Dwight: Vivian, you come from a highly musical background. Your mother was a session/jingle singer and your father was a percussionist/flautist for artists such as James Brown. What is it like to come from such a highly musically oriented background?
Vivian Sessoms: It was just a way of life for me. Most of what I knew about music up to a certain age I’d learned from my mother and father. I studied piano and voice as a kid and was in the Eubie Blake/ Amas repertory company which was a lot of fun, but that was later when I was a teenager. As a little girl I just remember how my mom sang in the house all day, everyday. She loved music and so did my father. In fact, even the people in my family who weren’t musically inclined had such great love for music, so I think it was inevitable that I ended up in music.
I was very proud of my mother & father but particularly of my father because I didn’t get to see my mom sing that much, except around the house, but everyone in the neighborhood knew my dad and there are still people in Harlem today, and in Philly (my dad was a gypsy y’all) that remember him as the conga player that walked the streets of the city and parks in the summertime stopping to play here and there, collecting money and then moving on. He had a drumming partner named Poobie. Sometimes my dad would pull out his Fife or Flute and play that while Poobie played drums or sometimes they’d play conga’s together.
I can remember my dad tuning his drums at night and practicing. He had the biggest hands I’ve ever seen, to this day I haven’t seen many men with hands that span the size of my dads when he opened his hand with his fingers splayed (he was about 6’ 4” or so). His hands felt like leather or carved wood.
I don’t know if I can ever really convey what it was like to be a little girl growing up in a household where almost every weekend our apartment would be crowded with relatives, musicians and artists, writers, photographers, sometimes politicians, Jehovahs Witnesses, Moonies, really, my grandmother did not discriminate. If you let it be known that you had any kind of talent or ability, even being a good speaker, you were invited to participate in the goings on, which was usually a very entertaining mayhem. Everyone was encouraged and supported. All ideas were given creedence and a chance to be debated on and music was always a big part of those evenings.
Actually, you’d think all this activity would have made me a much more outgoing person, but I grew up an only child to my mom (though I do have brothers & sisters by my dad), so it made me more shy being around so many people. What it did do though, was make me appreciate different cultures, art and literature, film... It made me worldly and it made me dream bigger and long to see outside the walls of my own little world. It made me appreciate people’s differences.
Dwight: How was it like to work with legends such as Michael Jackson and Donna Summer and Sinead O'Connor?
Vivian Sessoms: It was an honor. Actually doing the session for Michael Jackson was through Kaygee of Naughty By Nature. I was signed to Kaygee as an artist at that time but I was also a writer for him and he kind of took me under his wing. He was very kind to me and taught me a lot, I have nothing but respect and admiration for him. He tried to keep me involved in a lot of things he was doing so I got a lot of experience. One of the things he was asked to do was a remix for Michael Jackson, and I got to go along to sing backing vocals but Michael wasn’t at the session when I was recording so I didn’t get to meet him personally, still it was a great experience.
Sinead O’Connor I found to be very lovely. I’ve always been a fan and it was another shaping experience. She sang great and she looked beautiful. I remember my sister and I seeing the make-up artist Kevin Aucoin there to do Sinead’s make up. We were like ‘Kevin, Kevin, Kevin…we love you, come in here and talk to us’ and would you believe? He did?! He was so sweet and warm and friendly, he probably sat in there with us for 15 minutes or so while we oohed and ahhed over him.
With Donna Summer, I had been asked to sing bv’s at a birthday party for a talent broker. Some of the guests at this party were Dionne Warwick, Ashford & Simpson, Bebe Winans, Natalie Cole, Tony Bennet, Stevie Wonder, and Donna Summer, all of whom were scheduled to perform. So you could say that was a tremendous experience working with all those people!
Dwight: And Sean "P.Diddy" Combs? How did that come about?
Vivian Sessoms: Well my sister, another friend and I had auditioned for Mary J. Blige a short time before and her manager also managed Sean Combs so when he needed someone for Sean he called us again.
