interview SIMONE TAYLOR  (September 2009) | Interview By: Chad Kiser

   Dubcnn had the pleasant opportunity to talk with Arigo Recordings’ artist Simone Taylor, who has worked with super-producers Justin Gray (Rhianna), David Jones (Babyface), Brian Cox (Destiny’s Child), and Chuckey Charles (Usher) to name a few. Her new single, “I Belong To You” is a strong testament to what she brings to music: an intriguing new perspective, with an uplifting, empowering voice. Simone Taylor exclusively sat down with Dubcnn to discuss the experience of recording her debut single with Justin Gray, what it’s like working with so many talented and accomplished producers, growing up in Oakland, California, and much, much more!

As ever, you can read this exclusive interview below and we urge you to leave feedback on our forums or email them to chad@dubcnn.com.

Interview was done in August 2009

Questions Asked By: Chad Kiser
Dubcnn Exclusive - Simone Taylor
A Woman’s Touch (The Special Dubcnn Series)
By: Chad Kiser

Dubcnn: You worked with multi-platinum producer Justin Gray (Rihanna) for the "I Belong To You" single, how did that collaboration come about?

I was working with an up and coming Bay Area producer who happened to be a friend of my husband’s who runs the label that I’m on. The two of them were working in the studio with some Bay Area hip-hop artists and I just sort of said that I wanted to do this song about uplifting people, which talks about being more responsible with the things that we put out there in terms of promoting positive energy. I wrote the song in all of 10 minutes and it was a really horrible song called “Deep in our Hearts,” but it was what I was feeling at the time. I have a friend who at the time was in charge of the entire major artist recording in Canada. If you were on Interscope, Universal or some other major label, and you were on tour in Canada, your label would contact her company and they would set up a studio to record at and give you the VIP treatment.

She heard the song and wanted to send it to Justin Gray because he’s a well-known, award-winning producer from Toronto, and they’re also friends. I told her it’s a horrible song and if she was going to send it to anyone, to please give them a disclaimer that I am a much better writer than this. So she sent it to him and Justin [Gray] emailed her and said that he wanted to work with me. He thought I sang great and he saw my picture on MySpace. He thought I was a cool artist to work with. She sort of hooked up our relationship and I flew to Toronto and recorded for about two weeks with him and it was probably one of the best recording experiences that I’ve ever had.

Share with us that experience of recording your debut single?

It was so chill and so awesome. He [Gray] works within a huge group of amazing producers that totally blew me away. At the time, Justin was just coming off recording with Joss Stone. He was working on songs with the Pussy Cat Dolls and The Spice Girls. For the first few days I was like why am I here? I am so not worthy (laughs).

It got to the point where a month before I was making this really crappy song to here in this major recording studio in Toronto in the snow. I had never been in snow like that before. I had seen it, walked through it a little, but never played in the snow and fallen on my butt in the snow… several times (laughs)! I was just totally in awe. It doesn’t snow in the bay, so I wasn’t ready for a real ‘winter wonderland’ at all! That experience in itself was life-changing and made me realize this is really where I want to be and what I want to be doing. Justin [Gray] is a really talented musician and producer. So professional!

Was “I Belong To You” written for anyone specifically?

(Laughs) Yes! It was written for anyone who has (or is) experiencing trials and tribulations in life. Life can be real challenging at times and there will always be moments where you want to throw in the towel, so this song was intended to get folks through those moments. On a more personal level, I wrote ‘I Belong to You’ as if I were having a conversation with my husband, so it will always hold a beautiful spot in my heart.

Working with so many well-known music producers like the aforementioned Justin Gray, as well as David Jones, Chuckey Charles, and Brian Cox - - what does that do for your confidence?

Oh I got confidence out the building! (Laughs) No seriously, it makes me feel really blessed to have worked with such great talent so early in my career. I’ve worked hard to get to where I am today. I’ve still got so much more growing to do, and so many more talented people to work with. I feel I deserve to be a force to be reckoned with, so in some ways my confidence may not be out the building, but it’s definitely out of the average person’s reach. Ha!

Having worked with those kind of iconic producers, what other producers or artists are you looking forward to collaborating with?

