The fast pace of music industry will yield you countless associates, but not many friends. The soul singer known professionally as Lina is one of the few people I can sincerely call a friend. In 2008 we began corresponding on Myspace, and eventually conducted the interview below. Since then we’ve remained in contact, and I can attest to this woman’s wonderful, caring spirit. She was very instrumental in encouraging me to have faith in my own talents and to pursue my writing passion without fear.
As an artist, Lina is the definition of an “old soul.” While some use vintage sounds to promote a gimmick, Lina was crafting her music from the inspiration of 1930s Swing a decade ago. At the time of this interview, she was just getting her own label off the ground. Amongst the topics we covered were her favorite jazz influences and her purpose a musician. Enjoy.
Look into Lina’s eyes and you’ll see a bygone era when Swing ruled the airwaves and defined the American songbook. For Lina, her affinity for older traditions is not a gimmick but a way of life. Releasing her latest album Morning Star on her own label, Mood Star Recordings, Lina now attempts to navigate the perilous line between creative artist and bottom-line conscious CEO.
Ismael AbduSalaam: You’ve stated that with the new album you’ve streamlined the best elements from your debut Stranger on Earth and your sophomore offering with Hidden Beach (The Inner Love Movement). Was that a conscious decision you made before going into the studio or something that developed organically as you were working on the project?
Lina: It developed organically. I just evolved. I got more familiar with the business and all my influences just kind of met each other on this album.
Ismael: Now that you have your own label (Mood Star) you’re juggling a lot of different hats while still being an artist. Have you had any difficulty separating all these responsibilities when it’s time to go in the studio and be creative?
Lina: Oh yes. I didn’t realize how really you have to go into a zone because I stayed (just) an artist so long and was able to just concentrate on being creative. I wanted to do the label but once the business started coming and I had to take those business calls and make executive decisions, I couldn’t be creative for a long time. I realized I had to balance both sides, and I’m still learning. I’m new at this but I have a lot of people helping me.
When I’m in business mode, I execute well. But making that transition (to artist) you have to take that down time and completely remove yourself. It’s like I have a dual personality.
Ismael: With your last album Hidden Beach had control and picked the songs they wanted from your catalogue. Since they’re a neo-soul label they picked most of your soul sounding records. If you had control over that project, how different would the album have sounded?
Lina: It would’ve been pretty different (laughs). It would have been more alternative….alternative soul.
Ismael: I remember when you first came out in 2002 you stated that you felt musically we were going backwards creatively and spiritually. Six years later do you feel the same way?
Lina: Oh yeah. We are going backwards. (There’s) nothing new under the sun whether it’s the 30′s, 40′s, 50′s, 60′s or 70′s. We’re in this recession right now and people just wanna feel something again. The standards of the music industry were tainted by video. Music was meant to be heard and felt so the person could have their own individual experiences. But when the video came along then people became more about icons and presentation. So it diluted a lot of the real feelings and real soul in music, in all kinds.
I think the only genre that kept its esteem was jazz. Everybody’s in a funk now. There are all these influences. You got the soul/gospel people coming back now. And now I feel this shift happening in the music business because of the recession. (A lot) of music shook our foundation of love with the content and the impression it made on people, and how it actually confused a lot of us. We’re seeing repercussions of that style of mainstream music that was really superficial.
Now we’re going back to real stories of funk, soul, and jazz.
Ismael: Being a CEO you now have to balance a musician’s artistic freedom with the vision you have for the label. Since you are an artist does that make this task easier or more difficult?
Lina: It’s easier because I look for artists that I connect with spiritually. I’m doing this so out of the box. A lot of my business managers have a different mentality about this and that’s ok, because I need that for my protection. But when I connect with artists I’m connecting with them on a level from an artistic point of view, artist to artist. I allow advisers to come in an advise them on the business.
It’s easier because I understand them. The things that happened to me in the business I won’t allow to happen to them. I won’t take on too many artists. I even have artists that have their own creative projection right now. They think they know what they want, but I know from when I thought I knew what I wanted and later on evolved, I know how to deal with them and knowing that spiritually they’ll come around.
If I have a rapper that raps about what he sees so far, but every once and awhile I hear him go there, I’ll say “Ok, I know he’s gonna evolve to that.” So I’ll work with them until they’re ready. I understand that.
Ismael: Love is a very big recurring theme and foundation in your music. With your label Mood Star the actual motto is “Life supports music because music supports life.” How strong do you think music can be as a vehicle for social change and are there any limits on music in regards to if it can improve society?
Lina: There’s no limits. Music is the universal language. I myself was raised by song. And I have a song called “Who’s Your Daddy” that talks about some of the youth being raised by rap songs. We were raised by music. It’s there when we’re alone; it speaks to our subconscious mind. It’s music so it’s that thing like love; one of those things you feel but cannot see. Just the instruments and the spirit of music….it is a spirit.
