Thursday, November 08, 2007

Best Of Both Worlds: A Souled On New Artist Double Feature

One of the so-called perks of running Souled On has been receiving free CDs and other promotional material from artists, record labels, marketing companies, etc. Being a music lover, this was somewhat of a novelty at first, but then a couple of things started to go wrong.

First of all, there's often too great of a volume for one human being to process. It's not as if I have some sort of assistant, henchman, or weed carrier in my employ who I can pay to filter the content of my inbox for me. Either I sample the products myself, or they go untouched. As a result, I have an abundance of material that I'm planning to review...tomorrow.

Another issue I have is that 95% of the music sent my way just isn't suited to my taste. If you're trying to revitalize the polka movement, there must be a blog or website for you somewhere, but sorry---Souled On just ain't it. I know you think that you and your brothers make a stupendous kazoo quartet, but unfortunately, I just can't fathom spending 40 minutes of my life listening to Wally Wickety-Wack & The Three Blowhards (name changed to protect the innocent).

That said, every once in a while someone or something emerges from the wreckage that is my inbox and commands my full attention. Such was the case with both Donny Goines and Shelly Bhushan, two artists who have not received the respect and acclaim that they least not yet.

Donny and Shelly are quite different in terms of musical style, but it's what they share in common that's won my admiration, friendship, and support. Both of them are talented beyond belief and work tirelessly to get their message out and their music heard. The recording industry is infamous for marginalizing true talent in favor of gimmicks and whatever most quickly lends itself to the almighty dollar. As music lovers, we often criticize this element, but fail to properly support the authentic artists in our midst because they're not in our face on BET fifteen times a day. Donny and Shelly may not be making millions from their art, but what they are doing for music is essentially priceless.

Take a moment out of your day to get to know them both and give their music a listen. Embrace the understanding that SoundScan numbers bear no importance when it comes to genuine artistry, and open your mind (as well as those big Dumbo ears that your mama gave ya)...

First up, Donny Goines, a Harlem MC who possesses the kind of skills that illustrate what is still possible for hip-hop in '07---intelligent rhymes and authenticity on the mic. I asked him to write a little something so that my readers could get to know him. Within an hour, my man had written this phenomenal piece to share with you. Talk about being inspired...

Starving Artist....

When I first heard this term growing up I really thought nothing of it. Like many cliches thrown around, I felt this was just some sort of tagline associated with musicians, painters, and the artsy crowds you see in Soho somewhere. Now sitting in those shoes, I feel quite differently.

When I first started, I remember watching the countless videos on BET/MTV and listening to the same artists in rotation on the radio. I saw the promotion they got on websites and blogs and they all seemed EXACTLY the same to me. They all looked like they were having a ball. Women, money, cars (which is all good cause I love all three haha) but I keep thinking to myself "Where is the great music at?". Eventually I just stopped watching and listening altogether but I just couldn't understand how some people were able to achieve these things unless they were actually paying someone (Big name producers, slot time/payola, publicists, etc.) or nepotism was involved (My cousin is T.I, my uncle is Jay Z, etc.). It just didn't seem logical to me.

Now here I am today, Donny Goines. The musician, the rapper, the hip hop artist. Pick one, its your choice. Im not a hustler, Im not a drug dealer that happens to rap, and Im not someone who is doing this as a hobby. This is my life. My cousin ain't an A&R, my daddy ain't rich and I damn sure don't have a budget or label behind me (shit I can hardly get in the studio to record, let alone anything else). Once I decided that music would be my career of choice Ive made alot of sacrifices. Like quitting my day job at a high end retail store making good money because "I needed more time to write and record". Abandoning my apartment in Westchester to move back into my mother's apartment in Harlem so "I could use the money I paid on rent to put towards my career", and giving up on partying, shopping, and hanging out because "I felt it was just a waste of money that I could use for studio time". I pawned all my jewelry, borrowed all I could, and spent all of my savings. Why do you ask? We'll get back to that part a little later.

