JET: You did something totally different this go round by creating an interactive campaign through Pledge Music. Can you talk about how that experience assisted in the overall journey and outcome of Lalah Hathaway Live!?
Lalah Hathaway: Pledge Music is like Kickstarter. It was a great way to engage the fans about what they wanted to hear and what kind of album I was going to make even though I knew it would be a live record. I’m really interactive with the fans online all the time — because I feel like they are, in essence, the people that I work for. It created a really beautiful community in terms of the grassroots marketing of the project because people have now been talking about it for a year and some months and it was mostly funded by fans from the beginning.
JET: When we think Lalah Hathaway, instantly the feel of your voice tops conversation. What are some techniques or tricks that you’ve learned from listening to your parents that are incorporated in your art?
Lalah Hathaway: [My mom and dad] met in music school at Howard. My mom travels with me. She’s a singer, pianist, and organist. She was very much into the theory of music. Enunciation is key for my mother — she always hated a sloppy mouth. She was a teacher when I was little and her parents were teachers, so she stressed education heavily, and educating yourself about your craft. I think that there’s sort of a misnomer that if you educate yourself about your art that it sometimes takes away from the naturalness or grittiness. But I like having a natural base and then putting education on top of that. It makes you more well rounded.
JET: From the beginning of your music career, it seems that you were able to create your own paradigm and sail artistically. How did you discover the sound of music that best fit your soul and creative vision?
Lalah Hathaway: The greatest thing about your space and identity is that it’s already there. That’s the easiest part about being who you are, just being who you are. I think the trouble comes when you are chasing and you see or hear something and you want to do that. The thing for me is that my art is so much a part of who I am that if I just remain true, then I don’t even have to try to do that. I just go to the front of the line as me, not in anyone else’s lane. Be who you are. It’s the simpliest, hardest question ever! (laughs)
JET: True! Because then it’s the question of “Well, who am I?” or “What story am I trying to tell?”
Lalah Hathaway: Exactly! That’s the bigger question. And then, “Is what you do who you are?” Probably not. What I do is a large part of who I am, but it’s only a small drop in the ocean of who I am. So it’s about figuring out who you are and that’s an evolution. I’m doing it every day and every moment.
JET: As writers, we can only hope to make someone feel something. Did it take a while to tap into your vulnerability and how much of that is fused into your music?
Lalah Hathaway: I’m still growing into it. There are moments when I’m engaged and I have to disengage and go on autopilot because I think it’s a pretty natural thing for people to detach when it gets too heavy or deep. I’m trying to do it less. People definitely connect when you’re vulnerable and real, so I definitely understand that. I try to stay connected and doing music is the most connected that I ever feel.
JET: How did you come to understand the stories you wanted to tell through song? In reference to your father’s catalogue, what’s the selection process when you decide to perform his work?
Lalah Hathaway: I just choose the songs I like. I listen back now to the songs I recorded when I was 18 or 25 and wonder, “Ok, I didn’t know about that, but it came into fruition somewhere in my life.” So to me, everything is relatable. When you hear a 12-year-old sing the blues, there’s something in that story that they can relate to no matter how old or how inexperienced and that’s the something that we all relate to. That consciousness. That again is an evolution. Some songs hit me differently day to day.
JET: With Lalah Hathaway Live! how hands on were you in the production process?
Lalah Hathaway: 174 percent! Everything that you see and hear on that record is me from the art, photographs to where the words fall, the font, and how things are written. The record is live and some studio-live as well. Then we have four bonus tracks at the end. We did a live DVD to accompany it, which will probably come out at the top of next year. It’s a total expression.
JET: Is there a song on this project where any time you hear it, there’s instant gratification in your choice to include it?
Lalah Hathaway: Probably “Mirror”….today. It changes. I think “Mirror” is such a beautiful song and really a gem. I got really lucky and have a feeling about that song, that it’ll be one that I’ll always have to do.
JET: What would you consider to be your artistic statement?
Lalah Hathaway: Statement?! Oh, I don’t know. I hope that when I’m gone, the records would speak for me. Those stories would speak for me. The sound, emotions, vulnerability would speak for me. The strength, power, fragility, would speak for me.
Lalah Hathaway Live! is available on Oct. 30.