For Black Music Month, artist Jody Watley speaks to Aries from UrbanBridgez about her latest release & business venture, her days in Shalamar, her favorite current artists, Black Music and much more!
Featured Audio from the Interview Added!
UrbanBridgez.com: First off tell me about Avitone’s new deal?
Jody Watley: Well Avitone is my label, I started it in 1995. As it would turn out with the shifting paradons of the music industry. Now more then ever, it’s very okara for artists to be doing their own labels. But I started it in 95′, I was inspired by Prince actually. When he left Warner, he started NPG. Actually our very first release, I went to the same distributor as Prince, Belmark. So I been doing this for awhile. The entrepreneur side, through the years leading up to the deal with ADA. We licensed my music, all of my music to different company’s around the world. For instance in 2003, when I released “Midnight Lounge” it was licensed to Shanachie. Licensed means, I still own all of my masters. So with ADA and that distribution, it’s just really huge. Because it’s very difficult to get distribution deals. I don’t know how many women (laughs) who are doing that. It wasn’t quit as exciting as winning the Grammy, but it was close on a different level. Because it’s a huge business accomplishment, I just look forward to continuing to grow the label. So we’re really excited about that. Some people thought, oh she’s signed to Avitone and they got distribution. I’m like no Avitone is my label and we got global distribution! I read about Jay Z taking his company to Sony. And P. Diddy, or Diddy, or Puffy (laughs), Sean Combs taking his to Warner. It’s the same thing, but there aren’t that many women making those types of moves. That will be the next big significant chapter, besides me being an artist. Again the aspect of ownership and entrepreneurship is very important to me.
UrbanBridgez.com: Do you plan to sign some other talent to the label this year?
Jody Watley: Not this year, but we are. I’ve considered myself the guinea pig in all of it and again slowly developing the brand of Avitone. My last three singles have been top 5, one was #1 on the dance chart and in England. It gives me the opportunity to establish what Avitone is about, quality music. So over the course of a few years I don’t wanna sign alot of acts. I would like to be pacific about who or what the type of group or artist would be. I know someone self contained, someone that also has alot of individuality, not a cookie cutter artist, someone like.. me (laughs). Maybe it will be a male artist, maybe a small band. There aren’t alot of bands. I really like J*Davey, because they are very unique. Do you know of J*Davey?
UrbanBridgez.com: No, never heard of them.
Jody Watley: I’ll have to send you a link. It’s kinda eclectic, kind of reminds me of vintage Prince, it’s vintage, R&B, it’s different. I like stuff like that. So yeah once we further establish Avitone through me. We will be looking to do that.
UrbanBridgez.com: Your releasing an international version of “The Makeover,” tell me about that?
Jody Watley: We revised it, the artwork is different. There are some different songs on it. For instance, “Love Hangover” on the domestic version was down-tempo, the version on the new one is more of a classic, uptempo interpretation of it. I recorded “A Little Respect” it was a real popular song out of an anthem. I redid that and made it over. Even those who bought the domestic, they’ll want to get the international version. Even though I loved what we did with “The Makeover,” I think I’ve improved on it.
UrbanBridgez.com: Let’s talk about the new album you’re releasing next year, “Chameleon.” What can Jody Watley fans expect from that release?
Jody Watley: “Chameleon” which will be out in 2010, is my 10th studio album. All new songs, it’s great! It’s actually finished, but because of the development with ADA we changed our strategy up a bit. But it’s all of the things I am. We have a little bit of everything on it. From the club element, to more ambient, very thoughtful lyrics. It’s just quality music. I read something Maxwell said. It’s no hype beats, no duets, he went through a list of things and said it’s just good music. I was like yeah (laughs), I like that!
UrbanBridgez.com: “Candlelight” is already doing great on the Billboard dance charts, how does it make you feel to still be relevant after having such an incredible career already?
