Interview: ALGEBRA

Soul Lessons

In the velvety surroundings of London’s rather plush bar Opium, I find myself chatting with natural beauty Algebra Blessett; who was in the UK on tour with Joe earlier this year. Whilst the entourage worry over some concerning passport control hassle experienced at the airport by their DJ that day, we make ourselves comfortable in a corner whilst I try to ascertain: exactly who is Algebra?
Her debut album, Purpose, is being released through the Kedar Entertainment Group; the label which claims responsibility for the birth of “neo soul”, having launched artists such as Erykah Badu and D’Angelo. Having Kedar Massenburg (the former head of Motown) behind the Atlanta-based singer suggests that Algebra is worth paying attention to. Named after her Aunt, she explains that her name means “to bring things together”, and in a similar vein, her musical style is a small melting pop of the Gospel, Rhythm and Blues, and funk that she grew up around. “Everything I heard has probably moulded me into who I am…” she begins, describing her style: “right now vocally I’m probably a soul singer, rhythm and blues singer, but I love a good country song, a good rock song.”
Citing her parents as her personal inspirations, Algebra illustrates herself as being an all-rounder – thanks to her mechanic father, she can change oil and tyres, whilst her mother is (rather neatly) an accountant (get it?) who also plays bass guitar and sings, preceded by Algebra’s great grandparents who were also musicians. Perhaps a passion for extreme kicks is an unexpected characteristic to find in a singer within a typically placid genre, so I’m pleasantly surprised when Algebra discloses, “I like anything that gets my adrenaline jumping. I like snowboarding, I like skating, rollerskating, I love rollercoasters. I get so scared! I love sitting at home with my family too, I try to enjoy that even though they get on my nerves. I took my mum skiing once!”
It seems that Algebra stumbled onto singing quite by coincidence. She went from dancing at school (“When I was a little girl I wanted to do some of everything, music was the last thing on my mind. I used to be a dancer, modern dance, elementary through middle school”), to joining the after-school choir simply to finish the day at the same time as her friends: “The dancing classes at middle school started to let out earlier. My friends would go to basketball practise. I couldn’t play basketball ‘cause I couldn’t wear pants. So to stay after-school with my friends I had to join some other extra-curricular activity, so I joined the gospel choir. In 6th grade I think. Just to stay after-school so I wouldn’t walk home by myself.” Algebra first sang with this choir, and her relationship with singing swelled from there.
Once her passion was formed and established, Algebra began singing background vocals for the likes of Joi, Monica, Bilal, and Eric Roberson. She also began writing for other artists, such as ‘Talk To Her’ on India.Arie’s sophomore album Voyage To India. Another singer she wrote for is Deborah Killings, “a gospel artist on verity, a bass player and singer. She’s really dope. Any music from the 90s / early 2000s whatever, she was the background singer,” Algebra enthuses. “She was the background singer for TLC, Monica, Toni Braxton – yo, I would give her credit for making me appreciate background singers. In the studio her work ethic is so amazing, and recording; she’s just great. I used to be signed to Dallas Austin and so was she. She’s a wonderful arranger, musician, and she’s a mother, wife… she’s like every woman.”
It was whilst writing and singing for other artists that she stumbled into the middle of her own recording project, Algebra reveals. “I was recording this album before I even knew I was recording an album. As a singer when I was doing background work for different artists, I would still be writing songs and doing stuff and recording on my own, not really focusing on making an album, I didn’t know what I was doing it for. I didn’t know why I was in the studio, it was just a place that I liked being. Then it got to the point where I should just do a record and see what happens.” The result was an album she considers “I’d been writing for my whole life”. Describing Purpose, Algebra elaborates, “The first album’s always a collection of songs that you’ve written along the way. The second album will probably have some of those songs on there. It’s a transition album, I grew with the album. There are songs on there that I wrote five years ago and didn’t know how to play the guitar. And then when I learned how to play the guitar it was like ‘Oh this will be good if I play the guitar on it’. The next single ‘Tug Of War’: I just did in Miami with Brian Michael Cox, maybe early in November. But then ‘At This Time’ was written like 6 years ago.”
How has her music been received thus far? Given the aforementioned musical associations of her record label, and her writing collaboration with India.Arie, it’s unsurprising that Algebra tells me she has heard herself compared to “Erykah, India, Lauryn, Whitney – don’t ask me why! But mainly the soul/urban girls.” Those are all very individual and distinct artists from different ends of the soulful spectrum, I’m curious as to whether Algebra identifies with those singers. She responds, “I’m not mad at that because that is the type of music that I do, but that’s the difference [with particular reference to India.Arie]: I’m not acoustic. The album [Purpose] is not acoustic, purposely not. I didn’t wanna do an acoustic album, not my first album; like folk singing, it’s a smaller market and it’s lucrative but that’s not me, it’s only a part of me.”
Despite the obvious differences to anyone that listens, Algebra is clearly pleased at the highly flattering comparisons being made, and visibly loves their artistry to the point that she’d like to work with them. “I’d love to collaborate with Lauryn Hill. I think she’s still a great, creative entity, regardless of what some might say. I think she has a lot in her that she is probably unable to release right now. I would love to work with Erykah Badu, that would be really dope. I would love to just do a song with so many soul female artists, I’m a big fan of Brandy’s I would love to work with her. A lot of great, passionate artists,” she gushes. “Producer-wise I love to work with Brian Michael Cox, who I have done so. James Poyser, so that’s two-down. The Roots, I wouldn’t mind working with them. Coldplay, I would love to work with Coldplay, Maroon 5, Queen; even though they’re older I think they’re so fly.”
Similar versatility and passion is exhibited in her explanation of the first song she remembers having had an impact on her: “Teena Marie, ‘Lover Girl’,” she says, bursting into a sweet rendition of the song. “And only because my mother loved that song so much. Growing up in our church household, we didn’t really listen to the radio, we had the records. My mum had the radio on one day and she’s a bass player and she was like who is this! I don’t remember how old I was, I don’t even know if I was talking. But this song came on and my mother’s expression made me feel so happy. I listened to that record and I felt it, I was like ‘Wow, if this makes her feel good then I know this is gonna make me feel good’. I didn’t know what she was talking about, I didn’t even know she was white, it just sounded good; her inflections.”
Whilst many people are still unaware of what Algebra Blessett has to offer, her presence is gradually building a nice audience with the help of extensive touring with the likes of Kem, Keisha Cole, and Joe, and her now indispensable MySpace page. “I was addicted,” she confesses. “I would check it four times a day and didn’t have friends! It went from 300 to 1000 real quick after I did a few shows. Then I went on road with Keisha Cole and Kemistry and it started jumping, right now I have about 12,000 friends since February 2006.”
“I like MySpace; it gives me the opportunity to meet people and talk to them. It’s kinda scary because some people abuse that system a lot – putting the wrong pictures up or saying the wrong things. And piracy, period. They take advantage of a situation.” Her sparkling eyes connect with mine and become serious as she informs me, “There were a few incidents in Texas where some people met up from MySpace and somebody got killed.” She leans back and imparts, “I’ve got a friend who meets people on it. I’m sure good things from it happen aswell, but people take advantage of it. You could meet the love of your life, clearly, on MySpace, but you could also meet the person that you should never ever meet!”
Rest assured, Algebra is one profile that soul-lovers will be pleased to connect with. Your lesson begins at