Dwight: Chris, you've worked with artists such as Brandy, Regina Carter and Tamia just to name a few. Tell us how your experience was to work with these artists.
Chris Parks: The experience was amazin because I had just moved back to New York (after being in Boston for 10 years), and I was doing at lot of producing and also remixes for different singles, which was the case for Brandy and Tamia. I had been hanging out with Keith Crouch (whom I had met through Lalah Hathaway) and I was a huge fan of his beats and musicality so to get a chance to do a remix for one of his songs was huge for me. Remember, Brandy had just come out, and I had been in LA, hearing her stuff through Keith. Then I got back to Brooklyn and heard her on the radio, and the buzz was electrifying. She had a very fresh sound at that time. I didn’t get to meet her, I just got a dat of the vocals , and did the remix, which was a dancehall vibe for the song “Best Friend”.
It was a different story with Regina Carter. I had just finished working on a couple of albums with guitarist extradonaire Rohn Lawrence for Atlantic Records, and Eulis Cathey (who is now on the air at WBLS - the NY area station) was A&R for Rohn as well as Regina. Eulis liked the work I’d done with Rohn in the past, so he set it up for Regina to work with me at my studio in Brooklyn. Although Regina is probably best known for her straight ahead and traditional jazz material, the tracks that we did were more suited for radio, more contemporary jazz.
Dwight: You also did some music for commercials as well right?
Chris Parks: Yes, I’ve been a freelancer writing jingles for houses such as Fluid Post, Hell’s Kitchen Music, Elias Arts and Tom’n’Andy. I’ve played guitar and bass on many national spots too.
Dwight: Chris, you have had a lot of musical influence too. How did music become a huge part of your life and career?
Chris Parks: For some reason as a kid, I had a burning desire to play the drums, but I lived in an apt building in a quiet neighborhood, and there was absolutely no way my parents were going to let me have a kit in our apt, so my dad took me down to 48th street in Manhattan, and got me an acoustic guitar, and I just kind of took to it, started having lessons, playing and singing. I was really into Paul Simon, John Denver and Cat Stevens.
Then through my adolescence I had a variety of teachers, eventually progressing into jazz, but I always had friends that I jammed with, and was in a few bands that would occasionally play a show at school or something.
At that time I was heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Rush, Aerosmith, Queen, and others, in addition to whatever was on the radio at the time.
My stepmother was East-coast publicist at Mercury Records , and she took me to my first concert when I was about 8 yrs old, Bachman Turner Overdrive and Little Richard at the Fillmore East and many other shows after that as well, so I was hooked after experiencing all this great music at such a young age.
When I got into high school I joined the jazz band, but they had a guitarist already, so the leader, Mr. Benjamin, who was a huge influence on my development both musically and spiritually, told me that they didn’t have a bassist and that if I played the bass guitar for one semester, that I could switch over to guitar, the following year, so he let me borrow the school’s bass, and I took it home and had 2 weeks to get it together.
At the time I had just started to get into jazz-fusion, listening to the likes of Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Return To Forever, Weather Report and Stanley Clarke.
From that day forward, I was just as intrigued by the bass as I had been by the guitar, and I put a lot of time in, in local bands, honing my chops and building my stamina, until I was ready for college, and I just knew that I had to continue this journey, to try and make a career out of music. It wasn’t until later on after school that I graduated to writing and producing and out of necessity taught myself engineering.
Dwight: How did this album project start?
Vivian Sessoms: Well Chris and I started working together on a solo project for me which back then was more of a rock or rock funk project.
Over the years we kept writing and producing and eventually I thought I would like to do a more soulful kind of record, not that rock can’t be soulful but we just got more into a groove and felt like we wanted to go in another direction although we do have plans to release the rock cd at some point in the not too distant future.
