An Interview With Singer SY SMITH All About Her Latest and Fifth Studio Album, ‘Sometimes A Rose With Grow In Concrete’ and More!
Posted On 01 May 2018
“Sometimes A Rose Will Grow In Concrete” (SRWGC) is the fifth studio album by critically acclaimed progressive soul artist Sy Smith. Often called the “Queen Of Underground Soul”, her previous works include “The Syberspace Social” (named in the top 10 albums of 2005 by The Boston Globe), “Psykosoul Plus” (2007) “Conflict” (2008, with charting radio singles “Fly Away With Me” and “The Art Of You”), and “Fast And Curious” (called “one of the best releases by a female” of 2012 by Soultracks.com).
SRWGC is the first album completely written and produced by this multi-talented singer/songwriter/musician and features her slick synth bass playing and lithe fingering on piano/keys along with her incomparable soprano voice and signature harmonies/vocal arrangements. Sy Smith is finally having her singer/songwriter moment (think a 21st century Roberta Flack) – this album flourishes with compelling musical/vocal arrangements, thoughtful lyrics and Sy’s voice sounding better than ever.
Learn more about Sy Smith in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! So where does this interview find you today? What’s on tap for the rest of your day?
Tonight I’m in Naples, FL where I just finished a show with Chris Botti. Now we’re on the tour bus heading to Miami.
Overall, how do you think 2017 was for you and your career? What is one big goal you have for 2018?
2017 was wonderful. In addition to touring with Chris Botti, I also performed a couple of concerts honoring the iconic women of jazz including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and more at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony, and in Vancouver and Toronto with their symphonies too.
I don’t know that I have any big goals for 2018. I just plan to continue on the trajectory I’m on, working hard at my craft and working to help my new album reach as many people as I can.
Growing up, did you ever think that this would be the kind of life that you would? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
No. I didn’t. I didn’t conceive of having a life like this because I didn’t know anyone who made art for a living. My earliest musical memory? I don’t know. I remember “For The Love Of Money” by The O’Jays being my first favorite song that I can remember. I remember my grandparents having an old, out-of-tune piano that I used to play around on before I really knew how to play or took any lessons. My granddad taught me how to play the “boogie woogie”, just a walking bass line on the black keys. Whenever I’d play that for him, he’d do a funny little dance that made me laugh. They had an old small organ that I used to play too. I remember teaching myself how to read the little music book that came with the organ to play simple songs using the chord buttons on the left side of the organ and playing the melody in your right hand. I was probably around 3 or 4 years old during these memories.
How do you think your hometown has influenced the kind of artist that you are today and the kind of music that you make?
Washington, DC is my hometown. It’s influence on my music can’t be understated. That’s really too long of an answer for me to even begin to construct right now. But the influences of go-go are evident in lots of my music and particularly in the way I phrase things, in my swing especially. And live, I’m good for jumping into a good ole pocket just because I can. But the music is not the only thing about my hometown that has influenced my sound. When I was growing up in DC and its surrounding area, Blackness was centered at every turn for me. On radio, on TV, in leadership, in ownership, in education… So I’m sure that a huge part of who I am, not only as an artist but also as a Black woman, has been strongly shaped by growing up in an area that was rich in Black excellence.
Let’s talk about your fifth studio album, “Sometimes A Rose Will Grow In Concrete.” What was it like making this collection? How differently did you approach the making of it compared to your previous ones? What was it like writing and producing this whole album?
Making this album was like… I don’t know. It was like preparing the best possible meal I could for my closest friends. I prepared a few entrees, kept some of them, threw some of them out and then served all 12 courses back in February and watched everyone slowly getting into each plate.
How differently did I approach the album. Well, I wrote and produced the whole thing. That in itself is the biggest difference between how I approached my other albums. What was it like to do that? I don’t know. It was a very slow and tedious process that tested my patience and musicianship tremendously, but in a good way. It made me get In touch with a different side of myself. The challenge was a welcome one.
