Cornfed’s Corner: April Hill Waxes Poetic, L.M.G. Goes Off!

lmichaelgipsonI have to shelve my country time Cornfed persona for a sec and say my peace as L. Michael Gipson, critic. Bear with me, ya'll. For those who read my reviews, it's no secret that I loathe the way contemporary producers use the auto-tune production technique popular in today's radio R&B and soul. Originally used for pitch correction, auto-tune is now heard as a robotic, electronic vocal that is often mistaken for the vox/vocoder production tool created by Wendy Carlos and Robert Moog and made popular in R&B by singer Roger Troutman. In hip hop, where aggression and braggadocio matter more than the sensitivities of human connection, auto-tune can be fun, and in a dance-oriented club banger it can even be energizing.
lmichaelgipsonI have to shelve my country time Cornfed persona for a sec and say my peace as L. Michael Gipson, critic. Bear with me, ya'll. For those who read my reviews, it's no secret that I loathe the way contemporary producers use the auto-tune production technique popular in today's radio R&B and soul. Originally used for pitch correction, auto-tune is now heard as a robotic, electronic vocal that is often mistaken for the vox/vocoder production tool created by Wendy Carlos and Robert Moog and made popular in R&B by singer Roger Troutman. In hip hop, where aggression and braggadocio matter more than the sensitivities of human connection, auto-tune can be fun, and in a dance-oriented club banger it can even be energizing. But in a genre of music rooted in the blues, gospel and even rock, each a survivor's expression of pain, inspiration and unbridled emotion, a voice wet with auto tunes hits my ear as cold, jarring and gratuitous. I always have to fight the urge to turn the dial or press fast forward; it's a battle I often lose. Of course there are exceptions, like Kanye's recent hit "Love Lockdown": songs that work more because of mood and atmosphere than because of the inclusion of auto-tune. If only the exception proved the rule, but in the case of auto-tunes in R&B, it doesn't.

So, it was with a very heavy heart that I listened to "Roll Out," the latest Labelle track produced by Wyclef Jean for their much anticipated comeback album, Back to Now (Verve). Teeth-gnashing is one reaction that comes to mind along with many abbreviated exclamation terms like OMFG, WTF, YGBKM (that's "you gotta be kidding me," for the uninitiated). This was on the heels of becoming bleary-eyed and moved to violence over the synth pop landscape created for Jennifer Hudson's exquisite voice on one too many cuts of her self-titled debut. I believe it was the bloodletting duet with T-Pain which among other harrowing moments included scale-climbing runs done exclusively in auto tunes. For my money, Jazmine Sullivan was also robbed of a perfect album (it is still a great one, but could have been a complete classic) by two tunes, "Dream Big" and "After the Hurricane," that couldn't resist this bewildering electronic craze. Let me say it, scream it, yell it from the rooftops: singers who can actually sing do not now, nor have they ever needed electronic assistance!

Dear overly trend conscious producers, when you coat the vocals of such stunning technicians as Labelle, Jennifer Hudson and Jazmine Sullivan, you spit in the face of many, many of their most ardent fans. We, the offended, love these artists because they have anointed voices gifted to touch our souls with a single note. Their voices' heal, sooth, understand and provide a catharsis for those of us who cannot find the words or reach the notes to speak our hearts. To drench them in cold, digitized sound robs us of the human connection that makes this music part of our lifeblood. Producers, A&R folks and skittish artists who may feel they have to indulge this foolishness to have a hit, we beg of you, please, stop the insanity and restore the soul to R&B.

Intimate Moment on IM: April Hill      

april hillAtlanta's April Hill was a big time exec at Goldman Sachs when she decided to walk away from it all to live her passion and to simply sing. Under the tutelage of Jazzhole frontman Marlon Saunders, she did just that and is now experiencing one fat hit indie record, LOVE 360, as a result of that hard work and enormous faith. A SoulTracks Award nominee who understands exactly what I mean about why we need true music, true voices, true soul, introducing a very extended interview with April Hill.

