Hil St. Soul Interview by Tom Paul

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    Hil St. SoulHil St.Soul, born Hilary Mwelwa in Lusaka, Zambia, relocated to London with her family at the age of 5. Hilary has since been a lover of all kinds of music from the traditional sounds from her homeland Zambia to Classic Soul. She has received great reviews from her CD's and live performances from USA Today, Vibe magazine, The Boston Globe and The Baltimore Sun as well as countless other reviews praising the positivity of the lyrics and her warm and powerful vocals.

    Hilary Mwelwa and her musical partner, Victor Redwood Sawyerr, make up Hil St. Soul. They have released "Organic Soul" in 2000 and "Copasetik & Cool" in 2004. Their 3rd Release "SOULidified" released in 2006 was highly touted by and in heavy rotation on Top 20 Urban AC for the single "Goodbye" and the video made it onto VH1 Soul and BET J. The 2nd single, "Hey Boy," did so well that Michael Baisden's syndicated radio program used a re-worked version by Hil St. Soul into "Bad Boy" in honor of the "Bad Boy of Radio."

    Which brings us to their new release "Black Rose," which is due to be released on June 10th, 2008 on Shanachie Records.  It is  described as a unique blend of soul, hip hop and acoustic elements. It features the songs "Gravity," a hot jam about the allure of falling in love; "Smile," an uplifting anthem which encourages people to find ones personal happiness; "Ghetto," which reminds people to remember who you are and where you came from; and "Sweetest Day," a remembrance and romance of about childhood.

    Check out this link to hear her music and read up on more of Hil St. Soul http://www.myspace.com/hilstsoul

    TP: Can your fans expect any changes in your sound on your new release "Black Rose"? hilstsoul-black_rose.jpg

    HSS: I would say it's kind of a continuation, I guess, from where I left off.  There's like, differences always when you're being creative, because of the kind of subject matter, the kinds of imagery and the production.  But generally, it's the same kind of vibe.

    TP: What will be the first single? Is the single release date earlier than the June 10th CD release date?

    HSS: As far as I know they've gone to radio with "Sweetest Days", that's what they've gone to radio with, so I believe that's the top single.

    TP: Do you go through a specific writing/production process when putting new songs together?

    HSS: Not really, no.  It really depends where my head is at at the time. Generally I tend to either take a song to the producers like "this is an idea that I have", or they come to me with a track and I kind of write lyrics around the track that I'm given, so you know, that's usually the way I write.  It just depends on which comes to me first, to be honest with you. But yeah,one of two choices.

    TP: How many songs did the two of you write and then pair down to what the amount that are on the CD?

    HSS: I think there's about six songs, actually.  I haven't actually counted, cause you know, we've been doing quite a lot of demos and some songs make it and some don't.  But I think there's about six that I did with Victor.  Some of the songs were there already, and some we did from scratch.  I would say probably about two songs we did from scratch, and then the other songs were there, so he just kind of worked the music around the songs.

    TP: I always feel that previewing songs live is the best place to get an idea if people dig it. Are there any songs that didn't make the CD that you are still working out live?

    HSS: I actually haven't gotten to, cause normally what we tend to do, cause you know I'm over here and the band that I use is in the States, they will get the songs and start working out the parts before we start doing gigs, and then I come and join them halfway, and we kind of put our heads together and see where we go from there really.  So actually I don't know what they will sound like live, so that's a bit exciting for me-it's something to look forward to, because usually it sounds just as good if not better.

    TP: When can we expect to see Hil St. Soul touring the US this year?

    HSS: I'm hoping this summer. I mean, I've got showcases they're putting together around the release of the album, and I'll probably have to come back in July onward to sort of do gigs around the country but I haven't been told the places yet because they're putting it together at the moment, so...there's a surprise element there, so that's what I'm waiting on.

    TP: Will you performing at various Festivals around the World?

    HSS: Yeah, I mean I tend to do a lot.  Initially it will mainly be in the U.S., in terms of festivals, and then I get asked to do shows, and depending where.  Like last year I went to Spain and Turkey, so that was kind of interesting and different because I've never been to those countries.  So a lot of that is just wait-and-see-what-happens, but I know I'm definitely going to be playing some dates in the U.S.

    TP: Do you handle all of your own management, booking of shows, PR, etc? Or do you have a team that assists in facilitating these necessary jobs to become successful as an Indie Soul artist.

    HSS: Oh, well I've got an agent that's taking care of that kind of thing in the U.S, and she works alongside my manager and they put some dates together, so yeah I just have to wait and see what she comes up with.

    TP: Can you talk about how much time out of your day is spent dealing with business calls and emails?

    HSS: Not that much, to be honest with you, because my manager handles most of that.  I deal with him on a day-to-day basis, but I don't actually deal with any inquiries or anything like that.

    TP: Do you find much time to sit down and write on a daily basis?

    HSS: You know, sometimes I feel like I have to switch off.  I just kind of try and write when I'm in that creative mood, and I'm not always in a creative mood.  Um, but sometimes the creativeness comes at very odd occasions.  You know, if I'm in the kitchen or whatever, and idea might spring to mind and I'll have to look for a dictaphone or my mobile phone and sing it down.  So it really just depends, but I never try and force that, the issue of being creative-just kind of, when I feel like doing something I'll just get creative. So It's kind of an impulsive thing.

    Yeah, definitely, because sometimes when you try and force it you can tell in the end result, so I always just try and go with it.

    TP: Talk about some of the songs on "Black Rose" and where the influences for these songs came from?

