R & D's Ledisi's 'Turn Me Loose'

Host Liane Hansen talks to R&B singer Ledisi about her upcoming album, "Turn Me Loose."

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(Soundbite of song, "Runnin'")

LEDISI (Singer): (Singing) I confess I'm a mess and I'm trying to catch up to my lies. So, I keep seeking a way and I'm losing myself everyday all in the name of life…

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Soul singer Ledisi burst onto the mainstream music scene two years ago, but she's been running a long time.

(Soundbite of song, "Runnin'")

LEDISI: (Singing) …I keep running…

HANSEN: The Louisiana-born, California-raised artist has been recording music for more than a decade, and she's been performing since childhood. At the age of eight, Ledisi sang with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra. In 2007, her first major label release, "Lost and Found," earned two Grammy nominations, including one for best new artist. Her latest album, "Turn Me Loose," was released last week on Verve Records. Ledisi joins us from our New York bureau. Welcome to the program.

LEDISI: Thank you for having me.

HANSEN: You know, I referred to you as a soul singer but you've been called an R and B singer, a jazz singer, you do gospel, you do blues, you do funk. How would you describe yourself?

LEDISI: Well, that's the problem, I never do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LEDISI: I create my own lane and I'm working on becoming a legend, and that's what I want to do…

(Soundbite of laughter)

LEDISI: …in music. So, that's my plan.

HANSEN: That's a great goal to have, and you've worked hard at it. I mean, you, you know, were turned down by labels…

LEDISI: Yes.

HANSEN: …and you had to self-release. And then finally Verve came along and gave you that chance to record that Grammy-nominated album in 2007, "Lost and Found." Now, after all the time that you had already put in, did you feel it was kind of ironic to be nominated for best new artist.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LEDISI: Well, you know, for me, just to be acknowledged at that time especially, to even be acknowledged in any kind of way, was such a big thing for me. So, I didn't really focus on the category that much. I just was like, is it real? You know? And it really happened. So, I just focused on that.

HANSEN: Yeah, you might have thought it wasn't real 'cause Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters announced…

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: …the nominees. He didn't know how to pronounce your name.

LEDISI: No, that's been the story of my life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Right. Ledisi - it's Nigerian, right?

LEDISI: Yes, it is. It means to bring forth, to come to.

HANSEN: Ah. On this new CD - wow. I mean, you wrote or you co-wrote all of the tracks but one - and I'll get to that one in a minute. But I wanted to know, I mean, after you had that big success with the first album, "Lost and Found," is it true that you had writer's block when you were trying to figure out how to follow it up?

LEDISI: Yes. There was a lot of pressure after that. I had spent most of my career begging people to hear me, and now they're listening. And now, what do you want to say, you know?

(Soundbite of song, "Goin' Through Changes")

LEDISI: (Singing) I'm going through changes. How do I let you go, let you go? I might…

And I was worried trying to please everybody, to see if they'd like what was in my head. And I wasn't sure and I was scared. And then a friend of mine, we were going to the movies, and she said, Led, I want you to hear something I grew up on that I love and I know you've probably never heard. And it was Buddy Miles, "Them Changes."

(Soundbite of song, "Them Changes")

LEDISI: And when I heard that sound, I was inspired and uplifted and thinking, wow, this is how I am live. How can I translate this in the CD. And look at the audience I have - will they get that?

HANSEN: And you actually cover "Them Changes" as a bonus track on your album.

LEDISI: Oh yes. I had to. I worked on it with Rex Rideout, one of my producers, and the producer that predominantly did most of "Lost and Found." And we just took a different direction and different approach. And working with all the different producers really opened me up as well.

(Soundbite of song, "Them Changes")

LEDISI: (Singing) Well, my mind is going through them changes, I'm going out of my mind, every time you see me going somewhere, I'm about to commit a crime. He had me running, had me riding. He had me running and crying and running, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, it's all right. What I say, it's all right. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. All right now. Yeah, come on…

HANSEN: A number of the songs have very positive affirming messages - I mean, even "All Right" from your last album, "Knocking" from this one. You had to have a sense of optimism to get as far as you did, the way that you did. But is it important for you to have that sense of optimism in your music?

LEDISI: It's a part of me. I can't tell you sleeping on the floor in New York City and having all these bills to pay and not knowing where it'd come from but believing in my art knowing that it's going to happen. I mean, this business will make you believe in something. You know, I have parents that are very spiritual and that's what I was taught, to be faithful and have faith. No matter what, believe in something. And I know I believe there's something higher because I wouldn't do this. I would've left a long time ago.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LEDISI: But I'm here just being myself constantly. I never, ever want to lose that truth.

(Soundbite of song, "Knockin'")

LEDISI: (Singing) I keep a (unintelligible) on my faith, and you won't hear me complaint. Hey, cause I can't let the dark days bring me down. Got a lot of things to say. Don't be knocking at my door. I hear you knocking but you can't come in. I hear you knocking but you ain't gonna get in. You ain't gonna (unintelligible). I hear you knocking on the, I hear you knocking on the, I hear you knock, knock, knock, knocking. Kn-kn-kn-knocking at my door. I hear you knocking but you can't come in…

HANSEN: So many flavors on this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Really. I mean, you know, you're really cutting loose and doing things that you haven't done before. But, you know, you're known for cutting loose in your live performances.

LEDISI: Yes, yes.

HANSEN: I mean, I have heard about you dancing onstage…

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: And putting on your bright red high-heel shoes and…

LEDISI: Yes, honey.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: And you end up kicking them off?

LEDISI: Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: So, is there a story behind those shoes?

LEDISI: Oh man. I've had those shoes probably for probably three years. I love those shoes. They have little crazy scuffs on them and everything but they feel so good. But, I don't know, they give me power. Before I used to wear slippers and just barefoot. And something about strutting, I get it now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LEDISI: I get it. I love showing my legs now. My mom used to tell me: You need to show your legs and strut in some heels. And I was like, no, no, they don't need to see. They need to just listen to me. And now I'm strutting in red shoes, and they have to be five inches at least.

HANSEN: Woo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Woo. What's your goal when you're performing live? Obviously, it's for the audience to have a good time, but is that how you do it? By just…

LEDISI: Most definitely. I mean, you go to shows now and it's all about the artist and how they're feeling and they just want you to just know how they're feeling and how they feel. But what we forget and what I studied is that a lot of interaction back in the day between the artist and the audience is really big, and we don't have enough of that going on. I mean, they do it but it's so self-centered.

And for me, I want to touch you, I want to feel you, I want you to feel me. And all the greats did that. They made you feel something. I don't want to spend -I imagine myself as an audience member. I want to be tired after and be like, ooh, that was so great, like, I had a workout, I'm uplifted and I'm energized. That's me. That's me fire hot with the microphone. That's how I am.

"Lost and Found" was me going who am I, because I don't think people want to see the Ledisi but do I fit in here? Can I come in? Can you find me? Now, it's about, just release me and let me just go ahead and be me, you guys. You get it or you don't. It's okay. I can't please everybody but what I can do is be my best at what I do.

(Soundbite of song, "Turn Me Loose")

LEDISI: (Singing) I don't know, yeah, I'm gonna get my things and walk out the door…

HANSEN: Ledisi's new album is called "Turn Me Loose" on the Verve Record label, and she joins us from our New York bureau. Thanks a lot. Good luck.

LEDISI: Thank you so much for having me today.

(Soundbite of song, "Turn Me Loose")

HANSEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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