India.Arie: All About Love, Pt 1

Everyone rides the love rollercoaster, but in the case of India.Arie, we’re privy to the usually private inner-machination of her love movements, since it manifests in the form of her music. With two platinum plus albums to her credit, 2001’s Acoustic Soul and 2003’s Grammy winning Voyage To India, her latest effort, Testimony: Vol. 1, […]

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Everyone rides the love rollercoaster, but in the case of India.Arie, we’re privy to the usually private inner-machination of her love movements, since it manifests in the form of her music. With two platinum plus albums to her credit, 2001’s Acoustic Soul and 2003’s Grammy winning Voyage To India, her latest effort, Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship, offers an even more intimate glimpse into her psyche.

Her latest “affirmation,” as she calls it, “I Am Not My Hair,” features Akon, and visits the issue of African-American women and their hair. Regardless if the inspiration is a painful break up, a declaration of beauty or simply getting out and enjoying life, India.Arie has songs anyone can relate to. Her music, like a valid opinion, doesn’t aim to beat you over the head. She literally prays that it leaves an indelible mark on your soul, if need be. We took some time to reflect with the talented singer/songwriter while she was in New York to attend to some business. Alternatives: Tell us about this new album, when did it start?

India.Arie: Well, I really started it right after my last album. There was a year of formulating it spiritually, and then I spent two years after that actually recording it. I’ve actually been working on it for three years.

AHHA: When you say after your last album, do you mean after it was completed and handed in to Motown?

India.Arie: After Voyage To India ran its course. I toured with it and I had all my singles, then I started recording this next one.

AHHA: Was there a spark or was it just that time?

India.Arie: No, I mean, I always write, but I knew it was time for me to start making an album when I had a lot that I needed to get out. My album is called Testimony Vol. 1: Life & Relationship. The stuff I needed to get out was all about relationships and the things I have learned about relationships, and about the healing process and about forgiveness and compromise and all that stuff that comes along when you’re in a relationship with somebody…when I was feeling all that to where it was overflowing.

AHHA: So songwriting is therapeutic for you?

India.Arie: Absolutely.

AHHA: Can you speak on that relationship breaking up? What happened?

India.Arie: We just broke up. But the thing that hurt about it was that I thought we were going to be together. That’s where the lessons started. You never know what things are going to look like. I started to really explore what things really looked like to me. Explore what I really wanted things to look like in my life, and just break through the barriers and all the expectations I held for myself and for that person. It was about what I have learned – my expectations being cracked open, but in a good way. Now anything is possible.

AHHA: Going back to your previous albums then, what was your motivation for each of those?

India.Arie: I don’t know. I know with Acoustic Soul I just had a collection of songs about things I’m learning, about life. But it wasn’t about being in a relationship so much because I wasn’t. It was a lot of stuff on there about calling love in. Affirming that it’s coming and all that. My second album was very much about being in a relationship and romantic ideals. I wanted to make a really happy album my second time just all about love.

My first album was a lot of, what I like to call life songs. Songs about the human condition like a “Come Back to the Middle,” “Promises,” – a song called “Always In My Head,” it’s about the love of music. “Brown Skin” was the only one, to me, that was very pointedly about relating to another person. And then [Testimony Vol. 1] is about a grounded expression about the lessons I’ve learned about being in a relationship. It’s just about the continuing process with me.

AHHA: What’s the process like musically?

India.Arie: Long! [laughs] The process was long. I wrote a lot of stuff. I picked my favorite stuff. I have my hands in everything. The more you know, the more you’re responsible for, like they say. I know more, so I was like, “This doesn’t sound right.” Just working harder to get things to sound the way I want.

AHHA: Do you start with a lyric, or strumming something on the guitar?

India.Arie: I start all kind of ways. I think that’s probably the thing that makes it slow. I don’t have a formula at all.

AHHA: Do you have a songwriting team?

India.Arie: I don’t have a constant, but I have friends that I enjoy working with, and when it works one time then I just keep trying it. I do have two people that I continue to work with, and that’s Shannon Sanders and Blue Miller. Then other people, and Mark Batson. Then there are other people who I just meet and try – it’s just always experimenting. Everything is a puzzle.

AHHA: Your music is so personal, but you’re an artist on a major record label. How do you balance art and commerce?

India.Arie: It’s just finding ways to balance art and commerce everyday. And just working at it – it’s not an easy thing to do. I listen to my heart. So however long it takes is just how long it takes, and that’s the part that can’t be pushed for me. It’s impossible. If it’s not done it’s not done. But then there are other way that art and commerce don’t mix so easy. But I’m finding ways to make it easier on myself.

AHHA: Have you always been comfortable in your own skin?

India.Arie: No, of course not.

AHHA: How long did it take before you were? Or are you comfortable?

India.Arie: Well it’s an ever increasing comfort level. With the song “Video,” people thought I was trying to say I got it all together, and I would continue to try to explain to people every chance I got; this song is an affirmation. Some days I feel great about myself, other days I don’t. But when I sing this, this is an affirmation because I believe that words have power. As the years go on I get more and more comfortable with myself, because I care less and less about what people think. There’s still people who matter, their opinions really matter and other people whose opinions don’t matter.

AHHA: So it’s an ongoing process?

India.Arie: I’m a human being. That’s what we do. We learn who we are a little more everyday. My process is documented in my music. I see how my life has been documented with each album. I was a little bit nervous about this one, ‘cause I thought it was too dark and melancholy, and something that people were not going to expect from me. But in the process of creating what I pray will be my big body of work, it’s another process in the evolution of myself as a person, as a woman. I honor that.

AHHA: So do you embrace revealing yourself in your music?

India.Arie: This is the most I’ve ever revealed, so we’ll see how I deal with it. My other music is very honest, but I didn’t have access to myself in the way that I do now. You know, I’m just growing. I embrace revealing myself in my songs. I have yet to understand if I can really embrace revealing my songs to the world. We’ll see. I’ve been doing show where I’m singing the songs and I get…it actually makes me laugh more than anything cause I’m like, “I’m saying this in front of these people,” ‘cause I spent so much time with it inside and like, protecting it, it was all just a very personal process. Now I’m singing these songs.