    HSS: Yeah, the song Black Rose I co-wrote with a friend of mine over here.  That was inspired by the industry, over in the UK-what it is, is a lot of pop female artists have to focus on looks.  And so yeah, it's just a little song to remind these female artists out there struggling to just hang in there, so that's what the song is really about.  So you know, obviously, if you're talented at what you do, you just have to believe in it and keep at it. That was something I felt compelled to write about, definitely.

    TP: Where did you meet up with your musical partner Victor Redwood Sawyerr? How soon after you met did you start writing music together?

    HSS: Yeah, he's been kind of a creative force, if you like, ever since I started singing professionally. I was at the university and I took a year out, and I kind of wanted to get into the whole music thing to begin. I just remember, while I was taking a year out, I decided to go into the studio, a local studio, and put down a tape of some acapellas of the Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder ‘Until You Come Back to Me'.  I was just going to try and send the cd around to different labels in the hope that someone would find it and have some kind of response. But through that, that's how I met Victor and his wife. Basically the studio boss heard the demo I did, thought I had a great voice, and thought it would be great if I could do some original material.  I got hooked up with some of the in-house producers who were working at those studios, and they happened to be Tony and Victor, so that's how I met those guys and how I started buying proper recording process, really.

    TP: So it was pretty quickly after you met him that you started writing music?

    HSS: Yeah we kind of struck up a friendship, and we all kind of got on. And we just started demoing, sending them off to labels, so that's really how we got together. They really liked my style of singing and writing, and I was really digging their production, so we decided to work together on a long term basis-things just kind of sprung from there, really.

    TP: Talk about what musical influences come out in your sound from a vocal, lyrics writing, production standpoint?

    HSS: Well from a vocal stand-point...I'm definitely an old-school soul chick, really. Kind of grew up listening to, you know, the old soul singers. Those are my influences vocally.  Musically I would say it's a variety-I've been exposed to quite an eclectic mix of music, really.  I'll always say the foundation of what I do is soul, because I guess that's what I feel the most and that's kind of what I try to get across in my singing and vocal performance.  At the same time I've been exposed to quite a variety of music, ranging from jazz to funk to plain old r&b and pop music as well, because being in this country the mainstream music is pop music, so, kind of listen to a bit of everything really.  So I don't know if that directly influences me, but you know, obviously I do listen and draw in different kinds of music, but I will say that my foundation is definitely in soul music.

    TP: You've had quite a bit of radio and video exposure on your last release, are you ever prepared when the rollercoaster of success starts up?

    HSS: Well I'll tell you what-seeing how it can be, sometimes it is a bit daunting, I guess, because I don't really like to be the center of attention. I just think I would be a bit uncomfortable with it. At the same time, if it means my music gets out to a wider audience, I guess I'll go with the flow, so...we'll see how it goes, really [laughs].  I really wouldn't know how to handle it, but hopefully I'm grounded enough and have been around long enough to kind of know where the pitfalls are.  Having done this for a few good years now, I think I'm handling it quite well.  So yeah, that is something that scares me, but at the same time I welcome it as well.

    TP: How do you handle the pressure to continue to put out great music, which seems like you've put out 2 CD's every 2 years since 2004?

    HSS: Yeah, I'm trying I'm trying.  A lot of it is the result of labels, obviously, saying "oh well we want to do a project, and we need it by this time"...I think if I had it my way I would probably take a lot longer to finish stuff.  So I think it's a good thing, it's a positive thing and it's a growth thing for me as well-with each cd I feel like I'm maturing and evolving and hopefully when people hear the music and what we do they'll see that.  But who knows...

    TP: Can you speak on how the Internet has been able to get your sound out to so many different countries?

    HSS: Oh I think it's great! I think the internet is definitely a powerful tool, in spreading the word, as it were-it's very exciting actually, because I don't know how many countries my music has infiltrated but um...it's a very positive thing to know that you can reach so many people.  Obviously the internet is very accessible to people, so it's a very positive tool, a good tool to have.  And yeah, very exciting indeed.

    TP: Have you been able to perform in Zambia where you grew up until age 5?

    HSS: I haven't actually.  My parents are always trying to get me to go out and do something out there.  So sure, one day-Zambia's kind of like my hometown, my homeland.  I don't go there as often as I should, but for me, you know, it's like home.  I'm sure at one point I'll have to do something out there-nothing is planned yet, but that's something that would be lovely, to get back to, you know, my birth place.

    TP: Name the last 3 artists that you've either downloaded their music or purchased their CD's?

    HSS: You know, I'm weird as far as computers are concerned-I don't do much downloading.  But as far as purchasing...I think I got Jill Scott's last album...um, who else.  See I don't really buy that many CD's...I think I got Angie Stone's last album.  Who else...well those are two that I can think of off the top of my head.  I don't know-I probably just bought a compilation of soul music or something.  Those are the three things I remember last purchasing.

    TP: Are you working on any outside projects that you can tell us about?

    HSS: Well, I'm doing a lot of songwriting.  I mean it's nothing major, just a lot of songwriting.  I'm helping a friend of mine try and get a project off the ground, which is very much in the early stages, so who knows...fingers crossed.  I just always try and stay creative, really, just to kind of work towards bigger things in the future.

    TP: What are your expectations of "Black Rose" based on how well "SOULidified" fared on radio and video?

    HSS: Well I'm hoping that it reaches a wider audience, that's what I'm kind of pusing for.  It would be great if I could get some more exposure on this project, so that's kind of what I'm aiming for, really.

    TP: Thanks for your time and please to all the readers check out both of this link http://www.myspace.com/hilstsoul for upcoming Hil St. Soul dates in your city when they release the CD on June 10th.

    If you are interested in being interviewed, please contact me at my myspace account http://www.myspace.com/tompaul6band or via my blog http://tompaulindiemusic.blogspot.com/ where I post these interviews as well.


    Tom Paul