Interview: The Floacist Discusses Carrying on Floetry Brand, Has Positive Message for Marsha Ambrosius
Over 5 years after the split of the Songstress and the Floacist better known as Grammy-nominated duo Floetry, the saga still continues. Natalie Stewart has recently released her 2nd solo album called The Floacist presents Floetry Re:Birth in an effort to keep the brand alive that Marsha Ambrosius walked away from as well as celebrating the 10-year anniversary of 2002’s Floetic. In this interview, Natalie explains how Floetry created a new genre of music (poetic delivery with musical intent) that should never die and sends a direct yet poignant message to her childhood friend now on a very different path of success.
Interview by: Akim Bryant
YouKnowIGotSoul: You have your new project coming out, “Floetry Rebirth”. First off, who is Natalie Stewart vs. The Floacist, or are they one in the same person.
The Floacist: *Laughs* They are one in the same. I think Natalie has been around longer, but they are one in the same. I think I’d have to get an appointment if they weren’t though! One I suppose ghost writes, the other I guess has ghost written and performs. They are very much alike.
YouKnowIGotSoul: The title of the new project is “Floetry Rebirth”. How did you come about that title and is it an effort to keep the Floetry name alive?
The Floacist: Absolutely is. More importantly, this year celebrates the 10 year anniversary of when we released the first Floetry album, our introduction to the world if you’d like. So this album is created as a means to celebrate the journey and some of the challenges that came and overcoming those challenges and moving forward strongly. Within that, there were things that happened behind the scenes, there were things that happened in front of the scenes. Inviting Marsha (Ambrosius) down to the open mic poetry spot to go forward. Also, the creation of Floetry the genre which is an exploration of the spoken word and the melodic vocal. Moving onto bringing Floetry into America where so much gets added to the story at this point. Actually going into the music industry and meeting and building with artists all the way from Jill Scott who very much kicked the door down in a sense for poetry. Floetry’s first album being made in the same studio as Jill’s. Touring with Erykah Badu, Musiq Soulchild, India Arie. The formulation of the Floetry brand growing underneath the neo-soul banner. Before long you have Grammy nominations and Lady of Soul awards and being called on by Michael Jackson. We were also saying Floetry is more than a name, it’s a genre, it’s a style, it won’t die as long as long as we remember, it will be kept alive. Getting to the point where Marsha actually left the group in 2006 and the journey after that with the whole story of me having being left the group and being promoted and feeling a degree of isolation. It was a behind the scenes journey with a walk of independence, a walk of ownership, untangling of legal issues and realigning and being able to achieve sole ownership of the trademark of Floetry to be able move forward with the genre. In fact even when I released my solo album which I enjoyed creating completely, it had never been a desire of mine to release solo music. My purpose was to present the genre of Floetry, that was my musical intent. There’s this long journey that has come into the creation of “Rebirth” at this particular time, celebrating 10 years of Floetry and everything that has gone into keeping the brand alive, protecting the energy, and maintaining the focus, becoming independent and now having creative control. I’m being able to say this is the first album that I’ve ever been able to make with creative control in my own studio environment. That’s what “Rebirth” is all about, 10 years and leading up to more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Congratulations on the 10 year anniversary, that’s a major feat. You’re correct in saying that Floetry was a huge deal in 2002 when the two of you exploded onto the scene and had that marriage of poetry and music like nobody else had ever done before or at least had done so successfully in the mainstream. Looking over the 10 period, could you have predicted that so much could have happened between the two of you to arrive at this point today?
The Floacist: I did see a lot of it unfolding. The thing is, when Marsha left Floetry there was actually a Foetry deal on the table and we were prepared to put out another record after “Flo’Ology”. There was never a problem with the exchange of the art and the actual listener. What did come into play were other things; other agendas, other energies of influence. Just personal agendas that get into this idea of this term we use so much “making it”. What does this mean? What are we prepared to do to “make it”, what are we prepared to sacrifice in order to get to where we’re going? In terms of predicting, I wouldn’t go so far to say I could predict it, but the experience of the journey was very prevalent, things were happening. I was caught out on a few things, whether it be money spent or misplaced, or was it the attempt to tour using my imagery even though it wasn’t actually the original Floetry lineup, that was around 2007. There are things that occurred that caught me out and there were also things that I could see bubbling the whole time in terms of influence. It tends to change the energy of the music. It tends to restructure what the actual thing is that we were just speaking about: poetry and the melodic voice. Trying to turn that poet into a rapper, to change the approach of what everything is for, thinking that a product that really has come from the open mic poetry circuit to be a seven time Grammy nominated group and selling over 1.5 millions combined, is crossover if you are really of what the genre and what the group’s journey has been about. If you are an external influence and hired to be management, then you weren’t there when it was created. I think the influence and the energy that I am the poet refused to bow to with regards to the vibration and the purpose of the music, I think you can see that reverberated now though the choice of where to go with the music. We have the messages that Marsha now presents and the energy that she now presents. As a poet and as somebody who cares about their community, there are things in that realm that I don’t stand for. Say for instance, I have an old cousin who has been affected by a gun crime, fortunately he has recovered from a terrible wound, but he’s now hearing my friend from the age of 11 singing about having a pistol in her hand. It’s something that I just can’t support or back because it isn’t a truth. In poetry, speaking a truth is one of the pillars. I wouldn’t say that I completely predicted it as things were happening, but there was definitely a point where I felt I had to protect the brand and even myself and Marsha from the influences that were present.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I definitely hear where you’re coming from. You and Marsha grew up together and were friends, and from what I understand and what I’ve read, that’s no longer the case. If there’s any message that you would send to her, what would that be?
