YouKnowIGotSoul Interview with Marsha Ambrosius
YouKnowIGotSoul caught up with Marsha Ambrosius to discuss everything from her upcoming debut solo album to working with the King of Pop Michael Jackson to her magical process of putting a song together to whether or not Floetry will ever happen again.
YouKnowIGotSoul: The first question I have for you is, I had a chance to listen to the mixtape you released a few weeks back “Yours Sincerely,” and I know you’ve also released mixtapes in the past, but is this one sort of like a prelude to your upcoming solo album?
Marsha Ambrosius: Not really, I just thought it was the fashionable thing to do, everyone is doing them. *Laughs* Mixtapes are all the rage, and I don’t think anything is ever a prelude to anything, I just kinda do it. I mean on “Yours Sincerely” I had songs I was never going to use like the interlude is taken from an anime, one of the Japanese cartoons I was watching, and I heard the music and I wrote that snippet to it and I just thought it was cool like “hey everyone look at this!” I don’t know if it sounds remotely similar to anything I have coming up that I want people to pay for! *Laughs* You know mixtapes are a way you just keep in that repore with your people, with your fans and people that want to listen to things that you do regardless if it’s album cuts or things I just wrote randomly. With “Yours Sincerely” I had the demo of “Don’t Matter” that’s from LeToya Luckett’s album, I had demo of “This Love” that was on Glenn Lewis’ album, the song “Glass” wasn’t ever going to be used again as that instrumental, one of the producers gave away the track that we did. So I was like well I’m never going to see the light of day with this song, and I thought it was a gorgeous song, so I gave it away.
YKIGS: I actually appreciate when artists put out mixtapes. Like in this case for example, after hearing this, I’m even more ready to hear your solo album, it gets me more excited.
MA: Oh the album is amazing! I mean I say it’s amazing and I know it sounds so conceited, but seriously I listen to it like “I’m jealous of whoever did that!” Like if someone else made this album, I would be sitting at home sulking, like arms folded, pouting, like why didn’t I think of that, what’s wrong with me, yea it’s one of those. Like I love it, I’m a fan of myself right now. *Laughs*
YKIGS: Before we get more into your album, I was really a fan of the song “Put It On Repeat” from your mixtape. Just tell me a little about how you came up with this song.
MA: “Put It On Repeat” I did the track on Garage Band, and I heard this little loop that was in my brain and I said oh “Put It On Repeat!” And then I just played some chords throughout the whole beat, and I got into the studio and everyone loved it, and I was like “That is so not me!” But being that I produced it myself, they were like “It’s a part of you, just do it, just go with it” and DJ’s have been picking it up, it’s been played on Philly Radio, 100.3 The Beat has been supporting it, and I’m like “Oh but it was just a mixtape song, I wasn’t intending to do anything with it.” But it’s been so much love it’s ridiculous. It was pretty simple, I love my Mac computer, I love Garage Band, and it was the saving grace of the track. I really used most of the elements that I used on Garage Band in the actual song.
YKIGS: Tell me a more about your album coming out later this year. It will be out in the summer? When can we expect that?
MA: Yes summer, late summer. I’ll be off touring late Spring, early Summer.
YKIGS: What can we expect to hear on there?
MA: I really, thankfully, landed in a place that understood me as an artist, understood me musically. Getting in the doors at J Records, and people already supporting my career from way before I was signed to them. I’ve done work with Alicia Keys, Mario, Jamie Foxx, and have been affiliated with the label for awhile. Having these years in between doing all of the Fleotry stuff, and being a song writer and producer for Dr. Dre and Interscope, it was just my time, the timing was perfect. J Records was just like “What do you want to do? What do YOU want to do?” And no one has ever asked me that before. You know it was always put on me, I’ve never sought out to do a solo effort, they were offered. It was offered to me from the very beginning, getting out here in 2000 even before Floetry was signed and I’ve never really wanted to do it for ME, it was always for other people. So J Records sat me down and said look, “What exactly do you want to do?” I’m 32 now, I think I know exactly what I want in life, and that’s what my album feels like now. It’s just honest, it’s open, it’s like an open relationship. As much as I don’t really agree with that too much, there’s certain boundaries, but there are none on my album. It’s complete trust, it’s complete honesty, it’s complete love, hate, joy, pain and anything on there, you name it, I mentioned at the time. It’s the emotion behind every woman’s silence…Let me write that down, that’s excellent, hold on! Sorry! *Laughs* But it is, it’s the things that we don’t want to say but we feel and some people, we put our guards up so much and the barriers, the insecurities that are there, and every woman can relate. Not even just women, just people in general, just how we live our lives. And I just broke myself down, and that’s a hard thing to have to do, and then to share it with the world, like “Oh God I’m naked!” It’s that dream you have when you are in school, you are not the most popular kid but people know you, and you show up to school with no clothes on! That’s what this feels like to me! *Laughs* It’s like “Am I comfortable with my body? Do I care if people see me naked?” And for some people that dream is like “Heyyy, what’s up, the parties on!” *Laughs* But that wasn’t a party to me, right now I’m like “Yea ok cool, someone toss me a towel.”
