We spoke with India.Arie about her latest album, Worthy, working with fellow artist David Banner, and how artists can support each other better.
When India.Arie broke into the music scene in 2001, with her debut album Acoustic Soul, we didn’t quite know what to make of her. With her lengthy locs, long flowing skirts, and eccentric jewelry India.Arie offered something fresh and distinct in terms of what we were seeing aesthetically from women in music at the time. It was intriguing.
Not only was her look and style distinct, but so was her music. Armed with her guitar, India.Arie delivered self-penned singles like “Video” centered around self-love.
It’s been almost 20 years since she gave us Acoustic Soul, an album in which she was nominated for seven Grammy Awards. Since that time, she’s built and maintained a career based on consistency. (Not to say there weren’t some struggles; she has openly spoke about the time she almost left the music industry.)
Earlier this year, she released her eighth studio album, Worthy. The album, which was recorded in Nashville, features the singer diversifying her sound. There is a wide range of sounds and topics displayed on the album, from the uptempo single “That Magic” to “What If,” an ode to legendary activists and civil rights icons, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Nelson Mandela,
Then there is “Steady Love,” a song that’s not about the highs or lows of a relationship, but about steadiness. A song about a partner who is there day-in and day-out. Last month we premiered the Nandy McClean-directed video, which features an appearance from David Banner as her love interest. The video was a success, largely due to the on-camera chemistry between the two. (The chemistry came across so real people questioned if they were actually a couple.)
We spoke with India.Arie about her latest album, Worthy, working with fellow artist David Banner on the “Steady Love” video, and how artists can support each other.
We premiered the video for “Steady Love” and the response has been tremendous. Can you talk about the song?
When I was making the album Worthy I was in a relationship with someone. That was one of the first songs I’ve written that was not just glowing poetry about love, but…a more realistic view of what relationships are like. I wrote what I was going through and what I was feeling about things. One of the things you learn as you mature is that the most loving thing a partner can do is be consistent. So that’s why “steady love.” That’s why those words are important enough that I would make a whole song about it.
Are you still in that relationship?
That relationship ran its course, and I’m just carrying things into the next one.
Talk about the making of that video and how David Banner came on as your love interest?
We asked for a lot of different treatments from directors and nobody was getting it. It was like, “India in a field of flowers.” Or “India outside walking hand-in-hand.” And I was like “no!” It’s not a song about a field of flowers. This is a song about going to sleep and waking up every day and being in the house and figuring out how to be with somebody.
So we finally got one good treatment. It was glowingly clear that this was the one, and it ended up being Nandy McLean. The treatment was perfect. Then I wanted to cast my friend Lyriq Bent, but he was in rural Canada and couldn’t leave.
I had an idea of wanting David Banner in a different video. When Lyriq couldn’t come, I just asked David because every time I would see him he would say “if you ever need me call, I’m at your service…” He would stay stuff like that every time. He would hold my hand and bow down every time [and say] “Queen, if you ever need me I’m here, I’m at your service.”
I wanted someone who people knew, but I also needed it to be someone who I thought would be an interesting choice without being real far left. I didn’t want to get someone where I’d be like, “oh no, why did we get them?” I wanted them to be an interesting choice, but I also wanted it to be someone whose brand I could stand behind. I do see David and I as having matching brands, but I didn’t understand that we intersect brand-wise until we were on the set together, and we were just talking about stuff and I was like “we have a lot in common,” so having that experience made me understand how much he was the right person for the video. And then his presence made me really understand that he was the right person. He brought so much to the set – so much of himself and so much order and manliness – he brought a lot to the project, and I thought it was an interesting choice. But it really ended up being a perfect choice.
You and David have so much onscreen chemistry.
I know. It surprised me too. I was like, what?…We just had it. We just lived in it, which is what you want – that’s what casting is about. He just ended up being the perfect person. He really did.
View this post on Instagram
You mentioned brands… how would you describe your brand?
If I had to put it into words, it is the conscious use of the power of words and music. It is spiritual. Humanitarian. Wellness. Consciousness elevating. Multicultural. Black. Female. Beautiful.
Has your musical mission changed over the years, or your intentions with making music, and how is it reflected most in Worthy?