A lot of people look at my myspace page, read the interviews, hear the music and automatically assume that I am doing "good". I must be right? How can I manage to do what Im doing if I wasn't? Let's start with the second word in the phrase. Artist. I'm not sure what your definition is, and I dont have a dictionary in my hand either but I assume it means a person who practices in the arts. The truth is tho', not many people out there get "PAID" to practice art until they become successful. This is why you have so many part time rappers and half ass rhymers out there because they can't sustain with just there craft alone. People like Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Picasso (I know Im drifting a bit but stay with me) and any other great artists in the past had to rely on "investors" (these days they're called record labels) to buy the supplies and tools needed for their work. Without those people you wouldn't have the Sistine Chapel, the Mona Lisa, or the Garçon à la Pipe (google it).

Now back to the first part. Starving. Alot of times, unless you have these "investors" you are not able to acquire the resources needed in order to compose your art and therefore you cant eat (if you're a true artist, your main source of income typically comes from the profits of your sold work)---sometimes literally, because if you were following where I was going with it, once you call yourself an artist that becomes your livelihood. A lot of real artists dont like to compromise their work or follow trends (even for a profit). They tend to feed off their own creativity and just perfect their craft until someone out there recognizes their talent and invests in them. I'm sure there were the "Party Like a Rockstar" or "insert the latest dance song here" types in those eras, but imagine what the Sistine Chapel would look like had Michelangelo painted it with pastels because that was the "in" color? Had Da Vinci painted Mona Lisa with her tits out because "sex sells" or Picasso putting weed in the boy's pipe because he wanted him to look more "gangsta". Where would the great works of art be then?

A Starving Artist. I now fully understand where the term derives from (in my own interpretation, yours may differ). True artists dont fold. They sacrifice because they believe in their work. They dont care about the naysayers and nonbelievers. They follow their hearts and use all the energy and resources at hand to share their work with the world. Sometimes I think It would be easier to write a whole bunch of dance songs or some down south shit because that's what's selling. So I won't be stuck in my mom's house. So I can buy a nice a outfit. So I can have my jewelry and cars back. But then reality sets in and I think to myself "What would people say about me in the next century?" They would say nothing. Because people only talk about TRUE artists as time passes and those who make it in the history books are then finally understood (in rap, you usually have to die or get locked up for this to happen). So if that means I have to be broke in the meantime, then so be it. I'll just have to be a starving artist until someone funds my Sistine Chapel....Donny

Download a couple of joints from the CD Donny just dropped (The Excerpt PG. 1):

"Do It For Hip-Hop"---Donny Goines (zShare)

"Do It For Hip-Hop"---Donny Goines (savefile)

"The Renaissance"---Donny Goines (zShare)

"The Renaissance"---Donny Goines (savefile)

My nomination for hip hop video of the year--"Do It For Hip-Hop":

If you appreciate Donny's admirable efforts to bring some much-needed credibility back into the hip-hop game, show the man some love over at his page on MySpace, where you can also purchase his phenomenal CD, The Excerpt PG. 1.

Now let's talk about Shelly Bhushan, a stunning and incredibly emotive singer/songwriter who just released her Picking Daisies CD on September 20th. Her music gracefully transcends the confines of any particular genre, blending a tapestry of various sounds that can only be described as breathtakingly unique. To help you become better acquainted with her, I asked the soulful vocalist to answer a few probing questions:

As a recording artist who's relatively new to many listeners, it's inevitable that fans, critics, and music writers are going to try to categorize your material. How would YOU describe your musical style?

Well, my goal had always been to fuse two musical styles I loved the most – songwriting skill – like what typical singer songwriter folks, but do it with soulful sounds…. It tends to be something that doesn't seem to ever coexist. They sometimes seem like such opposites, but I don't believe they are. I believe you can be soulful and not be trite, and/or be a singer/songwriter without being boring and "straight". So, that's what I had hoped to become and believe that maybe I've started assuming that role, I'm sure I still have a lot of work to do…. I'm not sure if that answers your question?

So far you've drawn comparisons to a fairly wide array of artists--Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Joss Stone, Alanis Morrisette and Bonnie Raitt just to name a few. Have any of these comparisons gotten on your nerves? Are there certain parallels you appreciate more than others?

