Alison Crockett decided early on, that a career in music was to be the path she would travel. Piano was her first love. However after winning several vocal showcases, it became clear that her voice was a rare gift. Studying jazz voice at at Temple University in Philadelphia she happened upon the city’s nascent neo-soul movement of the 90s, meeting DJ/Producer King Britt who gave her the moniker “Diva Blue” . Crockett recorded a number of songs with Britt including the now classic, “Season’s Change” for the ground breaking Sylk 130 recording, ““When the Funk Hits the Fan.”
After touring with Sylk 130 and moving to Brooklyn she sang in the prestigious Thelonius Monk Institute Jazz Colony in Aspen, CO, where she appeared on the same stage with jazz luminaries Nnenna Freelon and Herbie Hancock. There she was discovered by Us3’s Geoff Wilkenson and went on to acclaim as the lead vocalist for the UK based acid jazz outfit, writing and singing on the album “An Ordinary Day in an Unusual Place” and touring extensively in Japan and Europe with the group.
Throughout her time on the road with Us3, and back in New York, Alison continued to write, perform and work on a number of interesting musical projects — always trying to grow, while bringing her unique sound and soulfulness to each new musical venture. Her debut solo recording “On Becoming a Woman” was a global success, furthering Crockett’s reputation as a leading soul diva. Nowshe is back as ““Diva Blue”with remixes of “On Becoming…” by some of today’s most innovative talent including DJ Spinna, Mark de Clive-Lowe and Yam Who?
MundoVibes caught up with Alison Crockett just as she was about to leave for a Japanese tour.
MundoVibes: “Return of Diva Blue” is fantastic. The remixes add a whole new flavor to “On Becoming a Woman” . So, tell us about “The Return of Diva Blue” .
Alison Crockett: We thought about doing “Return of Diva Blue” because I started off kind of in dance music as my first recording opportunity and so I decided ‘ well, this would be an interesting way of re-introducing this moniker that King Britt had given me on my first record. And doing it with this kind of dramatic side of me. This place where I can kind of be a little different, you know? Alison Crockett is mostly a soul singer and singer-songwriter but Diva Blue can be a little funny. Diva Blue is my alter-ego, not like Super Man but more like Cat Girl or something like that.
MV: I can tell by the cover shot on the CD, there’s an alter-ego going on with the martini glass and you’re kicking back.
AC: (laughing) It’s having fun with ourselves. That’s where it came out of and we had an opportunity of having some really, really interesting remixers that I’m sure you’ve heard of. But, it’s just a little bit different. Especially doing it live, it’s a blast because it’s reall been quite different from the show that I have done before. So, it’s a lot more dramatic and, I don’t know if it’s more sexy, but she’s a lot more dramatic. A lot more like a little opera or like a video on a low budget (laughs).
MV: Well, you’ve got Yam Who?, Spinna, Mark de Clive-Lowe. A who’s who of the “soul underground” .
AC: Yeah, they’ve been really strong supporters of mine in the past and spinning my stuff. Spinna lives down the street (Brooklyn) from me actually. Yam Who? Was introduced to me by Simon and Dom Servini over at Wah Wah 45’s. I’ve just been very fortunate that I’ve had supporters and people in my musical career that have just been really helpful and really interested in wanting to work with me. So I’m just blessed and it turned out really great.
MV: Well, it goes along with having talent too. You came out of Philly and the whole scene there. How was that coming up there?
AC: Well, that was interesting I fell into it. I started off going to college and doing gigs and singing jazz, you know? Why I hooked with up King (Britt) is basically, John Wicks who was working with King at the time just saw me singing with somebody doing one of those kind of acid jazz shows. We hung out and they were like ‘ do you want to sing this song?’ And that’s how I entered the whole thing, I didn’t seek it, it just happened that I fell into that whole crew of people.
MV: I guess it was quite fateful?
AC: Yeah, it just happened. And it also just happened that almost everybody that I worked with went onto bigger and better things.
MV: You’ve maintained your faith to more of the underground scene or to the left-field, neo-soul movement. Is that where you feel best expressing yourself?
AC: I feel best expressing myself where people want to hear me sing. So, if the neo-soul movement would like to categorize me as neo-soul, great! If jazz would like to categorize me, great! Really, I’m more than happy as long as I’m doing what I do and not changing it then people can label it whatever they want, they can come for whatever type of show they want. It just so happens that a lot of the people doing the same kind of music or similar music to what I’m doing are called ‘ neo-soul’, ‘ nu jazz’, ‘ progressive soul’, whatever. People have just tried labeling it for a marketing tool and they’re welcome to it, ‘ cause we all gotta make money.
MV: Well, it’s certainly become a pretty significant element.
AC: Yeah, it has but I mean the interesting thing is that there’s this whole group of people that are really, really talented that radio is frankly ignoring and record companies are ignoring. And in my opinion there’s a very large group of people who people just don’t know how to market to, who are listening to it. And it’s just the American market but there’s a lot of people who are really interested in hearing music that is interesting, that is not completely just pop but that has different aspects and elements of different styles of music in it. That challenges them mentally and physically and musically. And sometimes doesn’t challenge them at all (laughter). But, there’s a lot of stuff out there. I was just talking to Angela Johnson and she’s great, Heavy’s great, there’s Julie Depp, Rebirth. There’s just so much talent out there and it’s just unfortunate for everybody that some of this talent is not getting wider recognition, that’s just why it’s called ‘ underground’. Where not out there shaking our bottoms in very small little tacky things or we’re not talking about ‘ bling bling’, we’re not all talking about the same stuff.
