Interview: Vanessa Marquez Talks Working with The Neptunes, Justin Timberlake and New Project
It’s been a good minute since we’ve heard from Vanessa Marquez. The R&B artist, who was originally signed to The Neptunes’ Star Trak label, caught the attention of many with her sweet vocals on Justin Timberlake’s song “Rock Your Body”. Her partnership with Pharrell and Chad gave her an opportunity to provide background vocals for artists like Nelly, Omarion and Usher. She also appeared on The Neptunes “Clones” album with the song “Good Girl”. Unfortunately things didn’t work out for Vanessa while she was with The Neptunes and she seemingly fell off the face of the earth. The time away from the music industry allowed her to reflect on life and decide if she wanted to continue pursuing a music career. Luckily for us music listeners, Vanessa is giving music another shot. YouKnowIGotSoul had a chance to speak with Vanessa Marquz about her career with The Neptunes, working with Pharrell and Chad in the studio, collaborating with Justin Timberlake, her upcoming project and her desire to bring R&B music back to the forefront.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Tell us how you got your break in the industry and what led you to sign with The Neptunes?
Vanessa Marquez: I was recording since I was 12 years old with vocal producers here and there. Finally, there were these producers I was doing demos with and they felt that I had some great material so they wanted to shop me around. We went to New York and we met with Arista, there was an A&R there and he was like “You know what, I have producers in mind, can I take your demo and see what I can do with it?” That led to him going to the studio with The Neptunes. He played my demo for Pharrell and Chad, and at the time they were actually recording with Justin Timberlake. When they all heard the stuff, they were really excited and wanted to meet me and possibly sign me. When Justin heard my stuff, he was like “Well if you sign her, you definitely got to put her on my album.” That was amazing. That’s basically how I met Pharrell and Chad and had the privilege of meeting with them, sitting down with them, re-listening to all of my music. Then I actually met with L.A. Reid which was at Arista and I actually had to perform and I got interviewed, it was kind of like a showcasing in New York. That’s when I got signed.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What was the creative process like when you were working with The Neptunes?
Vanessa Marquez: They’re pretty much geniuses. What I liked about them is when I’d go to the studio, it wasn’t like “This is the song you’re going to work on.” It was actually like “what kind of mood are you in, what are you doing?” We kinda just vibed off of that and then from there, Pharrell would lay down a piano track or drum track and then Chad would come in and put his spin on it as well. From there, basically we just started writing and the music began. I know that a lot of producers, like I said, would have something in mind for the artist. What I liked about them is they tried to get me involved in everything and give me my own freedom as to how I wanted to do things and what direction I wanted. I enjoyed that. Not only that, there were people who would come in like huge artists which would open the doors for me to get on their album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What year was it when you signed with The Neptunes and performed for L.A. Reid?
Vanessa Marquez: That was probably around 2002 or 2003.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We’ve heard some of the songs you’ve done with The Neptunes from years ago. Were you working on an album back then? How was it coming along?
Vanessa Marquez: I had an album in mind I was doing my demoing. When I actually signed with Pharrell, he definitely wanted to do a completely whole new album. At the time when I signed with Arista, they folded and were no longer a record company. We had to do a joint venture with another major label, which ended up being Interscope. At Interscope, I actually had to do a showcasing again for Jimmy Iovine and in return, I ended up signing the joint venture there. That was around 2003. Then we started recording some songs until he had a high demand with working with other artists before his actual artists on the label. It kind of took a little bit of his time away from all of his artists. Instead of trying to do the complete album, he was working with Gwen Stefani, Snoop Dogg, Justin Timberlake, and Usher, all of these big artists that he was putting me in the backgrounds. I was getting credits here and there, but I didn’t really get a chance to finish the album. Then he had this whole idea, and I could just see it clearly like it was yesterday, he was like “You know what, I have a vision of three girls and you’re part of it.” He goes on and on and wanted to know what I thought. I was a little taken off at that because I was signed as a solo artist. I still gave it a shot and put my ego aside. What got me was three latin girls singing pop/r&b and switching it over to the Spanish market. The latin world is huge and their followers are very dedicated to the music. He wanted to call it “Affair” and the second member was Natasha Ramos who was also signed to Pharrell. The third member was Tiffany Villarreal. She came in and we all did some tracks together. At the time I believe she was talking to Aftermath Records and I believe she ended up signing with them. Shortly after that, me and Natasha talked about it and we wanted it to be just us, but he didn’t budge. We had time to talk about it and I told her I was going to try and get out of my contract and just try and do my own thing.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Were you guys signed as a group?
