One of the finest songstresses in the world of music

Welcome to DMCWORLD Victoria, a brand new single ‘Red Lipstick/Increase The Pressure’ swinging our way which is a preview of your new one-woman-show. Talk us through the release which started life as a short film directed by Karl Grady…

“Karl Grady is an amazing new talent that I just happen to share a house with.  We had already finished filming ‘Red Lipstick’, but one day while he was checking the final edit, a banging track spontaneously started to play from his library – in tempo with the dialogue!! (the angels again!!)  We just looked at each other, mouths agape and in tandem said we should make it into a bitch track!  I went into the studio the next day and started to build a track, with my production partner Nik and the rest is history.”

The record is coming out on Waterson’s Basquiat Beats label. How did you two first meet? You seem like a match made in heaven – he’s bonkers!

“Yes, we are a match made in heaven, because we’re both bonkers, which is why I love working with him.  That and the fact that I’m astonished that a boy from Scotland has such mad vocal chops that when he sings, I could truly be listening to some old timer from Memphis!  I just find that so extraordinary – not the least hint of a Scottish brogue! (he’s gonna kill me!)  Last year, I had his track “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” on loop for an entire weekend on my headphones!  We met on another project that didn’t work out.  But he was doing some work with the vocal goddess Billie Ray Martin and Billie and I had talked about maybe doing something together, but never really moved on it.  With Waterson in the mix (no pun intended), it seemed like the right time to make something happen between the 3 of us, which is how the cover of Malcom McLaren’s track “Deep In Vogue” came about.  The three of us wanted to avoid the potential publisher’s drama that no doubt would have ensued from us doing a co-write – hence the cover.  But Billie was up to her eye teeth in projects and it soon became apparent that she was physically not going to be able to take part and so Waterson and myself changed it from a trio a duet.  We started writing together and 2 of the tracks have made it onto my album.  We do nothing in the studio but act stupid and laugh constantly.  We really are a pair of naughty children!  But in between our bouts of A.D.D., we actually manage to get some work done and some cool tracks happening.  He was setting up his label Basquiat Beats and I decided to come on board.”   

Swinging our way before that release is the brilliant ‘Die 4 U’, your new collaboration with Miami house music royalty Murk. What do you enjoy about working with this formidable dance duo?

“The fact that they’re a formidable dance duo!!! Hahaha!  I’ve been working with Ralphy and Oscar for years!  Many people don’t know that I was the voice on their anthemic “Need Someone” and Ralph and I did a track entitled “Swim”, that we had shelved years ago, but through a series of fortuitous events, ended up on the 2005 Cafe Mambo CD, which was compiled by Pete Gooding.  They both are just so laid back and effortlessly über cool without a shred of ego or affectation.  I’ve also learned a lot about how to really craft beats and noises from them, although I’m sure they didn’t know I was paying such close attention.  They’re both incredibly technical, yet also very organic and vibey.  To top it all off, they have really lovely spirits and Oscar’s mum bakes the best chocolate chip cookies on the planet!

You were a member of the prestigious Phil Moore Singers Workshop in Hollywood. What did you learn from that education?

“Dan – how long have you got!? lol  Back in the day the late great Phil Moore had been the go to man for the big Hollywood studios.  In addition to having coached Marilyn Monroe, Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne and countless other legends, he did a lot of musical arrangements for the early black film musicals that the studios usually shelved.  But having worked with Duke Ellington in those days, when the studios started to take the Duke mainstream, Phil went with, as his musical arranger.   Even after his glory days with the studios, he was still the go to man to give an entertainer a good spit and polish – he groomed so many fine entertainers, he decided to open a workshop.   For instance the legendary jazz virtuoso Dianne Reeves was in the year ahead of mine.  Estelle Reiner (director Rob Reiner’s mother), who unbeknownst to many was an amazing jazz singer was in my year, as was Albert “Poppy” Popwell, who had co-starred in earlier Clint Eastwood films and many blaxploitation films.  So much of what I am as an entertainer, like being a multi-faceted artist, I learned from Phil and his wife at the time Jeannie.  Their philosophy was if you can’t do something to adopt the attitude of ‘give me 5 minutes and I’ll learn.’  And the most profound thing he said to me was: “Duchess, don’t be in this game because you want to, be in it because you have to.”  Suffice to say, that Phil was a legend!  How I managed to get in is still a mystery to this day! The things they taught me about striving for artistic excellence, as well as about life, remains with me to this day, for every session and performance, which I now try to instil in the youths I mentor.”

Who were your early influences growing up – who were the artists that helped make your mind up what you wanted to do with your life?