Yeah, I guess they kinda do sometimes, because these post modern comparisons occur because people can't just take something for what it is, they need to put things in a box to feel comfortable with it, you know? But, I guess we all do it and we need it to understand what we are listening to, watching, etc. I don't mind getting compared to legends though, that's pretty sweet and unbelievably flattering, considering it's just me…you know?

Who were your greatest influences in deciding to pursue a career in music?

Well, I think life was the greatest influence in my musical career, not necessarily a "who". I have never lived my life without song and I was always saying – yeah, I'm going to be someone someday… and I found myself going to the same bars, same places every night – waiting for that " I was pumping gas at a gas station and this manager came up to me and told me he'd make me a star" moment… and I realized, that's never going to happen. I have to make my life happen, so I basically made a commitment to myself to do this

In addition to having a stunning vocal range, you're also a songwriter. Tell us a little about your creative process when it comes to writing music.

Songwriting has come in many different ways for me. I write a lot in my head, without the aid of instruments. There are times where I'll just be doing stuff and something pops into my head so I reach for a recorder or call my voicemail and start singing into the phone to remember ideas. Or sometimes, divinity will step in and I will just start writing lyrics and by the end, I'm like – wow that totally makes sense and is what I've been feeling. Other times, I write with my band. We'll go to rehearsal and just start jamming on stuff. Sometimes I'll have a melody or lyrics and we'll just go and start putting things together. Sometimes it's completely organic – like "Show Me A Sign"… one night, we just started vamping on a gospelish type riff and I just started singing what I was feeling. What the music was making me think of emotionally and within a couple of weeks, "Show Me A Sign" was born.

I love songwriting, it was never my first love or something that I found came natural to me, but now I can't imagine my life without it and I can't imagine not singing my own songs – although I love covering material. I've been thinking of covering a Chicago tune or a Donny Hathaway tune, but I guess I'm scared to cover Donny because he was just so amazing, it's hard for someone to do anything better then what he did. I've been in love with Daniel Johnston – amazing songwriter… I've been playing one of his tunes a lot on my guitar. I love hearing what other songwriters do and what their subject matter is. I love hearing how they phrase life. I believe songs are a lot like films – there are about 12ish fertile themes, they are just expressed in different ways.

You're currently residing in New York, but your hometown roots are in Texas. Has this geographical shift had an impact on your overall sound?

I don't know if NY has shaped my sound so much, although I know the people I have around me, my band – John Celentano, Ben Hoffstein and Harry Cordew have shaped my sound and influenced me so much and they are all from the East Coast. I do think that Texas has influenced me more then I ever imagined. I guess I never really thought that I picked up any of that Texas/Soul/Blues thing that's inherent to the lone star state, but it's in everything I do, whether I want it in there or not.

Your recent LP Picking Daisies has so many outstanding songs on it, I'd be hard-pressed to choose a favorite. What do you consider to be the best song on the album, and why?

Jeez, that's a tough one because I have so many personal favorites and of course my mind changes every day on what I love and hate…

I think it's a toss-up between "Picking Daisies" and "Beautiful Me". "Beautiful Me", because it's super honest. The very first time I played it in public I basically was blushing the entire time. It was the first time that I had ever talked about myself in terms of real honesty – admitting in public my flaws and what I thought of myself, it was really hard, so hard, while I was singing it, was like – "what am I doing? This is way too personal". Also, on the disc, I LOVE the arrangement and production of it, I think it sounds super!

"Picking Daisies" – well, I feel like it's an evolution of who I am at the most current time in my life. The song grooves, it's funky, upbeat and interesting and the metaphor means something to me – "Picking Daisies" is a metaphor about finding your "happy place" a la happy Gilmore, I guess.

When I was in the second grade, my English teacher asked us to write a paragraph on whether we'd rather be 2 or 20 and I chose 2 because I said something to the effect of: to be 2 would mean that I could sit in the sunflowers with the wind in my hair and never have a care in the world…which I guess is pretty deep for a 7 year old. And since then, when I am stressed, thinking about bad things, I think about me as a 2 year old in a field of sunflowers and I'm ok…. Daisies = Sunflowers, as sun flowers are hard to sing about…

I also love "Not to Me"- that's my personal favorite… but, you asked for 1 and I've given you 3!

