- Mon, 2007-06-11 16:55
Occasionally a new artist will emerge by the sheer strength of people power alone. Rarely, are they without a record deal. This, however, is exactly what's happened with US indie-chanteuse Terra Naomi. From waiting tables in NYC to 5 million You Tube views (and counting), word of mouth has hand-selected its protégé with alarming Darwinian skill. No marketing, no ploy – just a triumph of music over all.
Terra is the real deal – a pure, powerful singer/songwriter who has nailed the tone of modern life. Her launchpad track Say It's Possible – an acoustic gem inspired by Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth – caused an explosion when posted on You Tube last year. Featured on the site's main page, it spread through online forums with stealth before clocking up 1 million views in a matter of days. It also spawned 200+ tribute imitations and landed the rising singer/songwriter a publishing deal with Universal.
The single Say It’s Possible is released on Island Records on June 11th. The debut LP follows on August 27th. I Like Music caught up with Terra Naomi to talk about going from waitress to signing a major record deal, her music, the web and her advice for other artists.
“I Like Music because… it’s more fun than Scrabble.” Terra Naomi
ILM: Your new single, Say It’s Possible is out on Island Records on June 11th – an acoustic gem inspired by Al Gore's film 'An Inconvenient Truth'. Can you tell us how the song came about and describe its whole vibe?
Terra: Basically I went to see ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and I was quite shaken by the film. I woke up the next morning, sat down with my guitar and the song just sort of wrote itself. The words and melody poured out from beginning to end, almost exactly as you hear it now, with the exception of a few words.
It’s definitely a song that comes from a place of fear, but it is ultimately a song of hope. It’s a song about feeling frightened and uncertain of the future while believing in the possibility of change.
ILM: How does it feel knowing that millions of people have watched your video?
Terra: It’s incredible and completely unexpected. When I posted it on You Tube I thought maybe a couple of thousand people would see it. I never could have imagined the path this song would take me on.
ILM: From waiting tables in NYC to 5 million You Tube views (and counting), via word of mouth with no marketing. That must give you incredible confidence in what you are doing musically?
It’s very affirming and has definitely given me a lot of confidence. I write my songs for real people. Not that I don’t want to be liked by the media and critics and the music industry – of course I do - but it’s most important to me that the general public connects to my music. Those numbers show me that this is happening.
ILM: What is your advice for other artists passionate about what they do who want to get a record deal?
Terra: I think it has to be less about trying to get a record deal and more about trying to get your music out to people and doing whatever it takes to do that. If you focus too much on the elusive record deal concept then you’re going about it for the wrong reasons and probably won’t be happy even when and if you do sign that paper.
When you get to the point where you can’t do anything more on your own - that’s the time to think about bringing other people in. Only when they can really add something that you wouldn’t be able to do on your own. And it’s important to remember that artists can do way more on their own these days, so in my opinion you should have a whole lot going on before talking to any labels. You want to get to the point where labels are coming to you. That is when artists have the leverage to make interesting deals with record labels.
ILM: 'Flesh For Bones' - one of the first songs written for the album – and Close To Your Head', are two of your favourite tracks on the album, why so?
Terra: Honestly, my favourite tracks change everyday. When I was first asked the question I might have named those as my favourites, but it really depends on my mood - which changes frequently! I do think ‘Flesh For Bones’ will always be one of my favourite songs. I wrote it years ago and there’s just something about it…it captures a time in my life in a very specific way, and it’s special to me for that reason.
ILM: Can you tell us which track from your debut album you had the most fun laying down in the studio, and which one was the biggest labour of love?