Vanessa Marquez: Our contracts were ongoing so it was going to be a sure thing. It’s just that when thing were going down, we didn’t know that Tiffany had another deal on the table. So it kinda took us off guard.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Back to your solo career, we’ve had a chance to hear a couple of the songs you did with The Neptunes. One of those was on the Clones album called “Good Girl”. Talk about that song and why they decided to put that on the album.
Vanessa Marquez: We had three tracks in mind, one being “Good Girl”. Everybody just loved “Good Girl”. There was “Friends Are” which was possibly going to make it as well. “Good Girl” just came about because Pharrell saw me and said “You’re such a good person, you’re a good girl.” We just went off of that it came about. We played it for some executives and some of our friends and everybody gravitated to that song, so that’s why he chose that song. He told me he was doing a compilation album and needed a song from me. I don’t think it really shows my vocal abilities, to me it was very simple, very radio friendly and fun. We just went with it. Unfortunately it never got to be an actual single. We were fighting for that, me and my management, he was almost going to give in when the whole group thing happened.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Aside from that song, you mentioned “Friends Are”. Were there plans to release that or another song as a single?
Vanessa Marquez: The time that he wanted to release it was when I actually got on the single for Justin Timberlake “Rock Your Body”. We all sat down and thought it was the perfect time to release a single and create buzz, because it was the perfect set up. We discussed it and for whatever reason, we never got a single out because he was also working on other projects.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What song were you guys considering to put out?
Vanessa Marquez: It was probably going to be the “Good Girl” song. That got really good feedback from a lot of great artists on that album. But that was like the perfect timing of everything because the feature with Justin and I also did the “I’m Lovin It” campaign with McDonald’s, the original with Justin as well. That was pretty big for me as well. All these things were lining up but the single never got pushed.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Another song that ended up on your MySpace was “Want You to Know”.
Vanessa Marquez: That was written and produced by J.R. who was brought in by the A&R who connected me with Pharrell. So he created that sound and I really loved that song and we were actually trying to get Justin Timberlake on that song. Everybody thinks that he is on that, but he’s not on it. *Laughs* J.R. actually had written it but he did all of the music while we were recording.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You mentioned that you were doing vocals for different songs while with The Neptunes. Were you able to build up a fan base by doing so?
Vanessa Marquez: Oh definitely. Growing up and listening to Usher, Nelly, and Omarion. I actually referenced Mariah Carey song “Say Something”. Pharrell played it for me, I learned the hook and we recorded it. Then afterwards he didn’t tell me, but he was like “You know what, I might actually give this song away” and I was like “Why, I really like it!” So he told me I’d see who it was for because she was coming down later that day. Sure enough, Mariah Carey came in and I told him “You can give her any song I did!” The Neptunes had a huge following as well, so being a part of the label just opened doors and all of these artists and their fans can hear my voice on their album. It was like a dream come true. Growing up in a small town, it’s unheard of. It opened doors and brought me a fan base. The only thing I wish I would have done was more public performances and shows.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I was reading you spent about 4 years with The Neptunes, but we’ve only heard a handful of songs. How many songs did you record over Neptunes tracks over that time?
Vanessa Marquez: I believe I recorded 5 songs with them. I don’t know if you’ve heard “Pack Up”, but that was part of the girl group stuff. As far as solo, I only did a handful with them. Not even a handful, I did 3 songs with them.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We just figured it would have been a lot more.
Vanessa Marquez: I wish I would have gotten more songs, but they were just too busy. Not only with myself, but with the other artists on the label like the Clipse, Kelis who I believe was there, Natasha Ramos and another Hip Hop artist. Yeah, they were all over the place and of course I was also working with other producers that the A&R guys were picking and choosing. That was the downfall.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We hear all about Pharrell, but we never hear about Chad. Can you talk about the differences between Chad and Pharrell in the studio?
