Interview – Esperanza Spalding

What makes a great record? Talented musicians? An acclaimed producer? Is it conceptually adventurous, both sonically and lyrically? Well, Esperanza Spalding displays all of this and so much more in “Emily’s D+Evolution,” one of, if not the best, records of the year. Leading up to her upcoming show at the Cox Capitol Theatre on September 30th, I asked Esperanza about her influences, her ideas and Emily.

Soapbox: Macon, if you don’t get out and see this Grammy award-winning artist, emphasis on ARTIST, you’re getting a spanking and a timeout. You don’t deserve to rest on the laurels of your musical heritage if you don’t keep up with the trajectory of music – yes, the past, but definitely the present and especially the future. Here’s your chance.

How did you discover Emily, or did she find you?

October 17th, 2013, I was lying in my hotel room in Austin after a gig with ACS. All night long I kept thinking about this person, how she moved, sang, and sounded. I understood that her name was Emily and that I had to materialize what I was seeing and hearing.  D+Evolution came to me a little later as a name for what she was all about.

This year has seen an influx of African American women owning their power and making very feminist records – was this a conscious or subconscious choice for you? Who/what books were you reading around the writing of this record?

Hmm, I don’t see this year that way, at least, not any more than every other year. It’s become a buzz-phrase so we’re talking about it more. For female creators, taking charge and making their own project in this male dominated industry is an act of activism. So, no this theme that you’re saying there’s been an influx of didn’t influence the record anymore or less than it influences my every day life. All my records are about owning my power.

I think I was reading Indirections for Those Who Wish to Write, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Nature of Property, and a bunch of Michael Ondaatje during the Emily creation process. Listening to a lot of Bowie poetry as well. I’d just come off of a year working on a short libretto for Wayne Shorter, and preparing myself for that work led me to a lot of poetry. Specifically, I spent a lot time in a collection of work by American and British poets of the 20th century (up to and through the 60s).

Who are some of your favorite bass players?

Taurus Mateen, Scott Colley, Paul Chambers, Miroslav Vitous, Jaco Pastorious

I get a very “Court and Spark” vibe from this album – did that album influence your sonic choices at all? What albums were you/have you been enjoying lately?

I know that record but haven’t delved much into it. In the 2-year chill out time that preceded he making of this record, I listened to ALOT of different albums, and no one of them influenced my sonic choices. Except for Next Day by David Bowie leading me to Tony Visconti to come do post-production work on the album.

Can we expect more albums from you in this style?

I’m not sure what style it is. There won’t be another Emily album, because she came to serve a distinct function.  She is a force to open a vent in the rock. And that being accomplished, I assume she’ll move on.

Emily finds out she has one day to live – what does she do?

Same thing she does everyday: explore, move, taste ideas and modes of living and invites the people she meets to D+Evolve.

I think this is the best record of the year, hands down, and I’ll be a tech at your gig here – so you’ll have to forgive me if I fan boy it up a little bit.

Thank you for that! I really appreciate it. See you there.


Catch Esperanza Spalding in Macon on September 30th at the Cox Capitol Theatre.