“Jazz Monthly Feature Interview” Mindi Abair
Smitty: I am always happy to talk to my next guest. She’s just an exciting musician to watch and to listen to. She’s about to release another fantastic new record. It’s called Life Less Ordinary. I feel like this is a sequel to a great story because each time she produces a CD, it’s always a sequel to her playing and her musicianship, and it’s always in an elevated mode. Please welcome once again the lovely and so talented Ms. Mindi Abair. Mindi, how are ya?
MINDI ABAIR (MA): I’m great. Thank you for such a nice introduction. I’m very proud of this new CD and I’m so glad you like it. Not many people have heard it yet, so it’s fun to see people’s reactions. I’ve lived with it so long and took so much time making it that it’s really fun to see people enjoy it now.
Smitty: Yes indeed. You know, I noticed right away when listening to this record, it just felt like you had this strong desire to express yourself and really give your fans a much deeper look at Mindi Abair.
MA: That’s really what I wanted on this CD. I remember so many years ago I was shopping for a record deal and a record executive said to me, before he ever heard my music, he said “But do you have something to say? To be an artist and make records you have to have something to say.” And I’d never really heard that from anyone and I didn’t quite know how to take that, so I said “Yes, I have something to say.” But I do believe that you really do have, you know, have to have something to say or have to have something to express; because it shows in the music. Whether it’s writing lyrics or whether it’s instrumental music. I think there’s a spirit to music when you write it and you really have something in your heart that you want to get out, and this record is definitely that.
Smitty: I think you’ve expressed yourself quite well because this is some funky new fabric. I mean, the sax lines are so strong and I’m just really digging the record. And I noticed right away too, your voice was much deeper, it was emotional, it was so expressive in the lyrics in the songs. Unbelievable.
MA: Aw, thank you. Yeah, I think this year was a big year for many of us, definitely, you know, the world, America. For me it was big, a lot of changes, I had so much to write about. I think it was a very real and honest look at the past year of my life and the songs I wrote, because of what was happening. I mean, you look at Hurricane Katrina coming through or you look at the hurricanes that hit Florida, which is where I was born and raised, and the tragedies that happened there. I got married this year, which was just this beautiful life change, just really fun things happening. I was out with my band touring and that’s been a life dream for me to be on the road with my band playing my music and having records out there. So I’m not the type to take that type of thing for granted. I’m the type of person to just soak up every moment of it and just love it and enjoy it, so I think so much of that is reflected on the record. There are a lot of songs that are very heartfelt and there are just fun funky jams where I was like, you know, “We could have a good time with this playing on the road next year!”
Smitty: Yeah, that’s what I’m talking bout! (Both laughing)
MA: And, you know, songs that are kind of touching from some of the tragedies that have happened, but I think it kind of encompasses the whole year for me.
Smitty: Yeah. So when you say that, and thinking back to the time of making this record and going in and out of the studio, the late nights, the early mornings, talk about some of your emotions and your experiences in doing this. Was it fun? Was it thought provoking? Was it just a re-living of the past and thinking about the future? Talk about some of those emotions that you were feeling while you were making this record.
MA: Well, there was one song that I wrote……it’s funny. The way that this record happened was a little different for how I usually make a record. I sat down with Matthew Hager, who I usually work with, he’s produced all of my CD’s and we’re best friends. So we’ll sit down to write and usually come up with just our normal sound. But what we started coming up with…..both of our faults (laughing), so what we came up with was this moody, like, really kind of emotional music. One of the first songs we wrote was a song called “Rain,” and we started writing it and I just thought “Wow, this is not what I expected to come out of me today, like, I just…..I don’t know what’s going on in this song and it sounds like it’s raining,” and that’s, of course, why we named it “Rain.” But as the song went on, it kind of got this optimistic quality to it, and as we wrote it, it took a turn from this kind of rainy to this kind of optimistic, almost triumphant song. And I just thought “Wow, this is just like the tragedies that have happened; Hurricane Katrina that we’ve been hearing so much about and some of the other hurricanes that have hit Florida that I helped out my family members with and tried to re-build a little bit. But I thought it was such a neat thing to come out because it’s not normally what you write a song about or it’s not normally the kind of music comes out of you. Sometimes you really have no control over that, like you’re just……you’re kind of ….a person that it flows through and there it is, and you think “Ha! I guess I did feel that more than I thought.” (Chuckle)
Smitty: It’s interesting that you say that because the things that you described, the various hurricanes and other tragedies around the country, and there are some bright spots too, some wonderful things that have happened, you know?
MA: Oh yeah.
Smitty: And it’s funny you mention the song “Rain” because I listened to the CD two or three times and then I kept going back to “Rain” for some reason.
MA: Oh really? Wow.
