Posts Tagged ‘singer-songwriter’

My Mind by YEBBA at Sofar will blow your mind!

January 16, 2022

January 16, 2022: Today is YEBBA’s 27th birthday. We wish her peace of mind, a joy-filled heart, and a successful fulfilling career.

Born Abigail Elizabeth Smith, she went by Abbey Smith until she changed her name professionally to Yebba—Abbey spelled backwards—in honor of her mother who had given her that nickname. More on that later.

I recently discovered this amazing artist on YouTube. She is an American singer-songwriter from West Memphis, Arkansas. Over 5 years ago, when she was 21, she gave a powerful, emotive performance of her song “My Mind” at Sofar (Songs From A Room) in New York City. Sofar NYC had recorded it and later posted it on their YouTube channel. It went viral.

I can’t get it out of my mind. I never heard a singer express such raw emotion, yet within a precise musical structure. She does this with her very versatile voice and just her guitarist softly backing her up. That’s it.

The song opens with her discovering that her partner has been cheating on her, then shows her reaction. Her voice slowly builds to a powerful expression of rage, hurt, and grief, to the point where she is about to lose her mind. The audience is spellbound. The camera shows some women sitting motionless in rapt attention.

I would rank YEBBA up there with other exceptional authentic female vocalists like Eva Cassidy, Lissie, and Angelina Jordan. Be prepared to have your mind blown listening to YEBBA sing My Mind at Sofar NYC.

YEBBA performing “My Mind” at Sofar NYC on September 30th, 2016. Sofar Sounds connects artists and music-lovers around the world through intimate shows in unique venues.

Losing love can be a painful thing. I normally wouldn’t post something like this, however. This is such a profoundly visceral experience executed with the utmost skill and talent I just had to share it.

Having written and performed My Mind at Sofar in front of a live audience must’ve been part of her healing process, and a cathartic experience for those listening who may have also suffered a betrayal and loss of love. After it was over, I like how she matter-a-factly stated, “That’s that one.”

Reactions

Hundreds have reacted to this video over the years, some technically, others emotionally, recalling their own memories of betrayal. It is a powerful performance that triggers anger, compassion, tears. It reminded me of that famous line: ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’.

Three reactions worth watching are by these music professionals: Lolli Wren aka The Fairy Voice Mother in England, Julia Nilon in Australia, and John Henny in California.

Lolli Wren goes into technique, but also acknowledges her emotional response.

I think the main thing that I felt when I heard that was this overwhelming sense of wanting to protect her and make the pain go away because it was just watching a woman in distress crying out for help in such a harrowingly poetic and beautiful way. It shows you what beauty can come out of such intense pain. And we need that, we need a pioneer of expression.

Julia Nilon picks up how well Yebba delivers the R&B-soul-gospel runs to serve the song.

All of her vocal effects—from the runs, to the aspirations, to the yodels, to the calling or crying that she’s putting into the sound, to the distortion—all of it sounds suitable, if the emotional content of the song that she’s putting in, like, you can’t help but feel something when you’re watching her sing this because it’s like her heart is in her hands. This is an incredible emotional performance and the vocal delivery is stunning. I mean I don’t think she overdid anything that wasn’t warranted by the lyrics that she was delivering.

Voice teacher John Henny said Yebba uses a minor pentatonic scale, a five-note scaffolding on which her voice ascends and descends. Her riffs sound like Middle Eastern runs or from a gospel choir. Yebba’s father is a pastor and she used to create choral arrangements and sing in his church. At times, it sounds like she’s wailing. John provides us with this insight into her talent and technique.

I gotta tell you, it is so hard to take your voice and your emotions to the edge of tears but you don’t lose the ability to sing. That’s really difficult, because as you begin to touch that emotion you lose control in the voice, and she’s right on the razor’s edge of that. That’s really fantastic! I’ve seen Barbra Streisand do that effectively well. It’s incredibly hard to do.

He concludes by saying “She’s just amazing” and then provides us with this final analysis:

The song itself—there’s not a lot there. I mean very simple chords. It’s not like it’s this hook-driven ditty. It really is just a vehicle for her to express herself emotionally. And what I love, is her riffs, her choices. None of them are done to be showy. It’s not, ‘Hey, look-at-me,’ vocals. It’s, ‘Let me express myself to you.’ ‘Let me communicate to you.’ So, this is absolutely fantastic!