You've released your debut LP on an independent label, which undoubtedly offered you a greater degree of creative control over the decision-making process. Would you ever consider signing a major label contract?

Um. I don't know, I guess so, if the terms were right. I just don't want to be one of those artists that gets a deal and then gets shelved. It happens so much and personally, I'd rather be unsigned and have the ability to play my music and sell it, etc then have someone running my life without my input, but yeah, if the terms were right, I'd consider it.

It seems as if you've toured endlessly in support of your music. Any amusing stories from life on the road?

Well, I would have to say, the funniest thing I experienced was when I was touring with the band I was with before I went solo. We were in some town and we were touring with a few other bands…and I was doing Laundry in the hotel we were staying in and one of the other guys in another band was doing laundry too…. And he basically picked up one of his dirty briefs and blew his nose in it and I was like –"I'm sorry, what just happened here?", it was disgusting. I know people do lots of things in the privacy of their own home, but that? That was pretty nasty.

Once your fame is well-established, what kinds of demands will you be making on your tour rider?

2 vegetable options, turkey burgers and no candy within my eyesight. Bottled water, and a working TV on the tour bus. Also, ac/heat that works on the bus.

Name 5 LPs you can't imagine leaving home without.

Right now, I'm obsessed with Chicago's IX, which was their greatest hits album in 1975, KT Tunstall's Eye Through a Telescope, Etta James "At Last", I have this collection of Aretha from Atlantic, it's a 4 disker that I LOVE, Donny Hathaway's Everything is Everything.

When they make a movie about your life, who should be cast as Shelly Bhushan?

Big Bird from Sesame Street . Just kidding. I have no idea.

If my broke-ass readers can only afford to buy one CD this month, why should it be Picking Daisies?

Well, I think if you are looking for dance beats, this is probably not your thing, but if you are looking for something that's heartfelt and honest, organic and real…then this is your disc. I think it has something for everyone on it. I'm so crappy at self promotion...

That's okay, Shelly---your music does an amazing job of speaking for itself:

"Beautiful Me"---Shelly Bhushan (zShare)

"Beautiful Me"---Shelly Bhushan (savefile)

"Not To Me"---Shelly Bhushan (zShare)

"Not To Me"---Shelly Bhushan (savefile)

Visit Shelly at her website or her MySpace page. Picking Daisies can be purchased via CD Baby.

Word From Your Moms:

"A beautiful thing never gives so much pain as does failing to hear and see it."---Michelangelo


Zilla Rocca said...


I've heard some of my peoples talk about Donny just in the past week or so but never came across him or his music until right now. Dude is onto something....I'm digging it.

And after reading her interview and listening to "Beautiful Me" it's safe to say that I'm in love with Shelly Bhushan.

Great stuff, Scholar.

Lily Kane said...

Yeah... I'm in love with them both.
I'm def picking up Shelly's CD, I love this song Beautiful Me, especially hearing what she had to say about it.

Anonymous said...

These two are both great. Thanks for the heads up Scholar.

Jeff said...

Outstanding interview with Shelly Bhushan. Really digging her stuff. Thanks much!

rb said...

thanks for posting that Donny Goines video.

I really dug it. Especially since, I just had the chance to ride south on Lex from 125th, the last time I was in NYC.

I thought that the song and the images really caught the feel of NYC.

Stay cool,

soulbrotha said...

Count me in the minority. Sorry, but I just can not get into Donny or any other rapper who freely uses "nigger" (and all it's spelling variations)"bitches" or "hos" in their lyrics, especially when they serve no purpose to the song's message (which is 99% of the time). They call it "keeping it real", I call it regression (rhymes with oppression). Oh well.

Shelly voice is great! I look forward to hearing the rest of her material.

CJ said...

I have both of Donnie's CDs, and he really is great. I hadn't heard of Shelly Bhushan, but I love these two tracks. Thanks, Scholar!