Smitty: Yeah, I kept repeating “Rain” and I said “Why am I playing this song? Why do I keep going back to this song?” I kept hitting repeat. And what I noticed was…..the very things that I would dwell on as I’m listening to this song. I start to think about family, I start to think about things that have happened, you know, I lost my parents very close together…..
MA: Oh wow.
Smitty: ….within a year and a half, and all of the things that happened around that, and some of the wonderful things that have happened recently in my life…..it was one of those thought provoking songs that cause you to reflect.
Smitty: And I think that’s a connection that your fans will feel and immediately connect with that song because it does provoke the emotions of everyday life, the things that we see and feel and hear every day.
MA: Yes, I think that when you’re writing music you should be open to letting all of that out and sometimes it’s hard to let out the more honest of the emotions. Sometimes it’s easier to write an upbeat, fun, funky song than kind of let out those deeper emotions of maybe what you may be feeling with a tragedy or something bigger happening in your life. So I’m always very proud of the ballads that I write because it takes a little more courage, I think, to let that out and to record it and put it out there on the table, but you always hope that someone else maybe will feel the same or will feel something when they hear it.
Smitty: I think that speaks volumes for the entire record, because I could feel your desire to dig deep within yourself and to come from within with each song. But “Rain” just kind of stuck out there for me, and I think a lot of people will connect with that song. I also have to say…… now “Rain” is Track 5 and then I’d move to Track 6, “True Blue,” I’m just in love with that song!
MA: (Laughing) That’s awesome!
Smitty: That is a hip party song. It’s got great sax lines and bass lines. I mean, the chords are killer. It’s just one of those complete songs that just does everything for you. Even if you’re in the car you want to just stand up in your car and dance, you know?
MA: You know, everyone that I’ve played that song for so far has just sung along.
MA: But, you know, it starts out with circles and it has circles in the chorus and it’s an instrumental, so it always comes to the chorus and everyone’s “(singing),” you know?
Smitty: Oh yeah.
MA: They’re just singing along, and I always think that’s fun, like that’s a good meter of, you know, someone’s feeling a song, you know.
Smitty: Yeah, I do.
MA: They’ll sing along, so I always get good vibes when I hear that song and that song just came out of just a lot of kind of good feelings and coming off the road and just having these great experiences with my band out there, having fun, and it’s just a really “feel good” song to me.
Smitty: Yeah, it is. When I heard this song, I said to myself “This is gonna be some great music to do live.
Smitty: It’s like “Oh, she’s gonna burn this,” you know?
MA: Yeah, I think another song that’s really gonna be fun to do live is “The Joint.”
Smitty: Oh yeah.
MA: “The Joint” is just this dirty, fun, throwaway jam song, and I think, listening to it now, I still get the same perspective as when we wrote it, and I just…….I was kind of feeling that we were in one of these places that I kind of came up the ranks playing in.
Just some joint……and I’ve played so many nights in these teeny little places, you know, to people dancing all night and eating and drinking and making noise. So for me it’s fun to write a song and kind of have that spirit of where you can just kind of feel those bodies moving on the dance floor and you’re just kind of playing and it’s a fun kind of hang, you know.
Smitty: Absolutely, yeah.
MA: So that’s what that song was kind of borne out of. That one’s gonna be fun to do live. Hopefully we’ll get to do it in places bigger than the places where I used to play. (Both laughing)
Smitty: Oh, I’m sure you will. When you put this record together, if you could make one statement about this record, what would it be?
MA: Wow, I don’t know if I could put it down to one statement. But I guess if I had to, it would be the title of the record because that’s always a very thoughtful point for me, you know, what does this record represent, and the title is Life Less Ordinary. And I think there’s many, many emotions and personalities reflected in this CD, and I feel that that’s the obvious title for me because it was a less ordinary year and the music reflects that. It’s less ordinary music. I mean, if you have the other two CD’s, it’s gonna be a little bit of a departure from those, but there are, you know, threads where you can tell it’s me and everything, but hopefully we keep evolving and we keep using life as our mirror for what we should be doing and what we should be feeling. So this is an honest representation of that, so I think that’s it: “Life less ordinary”.
Smitty: Yeah, I can feel that that…..I know this is Mindi, when you hear the record, you know, the first song, “Do You Miss Me?” which is a great song, by the way.
MA: Thank you.
Smitty: But then you start to feel the other elements, you know, you feel the elevation, you feel the maturity and the emotions and all of that as you go throughout the entire book of the music. I think it’s a wonderful mix.
MA: Thank you. Yeah, I always want a record to be a fun journey; it takes you through different feelings like a good concert. You should be up there rocking out and just feeling good, and then you can go to a ballad and then just kind of feel that for a second and then go on to something else. I think its fun to go on a journey on a record.