YKIGS: *Laughs* Very cool! Now sound wise on this album, is it going to be more traditional r&b, more neo-soul, what type of producers have you worked with? Tell me all about that.
MA: It’s very soulful. Actually, I did the majority of the production on there, and it started with just me and the piano and I branched out from there. I’m blessed with the opportunity of having the best musicians at my hands. Like I’m in Philadelphia, like I can just call Adam Blackstone to come on bass, Rayfield Holloman to get on Keys, Darryl Robinson to get on drums, and it’s a jam session. So it was recorded and it just feels very, very organic, very authentic. Just as a lead to that, I had Just Blaze, Focus, Syience, Rich Harrison came up with a track that was ridiculous, Bink came up with a ridiculous track, and everything kind of just made sense. I mean I’ve been recording my stuff for awhile, but it wasn’t until the past month or so that everything made sense. It’s really weird how that happens, even when it came to the mixtape, the reason why they could be given away, they’re good songs, they’re not necessarily in a sequence, like I wouldn’t listen to certain songs back to back to back to back. That’s why people make their individual playlists. I wanted my album to sound like a playlist I put together. Like this is what I would want to listen to at home in this order. Just getting the elements of all of those producers with the type of sound that I wanted to do for this record to come together in such a short amount of time, it’s just like this crazy ball rolling all over again! *Laughs*
YKIGS: Now tell me, has the transition from being in a group, to putting out a solo album been difficult or has it been a smooth transition since you’ve always been a writer and you’ve always done that?
MA: Well with Floetry, I didn’t feel like we were a group. En Vogue is a group…what other female groups? SWV, they were a group. Like I don’t know, Nat and myself, we were two separate entities that did this thing, and when we came together, it made sense. I mean I’ve known Nat since I was a kid, like we were friends, it wasn’t as American Idol, or an X-Factor competition that put these two talented people together to make a group. We didn’t say “Oh let’s be a group!” It was never that. It was I have this song or I have this concept, and she had the poetry piece to it, and I’d attach a melody and a hook or a verse and it just came together like that. To try to branch away from that, it’s not difficult. Now I just get to tell my side of the story, I just get to be me this time, and not have to compromise for another’s opinion. And I think that was the beauty and the chemistry of Nat and myself was that we would never question what the other would say. Whatever she felt she’d say, and whatever I felt I’d say. I think people got it misconstrued that when it came to Floetry there was a compromise when there really wasn’t. I was writing the songs and coming up with the melodies and even with our biggest records, they are the ones that you remember, the sound was still there, it was still very soulful depicted of neo-soul just because of the time and era where we were. But where I am now, it’s just an extension of that, it’s just who you thought I was then, you really get to experience now.
YKIGS: Now I want to change gears a little and talk about your writing, because one thing I respect about you is that you are a really talented writer. And I’m the type of person, when I buy an album I open the liner notes right away and look to see who wrote all of the songs.
MA: Yea me too!
YKIGS: I’d just like to hear from your perspective, what’s it like writing a song from start to finish?
MA: I don’t know, it’s just like magic, especially when it comes together, it’s like why am I even thinking this right now, it’s crazy. I don’t want to sound like I’m name dropping or anything, but he craziest experience happened to me the other day. I’m in the studio with Jill Scott of all people, she’s like… I love her to death, her writing, she’s ridiculous. So I’m doing something in the studio, and out of nowhere this whole song comes in my head and I had to record it then and there. It’s like it doesn’t happen with maybe just a melody or a concept, it’s like the piano part came in and I knew what string arrangement I wanted on top of that, I knew where I wanted the beat to drop, I knew what harmony was coming in, and it happened like a ton of bricks had just landed on me. You know, I can’t own that, that’s something God says “You are meant to do this, so write that, it’s done!” I had nothing to do with it, and I think all of the experiences I have when it comes to music, I just let that feeling take me. I just let the emotion just go where it’s supposed to be.
YKIGS: That’s Crazy!
YKIGS: I know you’ve also written a bunch of songs for other artists. Do you find it harder writing a song for another artist compared to writing one for yourself?
MA: Not really, I enjoy writing and sometimes I don’t intentionally write for that person, it just makes sense to them when I have a fat catalogue of a hundred songs and they hear something and identify with that particular record. Prime example is when the Floetry demo out, and “Butterflies” was on there, Michael Jackson heard it that way. I didn’t record it for him, that was part of my album demo when we were shopping for a deal. You never know what people are going to take to. I didn’t write “Don’t Matter” for LeToya Luckett, it was my record and she heard it and was like “Oh I need that!” “Ok you can have it!” Glenn Lewis the same thing. I was writing for Brandy at the time, he heard one of the records that I did for her and he ended up cutting the record. So I just never own it, I was like let me just make the music, let me do that part, that’s the easy part, and then I’ll see what happens.
