Latrice Barnett: Face To Face

If Alicia Keys ever decided to infuse dance music with her R&B style, she would probably morph into something close to Latrice Barnett. Born and raised in the Bay Area, Latrice is an accomplished instrumentalist and plays a number of instruments including saxophone, bass, cello and the flute. She also pens her own lyrics and […]

If Alicia Keys ever decided to infuse dance music with her R&B style, she would probably morph into something close to Latrice Barnett. Born and raised in the Bay Area, Latrice is an accomplished instrumentalist and plays a number of instruments including saxophone, bass, cello and the flute. She also pens her own lyrics and harmonizes with a voice filled with enough soul to make you stop dancing to the beat and just listen.

Though virtually unknown in the commercial world, Ms. Barnett is a seasoned vet on the music scene, lending her musical talent on more then 23 compilations worldwide and honing her skills with various song writers and band collaborations.

As a member of the San Francisco-based band Five Point Plan, Latrice opened for acts such as Counting Crows, Sade, B.B. King and Los Amigos Invisibles. She released two full-length albums with the group – the self titled debut, and the critically acclaimed follow-up, Rare. In 2004, the young singer went on to head New Orleans funk band, Galactic, and has toured internationally with Handsome Boy Modeling School, Rondo Brothers and Chocolate O’Brian, a group which featured members of No Doubt.

With all this experience under her belt, it seemed only natural to expand her horizons with a project of her own. Illuminate, the new album by Latrice Barnett which will be released early 2006, is lush with sweet harmonies mixed with feel good danceable beats ala Cece Peniston. Alternatives spoke with Latrice about her extensive talent and her choice of musical genres. Alternatives: I notice that you play quite a number of instruments. How did you get into that?

Latrice: I grew up playing instruments. I’ve played stuff since I was little. I remember when instruments were bigger than me.

AHHA: Who introduced you to instruments? Did you come from a musical background?

Latrice: I come from a family that’s pretty musical. My grandmother was a classical pianist from the age of six. My dad and his side of the family were also really musical. He grew up playing almost as many instruments as me, if not the same amount. My dad was the choir director for our church when I was young, so I grew up singing with him and it was just something that I thought everyone did.

AHHA: You have an interesting look. What is your ethic background if you don’t mind?

Latrice: [Laughs] I’m American. There is so much division in our culture, I don’t feel the need to align myself with any particular faction except American, female, and active participant in our world community.

AHHA: Tell us about the album Illuminate.

Latrice: It’s kind of a cross between dance and a little bit of pop and R&B. I don’t know what else to say. It’s kind of like up tempo R&B and down tempo dance music.

AHHA: Your voice is very soulful – harmonies are tight. You could easily do R&B and have more of a chance to become much more commercial. So why dance music?

Latrice: It’s what inspires me. I love R&B, don’t get me wrong. But what kind of gets me on the dance floor is dance music. To me it’s not all about whatever’s gonna supposedly get someone to the supposed endpoint faster. I certainly don’t want to be just on the fast track to be the next Aaliyah, ya know? But I think it’s important to do music that inspires you, and when I buy records it ends up being more dance inspired stuff or dance remixes of R&B songs. I love it!

AHHA: Okay, great! I see in your bio that it says you “fell into singing by accident”.

Latrice: Yes.

AHHA: When did it occur to you that you could really sing?

Latrice: It still hasn’t. [laughs] I did it kind of as a fluke. I was living outside of the country and a friend of mine told a guy that I was interested in that I was a famous vocalist from the United States, and I had to put my money where my mouth was, or where her mouth was rather, [laughs]

and they asked me to do some shows with them and I ended up being their vocalist and I was like, “I could totally do this. This is fun.” And of course you get roped into anything you’re good at thinking that it’s easy and then the more you get involved with it, the harder it becomes because if

you want to actually achieve something with it. I got into it and I was like, “Whatever, I can hold a key; everyone can hold a key – [let me] see what I can get up there, and shake my money maker for the audience.” But it’s a lot harder – a lot harder than I once gave it credit for.

AHHA: You’re like a one-woman show in that you write songs, you play instruments and you sing. Where do you see yourself taking this talent? Are you maybe considering producing other artists as part of your musical future?

Latrice: I’d love to do that. I think right now I kind of want to see where I can take this with myself with my own art. I think before I start affecting other people’s voices and abilities I want to make the mistakes on my own – use myself as a guinea pig before I have too much say in anyone else’s career. But I definitely love working with other people. I’ve done some vocal arrangements on other people’s records.

AHHA: Who are some of your favorite artists of today?

Latrice: Right now I am really inspired by a lot of the people that I’ve worked with. It’s gonna sound like a plug but it’s really not. I love Kaskade’s music. I also enjoy Morgan Geist. Christopher Willits is a really amazing guitarist featured on the record, and I love his stuff. We

definitely do a lot of stuff together – I’ve been featured on his record and I just adore his music.

AHHA: So you basically worked with people whose work you love?

Latrice: Yeah! Definitely! I work with people that inspire me. [One] of the people I haven’t worked with yet but are definitely very influential to me has been Lewis Taylor. He’s picking up where Prince and Jimi Hendrix left off. It’s heavy. It’s crazy, if you could imagine – it’s really good. Ella Fitzgerald has been a huge influence all the way through.

AHHA: So what are your thoughts on commercial artists of today who seem to be more studio acts, but seem to be very successful, as opposed to artists such as yourself who have the musical ability, but seem to have the least amount of commercial fame?

Latrice: I think there’s room for us all. It’s one of those things again where – I’ll just use Jessica Simpson for example. I don’t know if I can do what that woman does. It looks very easy like, “Oh she walks around looking all pretty and different things”, but by the same token, there’s a lot of what she does behind the scenes. The girl can really sing, whether I buy her music or not is irrelevant almost, but I also think there’s a lot to be said for a lot of people who have supposed commercial success. It’s no secret that a lot of record companies will pay to have your music put on the radio. At least I know that the fans that I’ve garnered are people that I’ve seen face to face. Nobody’s been paying to spin my stuff on the radio so I feel like I’ve got something that I can walk away with and know at the end of the day that I’ve touched these people because I put myself out there to touch them.

AHHA: The Bay Area has quite an eclectic music scene. Tell me a little bit about it, and are you involved in it at all?

Latrice: I definitely try to overlap it. I’ve always been a musician. Music inspires me – a band, an artist, a song – that’s what I look at. I really try not to stick with genres. I’ve played with people in the experimental avant-garde scene; I’ve played with people in the rock scene; I’ve played with people in the R&B and Hip-Hop scenes. For several years that I’ve been a part of this scene, most musicians that I’ve encountered have been super, super open to everyone, which is what I love about this area. It’s not as much – you used to be able to go see a Punk band open for a Hip-Hop act but…whatever…maybe that’ll come again.

AHHA: What would you like people to take away from this project?

Latrice: The gist of the record overall is kind of like a love of light and life. I want people to be able to enjoy it stress-free. The theme of it is to just be happy with life, not necessarily successful or wealthy or the best in your league, but to be happy with yourself and with your life and find the pleasure in your everyday.