Collaborations and Grammys

To date, this video has almost 20 million views. Ed Sheeran saw Yebba sing and it brought him to tears. He immediately signed her to his record label and later invited her to London at the famous Abbey Road Studios (same name!) to record one of his songs as part of his No. 6 Collaborations Project released in 2019. It included many top artists and produced several hits mentioned in the notes. It’s posted on his YouTube channel: Ed Sheeran – Best Part Of Me (feat. YEBBA) (Live At Abbey Road).

An earlier collaboration also worth listening to is Yebba singing John Mayer’s Gravity with Clark Beckham. (More on John Mayer added below.)

Besides the viral video of My Mind, Yebba first became known for her backing vocal performance on Chance the Rapper’s SNL performance of “Same Drugs” in 2016. In 2017, she released her debut single, Evergreen—a tribute to her late mother that was recorded in their family church.

Yebba has collaborated with a number of artists, including PJ Morton (How Deep Is Your Love), which won a Grammy in 2018 for Best Traditional R&B Performance; Sam Smith (No Peace); Mark Ronson (Don’t Leave Me Lonely); Stormzy (Don’t Forget to Breathe); Ed Sheeran (Best Part of Me); and Drake (Yebba’s Heartbreak). Her own song, Distance, was nominated for a Grammy in 2020 in the same category as before.

Yebba received 2 Nominations for 2022 Grammys Awards: #18. Best Traditional R&B Performance: For new vocal or instrumental traditional R&B recordings, How much can a heart take – Lucky Daye ft. Yebba – (Live Performance), which premiered Jul 31, 2021 on Jimmy Kimmel Live; and her album, Dawn, for #71. Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.

Dawn

Yebba’s mother, Dawn, a high school science teacher, encouraged her singing. Sadly, she committed suicide in October, shortly after Yebba’s performance at Sofar went viral. Yebba returned home traumatized, putting her career on hold, and tried to deal with her PTSD and OCD.

Yebba mentions a feeling of constant panic and grief in this 5-minute synopsis of an NPR interview that Sam Sanders did with her when her debut album, Dawn, came out last September: With The New Album ‘Dawn,’ Yebba Sheds Old Beliefs.

Listen to the complete intimate 24-minute interview where they discover they have a lot in common growing up around music in the church: Yebba Sheds Old Beliefs With A New Album. Both include the transcripts.

NPR also posted Yebba: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert of her performing songs from the album with her amazing band and vocal backup group.

Trying to come to terms with her mother’s death, Yebba processed a lot of emotions and memories. She titled and dedicated her first album in her name. Symbolically, it became the official dawn of her career.

September 8, 2021: This Tiny Desk Concert has been in the works since the spring of 2020, when the album was completed but shelved until Yebba (and the rest of the world) was in a better place. It was worth the wait.

Reviews

Billboard published: Yebba’s ‘Dawn’: The Long, Difficult Road to the Stunning Singer’s Debut. Yebba’s highly-anticipated, Mark Ronson-produced debut album was delayed by loss and lockdown — but now the soul singer is even more eager to begin in earnest. 

In the YouTube documentary, “How To Be: Mark Ronson,” when Mark and Yebba are in the studio, he says, “she is one of the top five greatest vocalists I’ve ever recorded, just the kind of person that when they’re singing in a room, everybody just suddenly engages more.” And Mark has collaborated with and produced the best, like Amy Winehouse, Adele, Bruno Mars, Q-Tip, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, to name a few.

The Whit Online published this review: YEBBA’s Debut Album, “Dawn” is a Masterclass in Musicianship.

“This is a voice that moves, it doesn’t merely entertain,” says Kyle Dennis in his Album Review: Yebba’s ‘Dawn’ Is Divine.

Natalie Maher interviewed Yebba for Harpers Bazaar: Yebba Isn’t Afraid to Feel It All. The singer-songwriter’s debut album, Dawn, is a hauntingly beautiful ode to the art of healing.