MV: Let’s talk about your material. A lot of your songs are personal, dealing with relationships in an introspective way.
AC: The record “On Becoming a Woman” was basically the process of me becoming a woman. Generally when I write music I deal in 30 second snippets of time or those snap shots. So, I don’t necessarily want to tell you about the beginning or the end. I just want people to get a chance to see what’s going on right here. The song ‘ What We Do Now’ is like that. We don’t know how these people met, we really don’t know what happened. It’s intimated but we really don’t know. And, I personally have never cheated on my husband, but I certainly have been attracted to somebody. So, I can speculate. And on the same edge, ‘ You Are’ is about my husband completely. I wrote it after hearing a Brandy song and I said ‘ oh, I can write something about that’. I think it’s the song ‘ He Is’ so I wrote ‘ You Are’ (laughter). That was kind of my version of that Brandy song. And ‘ Like Rain’, you know we’ve all had that experience where ‘ it’s not you, its me’. You don’t really want that, you don’t really want to break up badly but you don’t really know how to say ‘ it’s time for us to stop. I know you meant well but that’s it’.
MV: And these are maybe relationships you’ve had prior to being married then?
AC: Yeah, I mean some of them are completely made up, out of my head, some of them are experiences that I’ve had, some of them are partial experiences that I’ve postulated what could possibly happen after that. ‘ Oil and Water’ is just an argument between me and my husband but I made it into an argument between two people about how they’re going to stick together and make it work. My husband and I are still together, but it could be that these people may or may not end up together. So, that’s where I come from when I write. Sometimes people have asked me asked me about writing political statements and I can do that and sometimes I do. But I tend to write about people and relationships and places and feelings and weird stuff. So, that’s the way I handle it.
MV: I think all of your songs are ones that you can relate to, it draws you in.
AC: Well, I’m glad. I’m still waiting to do this song which is basically a crazy woman’s song. You know Sting’s ‘ Every Breath You Take’? I have something like that, the woman’s just nuts though. I like kind of strange things where people are just nuts.
MV: And that’ll be on a future recording?
AC: Maybe (laughs).
MV: You work a lot with your brother Teddy. Do you keep it as a family affair, with friends and family?
AC: Well, in terms of the music it just so happens that worked with Teddy and that was a really, really great experience and we will continue to work together. There’s a lot of talented people out there but certainly it’s easy because we have the same musical background. So, there’s things that we don’t have to say quite so clearly. As well as my brother is a stern task master – ‘ do it again!’ – so that helps in terms of artistically pushing me in certain directions that I may not have moved in before. So, that’s always a rewarding thing to be around. But I’m certainly interested and open to working with a wide variety of people.
MV: I know you have an academic musical background. You studied piano originally?
AC: I originally started off as a pianist, I studied piano for about 12 years. I played classical piano and then I became deathly afraid of it and I didn’t want to do it anymore because I couldn’t be perfect. And then that’s when my brother comes in again, he kind of kicked me into it: ‘ play now!’. That’s how I got back into it and then I studied voice for several years and then I went to college and got a bachelor’s and masters in Jazz Voice.
MV: Do you feel that the academics is essential to who you are as a vocalist?
AC: I don’t know if it’s essential to me as who I am as a vocalist. I know that there are things about it that have been really, really helpful. And I really learned a lot. But sometimes academics can limit you in certain respects, in terms of the way you hear things. Sometimes you have to fight against some of these limits that are unintentionally placed upon you. And I have had to kind of work through that, I had to re-learn how to write music in a different way once I left school. And that took a couple of years of just writing and writing and writing and you will probably never hear those songs. But it’s just trying to write through a lot of these things. All-in-all it was a good experience, but there’s the good and the bad things. I wouldn’t trade either of them. They were good experiences, regardless of what difficulties I had.
MV: Apart from your career as a vocalist, you are also involved in the community.
AC: Yeah, well I decided that once I got all of these degrees that if I couldn’t make money through music I wasn’t going to do it. So, I do a lot of teaching and I found that I really enjoy it. I do a lot of writing for Highbridge Voice, (a New York-based community children’s chorus founded in 1997 – Ed.) I’m using all of my arranging skills, I’m not stagnant, I’m not doing an office job or something like that. And I get a chance to reach out to the community. I have been a member of a family that always reaches out to the community. That’s something that comes somewhat naturally to me in terms of using my skills to uplife the community if I can. And it’s been fortunate that I get paid for it and I enjoy it at the same time.
MV: That’s an ideal situation. Finally, let’s get into your tour which you’re preparing for now. You’re heading to Japan?
AC: Yeah, we’re going to do a couple dates there and I’m going to do some recording there with some producers. It’s my second time in Japan, the last time I was there with US3 and I got sick and I had to perform still. But this time I feel healthy.
MV: That’s really exciting.
AC: Yes, it’ll be nice. And the last tour, like I said, with “The Return of Diva Blue” we had a great time. It was grueling but we had a really great time and the audiences were really appreciative. We did not expect the graciousness with which audiences received us. I really didn’t expect it and it was just really overwhelming.