Q: How did the new record, "Back In Time," come about?
A: I went up to Paisley Park to jam with Prince. At the time, there was no real plan to make a record. But then I played him some of my songs and we began working on arrangements. Both of us were so excited about how great the arrangements sounded! So we decided to record it. It took about three weeks to actually complete all the work. It was a very quick and fun process.
Q: How did the opportunity to work with Prince come about?
A: He reached out to me after seeing a TV interview where I said I'd love to work with him. I got a personal call from him, which was crazy! That was the beginning of the adventure.
Q: What surprised you the most about him?
A: I'm surprised and impressed by how prolific he is. He can write lyrics in five minutes. Ideas just flow out of him constantly. Songs are written every day and records are being made all the time. He's a hit factory.
Q: Had you followed his music very much over the years?
A: Yes, I've been a big fan of his since I was really young. My dad was the first to introduce me to Prince's music. In our household, we celebrate all funksters. But, Prince is special because of his unique sound and fresh take on funk music.
Q: Who would you say your greatest influence has been musically?
A: I would say Aretha Franklin is my greatest influence. As a singer, I love her phrasing and storytelling when she sings melodies. And I could relate to her tone...it's powerful but has a very light weight quality that soars. I love to use this as a model for my voice because I have a similar timbre.
Q: You are bi-racial and bi-cultural. How have you been influenced by Japanese and African-American cultures?
A: I love listening to traditional Japanese music and instruments. I've always been fascinated and deeply connected to ancient and exotic musical traditions. Every time I go to Japan, I find a deep sense of serenity and comfort as if it is a distant homeland I've always known. And, of course, I grew up around gospel and soul music. I would say I identify with my African American side a little stronger since I was born in America and have always seen my dad's family a little more.
Q: Have you followed the story of Miss Japan. Any thoughts on the struggles she's endured?
A: I was very moved by her story. It's sad to see people criticize her mixed race rather than celebrate it. Japan is a unique place. Though it embraces so many cultures and traditions, especially musically, there are strict rules and social norms that are heavily placed on Japanese people. They welcome outsiders but are hard on their own. My mother would always share her struggles with this being Japanese. When I go there, they view me as American. When they find out I am half-Japanese they are a bit surprised. If I was born in Japan, I'm sure my experience would be similar to Miss Japan.
Q: What do you want people to take away from your music?
A: I want people to feel like they can always go "Back In Time" when they need a good old classic soul jam. The album is filled with so many funky grooves and catchy hooks. I hope it contributes to many dance parties and road trips.
Q: Is there a theme or thread that runs through your songs?
A: With songs like "Cry, Cry, Cry", "Angel In The Dark", and "Beautiful Life", there is a reoccurring theme about persevering through hard times. I also celebrate my family and community with "My People" "Turn Up" and "Jammin' In The Basement". Lastly, I speak heavily about the race issues and police brutality we have been facing in America recently. "As Trains Go By" is a powerful statement about such things.
Q: You sang at Andrae Crouch's memorial service. Were you a fan?
A: Andrae Crouch was someone I always admired and would see from time to time as my parents worked with him. He was one of the best songwriters of our time. His music is so simple yet cutting to the heart. I was deeply moved to see all my friends and legendary gospel singers celebrate his legacy at the service. It's amazing to hear all the songs we know and realize, "Andrae wrote that too!!!"
Q: Do you have any plans to tour?
A: Yes, my tour will start next month and continue into the new year. I'm working on new music and expanding my arrangements for full orchestras. I will be including orchestra shows next year in my tour. It's been very exciting taking soul music to the concert halls and hearing big string and horn sections enhance the experience.
Q: Any acting plans?
A: Not at the moment.