“My earliest musical influences were my parents.  My father was a jazz aficionado and my mother was into Mahalia Jackson and the big community gospel choirs.  So on Saturday afternoons I’d be confronted with jazz and on Sunday gospel, spattered in between with whatever R&B or pop that my sisters were grooving to, as well as listening to my grandfather’s blues and honky-tonk record collection.  At school I was involved in all things musical and theatrical, of course the perfunctory being in the church choir (such a cliche, but what are ya gonna do!?) and also trained classically, so I was exposed to quite a diversified and eclectic range of music.  I think it was a given that I would pursue music and entertainment from straight out of the womb!  I’ve been told throughout my life that I was born to do this.  But I suppose it was Miss Ross who sealed the deal, as it were.”

You claim you have had “more knocks than a crack dealer’s door”. Has there ever been any moments in your career when you were that low you came close to throwing in the towel?

“Um, yeah, like daily! lol  It’s not easy maintaining a career that goes against the grain of the status quo, especially when you’re an independent artist.  Everybody at the moment is protesting and ‘occupying’ this or that.  But I’ve been of the mindset of occupying major labels for a minute now.  I actually wept when George Michael lost his case against Phony – uh, I meant Sony! lol  I have just never been able to rap my tiny mind around how those who don’t do what an artist does, could never do it, yet sign you for what you do, then have the cheek to tell you how to do it, make the lion share of profits if it’s successful and if not, treat you like you have SARS, and lock you out of your ability to function as an artist!  I have always tried to embrace Phil’s philosophy of “you what you do as an artist and leave the critics and the rest of the world to do what they do.”  That aside, it’s always a grapple to find the finances, resources and networks to get your music heard and to bring about any meaningful market awareness.  But through social and viral networks, the shrinkage and affordability of technology, both audio and video – things, they are a changing! (and not a moment too soon!)  At the end of the day, life is like an oyster: no sand, no friction, no pearl!  And through the knocks, I now have a set of pearls worthy of Her Majesty the Queen! (but she ain’t getting them! lol)”

Your career has spanned many areas of performance. Looking at the dance music side of things, what was working with Nile Rodgers, in our eyes at DMC, the man is a genius…

“He truly is a genius and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet!  The opportunity to work with him was a bit of synchronicity.  A mate of mine was working on a project with him.  I was home for the Christmas Holiday and just happened to pay them a social call, as I hadn’t seen him since the days shortly after I left SIIS and he didn’t live terribly far from my family’s home.  Nile has this amazing studio at his yard and the 2 of them were working on some tracks.  He just turned to me and said, I need for you to do some vocals for me!!  After the blood returned to my head, I went into the vocal booth and let rip. Perspiration was literally coursing down like Niagra Falls!  I nearly hyper-ventilated from the realisation that I was working with one of my all time favourite legends, in between him telling me from the control room to “sing fat!” –  “Like a lady just coming from church getting ready to go to a fried chicken dinner” or something equally descriptive!  It was such an insanely fabulous moment! I’ve actually done a cover of a very obscure Chic/Norma Jean Wright track entitled “High Society” for my new album.” 

Who are the artists you are listening to at the moment? Who do you rate?

“Well I’m actually listening to my protege James Follette’s album “The Adventures of Melvin P. Jackson”. We produced it a year ago and it’s taking me this long to actually listen to it again, because I became so saturated with it.  It was very scary producing an entire album for another artiste and I really wasn’t all that confident that I could pull it off, but we did and it was a total joy, as he is so incredibly talented.  Also, listening to a duo called Nu-Gen.  I’ve been kind of mentoring them a bit and they have done themselves so proud.  They just written, produced and mixed a track called “Monster In Me” that is insane!!  They also, produced, directed, shot and edited the video themselves and I defy anyone in the industry to say that it doesn’t look like a 50 or 60k clip and they’ve only just turned 20!!  Working with such fresh new talent helps keep me inspired and hopefully still relevant.”

When I mentioned to someone in the office I was interviewing you, they were like, ‘woah – she is a whole lot of fun!’. Did you meet your match then when you began working with Nellee Hooper at Soul II Soul – now he is larger than life!

“Regrettably, I haven’t seen or spoken to Nellee since we both left SIIS. But hasn’t he just slain ’em since he left eh!? I mean come on! – producing Madonna AND U2!!?  He always was a jammy git! (and I mean that lovingly!) Which proves the point that cream always rises to the top! (unless it curdles first!! hahaha).”

Had you any notion in those early days of dance music with Soul II Soul, that this genre of music was going to help to change the world for ever – or did you think dance music was just a passing phase?