The Floacist: I think I’d like to extend the message not only to her, but to all the people that I think need it confirmed. It would be that Floetry will always be open to myself and Marsha, and where I am is where we started out. This project is not a project about replacing Marsha, the songstress is irreplaceable, it’s very important for that to be understood. The genre of Floetry can’t be scarified. It’s very important to know that while Marsha is irreplaceable, everything is about one start and one purpose of what one is willing to do or not to do and why. I’m right here, I’m actually in London right now, I walk the streets that we walked growing up all of the time with our family and created music, Floetry, poetry. I’m here and Floetry will always remain open to Marsha.
YouKnowIGotSoul: That’s great, and I do hope that somebody the two of you are able to bring that sound back together again because like you said, she is irreplaceable and the bond that the two of you had while creating Floetry is remarkable.
The Floacist: We do both have music out right now. She did leave the group in 2006 to pursue a solo career, this new single that she has out right now “F and Get it Over With”, I know that I personally wouldn’t make those songs. If those are the songs that Marsha wants to make, the way that she is going about that is obviously the way that she can do that. Floetry does have a standard that I would really need to stick to regarding vibration, responsibility and art.
YouKnowIGotSoul: So “Floetry Rebirth” is the name of the new album. Who are some of the people you worked with on the album?
The Floacist: This is the first project that I created alone. I’ve actually been working with my creative partner Nolan Weekes, we’ve been working together since I was 19. It’s actually the person who brought me to the performance poetry world. He and I have worked and formed; you can’t do anything by yourself in this business, it’s a fallacy to think that you can. He’s been my support in the vision of how to find myself again. We’ve been able to now with our own production in house create this entire project. It’s the first time, for a genre born on the poetry circuits of London, a Floetry album has been made in London. That within itself is a collaboration. I have my background vocalists who helped add flavor into this beautiful concoction that we’ve created. In terms of actual artists, I’m a bit of a sucker, I love working with Raheem DeVaughn. This record that he’s on “Start Again”, in it’s very early stages, I knew that I wanted to work with him on there; his technique, his vocal arrangement, his tone, his evocation of voice. I also have a young artist that I’ve been working with and mentoring that you should definitely keep an eye out for, her name is Demi. Also, Thandiswa Mazwai who is an amazing artist and vocalist, a South African artist. He’s on “Roots of Love”, which is really the most floetic song in the sense of the most poetic expression on the album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You did a remake of “Say Yes” for the project? Why did you choose to do that?
The Floacist: Well the “Rebirth” is all about the celebration of the 10 years and how could one celebrate without including where everything began? “Say Yes” is undoubtedly one of Floetry’s biggest songs ever, the most successful single released off of the first album. That is the reason, to be inclusive of the entire journey.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I’ve read that you and Julie Dexter were uniting to go on tour together to kinda recreate the Floetry movement?
The Floacist: Julie and I go back a long way. Julie was mentored by my father in law as a young jazz vocalist in Britain and actually when first going into the poetry circuit, Julie and I shared a few stages a long time ago in the late 90’s. That’s two home growns just supporting each other in Baltimore in 2008/2009. Over the past few years, we’ve supported each other. The show you’re speaking of, she came out with me to Dover, and I think people ran with that going under the assumption that maybe I was seeking to replace Marsha. But as I’ve already stated to you, that’s not the purpose of the record, the purpose of the record is to celebrate everything.
YouKnowIGotSoul: She’s been doing her thing on the independent circuit for some time now, and I always congratulate independent artists who can maintain the path of pushing the art form that they have independently. I think you have to work two to three times as hard if you were on a major label.
The Floacist: Definitely. It’s that freedom thing, with freedom comes responsibility.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?
The Flaocist: You can look for me on tour in the states in the spring. There aren’t any dates posted yet, but they are being worked on and decided as we speak. I’m looking forward to everyone receiving the album, and then being able to live with the record.