Judith Hill is an amazing talent who is about to break out into the scene in a major way. In early 2009, Judith shared the stage with Michael Jackson and acted as the only female lead vocalist for his “This Is It” tour before he passed away. She is the rare combo of both beauty, passion, talent, and determination that the music scene is lacking today. She has recorded and performed with ELton John, Usher, Smokey Robinson, and many more. On the heels of writing and recording her debut solo album, I caught up with her to dig deeper and ask her where her passion came from, what it was like to share the stage with Michael Jackson, and the current state of music. Read below for the full Q&A…
It has always struck me as fascinating when a young person knows what they want to do early on in their life. I read you began recording at only four years old! Was this because you came from a family with a musical background?
Judith: Yes, growing up in a musical family really played a big role in why I’m an artist today. When I was young, my parents saw the talent and pushed me. It wasn’t until I was older when I realized this is what I was born to do. I’m so thankful that my parents trained me during those earlier years.
You met Michael Jackson through networking that ultimately scored you an audition for the ‘This Is It’ tour. Were you reluctant to even do the audition due to nerves or did you have the self-confidence knowing you were good enough to nail the audition?
Judith: I was pretty confident going into the audition. I knew that I could give them what they wanted. I had been singing and training to do this type of work my whole life. However, I was nervous when I finally got on that stage with Michael. It was all surreal and too good to be true.
Michael Jackson has been known as an extreme perfectionist with his live shows. If you could pick one thing that you have learned while working with him on stage, what would be the most important thing you took away from the experience?
Judith: Michael taught me the importance of being a leader. The moment he stepped on that stage, he created magic and the rest of us followed. He dreamed it, lived it, and breathed it. He showed me that anything is possible if you can envision it and work really hard to achieve it. Whatever was created in his mind was recreated on that stage. What an incredible masterpiece!! As an artist, I’m watching the same thing happen as I take control and aggressively fight for my dreams to be realized.
Why do you think the music industry today tends to stray away from the sounds of funk/soul, and concentrate more on pop?
Judith: Lately, people want music that will keep them moving throughout the day. In this fastpast society, appreciation for the art is diminishing. Now, most people listen to music while driving, jogging, partying, etc. Therefore, commercial music is all very uptempo and lightweight. As a result, the radio stations only promote pop dance music, and for many people, radio still serves as the lawmaker of what is accepted and what is not. I think this is one reason why soul music is getting lost in the shuffle.
I think funk music, on the other hand, is not being promoted yet because people are not use to the sound. But, I think that the next wave of music will include funk. Pop culture has gone so far to the right with synth sounds and house beats; the consumers are ready to hear something different. Funk gives people the same uptempo feeling, but with a different palette of colors. I’m very eager to be a trendsetter in this way because funk music is in my bones. I also think soul music will find its way back to the mainstage. At the end of the day, people still love it, and that’s what counts.
Your latest video you stated you wanted to go for a rustic ‘Star Wars vibe’ and you have also met with people such as Spike Lee. Do you feel the creativity of movies has a direct impact on your music?
Judith: Yes. I am a big science-fiction freak and a movie lover. I find that a lot of my ideas come from the movies I’ve watched and the places I’ve been to. Every song that I write has an extreme visual element. I’m also a very nostalgic person. I get a lot of my inspiration from my childhood storybooks, movies and television shows. There’s something very powerful about the way a child views the world and the imagination that comes with it. Sometimes, it is the most honest and effective way to tell a story. However, I also find that a lot of my music deals with real life issues. I love capturing images of people in the real world and showing their struggle, pain, and beauty. This dichotomy of the real world and fantasy world is something I play with a lot in my music. One of my greatest joys is creating mini films/music videos. When I write songs, I’m writing as though I’m directing a film. You will see this in my videos and live shows.
You’ve been all over the world from India, to Africa, to Shanghai. As an Asian/American singer do you feel like you have to represent and do you think singer/songwriters are the best interpreters of their own work?
Judith: Most of my songs are broad enough to relate to everyone. However, I will reference my experience as a biracial person and the struggle that come with it. As I travel the world, I see the same struggles repeated in different ethnic groups. In a way, we all have experienced discrimination in some way. As an African/Asian American, I feel proud to represent both races. But, I’m also deeply passionate about all races of the world coming together. I think music is one of the most powerful ways to do this.
Most of the time, singer/songwriters are the best interpreters of their work. However, there are times when an artist has written an amazing song that transcends time, and many other artists cover the song even better than the original. But, then there are artists who write only for themselves. Their music is so stylized, that they are the only ones who can pull it off. I appreciate both types of artists. I find myself somewhere in the middle. Some of my songs are very easy to cover, while others are extremely stylized to myself.
We’ve all heard of Madonna expressing an interest for the work of Aphex Twin, while Björk has worked with Mark Bell, and Bogdan Raczynski. How would you react if someone as ‘diverse’ were asking you to work with them?
Judith: I love to work with people who are so different from me. I find that the more extremely left a producer is, the more exciting for someone like me. I am the type of artist who is interested in cross-genres and inventing new sounds. So, I also welcome the adventure of working with someone with a totally different musical understanding. Sometimes, these types of collaborations are the best ones.
I ask because I am curious to see how important it is to have musical chemistry despite how big the talent is. Is this important in the studio?
Judith: Chemistry is everything. I worked with some very well known artists, singers, and musicians. I’ve find that a reputation and name doesn’t mean anything if the chemistry is not right. On the other hand, I’ve worked with people who haven’t done much. Yet, the collaboration was amazing because our ideas merged together and created something very cool. But, this doesn’t happen all the time. It is very important for the producer to understand the essence of the artist; otherwise the songs will not represent the artist. A collaboration is like a marriage. We have to understand each other at a very deep level, reconcile the problematic differences, and celebrate the differences that make us a good match.
Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of you until just recently. As far as I am concerned, that is a crime as you have such a tremendous voice and have worked and appeared with some of the biggest talents on the planet. Why haven’t we heard more of you?
Judith: I haven’t released anything yet. I’ve come close many times, but I felt like the music and the timing was wrong. However, I am very excited for the things that are developing this year. My music will be released very soon. Sometimes, you have to wait for the right opportunity to present itself. It has been a long road, but definitely worth the wait. Creativity is not something to be rushed, and the business is constantly shifting. New artists have to be their own pioneers and relentlessly seek the right team and business opportunities while avoiding the minefields along the way.
What can new listeners come to expect from your debut album?
Judith: The debut album is very funk driven. You will hear classic soul blended with electronica. It is a very unique record with twists and turns and a lot of fun lyrics. It has everything from soul wrenching ballads to crazy rock and roll/funk songs. I’ve had a blast creating this album, and I think people will really enjoy it.
Lastly, what can people expect from you (music, tour dates, etc.) through 2011-2012.
Judith: My band will be doing spot dates here and there in 2011-2012, until the release of the album. You will be able to see the dates on my website. Stay tuned for new releases and performances around the world.