Saturday, November 5, 2011

FIVE: Lalah Hathaway

“FIVE” is a special feature at BlackArtistNews where five questions are posed to an individual artist, curator, gallerist, collector or art lover. Why five questions? Well, there are five fingers on each hand and artists create with their hands hence one, two, three, four, FIVE.
Lalah Hathaway. BlackArtistNews photo. All rights reserved.

The cover of Lalah Hathaway’s recording Where It All Begins is a visual concept that sings. Artist Chris Herod pays homage to the singer’s musical roots by cleverly twisting her locks into a well-tuned narrative of her genetic (she’s the daughter of soul music legend Donny Hathaway) and artistic makeup. It’s an ingenious arrangement of form and content that’s psychologically hip and aesthetically engaging. The same can be said about the music contained on the CD. The GRAMMY winner eagerly spoke with BlackArtistNews about the visuals for Where It All Begins on two occasions: in early October at the Dakota nightclub in Minneapolis, MN and two weeks later via phone. Of course we talked music: Jimi Hendrix was a brief topic (Hathaway loves his music and is contemplating one of his songs for her live show), her appearance with the Roots on the Jimmy Fallon Show (the host didn’t plug Where It All Begins), and pianist Robert Glasper, who she collaborated with to record Sade’s “Cherish the Day” for his soon-to-be-released recording (“It’s killer, if I do say so myself,” she confided.) But the framework of the conversation was visual art and the mellifluous “First Daughter of Soul” sang in high praise of it in “FIVE”:

First of all, I think the album art for Where It All Begins is smart and clever and inspired.

Thank you.

To me, it’s really not surprising that you use an illustration for the cover because with the exception of one of your dad’s albums all of them were graphic depictions rather than photographic images.


So what factors weighted into your decision to go with an illustration?

Well, I… You know I love art. You know I love art.

I know you do.

I met a guy on my web site named Chris Herod who created these beautiful things and brought them to a show in Dallas. He makes these etchings on vinyl. And they look crazy. It’s like only a crazy person could really figure out that they can use an X-ACTO® knife and create a person, a human being on a record. It was just crazy. And [from there] he started creating stuff and came up with [something] and I said I want to use [that] as a cover… we developed that idea. I wanted to use a beautiful piece of art. I feel like people don’t get a chance to look at beautiful things a lot. And part of it also was I was so trying to um... well, what I really wanted to do was present myself as an artist, which I feel like I always do. Even though people said it’s gonna be shrunken down to the size of a postage stamp or blah, blah, blah, blah, blah… I just wanted it to be beautiful. I was trying to get them to issue it on vinyl because it’s really great like that.

Order a signed limited-edition poster of Where It All Begins here

You told a reporter for that initially you thought the idea of superimposing your image into your dad’s album covers was a “presumptuous and creepy” idea.

I thought it was a creepy idea. Well, the thing was I wanted to use daddy’s covers and they, uh, they didn’t know who the artists [or] photographers were, and so that was a licensing issue and then someone said ‘Oh, why don’t you put yourself in it’ and so, um, it wasn’t the cover I thought was creepy, it was something else I saw and thought was a little bit creepy. But the cover I thought isn’t too presumptuous. I’m totally comfortable with it.

I don’t get why you would call it ‘creepy’ because the concept is not that different from the T-shirt you sell at your concerts you know the one that’s half your face and half your dad’s face. To me it’s the same concept just executed differently.

Well, they’re both a little creepy and when I say ‘creepy’ I don’t mean creepy as in creepy crawly’. I mean creepy as in ‘wow’. You know, mind-blowing. 

Is that your mom right above your forehead in the image?


Right before your second set in Minneapolis I hung out with her at your merchandise table and I was happy to see that you still have those Son of Ellis T-shirts, you even signed a couple of them when we were talking in your dressing room. I own one of those shirts. I love it.

Yeah, you know I actually have a few of those left and those are the last ones. After that, it’s a wrap on that. I [won’t] have any more.

So they’re collector’s items.

They are.

Left: Lalah Hathaway T-shirt by Son of Ellis. Right: Untitled line drawing by Lalah Hathaway (2004).