Vanessa Marquez: I love them both, but the time that I hung out with Chad at the studio and outside the studio like at dinners or at album release parties, he’s very down to earth. Well they’re both down to earth, but Chad more so because he was married at the time and had kids. He played every instrument and I remember him telling me that. Everything in the studio that was an instrument, he started playing. I started tripping out like “Wow, I didn’t know people had a talent to just pick up anything.” A memorable moment with him is when he was playing the piano and he was singing to me in a Kermit the Frog voice. When I would record Pharrell, he would lay down the track and Chad would come in and would add whatever instruments he thought the track needed. Pharrell would allow me to write with him and then I would lay down my vocals and then Pharrell would call in Chad and Chad would come in and also record vocals and sometimes he would make me do it all over again. *Laughs* There were some harmonies Pharrell would hear and there were some harmonies that Chad would hear. I don’t know where they are at today, we kind of lost contact, but Chad definitely added a little extra that Pharrell needed if he was a solo producer. I think that’s why The Neptunes were so successful because it’s the Ying and the Yang. Whatever Pharrell was missing, Chad would definitely add his part to it. If Chad was doing something, Pharrell would add his part to it. Working with them was never a dull moment.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Fill us in on where your career went after things didn’t work out with the group situation.
Vanessa Marquez: Well after the whole group thing, I was like “Okay, I can stay here and try to work here” but I was like “You know what? Pharrell helped me open doors and my time with him was pretty much done.” I got out of my contract and I actually started recording with a few producers that I worked with during the time I was signed. Once again, I was about to showcase and try to get signed again when there were some little details like me trying to start a family. I was like “I really love singing, but I also wanted a family.” That kind of backtracked me a little bit, but it was something I needed at the time. Just being a parent and just concentrating on my daughter, I do have a four year old daughter. At that time, I would still do backgrounds for gospel artists and I would be demoing for producers that I worked with. I even sang some backgrounds on Musiq’s album. Right now, I feel like my daughter is at a good age where I can definitely move forward in my career now, focus and push hard. Right now I’m working with Eric Dawkins and Warryn Campbell out in LA. It’s kind of like a top secret project and I can’t really talk about it, but it’s definitely going to start a movement.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Why have you decided to do music after things didn’t work out for so many years?
Vanessa Marquez: Honestly, I want to say a year ago where I was at in my life, I wasn’t happy as far as my career. I was like “I’m very book smart, I can go to school, I can go get a degree and I can do that” but my heart was never in that. My parents were like “Do what you love, I don’t care how old you are. Your voice can last a lifetime, so use what God gave you.” I had a 9-5 job just paying the bills, but I was like “No I want something more than that. If I can pursue my career and still be a good parent and a good role model, I’m going to do it.” I feel like I’m ready now to do it especially with the producers that I’m working with. They get the best out of me vocally and they believe in me not only because of the way I sing, but I think they get me as a person. I’ll try to get a song out on the radio, I’ll keep fighting for that because that’s one of my other dreams. I definitely want to perform as well.
YouKnowIGotSoul: When can we expect to hear the new music?
Vanessa Marquez: Definitely next year. The industry usually shuts down around the holidays, but that doesn’t mean nobody is working. It’s just closed down during that time. I can’t say when because we just started, it’s so new. I can’t even tell you what it is because it’s so fresh and new. I have been recording a lot. I’m hoping it does come out next year, that’s the goal. I don’t know if it’s going to be an EP or a whole album, but I feel like it’s going to be something. I want to start a movement. I mean I listen to the radio, but I only really listen to Pandora. I don’t really hear too much R&B on the radio ever, so that’s part of the movement I’m trying to start which is to bring R&B back. That would be huge because everything that I’ve been recording is live instruments. If I do perform, it’s going to sound exactly the same because there’s no difference. Everything is live from the drums, pianos, harmonica and the saxophone. I’m trying to bring the good music back, something that makes you feel good. The classic music is normally R&B based.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?
Vanessa Marquez: Justin Timberlake is definitely my favorite artist that I’ve worked with because not only vocally, he’s just an amazing artist but he’s exactly like his SNL skids. He’s funny, outgoing, makes you laugh and makes you feel comfortable. He’s just an awesome. I had to say that because people always ask me “Are these big artists really cool or are they snobby?” I never felt like that with him.