Renee Sebastian Interview by Tom Paul

Renee Sebastian is a progressive artist who melts her sound with Pop, Jazz, Hip Hop and Soul whilemaintaining a singer/songwriters credibility. Her powerful voice and  presence on stage has been winning fans at every show. Renee has released an EP titled "Mrs. Sebastian" which has been getting rave reviews.
 

Renee Sebastian is a progressive artist who melts her sound with Pop, Jazz, Hip Hop and Soul whilemaintaining a singer/songwriters credibility. Her powerful voice and  presence on stage has been winning fans at every show. Renee has released an EP titled "Mrs. Sebastian" which has been getting rave reviews.
 
She has been showcasing her talents along with other Indie Soul artists, DJ's, Rappers and Poets at her Blowout Lounge events Blowout Lounge Network. Renee just performed at the most Recent Blowout Lounge event at Triad on May 1st in NYC along with Ra-Re Valverde and Drea to name a few of the artists involved. You can heck her sound http://www.reneesebastian.com or at her Myspace page as well as watch live performances of Renee at these links
https://www.youtube.com/reneesebastian or http://reneesebastian.blip.tv
 
Check out the Blowout Lounge Network link which is a live Music and Poetry Circuit for any up and coming shows on Renee Sebastian 

TP: What was your earliest influences in music?
RS: During my early years, my primary form of artistic expression was through dance and movement. Therefore I was quite influenced by popular Top 40 music like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Sade, etc. As I gradually focused on music, melody, and vocal styles, I turned to more R&B artists like Anita Baker and Meshell N'degeocello. Of course my parents had a lot to do with playing the music of James Taylor, Michael McDonald, Earl Klugh around in the house. Their music just got implanted in my subconscious. Today I listen to classic and contemporary artists like Joanne Garrett, Syreeta, Ledisi, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Jill Scott, and friends like Jesse Boykins III and Russell Taylor. 

TP: How do those influences apply to the sound of your music? 
I think perhaps why a lot of critics and fans remark that my sound is a true fusion of pop, soul, R&B, and jazz has a lot to do with the wide range of  music I had been exposed to.  My compositions and chord structures tend to be jazzy probably because the way I play the keyboards or piano just magically fall in that style. I also truly enjoy the accessibility of pop music and so my songwriting definitely takes that into account. I also cannot disguise the fact that my vocal style and delivery fall easily in the R&B and soul categories. Maybe I've been through so much in life that my vocal expressions are soulful. Pain, glory, heart.. aren't they all the primary elements of what soul is all about? And, R&B is just predominantly what I enjoy the most and so my production values are more about its rhythmic elements. 

TP: The Bay Area has been such a Hot-bed for so much unique artists/musicians and music over the years, have your collaborated with any of the artists from the Bay Area? 
RS: I do agree that the Bay Area produces some of the most talented artists today.  I have met a few of them already, people like Ledisi, Martin Luther, Jennifer Johns, Goapele, Lyrics Born, and Raphael Saadiq.  I certainly look forward to collaborating with them in the near future. I also am a strong believer that the Bay Area produces some of the greatest musicians today. I have had the privilege of sharing my stage  with Lynette Williams (Will.I.Am), Steve Wyreman (Keisha Cole), and many more. 

TP: How did the Blowout Lounge come about? You had one on May 1sttin NYC at The Triad. How often do you hold these showcases of Indie singer/songwriters/dj's/rappers/poets? 
RS: The Blowout Lounge was an idea I proposed to the executives of Manhattan Center/Hammerstein Ballroom to bring soulful, undiscovered LIVE music talents onto the big stage.  They had initially offered me to do my own residency but I'm a firm believer that it takes a whole network and community to make a statement, "Real music, unfiltered, still exist today. It lives in the underground as of the moment, in amazing undiscovered talents you have yet to discover.".  My goal for the Blowout Lounge is to bring this idea to the forefront along with the talented artists and musicians that are well-deserving of the accolades.  For two years now the Blowout Lounge has been a monthly event in New York City.  Today, on our third year, the Blowout Lounge is being celebrated in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Providence. I just received some interests from London and Amsterdam so stay tuned on our progress on those territories. My goal is to have one every month.  Please consistently check www.blowoutlounge.com for the date and city where the Blowout Lounge is happening. 