(Music’s power) is unlimited. If you listen to my all my records I’ve never wrote a true love song. I’ve written about being strong, you can’t do me wrong, I love myself, and even songs like “I hope this is love, but if not I’ll make it through.” That was me in this society of self-glorification and superficial music, (and) I grew up that era too.
I listened to a lot of the materialistic Hip-Hop. Then I had my own battle with the music that put women down and I’m like “I’m not going to be done like that.” So I see how music affected me and my friends around the world.
Ismael: Jazz music, particularly the Roaring 20′s and swing have had a big influence on you. What in particular attracts you to those styles?
Lina: Its spirit. The people played with passion and it wasn’t about money. They were just being creative. There was individuality, independent thinking, and it was just no rules. It was the way they found joy and escape from all their problems. Whatever that “thing” is that they put into the music and pass along to the listener, that soul of it is what attracts me to (that sound).
It was purity, innocence, and genuine. I can hear it, no matter how low I feel it. Something about that music I have a connection with.
Ismael: I want to mention a few artists from that era and get your feedback on what immediately comes to mind when you hear these names.
Ismael: First artist would be Benny Goodman.
Lina: Wow…genius (laughs)
Ismael: Next is Count Basie.
Lina: Oh my God…phenomenal.
Ismael: Duke Ellington.
Lina: Class. Just high standards…upscale.
Ismael: Roy Eldridge.
Lina: Ooh…the truth! (laughs)
Ismael: Dinah Washington.
Lina: Soulful, beautiful.
Ismael: And finally Billie Holiday.
Lina: Oh my God. (She’s) the epitome of an artist. The epitome of what our contributions should be as artists. I tell everybody you can’t be an artist if you haven’t listened to Billie Holiday. And not even so much about her voice by herself, it’s whatever she’s going through projected through her vocals. It had nothing to do with the track either; she’s music.
Ismael: Do you prefer her voice when it was clearer during her youth or the later period like “Lady in Satin” when it became hoarse but she was still able to project all that emotion?
Lina: I felt more pain and connected with her later on, because it was truly about her soul. You could feel her pain and her struggle in her vocals.
Ismael: With the new album Morning Star what are your favorite tracks off the album?
Lina: My favorite track is “Good Day” because that’s a song where I had to just keep it real on what I was going through. The album is not like the others. I call those my “empathetic albums”… this is me and other people’s stuff (problems). Morning Star is my stuff that I went through and things that I’m thinking about. I was bold enough to put it on paper and get over myself. I have to keep it real with me and express myself.
Other tracks (I like) are “Piano Song” and “Breakthrough.” I want all the ladies to listen to “Get It Right.”
Ismael: You’re close to 10 years deep as an artist. What’s the biggest misconception people have about Lina the artist or your music?
Lina: Probably my vocals, I can sing (laughs). I sing gospel, I sing R&B, (and) I’m not just one thing.
Ismael: Visually your clothing and makeup have always been striking and distinctive. Has that always been your style or something you consciously started doing to separate yourself in the industry?
Lina: No, I grew up with all women. I have six aunts who all grew up in the 70′s. They were very fashionable and my mom had her own clothing line for a minute and she was a beautician. So that was a thing my family was always into. And I always felt like an old soul. The things they were into were things I was into, while my peers were more modern.
Ismael: You’re currently working on a jazz album, have you named it yet?
Lina: I haven’t named it yet. I’m doing the jazz circuit now with all the festivals. The cool thing that’s happening with jazz now is that they’re bringing in alternative and soul artists to do jazz who are versed in it. I’m real excited about it.
Ismael: With jazz there’s always been that divide regarding what is “real jazz.” Do you subscribe to that or feel it’s too divisive with music?
Lina: I know that they mean because a true jazz artist knows their history and the greats. They study and read music. They’re very passionate. They make money but it’s about playing that instrument. I’ve worked with jazz and R&B bands and it’s totally different. Jazz musicians are extremely dedicated to their craft.
Ismael: Would you consider an album like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew a jazz album?
Lina: Wooo, how dare you (laughs). It has a theme and respect for jazz but to me it’s something else too. It’s all things.
Ismael: Any closing thoughts?
Lina: I want to thank all my fans for holding me down. Somebody asked me what was the difference between me and another artist they named. I do music to glorify God. I realize that as an artist I have a responsibility to make a contribution to the soul of man the way a lot of my favorite artists did. I want to reach out to all the artists out there that we have a responsibility. Keep that in mind when we’re making music because we’re offering lives for the better or worse. Through some form make a contribution to the soul of man.