As far as producers go, I’d love to work with Dr. Dre. He’s so ‘in the pocket’ it’s not even funny! Definitely a big fan… I’d also love to work with Raphael Saadiq (Joss Stone, D’Angelo), Sir Jynx (N.W.A., Dr. Dre), Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (Janet Jackson, Chante Moore), Andre 3000 (OutKast, Gwen Stefani), The Neptunes (Jay-Z, Kelis, Beyonce), Josh Lopez (Estelle), the list goes on and on…
Artists… definitely would love to collab with Prince. I am a HUGE fan! I love me some PRINCE! Janelle Monae, Alicia Keyes, Beyonce, Lauryn Hill, Jay-Z, Bjork, Maxwell, just to name a few.

Tell me about Arigo Recordings and how you got down with them..

Well, Arigo Recordings is a boutique indie label I am part-owner of in the Bay. My hubbie is CEO of the label and also one of the founders of it along with a few other notable Bay Area folks. My husband once said, “…there’s got to be a point at which someone says, ‘Enough is enough!’ and that’s where great music begins.” The label was started out of frustration with the industry and the lack of real heart and soul being put into music today. We are all tired of seeing lackluster performances and paying for over-priced tickets to see artists who just care about collecting their next paycheck. That’s why you see so many albums still sitting on record shelves. It’s not right, and we all know it. Ultimately, it was a no-brainer to have my big ass voice on the label’s roster. Not to mention the CEO and I go way back (Laughs).

Tell me about your experience growing up in Oakland.

It was real cool! Oakland has its good parts and its bad, just like any other city. It was even the 3rd most dangerous city in America for a number of years during the 90’s. For instance Keyshia Cole is from East Oakland, whereas I’m from North Oakland. Both are parts of Oakland, but in a number of ways very different. Typical neighborhood stuff though that you see all over the world… but I love Oakland. I love the people, I love the culture, and I love the camaraderie we have.

I was definitely privileged to a lot of different things other young African-American girls weren’t. I am blessed to grow up the way I did. Both of my parents are educated, I went to great schools, always felt love in my household, and never needed for anything. I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon or anything, but I can say I had a great childhood. That’s the thing about the Bay, there’s a lot of diversity here, so you can have multiple experiences all in one big ‘melting pot.’

Going back to the beginning, how did you even get started in the music business?

I started playing classical music when I was six. I remember as early as four or five my dad and I would be driving around town and he would put on old Motown stuff, Bach, Billie Holiday, and Donny Hathaway cause my dad was a huge fan. He would make me pick out the instruments that were playing on the tracks. At a young age, I was learning the fundamentals of music and what a horn section sounds like, or what the Jazz Scale sounds like. He had me learning string arrangements and the whole nine, man! My dad is a bit of a music freak and is a big jazz enthusiast. He was trying to sort of mold I guess a miniature him musically, at a young age (laughs). That sort of sparked my initial interest in music. And then once I started playing it, it was a done deal for me. I’m a perfectionist, so as a kid and teenager I spent most of my days practicing music in my room. Music superseded everything… hanging out, playing games with friends, sometimes even homework [not recommended for kids!] (laughs). When I got into high school, I knew I could sing, but I didn’t want anyone to really know because even back then I had a BIG voice, and didn’t know the strength of it. I didn’t start showing off my skills until I filled in for a back-up singer who flaked on a studio session I was at in San Francisco while in college. The rest is history.

Who were some of your early influences coming up?

Tina Turner 100%. She’s amazing and such an icon! I’ve watched countless hours of her performing with Ike back in the day. Listening to the way she projects her voice, watching her sing on pitch and dance in heels at the same time… gives me goose bumps. She is dope, hands down!
I also grew up listening to Donny Hathaway, Patti LaBelle, Janet Jackson, Mavis Staples, and as I mentioned earlier Prince. They’re all early influences for me in one way or another.

How would you describe your music, sound and sonic personality?

I’m an ‘ol School entertainer and an all around ol’ soul. I sing about my life as a woman… the ups and the downs I face. I sing about my man, I sing about love, hate, partying, everything. I sing from the heart and my soul comes out in my voice. That’s why folks say I have such a ‘warm’ voice. I can’t help it, and I wouldn’t change it.

Being from Oakland, have you ever worked with Too $hort or E-40?

I’ve never worked with either one of those guys, although 40 and I have some mutual friends. It’s a real small music community in the Bay, so everyone knows everyone. I’d love to work with them in some capacity… they’re definitely Bay Area heroes. If we can throw Hammer in the mix, it’s a wrap (giggles)!

What project or projects are you working on now, any major collaborations?