Cornfed: Now you're a Howard U. grad, but unlike a lot of H.U.'s artist alum, you went for business and finance. Did you ever feel the call then to perform or linger around the Fine Arts building when you were at Howard?

April Hill: I did take some classes in fine arts longing to be as free as they seemed. I did take vocal jazz for a semester.

Cornfed: Okay, so when did you have that moment of epiphany when you knew you were going to devote your life to music?

April Hill: Ummmm, well it was when my parents came up to NYC for Thanksgiving and said: "you know, we think you should pursue your dream of becoming a singer songwriter." To be honest, I had already accepted a third year with my company [Goldman Sachs]. When I saw that my parents had my back in such a risky venture, I said why not? They knew I was not doing something I was passionate about

Cornfed: Describe the emotional experience of walking out on faith away from a promising career at Goldman Sachs and into a career as an independent artist.

April Hill: Very scary.  I did not know where to start. God is amazing though, because if I had not worked on Wall Street. I would not have met one of my producers, Marlon Saunders. Marlon is the Godfather to the son of my old boss.

Cornfed: He also ended up being both your vocal coach and your producer, right?

April Hill: Yes. I initially went to Marlon for vocal coaching. Later, I shared my poetry with him, and he felt I had the potential to be a songwriter.

Cornfed: And the rest is history! As someone with your financial expertise but spiritual experience of walking in faith, what would you say to others teetering on that fence as they look at the country's looming recession/depression?

April Hill: Man. That is a tough one. I would say you always save your money and realize sometime you have to do things you are not crazy about to get to what you want. That may mean you may have to work two jobs to survive and reach your dreams. I mean I saved half my pay check every two weeks. I did not know why I was saving, but I knew it was important. So, when the album opportunity came along I was financially ready.

Cornfed: Part of you knew and prepared for what was to come, huh?

April Hill: I think that must have been the case. You have to prepare yourself to be ready for whatever. You have to be prepared to make sacrifices. This is not a business for the weak.

Cornfed: What's something crazy you've done to make your project, LOVE 360, happen?

April Hill: I have driven seven hours to do a show to save some money. I basically arrived and jumped on stage. I am not sure if that was crazy enough, but it took a lot out of me!

Cornfed: LOL. I hear you. You describe your work as a combination of jazz, spoken word, and soul, poetic jazz and soul but you hesitate to call it R&B? Why is that, does R&B have a bad name these days? In what way is R&B distinct from soul?

April Hill: I always think of R&B as mainstream. That which is formula based. That's not true for all that's on the radio, but it is for a lot of it. Soul to me encompasses many genres and many styles. You are speaking from your soul, your spirit and as a result you will reach somebody.

Cornfed: At this point in your development, do you see yourself as more of a singer than a spoken word artist? How are the two different for you?

April Hill: I would say I am equally both. I have been singing as long as I have been writing poetry. The way I perform my music I think it's hard to distinguish between the two, because I am weaving from one to the other pretty quickly. Both are rhythmic.

Cornfed: Okay, I'm gonna put you on the spot for a sec.

April Hill: Uh, oh.

Cornfed: You claim Dinah, Ella, Sarah, Billie, Nina, Phoebe Snow, Randy Crawford and other jazz divas you refer to as having "a distinct voice" as your influences. As a poet, describe your "distinct voice" using poetry.

April Hill: I have tried to sing and write like others, but for God that would not do. He let be influence by others, but he said this sound is a blessing specifically from me to you.

Cornfed: Well, alright nah! aprillhill2

April Hill: Was that too short?

Cornfed: You're the poet, you tell me! LOL

April Hill: That was what was on my heart to say.  So I guess it just right

Cornfed: Bill Withers is one of your favorite writers, what is it about Withers' work that speaks to you?

April Hill: I like simplicty. It reaches people even faster than the complex. Without flowery text, he lays out his feeling in a way that is sooooo clear.

Cornfed: What other things do you look for in good song writing? What elements of that do you think you've captured and what elements are you still striving for in your own writing?