Jody Watley: It’s actually great! Sometimes veteran artist fall into a trap of, either playing it so safe, it comes off generic & uninteresting. They’re trying to cater to a younger demographic in a way a younger demographic isn’t going to necessarily gravitate to. For instance and no disrespect to anybody, Akon or anybody. But I notice alot of veteran acts, because he’s hot is like “lets get Akon on the track.” It’s not really original, it just means you’re trying to cater to a crowd. Or either the quality is gone. I think with me, the unique thing about it, is every step of the way I think I’ve gotten better with each record I’ve done. It’s always authentic Jody Watley. I’ve never tried to do like “Don’t You Want Me” like recreate what that song sounded like or “Looking For A new Love.” I’ve moved on from the sounds, it’s a natural growth, like even the electronic and dance stuff I do. It still has soul and dept to it. It’s not like like oh she’s just trying to do that, ya know. It’s a progression and it’s adult without being old. I also have a pet peeve about as you get older, everything has to sound like classic R&B. Why can’t it still be progressive and a little experimental? That’s what I do and try to experiment and my shows are always a mixture of ethnicity’s and ages. Like the 80s babies now in their mid 20’s are there. The club kids who don’t know much about my earlier solo career, they just like the groovy stuff I been doing in the past few years. I have some of the old school era, of the Shalamar days. They come out, it’s good. It’s very rare that you’re able to do that as an artist. Best of all on your own terms. I haven’t had to become something I’m not.
UrbanBridgez.com: Shalamar made such an impact in R&B music history in my opinion, what is your best memory of being apart of that group and recording some of the hits you all recorded together?
Jody Watley: Good question (laughs). I don’t actually have a favorite memory. What stands out is the first time I went over seas and the first trip was to Australia. I remember being in awe of being out the USA. Shalamar was, when I look back at it. It was work, work, work. I don’t look at it as a fun era (laughs). We were work horses for that company. The more I’m talking, I liked the tour packages we did. Back then, they had packages like us and The Gap Band, Rick James, Mary Jane Girls, or it was us Lakeside, Whispers, Evelyn Champagne King and Atlantic Starr. That’s something I actually really cherish. The main thing is it was all live! Everybody was dancing and singing, nobody was lip syncing (laughs). You had to really bring it, because the act before you would bring it and the act after you. So you had to make your mark. Funny thing was, well what was valuable for me as a solo performer. For instance, say that the act before you.. I remember Lakeside who did “Fantastic Voyage” which was really huge. Such a great band who was together forever. We came on before them and if we did a chant that got the crowd fired up or if we had fans light a match when we did a slow song, that was a big thing back then (laughs). So if we did it and they thought it was hot, they would take it the next night and we couldn’t do it. What it did was make you creative and spontaneous to work the crowd. That sort of thing doesn’t really exist anymore.
UrbanBridgez.com: You’ve finally decided to speak on your departure from the group in the upcoming episode of Unsung on TV One. What else can fans expect to learn from watching that episode about your time in the group, without giving too much away.
Jody Watley: Well I’m not sure what they’re gonna keep, so I don’t know (laughs). I tried to be as candent as I could in the time constraints I had. My part of the story was from the girls perspective. In an environment that was incredibly chauvinistic, from the head of Solar (label) Dick Griffey to all of the guys that would be in the group. Always trying to hold my own, as a teenager starting out, growing into a young girl. I talk about the challenges of that. Like a lot of people are like that video “A Night To Remember,” I loved that. For me, I hated that video! I didn’t like the end. I remember crying, because I didn’t want to be bouncing on the bed with two guys. That was lame, it sends the wrong message but I had to do it anyway. Eventually which I talk about on Unsung, Once you decide for yourself, how you see things being rolled out or people are trying to make you feel like you’re not valuable to a situation. In my case, not so valuable to the group, when I knew I was. But just not buying into that, I talk about owning who you are and not letting people rob your spirit. Or make you feel you’re not equal to the next guy, even if you’re a woman. Just not to fall into that. In the end it was very uplifting. When I quit the group, it wasn’t to go solo, it was to have a peace of mind ultimately. The beautiful thing is when I left the group I decided I was still going to pursue my dream. I always wanted to be a singer since I was 4. I’ve never looked back and I encourage everybody to never give up and always believe in yourself. You, me and the people that will read the blogs, everybody can relate to that. Whether you’re in school and people say you’re not all that (laughs). If you’re smart & a book warm and them calling you teachers pet. I went through all those things in school and being chased home from school (laughs). Because people have their own thing but really fighting through it and never giving up. Ultimately learning from everything that happens to you in life. Even in the most negative situations you should be able to take something positive from it and move forward. Jody Watley is always going to be about that. Fearlessness, growth, and really just spreading that. My voice in the show is really talking about that aspect of it. I commend TV One for doing something with their programming. I know alot of people are very disappointed in BET’s programming, it’s liked a missed opportunity. That was another reason I sat down for the interview, once I saw the quality and how they try to do it.