I’m in ‘kill mode’ working on my debut album. It’s called “Under the Knife.” It’s kind of a play on words, [you’ll figure it out when it drops]. I won’t give you too much detail about it but it’s a concept album. It is gonna be a dope album that has an updated throwback feel to it. You’ll be able to bump it in your car, but also unwind to it. I’m morphing into the whole conceptual attitude right now. I’m a big researcher and have to know what I’m talking about before I begin a project. Everything from fashion, to hair, to make-up, to sound and arrangements, etc. is going to be a major part of this concept. It’s going to be wild, for sho’! There may be some major collabs on the album, but I’m not going to ruin the surprise for your readers (laughs).

Speaking of fashion, are there any labels you are digging right now?

I love almost anything Jean Paul Gaultier does. His clothes make me feel very strong and sexy like a comic book heroine. I also love DSquared, The Blondes, McQueen, Kevan Hall, and of course Louis Vuitton. I’m in love with everything that Ted Rossi comes out with! Basically anything that makes me look fly.

What fashion must-haves do you splurge on?

Handbags and lingerie. I love the fact that a great handbag can change your look from school teacher, to sex kitten, and vice versa. With the right handbag and shoes anyone can be a show-stopper! As far as underwear goes, I wear what makes me feel great and sexy. Being comfortable in my own skin is very important to me, so what I put against my skin is important too. I hate uncomfortable bras or underwear that don’t fit properly. I’d rather not wear anything if I’m going to spend all day adjusting the ‘girls.’ So if I have to spend extra on great fitting bras and panties, best believe I will.

Many artists today have a variety of means to establish their brand (i.e. clothing lines, shoe lines, colognes/ perfumes, books, etc.). Which branding opportunities would you most likely see yourself doing in the future?

I’d love to have my own handbag and shoe line in the future. I think bags and shoes are universal and can be worn by anyone. They’re great because you don’t need to be a specific size to buy a bag or fit into a pair of shoes. Bags and shoes are always at the top of my list when I need a little retail therapy.

Getting back to your music, what are some of the big things you've accomplished so far, musically?

Finding my voice as an artist. I think it’s truly a luxury these days to be able to make the type of music you love and are inspired by. Some artists go their whole career looking high and low for their voice, and never find it. I found it early, and consider that a major accomplishment in the industry. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with a number of talented people who are heavy-weights in the ‘game’ and still manage to make honest music. I’m sure the career accolades are just around the corner for me.

How are you prepared to reach the mainstream audience in today's market with the majority of both the industry and the consumers carefully watching their money spent during these times of recession?

My strategy for reaching a mainstream audience is to give consumers and the industry what they’re missing… Great Music and Entertainment. It’s about supply and demand right now. There’s a short supply of great music out there. However, there’s a strong demand for music that’s inspiring and fresh, and yet there is a void to be filled. People still want to be entertained, and since everyone is holding onto their pocket-books so tightly, the bar is set pretty high and you have to be something great for people to buy your music. This economic climate can only strengthen us, in my opinion. It really forces artists like me to make the best possible music we can come up with and grind until it’s perfect. This is what separates the mediocre from the sensational, for real. It’s how Motown was created… its how Michael Jackson became such an unstoppable force… it’s what helped the Beatles change the way we make music. My grandmother used to tell me that ‘if you’re GREAT, the world can’t help but to hear you.’

You come across as being very confident. Are you truly this confident when it comes to your music?

Yes and No. Yes, I’m confident in my ability to write great songs, sing well on tracks, and put on a fantastic show. However at the end of the day it’s really up to the consumers and fans to be the judge of whether my efforts are good or not. Don’t get it twisted… I’m an artist and I’m sensitive. I can only put myself out there and hope for the best.

Dubcnn: Where can readers catch up with you at?

Dubcnn readers can follow me on twitter or check me out on MySpace. You can also check out the Arigo Recordings family at our official website.

The music industry is so competitive, what separates you from all the other female singers out there?

The music industry may be very competitive, however what separates me from most is I’m an actual musician, and not just a singer. Living, breathing, eating, and drinking my music is what makes me stand out in the rows of R & B singers.

Do you have any lasting words for our readers?

Yes I do. Please support your local public school art and music programs. These programs help keep our kids in school and off the streets, inspire them to achieve greatness, and helps instill a sense of accomplishment in their lives. Also, don’t forget to download my hit single, I Belong to You, on iTunes. Thank you for supporting my music, and be on the lookout for my debut album, Under the Knife, dropping Spring 2010.




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