April Hill: I just love lyrics that I can relate too. I think the people who like my music like it because they can relate to it. I just hope to continue telling stories people can relate to.

Cornfed: You describe your writing process as one driven by passion, but sometimes studio work or writing for other artists requires writing on demand. Do you think that the only way to get a quality song developed is to write when it's inspired?

April Hill: That's the only way you are going to get a song out of me. I can write for someone else, but I need them to tell me about their past or their present or events that changed them. I can work with that.

Cornfed: Have you written any releases for anyone else yet?

April Hill: Just playing around I have, but I would love to do it seriously in the near future. I have had offers to work with other indie folks with their writing. So, you will see my lyrics linked to others soon.

Cornfed: You've talked about young singers needing to sing and write about what they know instead of faking the funk; do you think you can sell a soul song without having lived the message? What young singers do you respect?

April Hill: Wow, you are coming with it today!

Cornfed: LOL, you're almost off the hot seat.

April Hill: Most of the mainstream singers I like are able to carry it off, because they have lived the story. They just could not write about it. I like Amy Winehouse, but we know Amy's been through some stuff.

Cornfed: True that! Speaking of respect, what would it mean to you to win one of the SoulTracks Awards you're nominated for?

April Hill: It would be amazing. This indie thing can be very hard at times, and when you see that people acknowledge your work, there is nothing like it. Everyone loves a job well done.

Cornfed: How do you see your music feeding people's lives?

April Hill: I think my music gives people comfort that they are not alone in certain situations. I think it gives them examples of how they should or should not be treated. I hope it helps people change the situations that they are not happy with. I want people to learn from my mistakes and gain hope from my triumphs, all of which I write about.

Cornfed: A kat has got 99 cents for a download single, which tune should that potential fan purchase to know the best of April Hill's work?

April Hill: I have to meet you. You keep me on my toes. I would say download my song "Today," a song and a story about making up your mind to change what you are unhappy with. That was my first song/poem to go on the LOVE 360 album.

Cornfed: Fantastic, well we've covered all the bases and then some. Now tell our Cornfed Campers where they can find your debut album Love 360, concert info and when can we expect the sequel?

April Hill: You can buy LOVE 360 on aprilhill.com. We're also sold on iTunes, cdbaby.com and soulbrother.com. Please check myspace.com/aprilhillmusic1 for concert details. Also if you are a producer, please enter my remix contest for $1000 cash prize. We are asking for a remix of [the song] "The Search."

Cornfed: All good. Well, thank you, Ms. Hill. I look forward to seeing you all dressed to the nines at the Awards. I expect you slay the people nah, you hear?! ;O)

April Hill: LOL. Thank you! I look forward to meeting you in person as well, and I greatly greatly appreciate you taking the time to interview me! Have a wonderful rest of your week!

  • We'll be back after next week's SoulTracks Awards with new notes, new artists and new track love recommendations. Now that I got that rant out of my system, I promise we'll return with more of the fun and humor of the original Cornfed's Corner, the ear of the people, the ear of soul. Until then...much love to all my Cornfed Campers and SoulTrackers. God bless.

L. Michael Gipson is a cultural critic, music journalist and a lover of all underdogs.

See past "Cornfed Corners"

A Fiery YahZarah Speaks Out!

Aimee Bryant Makes Sarah Palin Look Lazy!

We Heart Erik Rico, Roi Anthony, and Tre Williams feat.The Revelations

Heston Chops It Up, Chester Gregory Gets Us High!

Trina Broussard on Surviving So So Def (Pt. 1) and Motown (Pt.2)

Marko Nobles' Talks Indie Dayz for Indie Music

Dain Harris Is All Grown Up & Ready To Sang

Kev.O Talks Sun, Runs and H.U. Fun

Mo' Jazz and Rogiérs' Talks Sexual Eruptions

Jazmine's New Single, Marcell Russell on Spittin' Truth in Soul

Lemar, Tim Dillinger and more

Alice Russell and opening thoughts

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