Interview: Catching Up With Laura Cheadle

by Ernest Barteldes

Over the past few years I have seen Laura Cheadle and her Family Band about four times, but I rarely had an opportunity to write anything about her save a short profile that came out in the City Arts back in 2011 (it was a series of short pieces on up-and-coming new voices in jazz and blues – you can check it out here http://cityarts.info/2011/05/03/laura-cheadle).

Four years on, she has continued her pursuit as an independent artist – she partly relocated from Philadelphia to New York and has appeared in various locales here since then. She has not abandoned her hometown completely, as she explains in this e-mail interview conducted during the last week of February.

Cheadle has a great funk and blues-inspired sound. Backed by a band mostly formed by her family members under the direction of her father, keyboardist James Cheadle, she belts out original tunes with a very personal feel. The musicians are very tight – they have been performing together for many years, and there doesn’t seem to be any ego battles there – they seem extremely happy to be doing this together.

You moved from Philly to NYC – what made you make that decision?

I am actually in Philly half the week and NYC the other half so I get the best of both worlds and cities 🙂 I’ll always be a Philly girl but the allure of New York City is so seducing to my soul. The magic is incredible. I am also meeting so many amazing musicians and opportunities here. I love both cities in different ways.

Your “Family Band” – how did that come together? And how do you keep everyone’s egos in check since you are the front woman?

It’s just been completely natural for us. I literally was four years old when I began singing with my family. We are unbelievably close and it just feels natural. I know most people would think that we have egos with each other, but we don’t. Performing together is the same as eating dinner together.. It’s natural and pure.

Your father has long experience as a musician and arranger. How does his experience play in your music?

 This plays a large part in my music! My dad is an incredible musician and not only performs with me and plays on my recordings, but he also records me in his professional studio and produces my albums. On some of my songs, he is playing every instrument. I am extremely lucky to have him. He has taught me since a young age about the details that go into making real music.

Ever since I was a baby my Dad has been playing and recording music around me. He used to take me to his studio and work with me right there in my toddler chair. I remember The Soul Survivors rehearsing in our basement when I was little and so many great musicians have passed through our houses through the years. My Dad always had a recording studio in or near the house and my brothers and I were always encouraged to participate in whatever capacity my Dad would want us to. I sang on many of his tracks and got to see him work and so understood the whole arranging/recording process firsthand.

You have a new album – how is it dealing as an independent musician with the dramatic changes in the music industry? Do you think the current formats – Spotify, iTunes and Rhapsody, for instance – are doing a service or a disservice?

It definitely is hard, especially when people listen to you for free. However, for people to learn about you, they must listen to you. A positive side for me is that a lot of people come to my shows and still buy CDs in person . My band has always been a band where people come and dance and I’m very thankful that people continue to come and support our music.

Don’t you think they represent music today the way that, say, radio did in the past? After all, folks don’t pay to listen to the radio…

 Yes but many people stream Spotify all day and do not ever feel the need to buy iTunes . It doesn’t bother me as my fan base still buys CDs. I also have nothing  against Spotify or any of the latest technology . I’m an old soul, born in the wrong generation. I am now buying records 🙂 sounds the best

What are your main influences as a songwriter, and principally as a singer?

As a songwriter, I have always idolized James Taylor. I feel like he writes in a way that makes you nostalgic for an experience that you have never had. Stevie Wonder vocally has always been the ultimate inspiration. He sill can sing better than ever .

New York seems to be becoming less and less welcoming to indie artists – so many venues have closed, and club owners refuse to take responsibility for their own clubs – how do you deal with that?

I have actually felt the opposite of this. Since being up here often, I have joined local groups of songwriters and jams that are extremely supportive. The clubs I am playing are also paying very well. I know not all of NYC is like this but there are many communities that support the arts. One of the best parts of NYC is the unknown and how you can meet different artists and learn about hidden gems or venues at any given time.

Check her out at www.lauracheadle.com

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