Terra: I think ‘Close To Your Head’ was the most fun because it was the first session in the studio with Brian MacLeod and Curt Schneider. Brian played most of the drums on the album and Curt engineered, mixed and played bass and a lot of the guitar and backing vocals. They are both such incredible musicians and playing with them really enhanced my own musicianship. There was something really magical about playing live in the studio with those guys. Paul [Paul Fox, producer] and I initially thought I would re-record the vocal and acoustic guitar tracks, but the scratch tracks were so raw and emotional, and we ended up using all of them on the album. ‘Flesh For Bones’ was actually a demo that we recorded as a warm-up before seriously getting started in the studio.
The biggest labour of love was probably ‘Million Ways.’ It’s the only co-write on the album and it was a song Paul and I wrote a couple of years ago. When we were deciding on songs for the album, Nick Gatfield, president of Island Records UK and also my a&r, heard the song and thought it could be good with a few changes. So Paul and I re-wrote everything but the verses and I actually started to like it. I was reluctant at first…I like songs to flow naturally. But I’m glad we took the time and re-worked it. I learned a lot from that experience. Had it been up to me I would have just thrown the song out, and that would have been a big mistake.
ILM: You’re playing Hyde Park Calling and Latitude Festival in the UK this month. What do you look forward to most about playing live? Have you been to the UK before?
Terra: Actually, I’m living in the UK now. And my background is playing live shows. I’ve toured around the US for the last 4 years and live performances are where I’m most comfortable. I look forward to every aspect – the audience interaction, the unpredictable nature of a live show…there is nothing like seeing an artist play live on a stage in front of you. Albums are wonderful and they are a different experience, but the energy of a live show is unparalleled in my opinion.
ILM: You were born and raised in upstate New York – what’s the best and worst thing about New York?
Terra: The best thing about New York is New York City. The worst thing about New York is that most of it is nothing like New York City.
ILM: You were an accomplished classical pianist and vocalist by 15 and graduated university with a degree in Opera before rebellion, rehab and an eventual relocation to Manhattan. That’s an incredible journey but one in which music has remained one constant – why do you think that is?
Terra: Well, actually, the destructive stuff started in high school and just continued on into college… It coincided with my opera experience in fact, which is kind of a strange combination. I don’t remember much of those years. I just always…I never stopped loving music – even in the middle of all that - and it was always the driving force behind anything positive that I did and I think it was part of what enabled me to change certain destructive habits. I don’t really know why music has always been part of my life throughout these various stages but it’s just always been there.
ILM: What’s your advice for teenagers on breaking the cycle of rebellion/drink/drugs etc?
Terra: I think advice is really hard to give as everyone has his or her own path to go down. Also, I’m just a person who has been through a lot of sh1t and somehow come out on the other side…I don’t live my life perfectly and I still behave in ways which are not so great sometimes, so I try not to give advice, really. I do correspond with a number of teenagers who write to me asking for help and I can share my own experience with them but it’s not really my place to counsel them.
That said, if people are seriously at a point where they want to make changes then they should consult professionals who can hopefully help them with that.
ILM: You were depressed and applying for restaurant jobs when Paul suggested you film your live performances. I guess there’s a lesson there to never give up or lose hope, right?
Terra: Yeah, I think you never know what’s about to happen. If I’d given up one day too soon then I might have missed everything that’s happening right now.For me, giving up was never really an option. I had to keep going.
ILM: The album features string arrangements by David Campbell, Beck's father – how did that come about?
Terra: My producer Paul Fox had worked with him on other albums and felt that he would be perfect for my songs.
ILM: The internet has proven to be a useful tool for musicians to get heard. Apart from YouTube, how else have you used the web to get out there?
Terra: I use MySpace, and I have my own website and blog called Naomiland, which I’ve had for a few years
ILM: Your music we’ve heard so far is beautiful. Please can you describe the Terra Naomi process of making such lovely music/writing such meaningful lyrics? Is it lyrics first then melody? How does it usually work?
Terra: That’s really sweet, thank you. For me, it usually comes all at the same time. Words with a melody attached to them just kind of pop in to my head and I normally write both at the same time.
Terra Naomi - Say It's Possible is out now, released June 11th 2007.