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Mindi AbairJM: Wild Heart is a great name for the rockin’ nature of the new album. Was the overall edgy rock vibe by design or, to paraphrase the title of your debut album, did it just happen that way?

MA: Every record has to be a snapshot of where you are in your life. With me, that changes and morphs as I grow and do different things. Since my last solo album In Hi-Fi Stereo, I’ve delved into different things, playing on Idol with winner Phillip Phillips, getting on the road with Aerosmith and Max Weinberg, doing that show with Springsteen and playing all the Clarence Clemons parts. This sound may be new to my smooth jazz fans, but rock is something I grew up and moonlighted with my whole life, including playing with Waddy Wachtel’s group in LA. Standing onstage with Aerosmith every night, I watched those guys sweat and bleed for their audience as they ran around onstage. I saw and heard the power and energy these guys exude with every note. I have always felt that I and my band are the rockers of the jazz world, but I had never brought that type of sheer abandon to a record. I wanted to do that – give it all, leave nothing on the table and pour out everything inside me, but in an organic rock-soul way. I didn’t start out with a concept to do a rock, soul or jazz record per se. I just wanted to make music that I could have a blast with and feel that power of rock and roll.  

JM: Fans who love our trademark poppy hits are in for a real whirlwind. You have a few gentler moments but that sense of abandon adds a whole new dimension to “MindiWorld” (the name of Abair’s fan club).

MA: I don’t think it’s that much of a left turn. Anyone who has bought my records before will know it’s me, and those fans who have seen me and my band play live know we rock the older songs pretty hard. We give a thousand percent every night and I’m seriously soaking wet by the third song. So in that sense, I don’t think Wild Heart will shock many people. I just went a little further and kicked it up a notch and put in some distorted guitars. A lot of my fans are smooth jazz enthusiasts but they’ve probably seen some Rolling Stones shows in their day as well. When I do a Stones cover, it goes over well. I just have to make music that inspires me. The artists I respect most have made careers for themselves because they didn’t fit into a specific mold. Booker T, who worked with me here on “Addicted To You,” had his breakthrough hit with “Green Onions” when he was 17. Nobody was playing B-3 at the time and suddenly everyone was. It’s important to forge your own path.

JM: He’s part of a pretty exciting guest list. Did you start with a wish list of performers or did opportunities to work with these greats emerge along the way?

MA: Everything happened organically. I wrote 40-50 songs and chose 11 of those to record. I wanted a cohesive project that encompassed the vibe I was after, and for the most part ideas for bringing guests on board hit me when I felt like songs needed an extra kick. (Longtime friend and producer) Matthew Hagar and I wrote “Kick Ass” and started to record it when I just decided it needed more. I had just come off the Aerosmith tour and I visualized Joe Perry with his shirt flying open playing crazy rock guitar on it – and I made the call and he was up for it. Keb’ Mo’, who joins me in a vocal duet on “I’ll Be Your Home,” is an old friend and I called him when I couldn’t quite get the vocal harmonies down on the chorus.

I wrote the opening track “Amazing Game” with Jim Peterik (Survivor) and we were going to do it as a vocal but I liked the way the sax sounded better. But I wanted to make it more raucous so I called up Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty. He’s always on the road and he recorded his part in a hotel room in Lafayette, Louisiana. I met Gregg Allman when we performed with people like Chrissie Hynde, Dr. John and Joe Walsh at (Microsoft Co-Founder) Paul Allen’s 60th birthday party. I asked him if he’d ever want to write and record with me and he took me up on it. I stayed at his house outside of Savannah and we hung out in his living room and wrote “Just Say When.” Opportunities just seemed to present themselves and everyone did a wonderful job.  

Mindi AbairJM: How do you feel you have grown and evolved as a composer, musician, artist and performer since you emerged as a smooth jazz artist in 2003?

MA: I definitely feel I’ve grown in a lot of ways. On the first record, I had all this music inside me and I felt like I succeeded at making an album that was reflective of what was in my head at the time. As I have evolved as a human being and artist, I always try to take the same approach, create the music that’s in my head, but take it to the next level each time. I’m constantly inspired by the music I am listening to and the musicians and artists I work with at any given time. They’ve helped challenge me and take me places I couldn’t go without them. I always want to surround myself with musicians who are better than I am because that’s the best way for me to evolve. I feel I have taken a journey that’s true to myself and have always made the most honest music I can. Every time I do an album, I want to be in love with it, psyched to share it with the world. 

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