Tell us about your new CD
I'm excited about this CD. "Made To Love Him" is my 5th studio album and it's a compilation of popular love songs. My executive producer Ron and I handpicked one song from each decade from the 1920's to this current decade. I cover everyone from Beyonce to Gershwin, Billy Joel and Luther Vandross. The title comes from the Stevie Wonder classic of the same name (with female pronoun). It was so much fun to reimagine these beautiful songs. We changed the genders to male to reflect my experience and that of some many people on this planet. I remember the first time I sang "Someone to Watch Over Me" with the male pronoun back in 2009. Just making that simple pronoun change made the world of a difference for me. It was one of the best performances I've given. I was so empowered. For me "Made To Love Him" is like meeting these songs all over again and recognizing something even more fascinating in them. I really appreciate the opportunity to have recorded this album.
What’s different about this CD from others you've released?
It's the first time I worked with studio musicians where we were all in the studio together. It was amazing! Before I started recording "Made To Love Him", I got a chance to visit the old Motown studios in Detroit. It was so inspiring to stand in the space where so many classic songs were recorded and hear how they were made. At Motown, everyone was in the studio together - singers, musicians, producers and sometimes songwriters. I got as close as I could to that model at Mavericks studios here in NYC. We filmed the whole process for a documentary. This is also the first time I've remade one of my own songs. There is one original song on "Made To Love Him" and it's from my 2001 debut album "I've Been Waiting for You".
What do you hope that people get or feel from your new CD?
I hope people feel love. I hope people play this album to set a romantic mood. I hope couples will play "Made To Love Him" at their weddings. I hope LGBTQ people feel affirmed and inspired and uplifted hearing their experiences in music. And I hope it helps everyone take another look at what we believe love is and isn't. I think it's a great way to spread the message that love is love regardless of how it manifests.
Tell us about the CD cover and what inspired the images.
I was inspired by those classic Blue Note album covers from 1950s and 60s. Usually I have a separate photo shot for the album, but this time I invited photographers Jerry James and Rod Risbrook into the studio and used there images in the artwork. The cover is a homage to that era when the singer and musician went into the studio together and recorded music live. It is tribute to a time when this kind of music was honored and treasured. I asked my friend Baron to attend a recording session and then asked him to create the cover and artwork.
How much input do you give through the producing process?
I have produced all my albums, so I usually give a whole lot of input... lol. But we had so many talented, experienced musicians on "Made To Love Him" so I let go of the reigns and did my best to enjoy the ride. I still made the final decisions but I listened to a lot of input this time around.
Do you play on your own albums or bring in studio musicians?
I bring in studio musicians, and on this album we had the budget for some amazing musicians. We had Swiss Chris on drums (John Legend), Lonnie Plaxico on bass (Cassandra Wilson, Wynton Marsalis), John F. Adams on keys (Taylor Dane, Harry Belafonte), and NAACP Image Award nominee Onaje Allen Gumbs on piano. We also had Trans violinist Tona Brown's string quartet (Aida String Ensemble), Lesbian flutist Yael Acher, and my longtime guitarist Marcelo Cardozo. It was important for me to include not only music from different periods (1920s - 2010s) and musical genres (Jazz, Acoustic, Reggae, Gospel and R&B/Soul), but also to have musicians representing a wide range of sexualities and ethnic backgrounds. It formed the perfect foundation for an album that celebrates love and inclusion.
How often do you think artists should release new music to keep fans interested?
I release music as often as I feel inspired to and I think artists should follow their internal compasses. I think there are times when we feel creative and productive and songs and albums come together quickly. And there are other times when projects take longer to develop and I think we should honor both experiences. I've seen artist knock out song after song and be successful and I've seen artists take years between releases and be successful. I think the key is following one's own guides.
Is there a genre of music that you secretly love and wouldn’t mind recording in someday?