UrbanBridgez.com: I love Unsung! (laughs)
Jody Watley: Yeah me too, alot of people say well they’re all sad (laughs). I’m like well my portion of the show isn’t sad, there was no tragedy that came from Shalamar, it just wasn’t built to last. So I’m interested to see it. For instance I’d like to see how Gerald Brown who was the second lead singer, the voice of “Take That To The Bank.” Once he was taken out of the group, I never heard from him again. So I wonder if they interviewed him, I would like to know how he is? He was an alright guy, I mean he had his ego things also, but it was cool. As a fan of the show, I’m curious to see what will make the cut from what I said and will Gerald and some other people be interviewed.
UrbanBridgez.com: “Larger Than Life” isn’t only my favorite album from you, but it’s one of my all time favorite R&B CD’s.
Jody Watley: Thank You!
UrbanBridgez.com: Did you have any idea what you were creating when you were in the studio recording it?
Jody Watley: Not really, we were just trying to take it up a notch. Stylistically, from the total change in my look from the big hair, to something very sleek and fashion forward. I always had battles with MCA, they were always brave in letting me do what I wanted to do. I said from the moment I was signed, I took this away from Shalamar. I didn’t want anybody telling me what songs I should sing, what I should be. I’m like I’m a songwriter, I wanna write on my material, I wanna pick my producers, I don’t wanna be just put with someone. Early on I don’t think people really knew that was really Jody Watley! “Real Love” is still my favorite video of all my videos. Everytime I see it I just have to laugh and say girl you better work (laughs)! I love it. My thing is just always try to do something I can be proud of. I always say the artist is the one stuck with whatever you’re doing. So hopefully make good choices and when you have the opportunity to look back at your body of work. You can say I was putting it down until the wheels fell off, until I was too old to do it. That’s how I feel about everything I do, the new music, everything! I feel very blessed and fortunate that I am able to do something I love and can share with people. I have such a great respect for music, because I know what it meant to me as a kid. So when people look at me, I’m that person like how I looked up to people when I grew up.
UrbanBridgez.com: You’ve always been such a fashion icon, was that something you ever sought out to do?
Jody Watley: It’s just apart of who I am. I’ve always styled my own stuff, still do. That was always a battle, but I would always win over the directors of my videos. Not really an issue now because of my history and everything. At first they would be like, what do you mean you’re bringing your own stuff? It’s like I am trust me (laughs). I actually have a great collection of Polaroids, because everything I would do I would show them. I would have my Polaroid camera and take like a tester at home with clothes and like the hair. With the second album when I did “Larger Than Life,” I’m a huge fan of Italian Vogue and from the layout and that I knew I wanted Steven Meisel to do the album cover. All of the photographers I tend to work with and still do are mostly fashion photographers. I always say people who do music artist kind of have a limitation to how they shoot in light and things. So I would go in the label tear sheets of what the vibe I was gonna go for. The blessing is I get to hand pick people I work with, instead of being told who I was. My first style influence was my mom because she was a big fashion diva, we always had fashion magazines in the house. I was all into it (laughs). Another thing like now when I look at some of the artists in the mainstream, you can tell the stylish version and who is really wearing it and it’s really cool. I like Rhianna’s style, it really suits her, it’s not like the clothes are wearing her. I see some girls lately who are trying to take that fashion forward thing and it’s just wrong. You can tell it’s not really them. That’s an it factor you can’t teach or buy. You either have it or you don’t!
UrbanBridgez.com: Off the top of your head, what are the top 3 favorite songs you have recorded in your career?
Jody Watley: Currently “Everlasting” and that’s on “Chameleon.” It’s a feel good song and has a good vibe. The title makes you think it’s a love song, but it’s not. “A Beautiful Life” from “The Makeover.” And a classic song of mine.. there is just something always really fun about “Don’t You Want Me.” All my songs are hard, I’ve written most of them, so I feel bad for picking one out (laughs). It’s like I love you all, I really, really do (laughs). They all say something, like on my record “Intimacy” and I was going through my divorce “Working On A Groove,” I love and “Are You The One” and “When A Man Loves A Woman” (laughs). I mean all my songs, it’s too hard to pick them apart like that (laughs).
UrbanBridgez.com: How are your children and do they have any interest in following Moms lead into the entertainment industry?