YKIGS: I was going to ask you about those Glenn Lewis songs you did later on, but actually I’ll just ask about it now. That’s a personal favorite of mine, his debut album, and I know you wrote a bunch of songs on there. I would just like to know from your point of view what it was like working with him?
MA: It’s nice to see yourself in someone else. Like musically I think when people get together and they make music and it makes sense, it’s because you see something of you in them, like that’s the connection. And musically, kindred spirits for sure, like unbelievable, outrageous experience, couldn’t believe, still don’t believe it. My life is crazy, I couldn’t lie about things that I’ve done, like the real things that I’ve done just surpass any lie I could have told when I was in school. *Laughs* It’s just ridiculous, it’s amazing, mind blowing.
YKIGS: Yes it definitely is!
YKIGS: You know when I heard “This Love” on your mixtape and then I heard you add your vocals to it, it really got me hoping that we could hear a duet between you two. Is that something that could ever happen?
MA: Oh that will happen. That will definitely happen.
YKIGS: That sounds great!
YKIGS: I wanted to ask you, back to your writing, do you have a favorite song that you’ve written?
MA: “This Love” was definitely one of them for Glenn Lewis, just because of how it came about. At A Touch of Jazz at the time having Dre and Vidal at my disposal it was A Room jam sessions that resulted in great music that happened over that summer of 2000. We made great music, like great albums came out at A Touch of Jazz: Musiq’s first album, Jill’s first album, Bilal’s, Floetry’s, Kindred, it was everything going on in that studio. So the A Room that one night, I had a conversation with someone who went through that very situation, and I just wrote their thoughts. And I was like so what happened? “I’ve cried all night, trying to make it better.” And then I was like you know what, ok cool. “I recognize my pain, things are getting harder, so let’s try to work this out.” And I was like you know what, at the end of the day it’s love; good, bad or indifferent, it’s still love. And I was like “It used to be ours” and I was like oh yea this is it! *Laughs* And I kind of found that the formula for true honesty is what people gravitate towards. Even with “Butterflies,” just that emotion, anyone can have it, anyone has had it, and relates to that record because that’s what it was. “So all you gotta do is walk away and pass me by, don’t acknowledge my smile.” It’s like that hard to get feeling, but you’re feeling it, and it’s like woooo, I have a crush! *Laughs* I dunno, I’m trying to think of what songs I don’t like that I wrote. Because they are all just different personal moments, it’s like you have to release and get those thought out or else you will go insane.
YKIGS: What was it like working with the Knightwritaz production crew? You were with a bunch of very talented writers and producers, what was that like?
MA: With the Knightwritaz, it was a time when I was working out of Atlanta and Sterling Simms, myself, Mario, like we were all just around each other, Oak, we were in the studio like 24/7. And it just became this thing, and it kinda ended before it begun type thing. Because we were all about to do our own things and we never really got to exercise what we could have with that whole thing. But what we did get to do in that short period of time, it was great. The whole mixtape, which was done under the influence of alcohol and stuff that you use if you have cataracts. *Laughs*
YKIGS: I also wanted to ask about a collaboration you did a couple of years ago with Common on “The Light 2008.” What was it like working on thing song because the original is a classic, but I really like the version you did also.
MA: I mean everyone is a fan of the original; it’s definitely in my eyes a hip hop classic. To have had the opportunity to touch that in any way, like any time he would be in town and perform it I would be like “Please just let me do the hook!” *Laughs* And it was amazing, like Just Blaze doing the spinoff of the Dilla loop. That song is amazing, it feels good, I love it. I can’t listen to it without tearing up, there’s something about the emotions behind that record that makes it very sad and very vulnerable. Even though you are nodding your head, it’s with sincerity. Yea, that is one of my favorite hip hop collaborations. Common is excellent, he could breathe on a track. His tone, his cadence, is one of those voices that will never be mistaken.
YKIGS: Of all of the collaborations you have done over the years, and I know you’ve done a lot, is there one that stands out to you the most, maybe you have a best memory of working on it or anything like that, just something you can share?