I don’t think my intention has changed, and, actually, my mission statement is to spread love, healing, peace, and joy through the power of words and music. That hasn’t changed. I think the thing that has changed is me and how empowered I am, how mature I am, and how confident I am. Being more confident and empowered makes the songs be more of the same. I personally think the songs on Worthy are a more accurate reflection of what I was trying to say and achieve as a body of work and as each song. I feel like I’ve hit my goals on the head with the songs and the body of work, and that comes from just growing.
I’ve been around for 20 years now, and this is my eighth album. So growing as a songwriter, maturing as a producer, maturing as a person, maturing as a person who is able to be more self-expressed and self-defined… I think that’s what that album has — more of all that, which surprised me too. I think it’s my shortest album as well. I think there’s something to be said for just being able to say it without having to draw it out or make the songs really long. I just say what I want to say and make them clean. I feel like all of that has to do with my internal growth, but also my artistic growth.
Is it hard for you to stay true to yourself and not lose sight of who you are and your intentions as an artist in this musical climate and the music industry? How do you navigate all of that?
No, it’s not hard. It was more challenging in the beginning. When I was making my second album, and third, and fourth, I was like “what do people expect?” And what if I don’t give them what they want?” Because my second and third albums were kind of like breakup albums, and I was like, “who wants to hear me sing about breaking up?” But I got over that. When I sit down to write songs or create it really is a sacred space for me, and so inside of that I would just breathe and be like “OK, I don’t know what people want, but this is what I’m gonna do.” and I just drop it. It takes me a minute to stop thinking about it and get into the work, but once I get into it I don’t think about it anymore.
Trying to walk a fine line between what’s hot and what I love makes the songs sound funny, in my opinion. I’ve done that, and it makes the songs sound weird and it sounds like I’m walking a fine line. One of my friends told me a saying: “a camel is a horse designed by committee.” It’s perfect, right? For me, when I think of my music, I don’t want it to sound like that. I want it to be clean. The mental chatter inside of my creative process is pretty much quieted.
Also, the times when I want to go into a more mainstream I just do it and don’t think about it. I just do it. I used to think, well how can I get a little more of “that” in here… Even the song “What If”—that is very me because of the subject matter, but if you take the subject matter out, it sounds kinda like [Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s] “All the Stars.” I don’t try or not try. I just do what I want to do now, but I earned it.
Are there any artists out now who you recognize and appreciate for walking in that path that you’ve created, or who you just are a fan of?
I love H.E.R. I especially love her technical ability. I love Lianne La Havas. I love Emily King. I love Tori Kelly. Did I say Jonathan McReynolds already? He’s the person who’s come out that sounds most like me. I didn’t even know that was possible, but I always hoped somebody was going to be like that, but he was the first one that was just like, that’s my sound and I love him.
Recently Musiq Soulchild went on his Instagram and told his followers to go support Worthy. I loved that. How do you think artists can be more supportive of each other?
Just like that, especially if you know that you have more followers than someone. Just post it. I can’t tell you how many fans I have because of Ariana Grande. When she came out in all of her press she would talk about how I was one of her favorite artists, and it’s funny because when I hear the song “Thank You, Next” I hear my songwriting style in it. She pretends her name is Arie, but she is one of my fans, which I love. A lot of the kids who love her are on my social media now, and they’re telling me about songs they didn’t know, and [saying] I love your songs.
I have more followers than Musiq does, but the idea of him saying it… I knew there was somebody who listens to him that didn’t know, because he has a lot more of a male contingency than I do, and I know there were people who didn’t know. It surprised me too when I saw it, I was like oh shoot! I had no idea. I haven’t heard from Musiq in a long time, so the fact that he even knew the album was out and posted it was really nice, and then MC Lyte posted it the same day.
What do you want people to come away from one of your performances?
Well I tell the audience every night… we pray before we go on stage, and I always say the same prayer. That every soul be touched the way they came to be touched, including us onstage, because I don’t know what people need or what they are searching for or whatever, but if the music that we’re creating and the vibration that we create in the room will facilitate that for people, that’s my highest goal. I don’t know how they feel when they leave. I don’t get to talk to a lot of the audiences. I only see the comments when people say they have “special experiences.” So whatever it is, I just want them to get it.__
Samantha Hunter resides in Westchester, New York and has written entertainment and lifestyle features for BET.com, Essence, SoulBounce, Inspirer, Haute d’ Vie, Black Westchester, DELUX, and VH1.com. Her family and friends say she’s always going somewhere, but you can find her on Instagram at @Sapodillic.