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely.
MA: Yeah, if every song sounds the same, it’s just………it’s not as entertaining to me.
Smitty: That’s for sure!
MA: At least as a fan, hearing different people’s albums. I like when people take you different places.
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely. And I must give some props to Matthew. What a great job he did with this record.
MA: You know, Matthew Hager’s an amazing producer, he’s an amazing songwriter and musician, I can’t say enough about him, and that’s why I really thought when I signed to Verve/GRP, to get him to produce and write on my CD’s, I really didn’t know if he was gonna be the right person. But we wrote a few things and we’d written since college together, but he was never really the job type, so I didn’t know if he’d want to, if he’d fit in or whatever. But the stuff that we were writing was so cool that it just became the stuff that was on the record, and from there, it’s like I don’t want to do this with anyone else. I just think that we have such a cool chemistry and we know each other so well from being friends since college that we’re not trying to be anything we’re not. I’m not trying to impress him as some bigshot producer and be something I’m not. He knows me well enough that if I play something that’s not me or that doesn’t sound like me, he knows.
MA: He’ll be like “Take it again. Just do your thing.” You know (both laughing) he really keeps me on track because he knows me well enough to do that. He knows how to push me. It’s like “Nah, that wasn’t good enough. Let’s keep going. I know you can do better than that.” And that’s fun. It’s fun to have a friend to work with that can push you to greater things, and that goes for music and musicianship and writing.
Smitty: I totally agree. And I think that’s important when you’ve got that kind of a connection with a producer and you’re friends, you have such a great rapport, and you know each other. It’s like in any sporting event when you have a team and they all know each other and they know what to look for. I think that’s a beautiful combination.
MA: Yeah, we even each other out with different things, you know, we know how to work together, and I think that’s a really important thing and for me it is unbelievable to be able to work with friends, and on each of my albums now it’s all about getting our friends in from the string arrangements on “Far Away” and doing my other albums, we used my friend Julie Rogers, who I’ve known since I came to L.A. basically and, Ty Stevens, who usually writes with me and plays on the record; we’ve been friends since I moved to L.A. and I think that it’s really…..it’s fun to have people that you vibe with and who came up the ranks with you and you just have a rapport with, instead of just calling some guy you don’t know and say “Hey, can you play on my record?” (Both laughing)
Smitty: Yeah, it makes it a lot more fun, that’s for sure.
MA: Yeah. Goof off more. (chuckle)
Smitty: Yeah, exactly. Now, I want to ask you about the soprano because I could tell that you’ve really come into your own with the soprano sax.
MA: Thank you.
Smitty: You’re loving that, aren’t you?
MA: You know, I’ve always loved soprano saxophone and I got my first one when I was 18 and it’s just always been this beautiful, different instrument for me. So many people think “Oh, it’s just another saxophone,” but, boy, to me it’s a whole different instrument than alto saxophone, which you hear me play a lot of, and it’s funny, I feel like sometimes you can go more places on soprano. I mean, I did “Flirt” on soprano and it was this kind of rockish, fun, rocking tune, but then you can use soprano to do like this human voice and just, be this beautiful, beautiful instrument and I love that aspect of it. I think on this record I get to show that, maybe a little more than some of the other records, maybe the scope of what the soprano can do in my mind, and I just love the instrument. I just want to use it as much as possible. (Both laughing)
Smitty: Well, you have just had such a “life less ordinary” (both laughing) in terms of what you’ve done over the past year, not to mention the prior couple of years. Last year I think you spent more time on a ship than you ever have in your life (laughing).
MA: Well, I’d never been on a ship before last year and that was pretty fun to go on the cruise. I had a blast.
Smitty: Yeah. And you’re performing at the Oscars!
MA: I am. That’s just unbelievable.
Smitty: Well, tell me, when you first heard that you got the gig, what was the reaction? Come on! (Laughing)
MA: I was just blown away to hear that we might play for the Governors Ball. I thought “Wow, really? Huh, this is gonna be cool!” (Both laughing) So as it developed and we got hired to play and now we’re playing. I’m just excited. I’m thinking “What am I gonna wear?” (Both laughing) That’s the important thing, right Smitty?
MA: No, so I think we’re just gonna have a great time. I’m incredibly honored to even be thought of and there’s not many people that get to play the Governors Ball and get to be a part of the Oscars, and so I’m just gonna soak it in and have a good time.
Smitty: Yeah. You know, Mindi, you could write your memoirs right now and be totally exciting to the world.
MA: You know, I feel like I’ve lived 20 people’s lives and I couldn’t be happier about it. It’s like I’ve gotten to do all these cool things, whether it’s, you know, touring with the Backstreet Boys or being out with Duran Duran or recording my own records and…..