TP: You have a new EP out called Mrs. Sebastian. Can you talk about the expressive sound you've created? Mixing Pop/Jazz/Hip Hop and Soul sensibilities into a great melting pot of sound. 
RS: (I'm smiling.)  Certainly when I was writing the songs for Mrs. Sebastian, I wasn't consciously trying to fuse genres.  I wasn't even trying to come up with a "sound".  I had one thing in mind.. I wanted to tell my story, I wanted to break out.  Being a business woman, it was important for me to pay attention to trends.  Equally important was my ability to forget those trends and pay no attention to it once I was crafting and giving birth to my art.  I also believe that my co-producers Hanan Rubinstein and Keyon Harrold were instrumental in guiding me and asserting their opinion and stand on the music.  It always began with a bed, with some sort of unclassifiable "thing" that came from me. From there, both Hanan and Keyon, took reign and guided me often steering me back straight whenever I veered way off course.  I must say it was tough for them to do though. I was quite the opinionated woman. I know what I want and I don't stop unless I get it. The result of course is a collection of music that I believe is uniquely me both in words and melody.  I am grateful for the wonderful team that rallied behind me to create the record as well as the amazing musicians that now give life to the music on stage during my live shows. 

TP: You seem deeper into Poetry than most singer/songwriters? Where do those influences come from? Do you read a lot of Poetry or do you hear a lot of Poetry live?
RS:
English and literature were my weakest subjects in school. So you can imagine how surprised I am at the fact that I ended up becoming the slightest bit poetic. My earliest recollection of a poem came from finding my father's Navy journal and secretly reading it.  He was a navy man who wrote his thoughts about life, women, voyages in his diary.  I remember reading a line from it that made reference to my mother and how I found it romantic and poetic.  My guess is that this may have a lot to do with my fascination with poetry.  I think its just because I love playing with words. I like provoking thoughts so I can't help but be poetic.  Later on I was introduced to Slam Poetry in Berkeley, CA and started being a fan. Words, delivery, attitude, performance all rolled up into one. Inspiring. 

TP: Can you talk about the lyrical message being represented in your songs? I like that you are direct and to the point with your lyrics. 
RS:
Lyrics is a beautiful thing. It's my opportunity to connect.  So I like being frank, to the point and at the same time I like leaving some room for mysticism.  I want your mind to jog a bit.  The lyrical messages in my song are intended to give you a work out. Sometimes you'll get it on dead straight, other times it'll make you fantasize.  I also love leaving room for interpretation.  I know what the lyrics mean to me but you may get a different vibe from it. Of course, "Mrs. Sebastian", had a lot of personal story-telling but I cannot say everything in it were just that. I wanted to make sure you can draw your own experiences from it as well so I left some room for you to do that.

TP: Can you touch on how your Philippine roots engraved themselves into your musicianship? 
RS: I'm a sucker for sappy love songs. That may sound negative but I mean the opposite. Manila music has much to do with striking a love chord whether pleasure or deep pain.  Please Break My Heart, my most honest and revealing song, takes a stab at that. I credit my growing up in Manila as being responsible for my braveness in writing the melody of that song.  Another point is that Philippine artists are well known for being amazing vocalists but without a distinct sound. I think that was so embedded in my psyche that I unconsciously strive to separate myself from that stereotype.

TP: Your first release titled Reneessance has received rave reviews from prestigious magazines and artists. Were you surprised at all the reviews off your first release? 
RS:
I remember being initially surprised when I got my first call to do an interview/performance for the NBC's Sunday morning show in San Francisco called Bay Area Vista. I thought to myself, well wait a minute, no one knows who I am, why would they want me on the show? And then it was followed up by national magazines like Billboard Magazine giving rave reviews and radio stations across the nation adding it to their playlist.  At that moment I knew, I may actually have a shot at this.  Needless to say, I listened to myself and now am pursuing it full steam ahead. I guess good and honest music still has a place in the industry today.

TP: You have also won some songwriting awards. Can you talk about the songwriting awards/competitions and some Honarable Mentions in other contests? Do you just submit the songs? Or do you have to perform them as well? 
RS: I really do encourage songwriters to have their music reviewed and/or submit it in competitions because you can use it as a gauge for the song's potential in this marketplace.  I submitted both Deliciously Dangerous and Please Break My Heart early in my career and prior to me fully recording it because I wanted to see if it would be well received even before I invest my money into fully producing it. I often try to strike a balance between what I want and what others see in my art. Then from that point, I make my decisions. Luckily both songs were awarded Honorable Mentions by Billboard World Songwriting Contest and validated my place as a songwriter. 