Song versions

Yebba doesn’t usually sing her songs the same way twice. Her song, Boomerang, is on the album, but this live version posted on her YouTube channel sounds better.

Same with this live version of October Sky. The song is based on a memory of her mother firing off bottle rockets she had brought home from science class for Yebba and her brother. Gerard Hern explained it in his comment quoting Yebba on how she wrote the song.

“I wrote this whole story about remembering her sliding down the hall and telling us ‘Come outside we’re shooting off bottle rockets,’” Yebba explains. “That memory came to me and the words just spilled out: this story of her and the promise that she broke, in a way, because she killed herself in October. I genuinely feel like she was standing there in the room with me as I was writing it, in my studio apartment in Brooklyn.”

Look for videos on her YouTube channel. She adds new ones. For her debut album, Dawn, you can Listen on Spotify or Listen on Apple Music.

Yebba posted this gem Nov 8, 2015: Abbey Smith cover “Weak” by SWV.

Healing Trauma with Transcendental Meditation

Nick Cave and Lady Gaga are two of many musicians who have spoken about the benefits of Transcendental Meditation (TM) for their grief and pain, respectively, and to boost their creativity. Katy Perry and Sting have participated with other artists in fundraising concerts for the David Lynch Foundation (DLF), which offers TM for free to traumatized communities.

DLF’s latest projects include veterans and their families suffering from PTSD and frontline healthcare workers exhausted from dealing with the pandemic. Many published studies show TM to be effective in removing stress, healing trauma, and reenergizing people. It could help Yebba.

New music

Jan 24, 2022: Yebba – The Age of Worry (Live at Electric Lady), a song originally performed by John Mayer. johnmayer posted this comment on Yebba’s Instagram post about it:

My screen is getting blurry. ❤️ So moved. Thank you for showing what’s been hiding in my own work through your profoundly powerful and soulful take. You are so special I can’t stand/understand it sometimes. ♥️♥️♥️

Jan 27, 2022: Spotify posts Yebba’s new 5-song EP, Live at Electric Lady.

Opening for John Mayer’s 2022 Sob Rock Tour

And now John Mayer’s 2022 Sob Rock Tour will include Yebba as his opening act in some March to April venues. Official #1 Fan, Yebbite Smith, posts videos from concerts, like these clips from Luke Edgemon of Yebba and her funky band opening for John Mayer in LA. Luke also posted Yebba singing October Sky from that Forum concert. Jayla R posted Stand from the Tampa show.

See more on YS’s Instagram accounts: Yebbites and yebbasmithworld, which includes a photo of Yebba and John. And on his YouTube channel, Yebbite Smith, where he also posted, YEBBA Best Vocals Sob Rock Tour.

Yebba posted this insane clip from one of those shows of her riffing on “It’s just a shot away” from the Rolling Stones classic Gimme Shelter.

Posts on other great musical artists

Discover and enjoy the amazing soulful voice of young Angelina Jordan. It is jaw-dropping great! || Lissie @lissiemusic and her connections to Twin Peaks, Fairfield and #TranscendentalMeditation || The hauntingly beautiful voice of Eva Cassidy || Colin Hay’s song—I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You—is so relevant during these tough times || Leonard Cohen said there’s a crack in everything—how the light gets in. It came through him & lit up a broken humanity || Hafiz said to leave something in the marketplace, and Jesse Winchester sure did before he left us. || The hauntingly beautiful music of Davy Spillane played on uilleann pipes and low whistle || Bill Evans’s Peace Piece is musical onomatopoeia || Bobby Hutcherson plays Bouquet with Ron Carter and Herbie Hancock at One Night with Blue Note

Don Henley and Lissie use the same approach to writing songs—don’t force it and wash the dishes!

October 4, 2020

I enjoy listening to songwriters talk about their creative process—how they approach the task of writing a song, the kind of strategies they use.

How Don Henley writes his songs

I recently watched a 92nd Street Y interview posted on YouTube in 2015. American Rock royalty Billy Joel and Eagles drummer and singer-songwriter Don Henley covered a lot of ground in 85 minutes. One of the things Joel asked Henley about was what does he do to get himself into the space where he can write songs.

