Music is different now. We don’t have the budget to fly everywhere and go everywhere, so we would envision the music, Chris and I, and then we’d have to trust the singer. Like, I totally trusted Sinead to do the track, and we sent it to her, and she sent it back, and it was perfect. There didn’t have to be a verbal discussion.
I had to talk a few times with Cody ‘cause him and I were like, this is [our] people’s Bach [Laughs] so, you know, we have to come with some reverence and clarity, and are you OK with doing this track? And then he and I just started having conversations about black music in general, and finally he had a free day in L.A. and Chris was there. The track was already done, so I told him he could have it to work with. Chris said he went in the room, closed the door, and didn’t come out till it was done. He did that by himself–engineered it and everything.
You’ve always been about collaborating, and there is a way in which you submerge yourself in the process, erase yourself–not in a negative way–but it’s just about doing what is needed to make the best possible music. If that means that you move to the sidelines, that you become almost invisible, then you do that, which is a real old-school way of working.
Well, I have a big spirit, so over time I’ve tried to surround myself with people who have helped me tone down the aspects of my personality that are kinda, you know, jagged [laughs] and bring out the ones that are soothing. And I really am taking this production thing seriously, and I guess I want to create environments for people where they feel they can be as creatively expressive as they need to be, and then be the kind of person where … [She pauses to gather her thoughts, then continues.]
When I was really into Islam, this one thing really stuck with me, and that was the myth of the devil. He was like [to God], “How could you make these men? I’m made out of fire; you should love me more.” That was his sin: thinking in terms of better than/less than, greater than/less than. So, I just don’t have that in my mind anymore. There’s nothing better or less or not as good. I try to deal with people not in those terms anymore, or thinking that there is some perfect way of making something. Once I let go of all that, it definitely affected my personality. I take a critique like a compliment and a compliment like a critique. I just don’t have this process in my mind of judgment. There are things I like and don’t like, but I just try to be effective in allowing the person to be themselves. Also, I hope they have that with me.
Meshell Ndegeocello: A Dedication to Nina Simone: Mon., Oct. 15, 7:30pm. World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. worldcafelive.com
PW's Music Issue 2014