I've been listening to a lot of classical music, there seems to be a crop of young artists and composers and I love what they are doing, it's fresh and beautiful. I would love to experiment with that genre someday. I would also love to do an album with just voice and guitar. I think there is such simple pure beauty in that.
Would you consider yourself a perfectionist? If so, how do you deal with letting something go and released to be heard and judged?
I don't consider myself a perfectionist, I work on songs until I get a feeling of satisfaction. I believe I'm here to create music that makes my heart sing, I believe that is what makes a great song or performance. I believe perfection is an illusion - what is perfect to one person is mediocrity to another. I shudder at some of my earlier recordings, but there are people who love those same recordings. Instead of perfection, I strive for truth and honesty and integrity, does the music create a feeling, does it move me. It's my experience that some of the most moving performances aren't perfect.
Do you think you have missed out on anything by being OUT in your career?
Not at all, I think the opposite happened with my career. It took off when I released the "Love" music video which showed the budding love between two college boys. Gay radio has always been supper supportive and I've been blessed with the Outmusic and RightOut TV awards and whole lot of press mentions. I recently did an iSessions event which is a interview and performance in front of an audience. It was very intimate and there were a number of college students there. I played guitar and sang and then spoke about my life and music and particularly my life as an out artist. The audience was mixed - LGBTQ, straight, black, white, men, women, adults, youth. There was so love and acceptance in the room, it really blew me away. Afterwards an African American woman came up to me, she had her teen son with her and she gave me a heartfelt thank you for sharing my life and work with her and especially her son. It was the best confirmation.
How have you changed as a person in the past 5 years?
I don't think I've changed since I was 5 years old... Lol I know more about acceptance, and I know more words and concepts with which to express and identify myself. But at the core I am still that dreamy child who loves to create and play in the sun.
Who do you admire in the LGBT Community?
My heroes are Bayard Rustin and James Baldwin. Rustin shaped the tone of the Civil Rights movement and Baldwin's books showed me who I was when I was searching. But in addition to these famous men, I admire anyone who has the courage to be who they are. Not everyone can grasp that closet door, turn the handle and make it out into the sunshine. So anyone who manages to accomplish this has my highest admiration.
How do you feel the fight for human/equal rights is going?
We aren't where we could be, but we are moving closer and closer to that point, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes we stumble, but we are moving forward. I work with SASOD, a LGBTQ human rights organization in my homeland of Guyana and I recently helped them celebrate their 10 year anniversary. We were on the radio and in the press, I was so proud of that progress. When I was growing up, no one was talking about LGBTQ issues and rights over any medium. Last December, I helped raise over $1,500.00 for a LGBT Center there, so things are definitely changing.
What do you find most attractive in someone?
The people I find attractive are the ones who are comfortable with who they are, comfortable with the positives and perceived negatives. It is very subtle, but it permeates everything they do and say. I can feel it and I love it.
What is your favorite thing to do on a day off?
I've started taking pictures with my phone (I love Instagram:). I love sitting in cafés reading and people watching. I love walking around, exploring the city.
Finish these sentences for us...
The song that changed my life was… Sarah McLachlan's "Fumbling to Ecstasy" and in particular the line "Companions to our demons, they will dance and we will play..." It was such an eye opener. That we could make friends with our demons - our dark shadows, the things that embarrass us and scare us, even the things that make us angry. We can make peace and eventually even dance with these elemental energies and histories.
If I could go back and say one thing to my teenage self, it would be ... It's ok to be gay. It's ok to be an introvert. It's ok to be an artist. Your brown skin and curly hair are beautiful and so is your smile. Do the things that make you happy, and do them often. It's ok if people don't approve of what you do or think or say. What's important is that you approve. Take as much time as you need. Move as quickly as you like. Change your mind as often as you like. Try as many things as interest you. Say no when you want to. Say yes when you feel like it. Be thankful for every little thing that happens to you. Write it all down in a journal. Laugh as much as you can.
What keeps me up at night... is Netflix and good books...lol