MA: Michael Jackson will be the pinnacle of my career. And it blows my mind that I ever got to do that. Having him gone so soon and me maybe aspiring later in my career, that’s something you don’t think that’s ever going to happen. So I’m like “50 years from now, maybe I’ll be with Quincy Jones or something and I’ll get my shot.” And it happened at the very beginning, and just being in the studio with him and him giving me the opportunity to tell him what to do and how to do it, it was just…I don’t deserve this. What did I do, did I win a prize, where are the cameras, I must be on reality TV, this is a big joke. But no, I was there with Paris and Prince, chilling with him and Bruce Swedien, the engineer that he’s had for years upon years, recorded some of the best records with him ever. And there’s me behind the boards telling Michael what to do for two weeks. It’s the coolest. *Laughs* I’ll forever have cool points for that. Like regardless of what I don’t do, I’ll tell you what I DID do! *Laughs* Because someone always has to point out something, well I worked with the best there will ever be EVER! And he allowed me to do my thing and told me “if this is your beginning, imagine where your end is, it’s endless.” And I said “You know what Mike, you are absolutely right!”
YKIGS: You released a mixtape a few years back called “Neo-soul is Dead,” and it got me thinking about it. Do you really believe that statement is true these days?
MA: Just as much as Nas believed hip hop was dead, that’s how much I believe that statement. It was definitely derived from how he used the title. “Yo Nas, of course hip hop isn’t dead, you are hip hop!” Neo-Soul the term just got out of hand. I was like what the heck is this and why am I in there, like what is this bubble, get me out of here please! *Laughs* I don’t drink tea all the time, I don’t’ really burn incense which sometimes affects my eyes. It was just out of hand, it was like everything you think you believe was about to go out the window. And we did a parody of what people were saying online when they heard that I signed to Dre, which I hadn’t at all at the time. It was rumors that I had signed to Dre. So I was like, “You know what, I’m going to rap, and it’s going to be hilarious!” So what we started out as a Knightwritaz joke in Atlanta, blew up as this thing, and I was like “Oh man people are way too serious, way too serious.” Like you live your life like that, you know what, you don’t know me at all. Yea my parents hated it, asked me “what you are you doing!” I was bored! We had free time, at the same time I did a whole bunch of other records that are on fan favorite albums now, but those were the ten to fifteen minutes in between, those breaks. It’s a mixtape that got everywhere, and was played everywhere, and critiqued good and bad everywhere. I loved it, I thought it was hilarious! *Laughs* It was hilarious. My favorite on it has to be “Geez and Hustlaz” though, I was spittin bars on that! *Laughs* *Raps* *Laughs* I’m sorry I crack myself up.
YKIGS: I was reading in your bio that while attending the Brits Performing Arts School, you studied business and finance. That hit home with me because basically that’s what I’m studying for my MBA. Have these courses helped you at all during your career and at that time did you see a future career for yourself in this field?
MA: I think all of the schooling that I did do, definitely gave me a clue but when you get into the industry, nobody really plays by the rules. Like sharks are everywhere, and shady business is dominant. So, I didn’t do too many courses on what happens if people are just straight robbers. You just have to learn that for yourself, like the great and the worst experience of being in the business is the lessons. School yes you do need it, great go and stay and qualify and all of that other good stuff. But when you actually get into it, you’re like why did I even bother if no one was even going to follow these guidelines that I’ve invested so much time in learning. So yea, it was somewhat useful I guess. I’d like to teach, I’d like to do creative writing workshops and singing lessons, something like that. I mean I’d been a basketball player up until the ages of 20 or 21, until my injury said “you won’t be playing anymore, sit down!” Yea I had to sit down and come up with plan B, which is kind of working out for me, so I don’t know. I didn’t think that far ahead, even with the trip to the U.S. in 2000 when Nat and myself decided to do this poetry and singing thing that we then coined as Floetry, I didn’t think that was going to work, that wasn’t the plan, that was just something that came out that summer like “Oh here’s a free trip to Atlanta, we have friend out there!” And it’s turned into ten years of my life.
YKIGS: You mentioned basketball, I read in your bio that you were going to be attending Georgia Tech?
MA: Yes, that was prior to me getting an injury that summer that prevented me from going.
YKIGS: I had wondered if there were any other big name schools that were recruiting you for basketball?
MA: Well I had played against the best of the best and kind of been seen by schools, but at that time I was still doing the Brits Performing Arts, and I had been injured. So I kinda just, I don’t know…it struck a chord with me because I hadn’t thought about getting injured. You know like in singing, I’m not thinking about getting a cold and not being able to sing that day, like “what do you mean I’m going to lose my voice!” It was that, I was playing basketball since the age of seven, and then I couldn’t play, so it was like I didn’t even care, it was awful, I didn’t even wanna hear it, don’t even tell me.
YKIGS: Last question, and I have to ask this question because a lot of your fans want to know, but do you think there will ever be a reunion between yourself and Natalie to do another Floetry album?
MA: I couldn’t tell you, I don’t know. Just like I haven’t known the past ten years to get me to this point. Like I’m sitting in my crib in Philly and we’ve been on the phone right now talking about what I’ve done the past ten years with more to come. Yea, I just don’t know.