“Ok, this is an egg-y one.  I have had passionate debates with my peers about this.  Dance music has been around for centuries embraced by many indigenous cultures all around the world since ancient times and so therefore nothing new and anthropologically speaking, certainly not a passing phase!  One of the great things about being in the Shamen is that I learned in academic detail from Colin “Brainiac” Angus all about how various tribes used beats and rhythms and sometimes hallucinogens to bring about altered states of consciousness, so nothing really new there either.  But what I do take issue with, is when some dance music enthusiasts and DJs who wouldn’t know a middle C from their backside start droning on about tech-house this and trance that and blah, blah, blah!  When in fact it’s just rhythms and noises, as is all music.  Fabulous though they are, from a music theory perspective, it comes down to key signatures and time signatures.  I swear I don’t have a passport from ‘Hateration’, but all the delineations of the dance genre is boring and doesn’t in truth, make it any more than that – key signatures and time signatures (which is usually 4/4).  Try telling a classical music buff about the merits of popular music and see what response you get.  Music transforms, enlivens, irritates, soothes or arouses the human spirit, which is what all art is meant to do.  It’s as simple as that really.”  

You were also the leading lady of The Shamen. Those times must have been crazy, Mr C certainly loves a laugh, what memories have you working with Richard and his motley crew?

But with all due respect, I was preceded by the amazing Jhelissa Anderson.  But long story short, I had 6 of the best years of my career!  I mean come on!! Ecstasy, MDMA, and a veritable alphabet soup of stimulants, techno-pop with a message, headlining Glastonbury with mon Capitains Colin Angus and Mr. C.!! (who to this day is still like my brother) I could never in a million years tell you how outta hand it all was – mainly because I can’t remember much of it! (joking)   I have only one regret form that time and that is never having the opportunity to meet co-founding member Will Sin.  He tragically died while filming one of their earlier videos.”

Your status on your Facebook site says simply…

“Music, Fashion, Art, Life, Light, Love, Technology, Transcendance”

So…who are your heroes in music, fashion, art, life and love…?

“Almost anyone who survives this industry, still left with a modicum of sanity!!  I love Annie Lenox, because she is such a gorgeous survivor,  George Michael, for the same reason and my new hero is WIll.I.AM.  I was never into the Peas so much – I tend to resist what the main stream media is cramming down people’s throat’s – every hour on the hour, like aspirin!  But since watching him on The Voice, I love the fact that he’s so larger than life and appears to be such an imaginative character, always making ‘quilombo’ (a mess) on the show.  I also tend to gravitate towards people who are 3D cartoon characters like myself!  Art-wise I developed a love for the Dutch masters like Van Gogh, whilst living in Amsterdam and of course Warhol and emerging artists like Marty Thornton.  I adore designers like Vivienne Westwood and the late Alexander McQueen.  I find authors like Eckhart Tolle (Awakening Earth), Gary Zukav, (Seat of the Soul) and Paramahansa Yogananda (Autobiography of a Yogi), spiritually elevating and transcendant.  Tech-wise EVERYTHING!!  I have dreams about winning all the tech they give away on The Gadget Show!  I am such a tech, junkie whore! lol.”

Your stage career has seen you treading the boards in such delights as the Tony Award winning ‘Purlie’ and ‘The Wiz’ – is this where your true love lies?

“My true love lies with anything involving artistic and creative expression, that is approached with honesty and integrity.  I treaded the boards as a kid and I love being a versatile artist.  These days being versatile is compulsory.  Now days they call it being a 360 degree artist, but back in the day you were penalised for it.  I was told early in my recording career that you won’t be taken seriously if you mention musical theatre or even what they call ‘legitimate’ theatre.  But when the records ain’t selling and nobody in the industry is taking your calls, there’s nothing like the focus of 8 show’s a week on a year’s well paid contract to help a girl regain some confidence, objectivity and perspective.  Plus making some major ‘doll bucks’ to get back into the studio and maybe have enough left over to buy a cute pair of ‘Loubous’ or Jimmy Choos (or 10!!!) ain’t a bad thing! lol.”

And finally – what is coming next from you musically…

“Well, besides the double A-side single “Red Lipstick”/ “Increase The Pressure” (which bolsters mixes from the godfather of House Terry Farley), taken from my forthcoming album “The Rapture”.  Then there’s the one woman show, also entitled “Red Lipstick”.  And of course Murk’s track “Die 4 U”, I’ve also collaborated with the drop dead fine Tom Stephan for his new album on a track called “Erase” – which is really fierce, as well as a contribution on Mr. C’s forthcoming album and James Follette’s debut album.  And all that in between building my own house with my own 2 hands, digging wells in Africa, adopting a rainbow tribe of children from different countries and finding a cure for cancer!! hahaha. Knocks aside, I am truly blessed!  Because I now know for sure, that it doesn’t matter how much you keep getting knocked down, but that you keep getting up!”

http://www.victoriawilsonjames.com

Soundcloud link here: http://soundcloud.com/basquiatbeats/sets/redlipstick/s-Kbu2R
Official video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_zM1y1j6dg&feature=plcp

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