YouKnowIGotSoul Interview With Taura “Aura” Stinson
YouKnowIGotSoul had a chance to catch up with Taura Stinson (or Taura Jackson as she’s credited in some songs) who has penned hits songs such as “Killing Time” by Destiny’s Child and “Glow” by Kelis, and has also worked with Paris Hilton. In this interview, she talks about how she got into the music industry, her time as an artist at Atlantic Records and also some of the struggles she has had to overcome. Along with that, she talks about her working relationship with Raphael Saadiq and gives us some info about his new album and also what Taura is currently working on.
YKIGS: Talk to me about early on in your life, how did you first get introduced to music and who influenced you?
I was raised in a very religious household, my uncle is a pastor, and he was also in a popular quarter called The Gospel Clouds. My mom and I, once my father divorced, even though this was my father’s sister’s husband, we all went to his church and he believed we shouldn’t listen to secular music. So of course, that meant as a child I wanted to every secular song I could find when I wasn’t around my family. But Thankfully having the gospel music, not typical gospel in the sense of big choir music, but very much praise and quartet music , which is a little different from the James Cleveland type of music, even though I like that too. So during that time, I would also go to Birmingham, Alabama, where I was born, just virtually every Summer and it was there, my cousins would play different groups and I would be like “who is that?” and they would be like “what? You don’t know who the GAP band is?” And no I didn’t. Even though they were a huge popular group at the time, I didn’t really know much about who anybody was because I was so sheltered. Also my best friend’s brother had a shrine to Prince in his room. And every time I would go to her house I would lose myself in his records and reading the lyrics, I felt like I had to catch up with everything because I wasn’t too familiar with it. I needed to know exactly what he was talking about. And I fell in love with him at such a young age. I would just listen to the records over and over again. So that’s who I fell in love with first in terms of an artist and genre of music.
YKIGS: Your first major writing placement was the Destiny’s Child song “Killing Time”. Could you give me the background on that song and how the opportunity came about?
Actually my first major song was “Gangsta Lean” and that came well before “Killing Time”. It was a group from Sacramento and they were signed to MC Hammer. And it was just a situation when I was in the studio with a production team at the time called The Whole 9. I was writing a completely different song and then at the end of the session, they let me hear a new track that they were on for the girl that was coming in after me. And I started joking around about something I had just seen, Oakland was notorious for pouring out a whole bottle of Hennessey when someone dies in the corner or leaving a shrine of Hennessey and coke 45 and leaving it with flowers and balloons. And that song reminded me of that because of the organs and it reminded me of a funeral song so I started writing about that. And when I actually moved to New York with a group that I was in called Emage, I heard it on the radio and I was like “wow”. And to this date, it’s one of the biggest singles that I’ve had. After that I released an album with the group Emage and it went brick, but the experience exposed me to writing in a real sense, not just going into a studio and writing. To write an entire record, it gave me that discipline, nobody else could do it. The other two girls could write as well, but for some reason, I guess because I had been sleeping, eating and breathing writing, that the responsibility fell on me and I didn’t take it lightly. I also forgot to mention that when I was kid, when my mom would leave, the only other option that I had to find secular music was MTV, so I was very much influenced by 80’s new wave and 80’s black band because I was a child in the 80’s. So anyway, back to New York, I wrote this entire album and we did a couple of promotional tours and had a very good experience and then when I got back to Oakland, I never stopped writing and reaching out to the different people I had worked with or met in New York. We were signed to Blacksheep but I became friendly with De La Soul and a Tribe Called Quest Tony! Toni! Toné! So Destiny’s Child came about through D’Wayne Wiggins who at the time was working with them. We just came to a studio one day and he just had the guitar and it just came out. And the lyrics were totally different because I was actually writing about my ex boyfriend who was always high on weed. *laugh* And so, the song was “I’m waiting for you when you come back to reality”. So obviously we had to change some of the words once he actually put it on the group and ironically my ex husband was an intricate part of the development process for Destiny’s Child so he was someone who they worked with early on. So yeah, that was a huge opportunity and definitely put me in a position to where a lot more people were paying attention to me as a lyricist
YKIGS: Do you have a personal favorite song that you’ve written?
I wrote a lot of personal favorites that no one has heard yet. On the Stone Rolling album for Raphael, we did a song called “Go to Hell” and we did another one called “Just Don’t” and it features the lead singer Little Dragon. These two songs I love, especially “Go To Hell”. Lyrically it was a breakthrough for him and him having all these years in this industry. I don’t want to give too much away, you have to go and get the record, but it’s a really good song. Also there’s a song called “I’m Leaving” that I wrote for Lisa Stansfield and it was number one on the dance charts and it was a very descriptive song if you ever hear it. I felt like I was talking to my girlfriend and that’s essentially what I do when I write, I like to have a focal point like “who am I reaching in this?” So yeah, you have to listen to that song, it was a very powerful song.
