On a sultry, stormy night at The Cutting Room in New York City recently, Dionne Farris made a proclamation to the standing-room-only crowd: "For those of you who don't know, I am Dionne Farris and this is my song." Four beats later, Farris turned back the clock ten years to the moment when a little song from the movie Love Jones (1997) stirred souls and saturated the airwaves. For the past decade, that song -- "Hopeless" -- was the last anyone heard from Dionne Farris.
As record stores became usurped by their online counterparts and file-sharing encroached on CD sales, the words "Whatever happened to Dionne Farris?" echoed across the lips of those who held "Hopeless" close to their hearts. The answer, dear readers, is in the music, for Dionne Farris has re-emerged with not one but two new albums: For Truth If Not For Love (2007), available on iTunes via Matthew Knowles' Music World, and Signs of Life (2007), released on Farris' own independent label, Free and Clear Records.
Dionne Farris brought her past, present and future together at The Cutting Room show with a generous two-hour set that was nothing short of riveting. She doused the audience with beloved rockers like "Passion" and "I Know" from her debut solo album Wild Seed-Wild Flower (1994), brought gut-wrenching intensity to Nina Simone's "See Line Woman," and Anita Baker's "Been So Long," and baited the audience with a batch of stellar material from the new albums, including "Open," "Remember My Name," "For You," and the unreleased, must-be-seen-to-be-believed "Fair." (Oh yes, and she tipped her hat to Arrested Development.)
As she prepares for her second New York City performance at Joe's Pub on August 1, Dionne Farris shares her thoughts about being an independent artist, life on the road, and her "hidden charm". On record, in concert, and in this brief interview, it is clear that Dionne Farris' spirit is reinvigorated. To quote the words that introduced Dionne Farris last week, "Ladies and gentlemen...now...Dionne Farris:"
1) How are you different now than 10 years ago?
There are a lot of things that are quite the same about me, like my sense of humor, my smile, and my overall spirit for life. What is different I would say is having a greater understanding about many things, particularly about the industry of music. I know more about it now, than I ever did when I was 14 and 15 years old, in my room wanting to be a singer, not knowing what that would really entail, or how the 'Star Maker Machine' really worked! I am a mother now to a wonderful 12 year-old daughter whose life I am guiding to uprightness, and I am also an entrepreneur.
2) Signs of Life is available on your own label, Free and Clear. What are the challenges and benefits of being an independent artist?
As in life, there will be many obstacles to overcome, but you have to face them head on, and not be afraid. The benefits are simple: you are the decision-maker, however you must be decisive with your newfound 'independence.' It's the first thing that is required of you. You have people working for you, who want to do the best possible job they can, so it is imperative that you give them the direction they need to execute the plan.
3) One of the highlights of the live show (and on Signs of Life) is "Open," especially how you involve the audience with the interpolation of "Missing You" by Diana Ross. I'd be interested to know about your inspiration to write "Open" and what feelings you experience onstage while performing it.
"Open" is one of my favorites on Signs Of Life. It was written by Tomi Martin and myself. I remember hearing the music, and instantly the song came out. I remember sitting on the floor against the wall in a back room and penning it fairly quickly. This song is about a realization that someone you loved may not have loved you, about coming to terms with that truth, and not letting it keep you from being open to 'love' again. You know, whenever I perform "Open", the audience is immediately drawn to the song: the lyric, the melody, the chorus. I incorporated "Missing You" by Diana Ross because the sentiment of that song was what I was feeling: still missing the person, realizing they're gone, but pondering why they went away.
4) It was quite a sight to see you drive yourself up to The Cutting Room at 7:45 p.m. with that airplane carry on-sized suitcase trailing behind. It seems like you're your own road manager. How do you manage life on the road?
LOL! This is all a new experience! I have been on the road many times, but not in this capacity. There were 'handlers,' someone to get your bags, wake you up, give you your schedule, so on and so forth (yes darling). Now it's all me! I am the woman with many hats. This is a great position for me to be in right now. It gives me a chance to understand all sides much better by being hands on. It is difficult sometimes, but it truly builds knowledge and character. The world is missing so much of that today. I tell my daughter that character is doing the right thing when no one is looking. When I did this the first time (circa '95), many things were not done well. Balls were dropped, etc., etc. That is not to say I, too, will not make errors, but it's better when you mess up your own stuff (hopefully you'll learn from your mistakes), than to pay someone, and they're not doing a good job! What I find is, you have to be is organized, double and triple check, and then get someone to proof things for you. (Two heads are better than one!) I do have a little help though, but there will be a team in place soon and I'm growing it, one great person at a time.
5) Have you discovered your "Hidden Charm"? (A song that is available on both For Truth If Not Love and Signs of Life.)
Yes I have, and it was there all time. Sometimes we get caught up in what others (the world) may have to say regarding us. You have to look deep and be willing to be truthful with yourself. Find out what is true and what is not. Get rid of all that is not and keep what is true: "Life's illusions, they be mixin' all up your mind, this is that what which you've searched so to find," line from "For U", Signs of Life.
Signs of Life is available now on Dionne Farris' MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/dionnefarris
By Christian John Wikane (July, 2008)