Don tells Billy how he may hole up in a cabin, or somewhere where he won’t be disturbed, and shuts out all electronic distractions. He also says he doesn’t just sit there and write; he can’t force the words to come. He says he follows the zen-like advice to do a simple task first.

He tells the audience, “I’m dead serious. I’ve written some of my best stuff loading and unloading the dishwasher! Because you’re distracted and yet you’re not. I don’t know how to explain the thing. But I’ve read about the zen masters saying the same thing—if you can just do a menial task instead of sitting there with a pen and paper, in front of you going, (he clenches his fists and grunts).” The embedded video may play from the beginning, but that part of the discussion starts at 57:14.

How Lissie writes her songs

That reminds me of the exact same thing Lissie said in The A-Sides Interview. She discusses how she is learning to balance art with commerce, and spontaneity with structure. Describing her creative process she usually comes up with a melody, sometimes working with other musicians, then later writes the lyrics alone.

When writing lyrics, she’s “careful to not force it” and is always surprised when rhyming phrases pop into her head “when washing the dishes, not focusing hard on the lyrics.” That’s when she’s presented with newer better word choices she hadn’t thought of.

She emphasizes finding a balance: “being spontaneous, yet structured.” The embedded video may play from the beginning, but that part of the interview starts at 4:58.

How Colin Hay writes his songs

Another singer-songwriter I had discovered and recently wrote about is Colin Hay. When it comes to writing songs he says he likes to have as empty a mind as possible and puts himself in a space where he won’t be interrupted. He emphasizes that time is important, to give himself enough time to fail. He describes a scene where he’s all alone for 3 or 4 hours without any distractions, just sitting with his acoustic guitar doing nothing, just idling, coming up with musical ideas.

At other times, a friend may drop by and mention something in passing that will act as a catalyst to what he’s been thinking about. It triggers the melody, and then the words spontaneously come out in one take. In those cases he’ll quickly finish a song in under an hour. That’s how he wrote Waiting for my Real Life to Begin.

He explains all this in a 2011 CNN interview with Brooke Baldwin when she asks him where he was when he wrote that song, then quotes some of the lyrics to him. The embedded video may play from the beginning, but that part of the interview starts at 3:52.

TM, creativity, and the default mode network

Our minds are usually working on a particular problem, consciously and unconsciously. I’ve had the same thing happen to me when I’m writing a poem or a blog post and reach an impasse. I give up, let it go, and, surprisingly, the right solution later presents itself when I least expect it.

Science calls that place in our brains the default mode network (DMN), a.k.a. the imagination network or genius lounge. It’s activated when the mind is daydreaming, not engaged or concentrating on anything, just “idling” as Colin Hay put it. The key is to be easy. Focusing or “forcing it” turns it off.

Interestingly, the DMN is also activated during the effortless practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique as practitioners experience a state of “restful alertness.” Sometimes great ideas may show up during, but more likely after TM, what David Lynch calls, “Catching the Big Fish.” He often tells students, “TM is a boon for the filmmaker.” It facilitates access to one’s inner resources to create and think out of the box.

Jon Bon Jovi says washing dishes brings on hit songs

Addendum: Jon Bon Jovi, who loves doing TM, shared the same experience as Don Henley and Lissie on Monday night’s A Late Show with Stephen Colbert when they discussed the events that influenced his new album, Bon Jovi 2020. He told Colbert how the song Do What You Can came about when he was washing dishes in one of their JBJ Soul Kitchens during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bon Jovi concluded, “Washing dishes brings on hit songs, Stephen.

Related: Lissie @lissiemusic and her connections to Twin Peaks, Fairfield and #TranscendentalMeditation and Colin Hay’s song—I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You—is so relevant during these tough times

Colin Hay’s song—I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You—is so relevant during these tough times

September 17, 2020

For anyone who’s gone through a breakup, or the traumatic loss of a loved one during these tough times of COVID-19, forest fires, and other natural catastrophes, this nostalgic song by Colin Hay may move you to tears. That kind of cathartic experience, acknowledging and feeling the loss, may help in the healing of it, relieving some of the grief over time.

