. So that, say, people in Middle America can hear it, people in Korea can hear it... You know, we just wanna go out there and share our music and share our gift with the WORLD!â

âSo in that way it is a struggle,â she concedes: âBut at the same time, I also believe that Iâm in a place right now where I SHOULD be. And, even if my music is NEVER played on a major radio station, Iâll be OK with that. Because I know that I can still tour and get people to know of me THAT way. Plus of course I have to say thank-goodness for internet radio and other resources like I-tunes, where people CAN hear indie music today⦠But, having said that, it would still be good to be able to just ride in your car, turn on major radio station, and hear your music being played!â

Meanwhile, the ever-forthcoming Ms. Johnson closes our brightânâbreezy chat by revealing some interesting new projects she has in the pipeline: âOh, I always have something that Iâm in the midst of doing, because I never stop WORKING!â, she laughs: âAnd one project Iâm venturing into right now is childrenâs music, which is something Iâm very interested in doing. Because to me - having worked with children before - itâll be an awesome adventure to kinda combine this world of soul music and apply it to a way of speaking to CHILDREN!â

âYou know, today I feel we are losing our children to a lotta the music thatâs out there right now that isnât so children-friendly, but at the same time is not really positive EITHERâ, she observes openly: âAnd so to be able to expose our kids to music thatâs very honest and truthful and at the same time appealing to them would be very exciting!.. So yeah, I am looking into doing that, while at the same time doing more music with other artists - whose names I canât reveal right now for contractual reasons - for my next âproducerâ album. You know, Iâm always on the go, trying to create other avenues for my music to be played and heard⦠And Iâm definitely looking forward to doing it all over again on âA Womanâs Touch Vol. 2â!â

Angela performs at The Jazz Café, London on May 6, and at the Southport Weekender 46 Festival (which runs May 7 to 9 inclusive)

Angelaâs album âItâs Personalâ is released April 12 through Dome
Words PETE LEWIS

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