YKIGS: We all know that the sound of music today is different from what it was before. How hard is that for you as a songwriter because on one hand you’re trying to make music with substance, but on the other you’re trying to place as many records as possible.
You know what, the latter isn’t true. I don’t try to place as many records as possible. And with that, I have to have a Clark Kent/Superman type of life. I have to do other things to supplement my lifestyle because I can’t hold the murder weapon that’s killing music right now. So there’s stuff that I refuse to do and there’s a place in my mind that I refuse to go and I’m not even going to go and write a song that first a.) I don’t have the experience to talk about some of the stuff they’re talking about and b.) I just know that historically it comes back around and it’s coming back around now, there’s lots of good music coming out now. So I just wait for it to come around and fortunately enough, I’ve been able to weather the storm and let it come back around and get a couple of cuts out there. And I’d much rather be that way than to be a huge songwriter without substance. There are a lot of people that aren’t proud of what they say and do and I’m very proud of what I put out there, even songs that started off as a joke. Right now, I’m very conscious about everything and I’m well aware that these lyrics are the art for our youth and I have a sister who is 19 years old and she’s growing up. I’m so thankful I’m able to be a good influence on her and I wasn’t out there writing explicit songs.
YKIGS: Now let’s talk about your solo career. I read that you were part of a girl group before. Was the transition hard going from being in a group to being a solo artist?
It was all weird for me because I never wanted to become a singer per se in the first place. When I was in my group, I loved the camaraderie of being with girls, I was raised an only child and one of the other girls in my group was also raised an only child so we formed a sisterhood. That’s what I love more so than anything about that experience. One of the girls wanted to be solo so that’s why we broke up then it was two of us left and we could have easily found someone else and moved on, but I was over it. So I focused on writing and after I moved to Atlanta with my Ex. And the solo thing about very strangely, I wasn’t looking to sign a deal. I got an offer from this one label and I was like considering it but mildly. And then the terms came and I thought it was horrible. I was like “this is not modern day slavery, I’m not doing this.” Then I met this other lady who was a wife of a celebrity and I was just letting her some songs for her husband and she was like “you know what? I could get you a record deal in a week”. And I was like “really? I’m not sure if that’s what I want to do”. And she was like “if I get it, would it be something you would consider?” So to make a long story short, she pretty much got me a deal with Atlantic.
YKIGS: Now you eventually got signed to Atlantic and started working on your first album. Tell me about the recording process of that album and some of the people you worked with
I worked primarily with Alonzo Jackson, which is my ex husband, and we did the bulk of the record. The songs I had done before the album were not with my ex, he was actually writing with other people and it was kind of struggle there because I was trying to prove myself as a writer in so many ways. I was working a job at a furniture store at a mall, my life had just turned for me and I was like “what am I going to do?” So I really started reading this book called “The Prayer of Jabez” and really focusing on asking God to bless, which sounds weird because we pray for other people but we never pray for ourselves like that. So I was stuck on this book and then this woman makes this offer to me and the interim, I was working with this girl who had never written a song before, her name was Tori Alamaze. She had never written and she wanted me to help her write. And at the time she was Outkast’s makeup artist, so she was like “I’ll give you some tracks, if you write this Jazze Pha song with me, then I’ll help you get some tracks for your writing so your husband hasn’t given them to you”. So we made that deal, I helped her write the song and she gave me a CD full of tracks from Family Tree which was Blue Williams’ former management company, and on it had 3 songs from Outkast. And for whatever reason, everyone that gotten these tracks, no one had written to those three and I wrote to those three and one from my ex and those were the songs that got me the deal with Atlantic. And it was just incredible because I was writing them for the purpose of maybe TLC, not myself. That was an awesome experience to just be put into something. Apparently I was ready for it, but I didn’t know it at the time. Once the record got underway, I of course worked with Outkast because they did those 3 songs, actually we only used 2 of the songs and then we wrote a new one. I was mostly working with Andre 3000. I also worked with Raphael Saadiq, Kanye West and I had tons of features because the album was called Menu and people would say “hey, could I get an order of soul? A side order of funk?” So Jamie Foxx did the intro, Destiny’s Child made an order, Too Short, Tommy Lee. It was just a kind of way to show people the type of music that influenced me. It was pretty cool, it just never came out. *laugh*
YKIGS:What ended up happening with the album? And will we ever get to hear it?
I’m definitely going to do something. I want to put it out but I do realize it’s a piece of work that was done 8 years ago, so I don’t want to put it out there as a new piece of music that I’ve done because I’m not even there anymore. But I would like to explore the opportunity of getting it out there. So yeah, I do want to put it out there.
YKIGS:A personal favorite song of mine is the song “Crazy”. I know that song was going to be your first single, tell me about that song and what eventually ended up happening with it.