Chris Parks: It kind of grew out of some songs we were writing for other artists, as well as some others written for ourselves that were more quirky, yet they all kind of fit together. We formulated the concept of a band or group who could contribute ideas, and build the project together. Although we had many a hiatus due to work and touring, we kept on plugging away until we had almost 30 songs, that we chose the 14 from.
Dwight: Where do you get inspirations to write your songs?
Vivian Sessoms: Life experiences mostly, mine or other peoples, things I read about in books, in the newspaper. Some days I just wake up with a song in my head.
Chris on the other hand writes 3 or 4 tunes a day sometimes, he is a very prolific writer, I am much less so.
Chris Parks: When I’m in the groove of writing on a daily basis, and have the time and freedom to get in the studio or pick up an instrument, writing comes very naturally and is an extension of all the music I digest on a daily basis combined with my own spontaniety and creativity. I think this stage is my most favorite of all, when an idea happens and is documented, and repeated listening just gets me excited about what direction to take a song in, or what melodies will complete it and make it a finished song.
Dwight: Vivian, are there any other artists who you would like to collaborate with?
Vivian Sessoms: Oh yes, too many… ?uestlove & James Poyser, D’Angelo, Lewis Taylor, Raphael Saddiq, Brendan O’Brien, Rufus Wainwright, Jon Brion, Kaygee. I’d love to sing with Peter Gabriel, Eric Clapton, James Taylor, or Billy Joel… tall list
Dwight: And Chris?
Chris Parks: Van Hunt,Squarepusher, Amon Tobin, Lewis Taylor, David Ryan Harris, ?uestlove & James Poyser, D’Angelo, Common, Jeff Lee Johnson, Vikter Duplaix, Mark De Clive Lowe, Jill Scott, Chaka Khan, Sia, Zero 7, Prince, Me’shell Ndege Ocello, John Mayer, I could go on for a long time.
Dwight: I really enjoy your remake version of Tainted. What was the inspiration of doing this? Has Slum Village or Dwele ever got a chance to hear this?
Vivian Sessoms: No I don’t think so, man I sure hope they approve…
It’s just a song we both loved by Slum Village, it may be the first song we worked on for the record.
I had an idea that I’d like to do something with the track, I thought maybe write new lyrics then one day I said to Chris “wouldn’t it be funny if I sang the ‘Tainted Love’ lyrics by Soft Cell (the track from SOS used by Rihanna) over this music”?
So I started singing it in the studio and then I was like “umm, let me go home and work on this some”. Came back in a few days later and laid it down and that’s how the whole record began, really.
Dwight: Do both of you feel because you have worked with such legendary musical artists that there is a lot of pressure for you to produce not only high quantity but high quality music?
Vivian Sessoms: Absolutely! But I think we both also have incredibly high standards to begin with. Between the 2 of us, our tastes are pretty varied and broad, so there’s a lot of ground we’d like to cover and a lot of exploring and experimenting we like to do. We try to please ourselves first, with an eye toward the listener. Still, if we don’t agree something is good we keep working.
Dwight: Vivian, besides R&B music what other kind of music do you like to listen to or enjoy? I like a lot of music from the 70’s however obscure whether it be funk or classic rock, a lot of dance music, bluegrass, blues, folk, latin, and lately getting into more classical and third stream.
Vivian Sessoms: I listen to a lot of rock, and artsy folks, Radiohead, Aqualung Rufus Wainwright, Seal. But I also listen to Jill and Erykah, Dwele. I’m a huge fan of Lauryn Hill.
I listen to classic soul and classic rock. Hip hop naturally, and house music, and Ella and Nina, Sarah.
I loooove finding new music or being turned on to new stuff through other people.
Dwight: Any final words to our justsoul listeners?
Vivian Sessoms: We hope this music speaks to you and that you’ll grow to love our cd as much as we do.
We especially hope you’ll come and check us out when we’re playing in your town.
We love to hear from you.
Thanks so much for your support and encouragement.
Dwight, thank you for an awesome review.