Meshell Ndegeocello Comes To Durham This Week
Throughout her 20-plus years as a performing artist, Meshell Ndegeocello has remained true to her creative craft. We'll welcome her to Durham on Wednesday for a live performance.
While the singer-songwriter has seen surges in her popularity during her career, Ndegeocello has consistently made soulful, interesting music reagrdless of its potential commercial appeal. Our correspondent Sarah Baicker spoke to this incredibly talented artist in adavnce of the show for a feature in the Winter 2015 issue of our ShowTime magazine.
Meshell Ndegeocello wants to inspire you. The 46-year-old bass-playing singer-songwriter would never say so herself, but Ndegeocello wants fans who come to her show to feel moved enough to teach their children to play music, or to arrive home and pick up that long-ignored guitar.
“Either that, or you’ll just try to be kinder and nicer,” she says. “That’s all I’m selling you.”
Touring in support of her latest album Comet Come to Me, Ndegeocello will bring her tour to the Carolina Theatre on Feb. 18. We asked her about the new record, her recent influences and how things have changed since her first record almost 22 years ago.
For those who’ve never seen you perform, what is a Meshell Ndegeocello show like?
I’m trying to sell you the idea of being in the moment. I’m not trying to sell you the idea that you come to the show to try and recapture something that you once felt. Most people take from their catalogue. They say: “Come, I’ve done these songs.” With us, it’s: “Come if you’d like to come hear some music.” I want to entertain you, but I’m going to play some music that hopefully will make you feel things, hopefully be thought-provoking.
You’ve played at plenty of large festivals – does your performance change in a smaller setting like the Carolina Theatre?
The people are right there with you. They can see the intensity in my face if my amp sound is not where it needs to be. They can feel my paranoia about hitting the right notes. And you can feel them. You can feel the audience’s anxiety, or you can feel they’re antsy that their beer hasn’t come yet. You can hear people’s conversations sometimes.
It’s just a different vibe, and it takes a little more energy to go within and give the best musical experience that you can. It’s like, we’re all in this together. I can see you; I can smell you. The distance in a bigger place allows you to concentrate on the band and on the music, and it’s harder when it’s a tight space ... but I prefer that.
You’ve been playing plenty of songs recently from your newest record Comet Come to Me. Tell us about it.
I found myself writing songs with my friends. My neighbor helped write the song “Tom.” His life story is much more interesting than any song I’ve ever heard: He wrote a novel before there were laptops and someone stole the computer with the floppy disk in it with his novel that he worked years on. His life’s work, stolen. Gone in an instant. He never wrote anything again, but he would slip poetry and notes under my door, and I’d turn them into songs. I’m proud of that song because it means something to somebody else.
Then there’s the song “Friends.” I find social media such an interesting thing. Like, are these people really my friends? No! Not at all. All the songs on the record have a different feeling. It’s just me asking questions. It’s an amalgamation of ideas and thoughts – if that makes sense – with sonic landscapes attached to them.
Did listening to other artists help inspire you as you wrote?
Oh yes, all I do all day is listen to music. I’m a Bob Marley fan. I like a lot of jazz artists like John Coltrane, Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach. I love Erykah Badu. I love Black Sabbath. I really like this guy Perfume Genius – sonically, it’s just captivating.
You’ve been making records for more than 20 years. That’s a long time...
When you say it like that ... yeah! It is a long time.
...so things must have changed a lot over the course of your career.
I don’t want to sound arrogant, but nothing’s changed for me. I grew up wanting to be like Stevie Wonder, Prince, Roberta Flack. I knew there was something socially connected to being a musician. But what I see as someone who’s observant, I don’t think you can have these megastars anymore.
Marketing is different. You really have to sell yourself – your intimate life, your whole being. In the ’90s, you could create some persona that would guard you – protect you – from the public, but now people want some contrived idea of what’s really you. Oh, and access to music. I used to get six-figure budgets to make a recording. We’d go into the studio and hire string musicians. I sound like I’m 80! Technology has allowed us to go into a micro studio – a micro world – and still create pieces of work that can be sold. It’s no longer this secret magic thing. Everyone knows how to make a record, and you can make it in five minutes and upload it to SoundCloud and be heard.
When it comes down to it, what do you love most about touring?
Being with my friends. This is the first time in the last five years where I actually have band mates that are my friends. When we go out, we just have a really good time. And we’re adults – we’re no longer like, “Let’s get smashed and trash stuff!” We find a good restaurant, maybe enjoy a good bottle of wine and see a movie. We’re all lucky to be a part of this fellowship of musicians, and we’re just trying to enjoy our time on the planet.