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Chela Simone speaks on her new album ‘Death of a Mermaid’ and more

June 30, 2013

by The People’s Minister of information JR

Chela Simone aka Holly Saucy is one of the most talented and eclectic sounding artists that I have ever heard and known. Kind of similar to Andre 3000, Ladybug Mecca, Del the Funky Homosapien and Cee-lo, you don’t know what she is going to be dressed like or what notes she may hit ‘til she does it. You don’t know if she is going to rap, sing or scream. In my opinion, a real creative artist always has you hanging on the edge of your seat waiting for what they are going to do next. Chela Simone, without a doubt, does that.

'Death of a Mermain' album coverChela aka Holly Saucy recently released her new album, “Death of a Mermaid,” which definitely has a different sound from her usual 16 bars of rhymes and a sing song hook. It has a ‘80s pop/’90s alternative sound that whets the palette of a real music connoisseur and has you examining the beats as well as words that are coming out of your speakers. It is my pleasure to bring to the Bay View readers Chela Simone aka Holly Saucy in her own words.

M.O.I. JR: Can you talk a little bit about how long you have been involved in making music?

Holly Saucy: Like a lot of artists, I cannot remember not making music. I always sang. I remember being about 5 getting in trouble for listening to the off the wall record over and over but in my mind I was practicing. I began studying classical music at around 10. I sang opera and composed on piano and flute.

I would say for about 20 years I have been involved in some way with music professionally. I started emceeing at around 14. I’m a bit younger than the cats in Heiro, but that was around the time I started. I’ve recorded background vocals for different folks, toured internationally as a vocalist and as an emcee/DJ. I was the female lead of a Salsa/Soca band for a few years. We did huge festivals all over. I’ve written and produced for a few people.

I released some house music in Europe which got some great feedback and at one point was No. 18 on the RA charts for “best song of the year” and No. 1 on a few radio stations overseas. I had a radio show I did on 104.1fm BLR for a while. It all kind of prepped me for not pigeonholing myself into a genre and never limiting myself to being “just” a singer-rapper-beat maker. I like doing more than one thing at a time. I’m an Aries.

M.O.I. JR: What is the history behind the two names, Chela Simone and Holly Saucy?

Holly Saucy: Since my career started, I have had 100 names. I didn’t really know as much about the “branding” concepts of a name as I do now. I would just change my name to fit the music. My name is Chela Simone; my mother named me that. After many years as Tiye 1600BC and Tiye Selah (not Phoenix), I just decided to call myself by my name.

I toured Europe as Chela Simone. I did some various work as that “brand,” so my audience expected a “thing” from “Chela Simone,” more R&B hip hop style. When I began working on the newest project, “Death of a Mermaid,” I knew I needed a name change, mostly to develop a new following, one that had no expectation other than what I want to share. But also in case this shit BOMBED, I hadn’t completely screwed up my government name forever.

The name was a “private” joke; it’s not a persona I switch into – such as Sasha Fierce – or anything like that. I am ALWAYS my parents’ child. Holly Saucy was born three years ago. But when I listened to the material when it was done, it was obvious that “Holly Saucy” had a life of her own. So we do that. We live Highly Saucy.

M.O.I. JR: Can you talk about your new album?

Holly Saucy: It’s a mix of some funky production by Big Tunes, Yohimbe J. Sampson, JasWho and my crazy words. I was going through some transitions in my musical life wanting to break out of the box that framed me as a “dope 16 for a female rapper.” I was tired of singing hooks and having them sound like shit after I handed them over to be “mixed.” I had done 45 dates on a tour and I was rapped out, and with that I was attracting people going through the same transitions.

I decided to try my pen skills at this style of sound, and I began running into so many beautiful women of color fronting these dope alternative bands. I was inspired on so many levels by the people I was around and exposed to during that time.

M.O.I. JR: Why did you choose to do a ‘80s sounding pop album when people know you mainly as a rapper?

