‘Enduring Brilliance: Yesterday, Today and Every Second In Between’
Like the jazz chanteuses who came before her, Lil Añel continues to accomplish what she has been working towards these past thirty years; making beautiful music, full of heart and soul. An unpretentious collection of nouveau standards, Añel’s newest release “Every Second In Between” is an intricate weaving of timeless jazz melodies and rich, full-bodied and felt vocals. Añel’s capabilities as a lyricist are vividly evident throughout her songs and her naturally honeyed singing voice draws in listeners like sailors to the shore. In an unambitious music world, where risqué antics from less-than-talented musicians gain the most exposure, Añel reminds us that genuine talent and earnest dreams never go out of style.
Exclusive Magazine had the opportunity to discuss the new album and current show schedule with Lili Añel, as well as her reflections on the musical career that has lead her to the release of “Every Second In Between”.
Your sound has it’s roots in traditional Cuban music, jazz, soul and pop. Who were your musical influences growing up and how many still factor into your music today? "There were many influences for me. As for Cuban music; I consistently heard Orquesta Aragon, Patato y Totico, Celia Cruz, Benny More (“El Barrosso”), Vicentico Valdez; Pop/Rock; The Beatles, Burt Bachrach/Dionne Warwick, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Janis Ian, Joan Armatrading, Garland Jeffreys; Soul Music; Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, any songs written by Holland/Dozier/Holland, The Supremes, The Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP), Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, James Brown, Jazz; Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Sara Vaughn, John Coltrane, Sheila Jordan, Michael Brecker, Mike Mainieri, Nina Simone, Johnny Hartman; Latin Jazz was also a big influence, Joe Cuba, Cal Tjader, Eddie Palmieri, La Lupe, Fania All-Stars."
"I still listen to “Rumba” and “Gua-Guanco” music from Cuba. I’m lucky to have some old recordings on CD. I constantly listen to Michael Brecker. His sax sounds like a “voice” to me. I only wish I could sing and phrase with the dexterity he had. I listen to Nina Simone. I always listen to The Beatles. With all of this music, each time I listen to it, I get something new from it; it never gets old and I am constantly learning from it, in addition to enjoying it immensely."
Your fifth effort, 'Every Second In Between,' was just released September 29th. For readers who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the sound and style of your music? "It’s difficult for me to label my music, because it does not fit perfectly into a box, but I would describe it as Jazz/Pop. I don’t know how accurate this description is. I would say it’s a hybrid of all I’ve ever listened to. Its got jazz undertones, is accessible in that its not over people’s heads so its got “pop” undertones. I would also say its “Folk” on some level, as I began playing folk music when I first learned guitar, so I am very influenced in that way and sometimes perform solo, just me and my guitar."
With a critically acclaimed career that spans over 30 years, what legacy would you like to leave within the music industry? "That’s a very intense question. My dream is for the world to hear my music and get something from it, feel something from it, much like I have gotten from those whose backs I stand on. I would like to be remembered as a singer/songwriter who continued to grow musically, got better and never stopped being creative or performing despite the hardships of her involvement in the music industry."
You describe the time your mother bought you your first Beatles record as the moment you knew you wanted to be a musician. Recount for us how this musical introduction was the catalyst to your career
"It’s difficult to describe. My Mom came home with a copy of the VeeJay album “Introducing the Beatles” and gave my twin sister a copy of Capitol album “Meet The Beatles”.
She said to us “everybody likes them, I think you will too”. She put it on the stereo and my sister and I listened. We sat, our feet dangling, swinging in time to the music.
We played both albums over and over. We began to walk around the house each carrying our respective albums, holding them near and even next to me when I went to bed at night. That weekend I watched them on the Ed Sullivan Show and froze. I remember getting goosebumps and being able to follow the songs and immediately sing along. They played guitars, well, two guitarists and a bassist and drummer. The sound was full. The song “I Saw Her Standing There”, it just did “it” to me. My brain switched. I was a little kid, but in that moment in my head, there was nothing better in life to be but someone who played guitar and sang. I had yet to still figure out the mystery of songwriting, but I knew I’d get there."
You were born and raised in the Spanish Harlem area of Manhattan and eventually relocated to the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. How are these two cities different, both within the social and music scenes? "Somehow Philadelphia has found a way to make it work, and not completely price music venues out of existence like in New York. Many venues have folded due to rents that have risen so high, owners could no longer continue, like The Bottom Line. Philadelphia is a thriving metropolis, but it is much smaller and maybe this is what makes it doable. New York is so huge; as a musician its easy to get lost. You can really get “heard” in Philadelphia. There are many open mics to attend, and the community is very supportive. There is a lot more “benevolence” in the music scene here. Mind you, its still the music business and incredibly cut-throat, but less intense. It’s a smaller city, smaller scene; you can readily see what’s what and who’s who."
Your vocal style spurs comparisons to great female songstresses such as Joni Mitchell and Roberta Flack. Where do you think these parallels stem from and how do you think you’re both similar and different? "First let me say that I am honored to be vocally compared to both Joni Mitchell and Roberta Flack. Their styles are “timeless” which is more than an artist could ever want. I will guess I am similar to Joni in that vocally she is transcending what she did musically which was the hybrid of folk with jazz. My music is similar in this way. From my having heard and subsequently listened to a lot of jazz since early childhood, the playing around with phrasing, how and where you hold a note in a song, that’s similar."
"The directness in Roberta Flack’s singing is something I paid close attention to when I listened to her records. Similarly to Nina Simone, she sang with “directness”; and not alot of note-changing or melismatic singing. This is very powerful and I prefer it. There’s a time and place in certain songs for being “decorative” in one’s singing, although that is totally not my style. I wish I could hit some of those notes Joni hits – way out of my range."
