We spoke with Ari Lennox, who talked about remaking Sly and the Family Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay,” the death of Chadwick Boseman, and how she was able to cope over the last couple of months quarantine.
It was the most eventful thing Ari did during the quarantine. Since March, the world has been crippled by COVID-19 related quarantine. Ari is no exception. She has not been able to tour and hasn’t recorded much since quarantine began in March. In fact, over the last couple of months, she’s spent a good time away from the Internet, taking social media breaks when things started to become overwhelming.
A real return to normalcy came when she was invited by Crown Royal to record a remake of Sly and the Family Stone’s classic “If You Want Me to Stay.” The remake, which features Hamilton singer Anthony Ramos, was made and released in support of independent venues, which are dying. Things have been trending downwards for years now, but COVID-19 accelerated the process: According to a survey from the National Independent Venue Association, more than 90 percent of independent venues — including bars, stages, and clubs — are in danger of disappearing.
That’s why with every stream of Ari Lennox and Anthony Ramos’ “If You Want Me to Stay,” Crown Royal will donate money to Main Street Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting small businesses in the United States.
In celebration of the release, we spoke with Ari Lennox, who talked about recording, the death of Chadwick Boseman, and how she was able to cope over the last couple of months.
What is your relationship with the original “You Want Me to Stay?”
My relationship is basically being so impressed by the genius of Sly [Stone.] Like I was just always so impressed by how he would sing on a track and it was just so unique and different and beautiful and just controlled, but also so random and tasteful. And I just feel like he’s a legend that still needs just way more flowers. I need them to get more flowers. I’m grateful me and Anthony could team up for that. Because it’s just an honor. It’s probably my favorite cover I’ve ever done.
What about “You Want Me to Stay” do you like?
It’s just so it’s so sassy. He’s really talking his shit and I love that. And just the tone — how he plays with his voice and just effortlessly. I mean, it’s just beautiful.
I saw a description that the idea of the song is to “inspire hope and generosity.” What’s the last thing that really made you feel hopeful?
Just seeing how gracefully and powerful and how strong Chadwick [Boseman] fought throughout his life — how ambitious he was. And that gave me so much inspiration and hope. He seems like such an amazing soul. And his passing definitely really, really touched me deeply, and his life has just given a whole bunch of different emotions — just light and hope, you know?
Did you ever meet him?
I wish, man. I wish.
Were you big into the Black Panther craze?
I loved it. But I saw 21 Bridges and I love that even more. I don’t know if that’s bad to say, but I love 21. I got my whole life in that movie, man. I want to say that was one of the last movies I saw in theaters, which is crazy to me, but yeah.
How productive do you feel like you’ve been during the last couple of months?
Well, that’s why I’m thankful for Crown Royal because they have allowed me an opportunity to be productive because it’s just been so hard to create original things during this time. It’s hard to find inspiration. It’s hard to even meet anyone and to flirt and to go on dates. Everything is so virtual. It’s annoying. But rightfully needed because you know, it’s safety first, but you know, it’s just been hard.
[With “You Want Me to Stay”] I was really able to be inspired all over again through such a legendary, legendary artist and which I think could help with future writing. Yeah. I haven’t been productive musically outside of this cover. And it was so much fun and I think the reason why it was executed…beautifully because me and Anthony were in there together, cracking jokes, having so much fun.
The producer was right there. My producer was FaceTiming in and it was just like we were there together and I think that’s what I need so badly. I can’t do this virtual shit. I’m sorry. I need human interaction. Because it’s my therapy to create music. I have to get it out, in real life with the phenomenal other musicians and producers and singers. So yeah.
So you were able to do this in a studio, not through Zoom?
Yeah. The first time we met was via Zoom, and it was so much fun and I guess we were all getting acquainted. At the studio where we recorded it, we had a ball. We had a little bit to drink…and yeah, it was just a vibe. Just lots of fun getting to know each other and lots of music talks.
So you didn’t do much recording, you know, you couldn’t. What have you been doing over the last couple of months?
I mean, I’ve been basically getting my house together. I purchased my first home, so I’ve been focusing on all of the madness with that, and it’s a bit of a fixer-upper, so I’ve just been doing little things around the house. Got my dog back [from my ex-boyfriend] so I’ve been going to the dog park and just going on walks with him and just really just having fun, I guess, with myself and yeah, probably watching lots of crime shows, home improvement stuff.
Are you handy?
Oh my goodness, hell no! I wish. I tried my best to stain my deck and that shit lasted one day and now it’s back to ashy white. It looks horrible. So absolutely not.
Will landscape your lawn for 100 bucks hit me (202) 217-0700 pic.twitter.com/J68Tb20EnO
— Ari Lennox (@AriLennox) July 24, 2020
Oh no, that was not. That was me trying to attempt to try to chop a branch. And so I gave up, so I’m basically waiting for the opportunity to get a landscaping person come and save me. But wow, I am so impressed by Juvenile. Damn. I wish I knew how to do that stuff.
What are a couple of things that helped you survive the last couple of months?
Well, staying away from toxicness, whatever that may be to you. Whether it’s people, social media, staying away from that. Basically just loving on myself, being gentle to myself. And if I feel like it [going to] get my nails done, [then doing] that. And if I don’t want to do anything else for the rest of the day, that’s OK. Just being OK with just doing what makes me happy.