Kanye did the song and it was featuring Clipse. My label was totally excited about it, it was one of the last songs I recorded. They were all gung ho and started pressing up and everything for it, they were ready to go with that as the first single followed by a song called “Number One” that Andre and I did. But what had happened was, Joni Mitchell was not in the business of clearing samples because she did not want to support the US economy during the war, so she didn’t clear it. We tried everything we could. Had Kanye been who he is now then, we probably could have gotten somewhere. But he did everything he could to get that sample cleared, but they just wouldn’t clear it. Once that happened, Atlantic didn’t know what to do. I didn’t get dropped until 8 months later until the new structure came about. Brandy got dropped before me and I was like “if they’re dropping Brandy, what’s going to happen now?” And the label just took a turn and changed into something different and I definitely wouldn’t have fit in that new structure.
YKIGS: Eventually you and Atlantic parted ways. Talk to me about that and what you were feeling after it happened
I was kind of feeling like “wow, you spend so much time and effort on a whole project and you believe in these people”. Like I’m talking to them every day and it’s not the A&R’s fault because they can’t really do anything for you. At the end of the day, it’s the hierarchy who I was in contact with everyday and it was just like “wow, what am I going to do now?” But I had to get a hold of that real quickly because I’m a writer anyway so I can do whatever I want to do.
YKIGS: I know you were also Paris Hilton’s vocal coach on her debut album. What was it like working with her and is there a balance for you going from being a songwriter to singer to vocal producer?
Well no, they all intertwine. That’s something I’ve always done, like in the group Emage. It was a training ground of all of that because I was a vocal producer for my group and for myself. So it was a natural progression, and how that came about is I was working with Dr. Dre and Paris Hilton asked him to do a song for him and he wasn’t going to do it, but he was like “who can I ask to do this?” So he asked me to do it. Scott Storch was doing a record but he was like “who is going to sit there and write the song?” So he asked me to do it and of course I agreed, not knowing what I was getting into. Of course I went into it with preconceived notions, like “Paris Hilton? What is she doing?” But I was pleasantly surprised. She has a nice voice and has a great voice ethic in terms of wanting to get it done. I’ve seen some other people on TV recently and she definitely did a better job than others.
YKIGS:You’re also featured on Raphael Saadiq’s first single “Good Man”. Talk to me about the chemistry you guys have in the studio because you guys have worked together numerous times.
He’s my family, he’s my brother, he’s my friend and he’s easy to work. He knows what he wants, especially for his own stuff. So there’s never a question about if he’s going to like the song or not. Sometimes you’ll write a song and you’ll wonder if the person really liked it or not and if they’re going to change anything. He’ll let you know right there, there’s no sugar coating, he’ll let you know. He’ll be like “I’m not singing that, I want you to sing that” which was different for us in a way because I’ve never sang on anything so I’d be like “okay you want me to sing that?”
YKIGS: What are you currently working on? I know you have your own artist.
I have Mark Knox, he’s a soul artist. He plays guitar, bass, piano and drums and he’s sort of like Al Green, Prince meets D’Angelo. Raphael is helping me with on that project. And in addition to that, Raphael and I have written so many songs and hopefully they’ll go on some great artist. And I’m also just working on writing again. I just met with my publisher yesterday and just trying to get in a situation where my value is seen and they’re actually going to market me in a way where they’re going to solicit me to artists that appreciate what I do and those artists could be from small labels or big labels. I’m just ready to work with different people who appreciate real music. I worked with Sunshine Anderson again and wrote two songs for her last album. One of which I wrote with Mark Knox. She’s had some amazing stuff going on. There are just so many good things under the radar that isn’t on the fore front and if you dig, you can find some great music out right now.
YKIGS: What is one thing you’ve learned being in the music industry?
It all comes back. If you really sit down and think about the trends and the crazy music and the gangsta stuff, it all comes back to real music. If you really think about it, you can listen to all types of new silly stuff until you’re blue to your face, but the classics are still going make the club rock. If you chase the trends and then that’s all you have, you become known as a person who has written this song and then you have your one hit and then you’re gone. But if you pace yourself and know that it comes back around, and you always have something to go to if you place your feet firmly in that then you know you can’t be moved. That’s what I’ve learned.
YKIGS: You’ve had the chance to write songs for Destiny Child’s, Kelis, Raphael Saadiq, Sunshine Anderson, is there someone else you would like to work with?
I would love to write with Prince. I had a dream of working with Little Dragon and that was like year, I really wanted to work with them so bad. And I spoke that into existence because on “Just Don’t “ that is featured on Raphael’s new album, so I’m going to keep speaking that I’ll work with Prince and I’m sure that it’ll happen. I would love to work with new people like Adele, she writes timeless songs. You know those songs are going to be around forever. I would love to go to London and work with a lot of different people out there because they are very appreciative of soul music. Amy Winehouse as well, she’s an awesome writer and I love to writers who get me and who I get.
How can the fans get in contact with you?