How easy or hard is it to create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderments and accomplishments that preceded it within the industry? "You tell me. Some artists may have made music that generated enormous sales, but I don’t believe that there has been a “new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderments and accomplishments that preceded it within the industry” for some time, at least not in my time."
"Turn on your radio and you will hear hip-hop that has samples of “great” songs in them, without their being anything original in addition. Please note I am not singling out “hip-hop”, other musical styles also do this. The other day on television I watched a singer doing a song that had a sample of The Zombies “Time of The Season” looped in it. The song itself had no verse or bridge or rhyme or reason, just a little two line chorus that repeated towards the end of sixteen bars; it just meandered on. The best part of the “song” was “Time of the Season” in the background as the music, looping over and over."
"I will go out on a limb and say this is considered “new”. I also heard a song playing at Starbucks that utilized Hall & Oates “No Can Do”. Again, no verse, no chorus, no “song form”. But the Hall & Oates loop was its only redeeming musical quality. Stylistically if you listen to the music currently coming out of the U.K. its got a very heavy “soul” sound reminiscent of the late 50s and 60s music of the U.S. Here, you will hear some originality. I don’t know that it surpasses the “musical wonderments and accomplishments that preceded it within the industry” but at best you have “songs” there."
"When I write, I don’t think of “creating a wanted-by-the-public sound” as you put it. I don’t believe the “public” knows what it wants in advance to what it gets from the record labels, what is pushed out by the suits. I write for myself, first. I try to write good music and good lyrics and get whatever thought, story out that I want to tell. My hope is that the public will get it, will identify with it on some level, get something from it that will make them want to by my music and come out to hear me live. Mostly I hope that my music will have an affect on them on some level that moves them."
You worked with four-time Grammy award winning producer Glenn Barratt on the new album Every Second In Between. Tell us a bit about this exciting partnership and what it means for the direction of the album "I knew I wanted to work with Glenn when I heard a recording he’d produced at the end of the night in a club where I was playing. It was really noisy, but I could still hear the song and the singer, clear as a bell cutting through. I wanted to work with someone who had sensibilities with vocalists. This is something my prior recordings were lacking, missed the mark on. Glenn is a professional in every sense of the word. He knows what he’s doing. He included me in every step of the process, he was always calm. There were never raised voices at any of the sessions."
"Glenn also listened to my ideas and we used them if they worked, if they made sense in the songs. He didn’t have the “I’m-the-producer-you-do-what-I-want-because-I’m-the-king” vibe that I have worked with in the past. Glenn’s approach to making this record was to capture “me”, which is what he said from the beginning. He expressed that while I am a Philadelphian now for all intents and purposes, I am originally from NYC, I’m bi-racial and all of those nuances make me who I am. He wanted to bring “me” out in my songs and I believe we were both successful in doing so. I learned to listen differently working with Glenn."
"I would often leave our mixing sessions having to play my car radio really low; I could hear things in recordings on the radio that I know other people didn’t hear, like a time or pitch issue, real subtle stuff. My hearing/listening became very sensitive and acute. I also learned working with Glenn where much of my strength lay vocally, and it wasn’t with how much power or strength to put behind a note, but to hear/know when not to. The best example I can give you is when I recorded the vocal to “Supposed to Be”. I was used to singing the song a certain way live and took the same approach in the studio. The track was incredible musically. The song is about empowerment, and I approached it the same way in my vocal. I thought this was good. After the second take, Glenn said to me “I’m not hearing it, I’m not getting what you’re saying; maybe you should back off”. I initially did not know what he meant and got scared."
"This was the CD “single” and I wanted it to be successful. I waited a minute and then asked him to just open a track for me. I got right up on the mic and then slightly turned my face, almost like I was speaking closely in someone’s ear and sang the song. When I was done, he said to me “that’s the take”. The song being about someone who won’t compromise who they are smolders when she makes her point somewhat “still” in the vocal approach. The end result is that the song seethes and has a great deal more effect. Glenn is very easy to work with if you are honest with who you are and what you want; he’ll help you get it and then some. His studio “MorningStar” is extremely comfortable. The stable of session players he utilizes are the cream of the crop and know how to bring the very best to your songs."
Indeed, the aforementioned album’s lead-off single “Supposed To Be” was featured in a recent issue of USA Today as the #2 pick in Steve Jone’s ‘10 Intriguing Tunes’. How do think this has helped gain exposure for your music? "I would like to think those who read that column sought me out, Googled me and went right to my website to listen to the song (along with my other music) and buy it. Considering on that list, I was the only artist not on a label, it was huge exposure. I was thrilled."
If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today and why? "Cherrelle’s “I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On”. I liked the groove – actually I liked the remake by the late Robert Palmer, which I thought was a very hip version of this song, and close to what I might do. That’s my choice for a “cheesy” 80s song. For a “not cheesy 80s song” I’d pick “Every Time You Go Away” by Paul Young, written by Darryl Hall. Excellent song. I’ve thought of actually covering it."
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine loves Penguins, do you? "I LOVE Penguins! They sing and when their partner sings back, they’re matched for life. So romantic and wonderful that singing does that between them. My twin sister is a member of “The Penguin Runners” a group formed of runners who are devoted to running but not into the whole being fast thing. Their motto is “I’m Slow, I Know, Get Over It”. My sister is no slouch, even though she was a “Penguinrunner” she ran 4 Marine Corp. Marathons 4 years in a row and finished each time. She’s got the blown out knees to show for it."
For more information about Lili Añel and her newest album 'Every Second In Between,' be sure to check out her website and official Myspace page!
Interview: Erin M. Stranyak
Back To Archives