First Look: Andra Day's Cinematic Soul Soars On "Only Love" [Song Premiere + Exclusive Interview]
Andra Day is a name you might do well to remember; a very old soul manifested in the star presence of a brand new artist. Her voice combines the smoky character of someone who's lived several lifetimes of pain and wisdom with the fierce edge of a girl ready to take on the world. It's always dangerous to reduce an artist's complexity to a simple 1 + 2 = 3 formula but it would not be an exaggeration to describe Andra's appeal as "Rihanna possessed by the ghost of Billie Holiday." With flawless jazz chops that she can apply to soul, pop and doo-wop melodies with equal ease, she's already being looked at as a scion of the dearly departed Amy Winehouse, that longed-for singer with the voice and charisma to single-handedly inspire a rebirth of classic soul.
Such talent has not gone overlooked, of course. Ms. Day has already been recruited for the soundtrack to the highly-anticipated Nina Simone documentary What Happened Miss Simone? And none other than directorial GOAT Spike Lee helmed her new video for "Forever Mine" (click through to watch below). But that cinematic quality of Andra's soul clearly stems from within, not from proximity to Hollywood royalty; on her new single "Only Love"--which Okayplayer is proud to present here in its exclusive online premiere!--she carries the engagingly raspy torch song of the opening bars to a soaring, panoramic chorus: Only love can break your heart / like poisonous darts... epic enough to put any James Bond score to shame. Listen for yourself below and read on to find out about the role Questlove and James Poyser of The Roots played in the song's creation (The Dap Kings and DJ Jazzy Jeff are on the track as well!) plus her collaborations with Spike and the creators of What Happened Miss Simone?.
Okayplayer: Please introduce yourself to the nice people: Who is Andra Day? Where did you grow up? What's your favorite ice cream? Name of your first pet?
Andra Day: I am a singer, songwriter, and storyteller. I’m someone who values truth and openness and vulnerability. I grew up in San Diego, CA. Caramel Cookie Crunch. My first pet’s name was Champ. He was a pitbull/retriever mix. I love pitbulls.
OKP: Tell us what it was like working with Spike Lee on the video for "Forever Mine"?
>>>Click Through to Page 2 to Watch Spike's Video for "Forever Mine"
AD: It was a range of things. It was amazing and it was intimidating at the same time. Obviously, Spike Lee is an incredible and legendary director with a great creative eye. At the same time he was very nurturing and understanding about my vision and how it would work with what he had in mind too. He gave great direction and he was really cool to be around. It was a much more casual environment than what I had drawn in my own mind. It was an amazing experience.
OKP: How did you get into singing and what was the very first thing you ever performed live?
AD: I got into singing when I was very young. I sang in church so worship songs were the first things that I sang live. I went to performing arts school as well, so we did a lot of musical theatre, jazz vocal performance and classical. I performed songs from “Babes in Arms”; “Once on This Island” and “Gypsy.” Those were my first experiences on the stage.
OKP: You have what could be called a timeless voice, the chops and throaty quality that puts you in the tradition of some of the greats; Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and more recently Amy Winehouse. Who do you consider major influences? Would you call yourself an old soul or do you find that you listen to more throwback soul or jazz than current pop?
AD: I definitely listen to more throwback soul, jazz, doo-wop music. Some of my major influences are Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Dinah Washington. I think they all were able to easily convey emotion in their voices as well as in their lyrics. They were able to transition from different genres of music pretty seamlessly. I love artists as well that are reminiscent of them like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and big powerhouse voices like Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, and Whitney Houston, those signature powerhouse voices.
OKP: Speaking of Nina Simone, we understand you are involved with music for the new doc What Happened, Miss Simone?--what can you tell us about the soundtrack?
AD: The soundtrack is amazing. I actually got involved because I went to Sundance and performed at the Nina Simone tribute show for the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? event at Sundance and Jayson Jackson, one of the producers, saw me singing there and asked me to be a part of the project. You can expect classic Nina songs that are completely flipped on their head but they do maintain the same emotion and the same impact as the intention of her original recordings.
OKP: Tell us a bit about how this song ("Only Love") came together--that's Questlove on the drums--were you in the studio together?
AD: I wrote “Only Love” originally with my producer, Adrian Gurvitz. We sent it to James Poyser of The Roots to be worked on and he had Quest do drums on it. So I didn’t work directly in the studio with Quest but when I got the record back, I thought his drum work was amazing. I had my suggestions and James and I collaborated together on the record with Adrian Gurvitz to really come up with exactly what we were looking for.
OKP: What's on the near horizon for Andra Day? Tour? Album project? Total world domination?
AD: Yes, I’ll be touring in the fall after my album’s releases in August. I’m performing at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, which I’m really excited about. I’ll be performing at Cannes and I also just got booked to do the Life is Beautiful Festival in Vegas. Stevie Wonder is headlining so I’m thrilled to be in that lineup!