While it’s hard to choose, can you pick a few of your favorite songs from this album and talk about how they came to be on this collection? I understand that every song on this album reminds you of a specific moment? How did you go about picking “Now and Later” as the lead single for the album?
It’s very hard to choose as my favorite songs change depending on my mood. My mood right now tells me to say “Camelot” because it’s that time of the evening… Quiet Storm time (a widely used radio format that originated in DC with radio personality Melvin Lindsey). I chose “Now And Later” as the lead single because I wanted listeners to know from jump that this album will feature a definite, jazz-leaning approach that I hadn’t previously showcased in my other works so prominently. And I also felt like that springtime feel that song evokes would be a perfect lead for an album that dropped at the end of winter.
Can you talk about your #SySmithSessions? What was it like recording these short clips about recording “Sometimes A Rose Will Grow In Concrete”?
#SySmithSessions was something I conceived and began making and posting towards the end of the album’s creation. I thought it would be cool to let my audience in on my process a little, and they seemed to dig that.
I am curious to know who out of all the incredible artists that you have shared the stage or recorded with over the years stands out as the most memorable? Who did you learn the most from?
This is hard to answer because I’ve worked with so many incredible artists. Of course, touring with Whitney Houston was like a masterclass from so many angles; from the band direction (musical director Rickey Minor really taught me so much) to the artist herself being an awesome wonder every time she opened her mouth. I also really enjoyed working with Meshell Ndegeocello and Sheila E.; they both are musical geniuses and to be under their tutelage is something I’ll forever cherish.
We are living through a very trying and politically charged time right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? How do you think that music is going to reflect these challenging times?
I don’t know that simply being a musician gives me the most joy so much as being a working musician gives me joy. I’m very grateful to be doing what I love to do more than anything in the world for a living. That’s a joy and a blessing that I’ll never take for granted. I know that everyone isn’t so lucky. I try to spread the love around, especially when I know musicians who are worthy of being recommended for gigs and such, I try to pass those folks’ names on to other band directors/producers so that everybody can eat. I just want all my folks to eat, ya know? And thrive.
How will music reflect these challenging times? I don’t know. I suppose no one will really be able to answer that accurately without doing it in retrospect. Like, I can look back at the 60s and wax on how and why the music then sounded the way it did because I can see the canvas on which it was framed already painted completely. But I feel like when we’re in the moment, we’re kinda just painting in our spaces and we won’t see the big picture (i.e. what everyone else has painted) until 10, 20 or 30 years from now.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
Most of my favorite artists are cats I know personally it seems. I just really like the music my friends make. Zo!, Phonte, Nicolay, Rahsaan Patterson,
Russell Taylor, Geno Young. I’m also digging Hiatus Kayote. I love what Beyonce has been doing, especially with her live performances. Even though they’re no longer with us, I’m very much inspired by Michael Jackson, Prince, Minnie Riperton, Marvin Gaye, J Dilla. Geez, this answer could go on for pages.
At the end of the day, what do you hope your fans take away from your music?
I’m not sure. I like to leave my music up to interpretation. I suppose I want my fans to feel liberated when they hear my music. Freedom to just be their authentic selves, standing unapologetically in their truths as I stand in mine.
Would you like to share anything else with our readers about yourself or your music?
I don’t know. This is a pretty broad question. I guess I would just thank your readers for giving me a moment of their time. Hopefully they’ll be inclined to go discover my music if they haven’t already. I have 5 albums and I’m proud of all of them. So yeah, go crate digging everybody! Search for Sy Smith on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon… set up your Sy Smith stations on Pandora, Spotify, TIDAL… And if you like what you’re hearing, go ahead and buy it. For indie artists like myself, streaming is cool, but purchases go a long way. And then, when I come to your town for a show, purchase tickets and check me out. Buying our music and concert tickets really makes a statement to the gatekeepers that artists like me are voices people want to hear. If you want to hear more, please go to www.sysmith.com. Thank you!