I noticed you have one of his illustrations on your web site, but you have art on there by other artists as well.

Yeah, I think I get a lot of fan interpretation art which is so cool, I really love that.

Do fans give you art?

They really do. I have gotten some of my most valued [and] treasured things from [them.] Chris Herod gave me stuff before he did the cover and I get a lot of just art period. It makes me happy when someone is moved to be creative. That makes me very happy.

Did you take any art classes in high school? You attended a performing arts high school, right?

I did. I think I took the very basic ‘all-the-musicians-had-to-take-art’ art class. [Someday, I will] just probably end up taking [a] fine art class. It’s something I’m really interested in and I think that eventually… I have such a passion for art and just being creative that I’d like to find some other outlet. I’d like to try some sort of art or design class where you make stuff, you know what I mean? I don’t even know what it would be.

You were making jewelry at one point…

Yeah, I still do jewelry. I’m crocheting. [Well,] I’m going to start crocheting again. I have a friend who sculpts and that seems like the [craziest]… I don’t even understand how you figure out you can do that. It’s incredible.

Do you know whether or not your father drew pictures or liked art?

That’s a good question. I don’t know. That’s a question I would ask my mother. I have no idea.

I like your new promo photos by Derek Blanks.

Thank you.

I know he’s primarily a fashion and portrait photographer but he’s also known for his Alter Ego series of photographs. Did you do anything like that with him?

I did. I did one where I was a ventriloquist and a dummy.

[Laughs] I LOVE it!

You never saw that?


I will send that to you. He actually chose that [scenario] for me. And, um… I thought it was really cute. [Derek] has a real knack for that. He’s really polished that thing. Like that is absolutely his thing and he takes really great, great photographs. He just really knows how to light you and make you look spectacular. That he is number one at for sure.

Lalah Hathaway from the Alter Ego series by Derek Blanks. © Derek Blanks.

So did he play music while you were shooting?

I played music… and then Rahsaan played…

What did you play?

I played everything. I played some Chaka [Khan], I played some Rahsaan [Patterson], I played some Kiki Sheard, some Chicago, some Boney [James], some Miles [Davis] and Herbie [Hancock] and then Rahsaan came and set up his music so, um, we had everything.

Rahsaan Patterson was at your shoot? Where’d the shoot take place?

I did it in L.A. and Rahsaan was at my shoot. And Rahsaan took a whole bunch of photographs and footage and made this beautiful video for me for “Dreamland” (a track on Where It All Begins) and I’m going to put that out.

Hey, speaking of video, who is that guy sketching in your Electronic Press Kit (EPK) for Where It All Begins?

That guy is Jonathan Clark and he is crazy. He’s the guy that initially designed my logo for me. He also makes these incredible drawings on his iPhone with his fingers. He’s an artist. He used to be an exec at Motown. He’s just one of those guys who just does a lot of things but in his heart he’s an artist. So, yeah, that’s Jonathan Clark.

Jonathan Clark. Yeah, tell him I got my eye on that sketch…

He does that everywhere too. He will just sit down at a meeting and pull out his pad and pencil and be going for it, you know.

Lalah Hathaway iPhone drawing by Jonathan Clark. © 2011 Jonathan Clark.

Wow. I think that’s really cool. I love it when I see people pull out a sketch book in public spaces like the bus or train and just start drawing. So, um, does art matter?

Does art matter? What do you mean?

Does art matter?

Absolutely. One hundred percent. It’s one of those questions that when you ask somebody that really knows, it’s like ‘whut?’ but I totally understand it’s a question that has to be asked because so many people don’t understand how much it matters. [To me] art and music are synonymous and all of that stuff matters and is vital. And a society that doesn’t have it is barbaric. That’s how I feel.

Okay, repeat that for me. I didn’t hear you.

A society that does not have it is barbaric.

Gotcha! Heard you loud and clear.

Yeah, absolutely you got to have art. You can see it when you travel as a lot of [musicians] do. But in other places the art is a given. You know what I mean? It’s a given that you’re going to learn some sort of instrument because not only will it make you a happier kid, it will make you better at math and science and reading too, you know? So, yeah, art is essential and a necessary part of life. Absolutely.

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