Smitty: Josh Groban.
MA: Getting to be on the big screen for Panasonic (NY Times Square) or getting to play the Oscars. It’s like “Wow, I could stop now and be, you know, pretty happy,” but I don’t wanna stop, I think it’s awesome, I just want to keep going and see where this takes me, you just never know.
Smitty: That’s right. Well, you’re having a fun time, I can tell, and rightly so, and we as fans are having a great time along with you.
MA: I’m glad. I think that it should be a party for everyone and it’s fun to see the same faces at gigs and people coming out to different events and all the familiar faces and it is a team event. You know, for me it’s that…. it’s about the audience and me and the band connecting, and it wouldn’t be the same without that kind of interaction, so we’re having a blast and it won’t stop here. (Both laughing)
Smitty: Well, that’s nice to know, wow. Well, Mindi, I tell you, I always get excited when there’s new records that you’re putting out there and I’m just stoked over this one and just wish you well with it and I know there’s gonna be some great things happening this year in connection with this record and the tour and all those things, and you’re to be congratulated for a wonderful, strong CD.
MA: Thank you. Yeah, I’m hoping I can get some of my special guests to come out and, like, sit in with me somewhere, you know?
Smitty: Yeah, that would be very cool!
MA: Get Lalah Hathaway to come sing with me live or, you know, get Keb Mo to come out and sit in at a concert or something, you never know. Well, now that I’ve got them on the record, it’s like “Come on, sit in, you’re on the record!” (Both laughing)
Smitty: Well, that’s a nice incentive, that’s for sure.
MA: I know. My mom and dad recently moved to L.A., so I know that they’ll kind of be moving around to some of the different concerts, and my dad has already sat in with me a few times on some shows, so that’s fun.
Smitty: Oh yeah.
MA: Always fun to add that family aspect.
Smitty: Yep, and he’s not a throwdown. I mean, he’s a player! (Laughing)
MA: Yeah, it’s fun for me to introduce…..“My dad’s gonna come up and sit in,” and the audience thinks “Aw, that’s nice, that’s great, it might not be so good, but we’re gonna clap anyway.”
MA: So, you know, he gets on stage, plays a few notes, they’re like “Yeah, yeah,” but then he gets into his solo and he’s just screaming and doing all this stuff and just playing so great and, boy, once the audience figures out that he’s for real and that he is really an amazing sax player, they just get on their feet. It’s really fun to watch, isn’t it?
Smitty: Yeah, that is so cool. Your dad has got some chops! He’s a bad boy!
MA: So it’s fun to show people where you came from.
Smitty: Yes indeed. So now when does the record drop?
MA: The record comes out April 18th.
Smitty: After listening to this record (several times), I must say to all of your fans, “Line up for this record because this is above the other two. This is a great record. You will definitely want to add this one to your collection.”
MA: Very cool, thank you.
Smitty: Yes. So now the tour, you’re lining up the tour and gearing up for the summer and the fall, huh?
MA: Yeah, we’re gonna be on the road a lot, so I think that we’re going to hit probably every major city, so yeah.
MA: Everybody please come out. The tour is on! Be a part of the new music.
Smitty: Exactly. I was going say, this new music is going be great in the live performance setting, and your live shows are always a party!
MA: It’s really going be fun, yeah. The last album didn’t really lend itself to having every song be played live and you never quite think of that when you’re making a record, but this one I’m looking at and I just wrote out charts for every single one of them and we’re rehearsing all the new music now and it’s a blast. (Both laughing) So every song on this record is going to be represented live and it’s just that kind of record. It’s got that kind of spirit.
Smitty: Yes, very cool. And I will see you in Vegas.
Smitty: How ‘bout that?
MA: Las Vegas City Of Lights Jazz and R&B Festival. That’ll be awesome. Oh yeah, we’re gonna have a good time.
Smitty: Yes indeed. Well, Mindi, I must wish you well with everything.
MA: Thank you.
Smitty: Thanks so much for spending a little time with The Smitty and talking about this great record and gearing up for another great year of music, and please let’s get together and talk some more.
MA: I would love that. I would love that. So we’ll keep up with each other and see you in Vegas.
MA: And who knows where else?
Smitty: Cool. All right, we’ve been talking with GRP recording artist Ms. Mindi Abair. Once again, she has scored a great hit with this great new CD. It’s called Life Less Ordinary, it’s scheduled released date April 18th, pick this one up, this is a great one. You definitely want to put this one in your changer. Mindi, thanks again, my friend, and best wishes for a great year in 2006 with the record and the tour.
MA: Thank you.
Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
For More Information Visit www.mindiabair.com or www.vervemusicgroup.com and (she has a MySpace blog too).
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