Holly Saucy: Mostly ‘cause I can. Not a lot of male or female rappers out there that can pull this shit off without getting laughed at. But I didn’t really choose it. I’m a songwriter and producer, but it was a challenge for me to not just finish a song I started with a rhyme; that was the forethought.

I wanted to do something different. I’ve known BigTunes since I was in the sixth grade. We moved in the same circles but never linked up musically until 2010. Once we did, this project happened, very quickly. I had a few songs I wrote a long time ago. BigTunes let me hear some music he’d been making. I recorded Majik, and he liked it so we kept going.

Initially I was supposed to be writing songs for his album; it just became mine. I know this sounds crazy, but I didn’t grow up on rap music. It became a popular way to express yourself in my community when I was 13. But I had been writing songs since I was 11. I grew up on Van Halen, Def Leopard, Sting, Joan Jett, Metallica, The Pretenders, Phil Collins, Hall and Oates, Prince, Bob Marley and MJ. Hip hop came in my life later and I got good at using that medium to express myself.

I’m from North Richmond, El Cerrito, Oakland, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles. I moved a lot when I was a kid, so I have the uncanny ability to adapt to any environment. That has carried over to my approach in making music. I can adapt to a sound. If you send me jazz cuts, I will write what is required. I will write what the music calls for. I’m not busting 16 over a 12-piece harp band, unless of course that is what it calls for.

M.O.I. JR: What inspired it?

Holly Saucy: When I wrote this album, I was in a place in my life where I was analyzing relationships – mainly my own, but not just my own, other people around me. When you think a certain way, you attract people that think the same way. Only happy people want to be around happy people, and I was pissed. I was dealing with life and so were a lot of the people around me.

Chela Simone aka Holly Saucy
Chela Simone aka Holly Saucy
I was witnessing breakups, bad business deals, divorces, births, deaths, grieving, anger, drama, because that’s where I was at. So I wrote about it. I wrote what I thought about seeing my girlfriend cry for hours over a man that did the same thing to 20 different chicks. I wrote about watching a guy explain how he regulates all his women, but seeing that he only does it ‘cause at one point he was in love with one woman and got crushed.

I wrote about empty sex – you can have my body but never my heart because I’m afraid you’ll hurt me so I’m gonna play you first. I wrote about the excitement of meeting a new guy and how it makes you feel. I wrote about young people going off to war trying to escape being treated as children and then being expected to make the adult choice about whether our government is lying to us or not and if we should kill people for it.

Those aren’t literal translations nor are they things I believe. It’s just to me music is a method of oration. It is a way to record what happened, what I saw, what I felt, or say something useful.

M.O.I. JR: As an artist, was there any difference in writing and recording a rap album than a pop album?

Holly Saucy: Emceeing is about clever wording, rhythm and pattern, metaphors, political heat, party music, Imma-slap-her-if-she-keeps-talking-crazy music, crafty ways to flip topics, baggin on wack stuff, biggin up dope stuff. There is more, but it’s a defined way of approaching a song.

You know a dope saxophone solo when you hear it, so you know a dope rap verse when you hear it.

Alternative music is more ambiguous. I can scream, sing, rap, talk. It allows me to write with a more artistic approach, pitch and frequency count. It’s about stacking harmonies and interesting ways to ride a beat. You can hold a note longer and change the meaning of the song.

I wrote a song about dead fish once and everyone loved it. It wasn’t a metaphor for anything; it was about dead fish. I think it was my choice of direction vocally that made that song. The recording process is completely different. I feel like you have a lot more to think about while singing.

M.O.I. JR: Where did the theme and song titles come from?

Holly Saucy: It’s a concept album based on this excerpt: “The little mermaid could not help thinking of her first rising out of the sea, when she had seen similar festivities and joys; and she joined in the dance, poised herself in the air as a swallow when he pursues his prey, and all present cheered her with wonder. She had never danced so elegantly before. Her tender feet felt as if cut with sharp knives, but she cared not for it; a sharper pang had pierced through her heart. She knew this was the last evening she should ever see the prince, for whom she had forsaken her kindred and her home; she had given up her beautiful voice, and suffered unheard-of pain daily for him, while he knew nothing of it.” It’s from the book “Little Mermaid,” the original non-Disney version by Hans Christian Andersen.