I first heard I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You in the Garden State soundtrack. A while back a friend posted it on her Instagram. I listened to several YouTube videos of him singing it, along with other great songs, and funny stories he shares with audiences during his shows.

You can see the lyrics and history of the song here. It was re-released on Transcendental Highway and posted on his YouTube channel. It has a softer, quieter feel to it, especially the ending, compared to these more powerful live performances on Paste, and more recently on eTown. I’ll embed it here, but I recommend hearing all 3 selections.

I discovered that Colin Hay had been part of the world-famous Australian musical phenomenon, Men At Work in the early 80’s. Their first massive hit, Down Under, was heard everywhere for months. Hay was their lead singer, guitarist, and main songwriter. After the band broke up, a few members at a time, and their label dropped him, a downward spiral into addiction followed. His wife left him. He would eventually seek help and attempt to launch his musical career as a solo artist with not much luck.

He moved to LA and became the first musician to play at Largo, a new club frequented by people in the entertainment business. He soon gained a following, was discovered and produced. What helped relaunch his career was when Scrubs star Zach Braff encouraged producer Bill Lawrence to see him perform at the club. Bill’s wife, Christa Miller, had already become a fan earlier on and was always raving about him.

After he heard Colin perform, Bill couldn’t understand why his songs were not more successful. He decided to feature some of them in his popular TV show. Colin is seen performing Overkill in one episode, while Waiting For My Real Life To Begin is sung by the cast in another. That song has been featured in eight different popular television series. The song is also heard early on in the soundtrack to the 2010 film Morning Glory and in the 2014 film soundtrack to Words and Pictures.

Zach asked Colin if he could use one of his songs for a movie he was making. The Garden State film and soundtrack would become a huge hit, which included, “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You”. The CD went platinum, which also put Hay’s music out there in a very big way. The TV show, movie and CD introduced him to a much larger, younger audience. It changed everything for him. He had paid his dues and humbly moved into one of the most stable and rewarding phases of his career. He also married singer Cecilia Noël, who often provides backup vocals at his shows. Noël has also helped with production on Hay’s solo albums.

Colin Hay: Waiting For My Real Life

In 2015, an independent documentary film was made about him, appropriately titled: Colin Hay – Waiting For My Real Life. Here is a comprehensive Summary posted on IMDb, followed by the official trailer. https://www.colinhayfilm.com See updated note below with links to it.

‘Colin Hay – Waiting For My Real Life’ is the story of singer-songwriter Colin Hay, former front-man of Men At Work. We follow Hay from his earliest days in Scotland, through his family’s emigration to Australia, to the massive, worldwide success of his band, to the depths of addiction and failure, to a slow climb back up the ladder seeking relevance, artistic freedom and ultimately, transcendence. Featuring interviews with Hugh Jackman, Mick Fleetwood, Sia Furler, Guy Pearce and many others, ‘Colin Hay – Waiting For My Real Life’ is the inspiring story of a true artist.

In the film Hay says, “Creativity is my salvation, and going out on the road.” Performing his music in front of appreciative live audiences feeds his soul. “It’s clean, it’s pure,” he says. “It has to do with connecting with people, you know.” He says he keeps touring because, “It makes me feel useful.” It also gives him a natural high, a healthier kind of addiction.

His artistry has staying power. One musician in the film says his music is intergenerational: his millennial fans don’t remember him from Men At Work, and the boomers don’t know him from Scrubs. American actress Wendie Malick says he’s the best living troubadour today. I agree. Plus, he looks like a man at peace with himself. Colin concludes, “Everybody has to find their place in this expanding universe. This is my place.”

Playing with Ringo Starr

Colin Hay met two Beatles and played with one of them. In 2008 he toured with Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band. Hay performed his classic hit Down Under with the band during a show at the Greek Theatre in LA. Be sure to watch the final 15 seconds where after the show Ringo says to Colin, “I really laid it on you on that song ‘cuz you thought you were doing it all. There’s a solo coming!” He imitates Colin, ‘Okay.'” Colin smiles and says, “I was good though.” Ringo exclaims, “You were great!” He laughs and repeats ‘I was good though’ to one of the musicians next to him. Colin laughs with Ringo who loudly claps his hands twice.

