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Pick of the Week: Vanessa Collier

Article by Elizabeth Ramanand

At just 27-years-old, multi-talented singer and saxophonist Vanessa Collier will be making her debut on The Iridium stage this Thursday, March 8 in support of her latest album Meeting My Shadow. We caught up with Collier to talk about music, female musical influences and just why having a journal on the road is so important to her. Check out our full interview with Vanessa Collier below:

You’re playing The Iridium in New York soon, what’s your favorite part about performing in New York City?

I think it’s probably the most diverse crowd. There are visitors from all over and all sorts of different countries and New Yorkers that live there, to meet all of these people from different walks of life is probably my favorite part.

March is Women’s History month, who are some influential women in music to you and how have they influenced you as a person or your music.

The one that sticks out, very recently, is Annie Lennox. She spoke at my graduation in college and the power radiates from her. There’s no messing with her, she’s just this great spirit and it totally emanates off of her entire being. She’s fought a lot of battles in her life and gone through a lot like the rest of us but she has this great positive attitude – it’s the same thing with Carole King.

I got into Bjork less for her music and more for her attitude towards women and music and feeling a kindred spirit there. I think the thing that reaches me with their music, in particular when I watch Annie Lennox perform, is the connection with an audience. Her connection with every single person – that’s what she’s aiming to do but in a very “I’m an independent, powerful woman kind of way” and I dig that so much. It the same with Janis Ian – that’s what draw me these powerful women, that’s what I love.

Do you remember the first time you saw or heard someone play the saxophone? How old were you and what impact did that have?

That’s actually how I got started playing –  I came home and I used to watch this Mary Kate and Ashley [Olsen] show after school called Two of a Kind and on one of the episodes the dad pulls out a saxophone. He’s not actually playing it but whatever was playing, it was like “Oh my gosh, I have to play that instrument!” There’s just something about the voice of it, it has a way of curling about your ear. It’s powerful, it’s sensual, it’s everything and it’s very akin to the human voice. I begged my mom for like six or eight months to play after that, I wanted to play it. I wanted to rent a saxophone and try it, I had no idea why. If I hadn’t heard that I probably wouldn’t be playing. I was about eight and I started playing when I was nine.

Talk about Meeting My Shadow and what this title means to you.

Going into the music business, I was kind of naïve and then experiencing the industry I was a little bit rocked. It’s a beautiful thing and the connection with the people is great but sometimes the back end of it can take you to a different level. I was actually working through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way – it’s basically like a 12-week course and within that she talks about this term from psychology “Meeting My Shadow” which is getting out all the negative stuff on the page and letting it loose, being free and letting go of it.  This makes more room for the joy to come back into your life and so the whole record is kind of like my struggle through that time and persevering through it. There are tunes on there like “It Don’t Come Easy” that’s just like no matter what happens I’m going to make it through to the end no matter how tough it is. It was necessary for me and I’ve grown a lot because of this record.

How was the writing and recording process for you, what was the most challenging part?

I think it’s always a little bit scary to put yourself out there. I am generally a very upbeat person, I love life and I’m thankful for every day but there’s another side and a deeper side here. I’m not sure if you’re going to like this, some of the stuff is a little outside of the blues world, it’s a little gospel and funk and a mix of everything – that was the scary part in writing, but I needed to.

The recording part, I went to Memphis and worked with a lot of great players, two of them were female musicians, who I absolutely adore. One is Laura Chavez and it was great because I grew a friendship with her and I actually saw her on a gig and she’s going to record on my new record too, the other musician is T.K. Jackson who plays drums. Just being in Memphis, that city has so much history, I can’t even describe it – going to the Civil Rights museum, you need a whole four hours to gain your footing again. But it was a good experience to record and be down there, it’s been a wild ride of a year.

What does the rest of 2018 have in store for you?

We have a lot of dates, I’m super excited – I haven’t played The Iridium and I’ve always wanted to so it’s like this dream is coming true this week. Then there are a bunch of festivals that I’m really excited about and new markets. We’re playing Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago and then I’m working on a new record so I’m going to record at the end of the month, I’m really excited about it.

With tour dates coming up, what is one non-electronic item you must have with you (besides your saxophone) and why?

Part of doing Julia Cameron’s writing, I do a morning journal so I write three pages of long hand and I do writing for my songs so I would say some kind of journal is important for me to have.

For 14 years, Les Paul played The Iridium every Monday night with his Trio.  If he was still around and you could recreate the Les Paul Trio with Les, yourself, and one more musician, who would that be?

Oh my goodness. For fun I would pick Cannonball Adderly because I’m just really curious [Laughs] or Freddie King – one of those two, I don’t really know between the two of them. Cannonball was the first saxophonist I just absolutely loved and the first I really listened to, he’s funk, blues, soul, jazz, everything all in one. Then Freddie King, once I saw videos of him performing I was just like “Holy crap, this guy’s amazing.” His energy, his ability to connect and his playing, it’s just off the wall.

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