Caught up with the soulful, Bay Area singer Goapele Tuesday August 6 to discuss her recent album Break of Dawn, her role in the upcoming film release Sparkle, and some London Olympics inspiration.
You were actually recently in Philadelphia. You were the highlight of the Verses & Flow event in the back in March.
Oh thank you! Wow, and that wasn’t even, a typical show.
I know! But you were incredible, such a treat for fans. How is it touring again? You have three major shows scheduled on the east coast this summer.
It feels good. It’s nice to be coming to the east coast more regularly again. I miss that when I don’t get over here often enough.
Goapele performing "Closer" at Verses & Flow at PÊCHE in East Falls, Philadelphia, PA.
Break of Dawn is your most recent album, released fall of 2011. It’s sultry, it’s real, it’s cathartic. What was the creative process for this project?
One of the things all I always want to do with my music is connect to the listener. You know… my songs start out as a creative expression. Just vibes I’m going on or words or feelings that are lingering in my mind. I always hope that after it’s recorded, that the listener feels what I was feeling… feels something. That there’s a true connection. Even if it is not the exact same story, that there’s some emotional connectivity. With some of these songs like “Play” and “Tears On My Pillow” and “Pieces” and a couple of other ones… it was one of the first times that I went into the studio, sitting by myself, just so I could record whatever came out uninhibited. All of me written out. Just wanting to express an emotion. Not just make music. And then after listening back, me and the musicians, then we could turn it into a song. This album ended up a little more intimate.
Your image has evolved over the years. Still confident and raw, but also sensual. What influenced this evolution?
Just me evolving my personal life to the woman that I am. And so, I’ve been able to share more publicly.
A six year hiatus stands between Break of Dawn and the preceding album Change It All, released in 2005. What led to the break?
I just thought I always wanted to start a family. I think in the entertainment world, you keep going, going, going. And never stop. And years start flying by. I chose to slow it down a little bit so I could live my life and just go in the studio whenever I felt like I had something to say. I did shows here and there to satisfy fans. With Break of Dawn, I feel like at this point, I’m ready for both things.
You were raised by parents, heavily involved in global activism. How has that upbringing affected your perspective, your music?
Having parents that I had made me feel like I better do something that I believe in. That I should be honest. Personally I just wanted to have fun with it. I chose music, but one of the things I’m really thankful for is watching and interacting with people coming up through music. Whether at live shows or connecting with them on social media, where you can see across the world, different people relating back.
Speaking of global connection, have you been keeping up with the Olympics?
They’re on in the background now! These Olympics have been constant inspiration for me. I feel like I’m paying more attention! Constant world records broken in swimming and all around. Seeing people striving for excellence is always amazing. It makes me want that for myself. No matter how good we are, there’s always room to grow. And to see people who were born for what they are doing and exceeding, it’s just…
It is really! Awe-inspiring.
Your father is South African. Have you followed the South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius? The double amputee?
My goodness! With the prosthetics! It’s jaw-dropping. Seeing his ability and to see his confidence. Just to see someone’s obstacles not get their way. It’s relatable to all people.
You’re performing live in Philadelphia this month. You’re familiar with rich music scenes having grown up in the Bay Area. Has the Philadelphia music scene inspired you as an artist?
Most definitely. Early on I came to Philadelphia and I performed at the Black Lily. James Poysner. Anthony Tidd. Jaguar Wright was there. Philly is so, so rich with music. Just this natural soulful vibe and so much edge. It’s an inspiration always.
We’re excited about your involvement in Sparkle. What is your role in the film? How was it having been part of a project including the late Whitney Houston?
I’m really excited about the movie. Just got to see a sneak preview the other day and I was really happy with it. It’s really vibrant. The music throughout is amazing. I found myself laughing and crying. Anyone wanting to see Whitney Houston and experience her as a human being will be overjoyed when they watch this.
I got to play the lead singer of a girl group in a talent show. We perform an original song [“Running”] that has a whole Motown feel because the movie takes place in the early sixties in Detroit. It was a really exciting fun project. Everyone that was involved was able to shine through. For my first experience, it was a fun one.
Going forward, what should fans expect from Goapele in 2012?
Stepping out more. [laughs]. And expect the soulful experience that’s always been there, but definitely I’m stepping out more. And I’m going to give them the best that I have.
Goapele, any final thoughts?
Well… just that when we brought up the Olympics, I said swimming so generally. And I mainly meant…Michael Phelps [laughs].
Check out my review of Goapele's August 15 performance at World Cafe Live and more photos from Hip Hop Since 1987.