After speaking with singer and songwriter Jody Watley for the first time, you instantly get a taste of her down to earth personality and almost forget the fame that is associated with her or how many records she has sold throughout her career. Instead, you realize just how humble she really is as a person and the fact that she is one of those rare artist’s who has stayed true to herself and has had an incredible impact on so many other female artist’s of today.
Examiner’s Amber Claire recently caught up with the Grammy winning performer and got her thoughts of remaining successful in a music business that has completely changed over the years since she first stepped onto the scene in 1987. Jody is currently in the midst of a tour with the newly reloaded Shalamar and shares some highlights of performing live and her musical influences growing up.
Here are some of the excerpts from the interview:
As an artist, how does it feel to continue doing what you love years later? What do you think has really helped you in sustaining longevity in such a difficult and even sometimes disposable business?
I feel a lot of gratitude, I’m blessed and full of joy for being able to continue doing what I love doing. I’ve always loved what I’m doing and I never shied away from the hard work and the determination that it takes to sustain longevity. It’s never easy, but anything worthwhile, never really is. I just keep continue to keep moving forward. I also had a life outside of the music industry and I took time out to raise my son and daughter which has kept me grounded.
As an all round performer and winning the award for best new artist in 1987, what is the most important thing you have learned from being in the music business at such a young age?
This might sound kind of cliche’ but really just enjoying the journey. Winning the Grammy at the time (and I still feel the same way), I felt like I was being rewarded for believing in myself. So many people around me at that time said I was going to fail, or I was going to lose out. I just always felt that as long as I’m happy and in a healthy environment, I’m going to be winning in life no matter what it is. Also, to not be afraid to remove toxic situations from life both personally and professionally. I learned that one of the greatest things about winning that award was that I was always about being authentically myself.
Recording and writing songs that really resonated, collaborating with people that I really wanted to collaborate with, wearing the clothes I wanted to wear and not what the record company thought was sexy or easier to digest. I was willing to be mocked to a certain degree where people would be saying “what is she doing” and “I don’t get it”. There’s always a certain risk involved after winning an award like a Grammy. People want the same things over and over again and I’ve never felt like that was necessary and I still don’t. So, I think that being authentic is the lesson that I’ve learned through all of this.
It is understood that growing up, some of your musical influences range from artist’s like Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Prince and even Nancy Wilson. What do you feel is lacking in the music industry today, that is so different to how you knew it? There are some great artist’s out there today, but you must have noticed some huge changes over the years:
I’d also like to add to that list Grace Jones. She’s always been one of my favorite’s and a renegade from the underground. I think today, everything is different. The music industry itself and how people process music and receive music, shorter attention spans, the record companies have changed, commercial radio has changed. Less private owned stations, more corporate owned stations, so playlists are short. Then you get ageism thrown in there. For instance, when Tina Turner did “What’s Love Got To Do With It”, I don’t think an artist today that’s older would be receiving the same type of airplay on the radio.
There’s still some really good music out there, Mill Dragon is one of my favorite groups (not in the mainstream at all) and also Foreign Exchange and Nicolay who make great music. I think there are fans out there who really appreciate music and not just who’s popular on blogs and who’s creating controversy and who’s sleeping with who, how much money somebody is still making. Those are all the things that are a distraction from the music. Even though I love the glamour and the artist’s that give you a great sense of style, the substance should never get lost in what’s being sold. With artist’s of today, you don’t even have to have a hit record to get an endorsement deal, your just need to be getting a lot of blog exposure or you’re controversial.
Artist’s like Stevie Wonder, when he started and you think about “Songs In The Key Of Life”, or “Hotter Than July” or Marvin Gaye, even though Motown didn’t think “What’s Going On” was a great record, it turned out being one of the greatest of all time. So, you never know. I guess there’s always been challenges that artist’s face, but I think definitely today because things are more corporate and more fragmented, it’s harder in some ways, then again it’s open in a lot of other ways, where you can connect with your fans and audiences on social media. To me, no matter what, it’s all in the music!
What’s Jody Watley’s key to staying so youthful and most of all, handling the pressures of fame?
I laugh a lot! I also remind myself that I am human, I’m not perfect and to not get so caught up in what other people say about me. One of my favorite ever quotes is “What other people think of you, is none of my business”! As a woman in this business there is a lot of pressure and emphasis put on your looks. Sometimes people can see a picture of you and because of a certain angle, you may look 20 pounds heavier, or you might just be 20 pounds heavier. Either way, just feel great. People will drag you through the mud, but you have to be really strong and not take it all too serious.
The new reloaded Shalamar have been touring both nationally and internationally. You have achieved so much in your career, that others could only dream of doing including: being the first female artist to launch your own independent label called Avitone in 1995. You also received the Lifetime Achievement Award Billboard Dance after having the 13th #1 Dance Solo Single in 2008. What are your thoughts about all this?
Everybody that comes to my shows come together for one big eclectic music journey. I think it’s really special performing live and connecting with the audience, of all different age groups. Sometimes when I am on stage, I cry real tears, because I am so overwhelmed and so grateful that I am still being received the way I am from the audience. From being the little girl that always wanted to do this and still getting to do what I love means a lot. I also love the songwriting aspect of music. There’s nothing better than performing the songs you wrote or co-wrote on stage. There’s something about being a writer that is amazing after you see the finished product and what you have created.
Lastly, what would be your best piece of advice to other artist’s wanting to break into the business this day and age?
Learn the business, Learn the business, Learn the business. It’s like Real Estate- Location, Location, Location! Learn about marketing, read. Learn your career as a business. That way when you go into a meeting, you know how to present yourself, or how to follow up and be a professional! It’s a business and you have to be prepared to work- Nothing comes to a dreamer, but a dream! And be tenacious and don’t take things personally!