Colin performed on several tours with Ringo and his All Starr Band. Click to see another great performance of Colin Hay singing Down Under with Ringo and a different combination of his All Starr Band, including a flutist, and Sheila E as the other drummer!

Hanging out with Paul McCartney

In addition to being a great guitarist-singer-songwriter, Colin Hay is a very funny storyteller. The most fascinating and hilarious story is meeting his childhood idol, Sir Paul McCartney. He relates occasions when Paul and his then wife Heather came to hear him perform, once just himself, another time with his band. After the concert Paul was backstage at the bar and invited the whole band to join him. He holds court for an hour. Then it’s just Paul and Colin. After an awkward silence, Colin asks him what he’s in LA for, and Paul tells him he’s finishing a record. Colin remarks, “Oh, a bit different from the old days, eh, making a record?” And Paul proceeded to tell him what it was like in the old days. Colin tells the audience: “And I could have stood there all night.”

Paul would pick up John and together they’d finish the new song he played for him as they sat in the upper deck of the bus on the way to the studio. When they arrived, George and Ringo were already there. Paul would show it to them, George would figure out the chords, and Ringo would tap out the rhythm. Then a man in a white lab coat would come in and say, “Right, you’re up lads.” They’d record two songs, break for lunch and a smoke, then record two more, with few takes.

Paul then tells Colin he and Heather would like to come over to Colin’s house for dinner. That part of the story is priceless! The audience loved it, as did I. You will too. It’s the preamble to him singing the title song of his reissued 2001 album, Going Somewhere, which Paul and Heather loved, and added to their rotation of favorite songs. It also contains the bonus track, I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You, which prompted this now ongoing blog post. Enjoy!

How Colin Hay writes his songs

CNN’s Brooke Baldwin interviewed Colin Hay on the occasion of his 11th solo album, Gathering Mercury, which was partly influenced by the death of his father in 2010. The discussion came around to how Colin writes his songs. I found this part of the interview fascinating.

When writing songs he says he likes to have as empty a mind as possible. Time is important to give himself enough time to fail. He describes a scene where he’s all alone for 3 or 4 hours without any distractions just sitting around with his acoustic guitar doing nothing, just idling, coming up with musical ideas.

He uses the image of a revolving door in a hotel lobby. If a bunch of bags are stacked up and it’s chaotic, there’s all this noise and bustle, any idea that comes in would turn around and go out the door. But if it’s quiet, and there’s a nice fountain, it may stick around for him to discover and turn it into a song.

Brooke asks him where he was when he wrote, Waiting for my Real Life to Begin. She quotes a section of the song: “And you say, just be here now. Forget about the past, your mask is wearing thin. Let me throw one more dice, I know that I can win. I’m waiting for my real life to begin.”

He describes how his song-writing buddy and drummer, Tom Mooney, had come over to his house. He asked him how he was doing, and he mumbled that he was waiting for his real life to begin. Tom left to do something else and Colin said it sparked what he had been thinking about. “It opened up a door.” It was the catalyst. The melody came, then the words. He wrote the song in 30-45 minutes.

Colin had moved to California to leave his old life behind in Melbourne, where he drank a lot, hung out with crazy people, thought about the past, and worried about the future. “Very rarely do we be where we are.” Brooke asks him if he does now and he answers that he’s learning. But when he does, “it can be quite profound; it can be life-changing.”

Coming full circle

I’ll leave you with this beautiful song, A Thousand Million Reasons, from Colin Hay’s 2017 solo release Fierce Mercy, his 13th. On the Track-By-Track Colin explains the song is about not letting fear rule your life and how to find meaning in the fact that although we may be alone, we are all alone together.

I found this cool website with a timeline biography, and an alphabetical listing of the lyrics and songs of Colin Hay and Men at Work posted on http://colinhay.com.br.

Updated: You can see Colin Hay – Waiting For My Real Life on Amazon Prime (1hr 24min 2017). Someone also posted it on YouTube.

Related: Don Henley and Lissie use the same approach to writing songs—don’t force it and wash the dishes!


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