Jody Watley: They’re great! Well my daughter is going back to college, she already went for social anthropology and media studies. She’s into digital media, she has a really good eye. Editing, film and really high tech visuals. She’s musical, but no interest or never really had any to do music. And my son is all Basketball. He likes music too, but he’s like most boys his age. He’s talking about going to the NBA (laughs), so you know.
UrbanBridgez.com: Who are some current artist Jody Watley is a fan of?
Jody Watley: I like Rhianna’s style. Her songs are just contemporary fun type music. I like that and in fact there is bits of myself I see in her and also Beyonce’. I like J*Davey, Kanye West, even though he can be out there with his comments. I like how he just doesn’t care (laughs). And he experiments with his music, you know like when you make a musical shift? I’ve made a career out of that. Sometimes people don’t get it. Say for instance if you sell less records, they get scared and run back to what they think people want. I like Kanye, because he’s like I’m into and don’t care, you get it or you don’t and 20 years you’ll look back and say it was a classic! (laughs), I like that!
UrbanBridgez.com: What are three essential albums you think everybody should have?
Jody Watley: That’s just hard (laughs). I always say on an iPod you can put as many songs as you want, just stock it up with Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. Any artists will say you can’t go wrong with either one. Put some Michael Jackson in there, forget about the controversy and other stuff. “Off The Wall,” “Thriller,” not to mention the Jackson 5 stuff. Actually all three, started in one way and as their music developed they continued to evolve. Michael kind of got stuck after the huge success of “Thriller.” I think he just got scared and he’s still trying to get that formula. Stevie Wonder has so many, one of the most thoughtful prolific songwriters and great vocalist. Marvin Gaye also. Sade, you can’t go wrong. I like everybody else, is looking forward to her long awaited album. Grace Jones is always on my list, she has a great new record “Hurricane” it didn’t come out in the US, but it has in Europe. But yeah again to say essential it would be hard. But I guess if there were three artists it would be.. (laughs). Then I would have to take one of my own.
UrbanBridgez.com: It’s alright (laughs), you tried!
Jody Watley: (laughs) Just stock your iPod with 20,000 songs (laughs).
UrbanBridgez.com: Any last words for your fans?
Jody Watley: Tweet me (laughs), follow me on Twitter. My website www.jodywatley.net. “Chameleon” coming in 2010. Check out for the new single on iTunes and all digital outlets. I have concerts coming up this summer. DC, Chicago, New York and Philly. I look forward to seeing everybody and we’ll be adding more shows. I say stay fearless and never let anyone take away from you, who you really are! Like own it, celebrate it, whatever your thing is..own it!
Updated to add:When ‘The Makeover’ came out (actually prior) one of the photo’s from ‘The Makeover’ made it’s way around the web. It was when I first discovered concreteloop and theybf websites. They clowned me good – and blew up that Jody Watley had had a facelift – it was NOT true.
The photo was was obviously a fake. If seen in the context of the artwork for ‘The Makeover’ where it is and if one read the liner notes, they would have known it was a joke – we used a professional special effects makeup artist. For a time, I even had the slide show on my MySpace page of the process.
My intent was to make light of the lengths that people go through in pursuit of beauty and prolonged youth… a tongue and cheek play on the concept of ‘The Makeover’ – beyond the fact that a lot of the songs were covers on the record.
I have never had plastic surgery on my face – EVER. I have not even tried Botox – for the record. My mother is 76 and looks a youthful 50. My daughter is 26 and she looks 15! It runs in our family. Good genes and taking care of myself (inner and outer).
We wrote to both sites so that I could at least address the rumors and set things straight but they never replied. Of course, it was more sensationalistic with that type of thing – or if I went to jail or had a drug problem.
We also continue to include them on our eblasts for music news and updates – including the ADA distribution deal – which is something more young people need to know to reach for beyond being an artist. Of course, they have never run anything else about me. Which of course was a disappointment.
So – I wanted to set that straight for your blog. I did NOT have a face lift (lol) – I’m just a very fly and naturally young looking 50 year old woman! 50 – not 100. In this day and age with people living longer, it’s not old and if you take care of yourself really age is just a number – no surgery or botox required. I intend to continue to age gracefully – and not turn into a plastic former vision of myself!!
For More on Jody Watley
July 28th The World Cafe Philadelphia
July 30 The Birchmere Music Hall Alexandria, VA
July 31 BB Kings NYC
Aug. 2 Chicago Northalsed Fest