TP: Name some personal influences in your life that have helped shape the artist you are? 
RS:
Where do I start???  I often tell people that I am who I am today because of all my life experiences.  No disrespect but I would never believe Britney Spears if she came out and sang "This Is Me". In the same token, no one would believe me if I sang "I'm a Slave 4 U"... or ...wait a minute, maybe I could be believable on the sexual innuendo parts less the girly sh*t.. (I'm laughing).  Kidding aside, I'm a grown woman and it takes a whole lot of life to be able to say that and I think I my artistry certainly reflects that.

TP: Which musical artists would you say have had a lasting impression on you? 
RS:
Anita Baker, Me'shell N'degeocello, Rachelle Ferrell. They've always had, always will. Their music goes from my ears into my soul and sits in my gut. I can't explain it any better.

TP: Can you talk about your live band? Are they all Bay Area musicians? Or do you have a Bay Area Band and an East Coast band? 
RS:
The greatest thing is that a lot of the most sought-after musicians from coast to coast have become my personal friends. So a lot of them want to play my music when I'm in their town and I try to just get down with them on a hit for old time sake. I do have a handful of dedicated musicians that I use for my live shows.  My west coast hits are from the Bay Area:  Altoris Levar, Lynette Williams, Cam Perridge, Elijah Green III, Melanie, Erika lawrence, Roger Cox, Geechi Taylor. My east cost gigs are with my New York band:  Emanuel Harrold, Tada Hirano, Jahmal Nichols, Jud Nielsen, Anthony Coleman, Tyrone Smith, Solas, Max Jaffe. 

TP: Do the musicians in your band assist in Production duties? Or do you handle that on your own from a Producers standpoint? 
RS: I always leave room for the musicians to put their own flava in the mix.  However, for the most part, I'm pretty certain on my live arrangements now and I'm quite specific on the show's progression.  I just did a show in Philadelphia where I had to pick up a band made up of accomplished Philly musicians who have played for people like Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Jaguar Wright, etc.  The show producer, John Barber of WRNB in Philly, actually pulled me aside after the rehearsal and said.. "Renee, I have never seen these guys work that hard on a rehearsal for a new artist coming into our series.  You directed that band so well I had to smile." There's only one person that understands my music well enough, and that's me. If I don't tell them what I want, they'll never guess.

TP: Name the last 3 artists you downloaded or purchased their CD's? 
RS:
Georgia Anne Muldrow, Esthero, D'Angelo 

TP: Have their been any Indie Soul artists that have made an impression on you recently via their CD's or Live Shows? 
RS: I always stay on top of the indie underground soul tip since I feature them at the Blowout Lounge.  I am a true fan of Jesse Boykins III. I see him going far places.  I also enjoy Jimi James who I will be featuring at my Blowout Lounge show on May 13th at the Temple Bar in Santa Monica, CA.  Also new to the USA is Nate James who is a very accomplished artist in the UK and other European territories. I will be opening up for him at the legendary Jazz Cafe on May 30th. 

TP: Can we expect a tour from you and if so, when and where? 
RS: I have been on tour now since the release of my EP album "Mrs. Sebastian". I just finished the initial west coast and east coast leg. I am currently back in the west to finish up performances in San Francisco and Los Angeles. I am also making moves now in London and so I am organizing a mini Euro tour. Please visit http://www.reneesebastian.com for details and announcements on these.


Lastly, I encourage you to visit http://www.blowoutlounge.com and listen to some of the amazing soul artists and soul fans that are networking and exchanging ideas for the soul movement.  Here are my other sites where we can connect.

http://reneesebastian.com
http://myspace.com/reneesebastian

My music and video is available for download at iTunes, TapIt, and Nimbit.  CD purchases maybe made through CD Freedom or at any one of my live shows. Thank you again for spending the time with me.
Renee Sebastian 

By Tom Paul
http://tompaulindiemusic.blogspot.com/
http://www.myspace.com/tompaul6band

 
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