I look at it as a metaphor for what many women subject themselves to regularly. The moral of the story is don’t give up your virtues and your blessings for someone’s favor. I feel like sometimes we over-romanticize what it’s like to be with the object of our desire, as opposed to dealing with the realities of this being a “real person” with regular people issues.

Placed in context, a mermaid is a mythical creature that lives in the depth of the sea. Notoriously they have beautiful voices that can lead you to safety or to your death. They are supposed to have magical powers and immeasurable beauty. So what if you caught one? Amazing at first, but after a while her mystery and beauty fades.

She’s now complaining that her tank water ain’t hot enough and the sailor realizes she’s just a fish with tits. It’s the death of the illusion of romantic nirvana – the birth of acceptance on all levels.

M.O.I. JR: You recently came back from working and living in NYC. What was that like?

Holly Saucy: I like New York a lot, not better, just for different things. It’s like everywhere else on this planet at some point, but there is so much to do ALL the time, it can be distracting. I found myself waking up mid-afternoon many “weekdays” for coffee and a review of last night’s debauchery.

But I did meet a lot of really amazing people and formed some lasting friendships with new family, made some great business connects, started a sneaker company called Control the Alternatives which is doing really well. The city is very much alive. I still live and work there part time and will be making another longer term stay there soon. Essentially I’ve been able to do whatever I want there with, at the very least, minor success.

Chela Simone
Chela Simone
I have heard horror stories about visiting but it’s been very gracious to me. New York has a different approach to YOU than the Bay does. NY wants to have fun, party till the sun comes up. Bay wants to be impressed and last call is 12:45. NY doesn’t know you, really doesn’t care to, even if you own the place, and will step right over your body. Bay doesn’t know you, but will be all up in your mix. While they don’t care, they will call an ambulance if you really need it.

I love Cali, Mendo to Diego. I like the three Ws in Cali; I like the money, the air, the space, the quiet, the variation in landscape within a few miles.

I love New York for its ability to be whatever you make it. You can literally say I’m a babysitting, toenail painting, fire eater, and there’s space for you there.

M.O.I. JR: How do you see the underground music scene in NYC and in the Bay?

Holly Saucy: The Bay has changed so much in the last year. The underground scene seems to be morphing – new bars, new bands, new faces. It’s exciting to go out because you never know what you are going to run into. I think people in the predominately hip hop scene out here are now more willing to venture into other sounds and give it a chance.

The Bay has some amazing artists that you’ve never heard of, but there is such a monopoly on the venues here it’s hard to get a real grasp on what this place has to offer. Black fronted pop /rock /alternative bands aren’t a “new” concept but here in the Bay it is “young” and there are clear lines that still exist dividing musical taste and the faces we like to see perform it.

There is a lot more space for alternative music in New York. It’s a bigger city with more people so you can turn a corner and be in another world really. Everybody comes there to “make it,” so there is a mixture of humility amongst the egos of New York. You see and hear music everywhere, in the train station, on the street. And I don’t mean the crazy man with a plastic kazoo begging for change; I mean REAL musicians with full drum kits, horn section and 88 keys out, rocking.

There are so many places to play and so many rotating faces amongst the 14 million people that you can never really get away from, so you are constantly stimulated, with performances everywhere nonstop, all kinds, anything you want with built in audiences. There is always something to discover.

M.O.I. JR: What do you think can improve the scenes on both coasts?

Holly Saucy: I think diversity in the exposure to music is key. With all the art out there, many jewels go unnoticed, while we fully fund and support mediocrity in the popularity contest that is mainstream music.

M.O.I. JR: How can people get your music?

Holly Saucy: hollysaucy.com and hollysaucy.bandcamp.com

The People’s Minister of Information JR is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He also hosts two weekly shows on KPFA 94.1 FM and kpfa.org: The Morning Mix every Wednesday, 8-9 a.m., and The Block Report every other Friday night-Saturday morning, midnight-2 a.m. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

 

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