Taking it back to the days of afros and bell-bottoms, Terri Walker and Nicole Wray are Lady – a singing duo soaked in so much soul that not even a Spongebob Squarepants: Motown Edition could compete. Offering up copious amounts of unfiltered vintage soul sounds, their musical teaming is one welcomed with open arms.
Having just released their debut self-titled album on the highly regarded and ultimately respected Truth & Soul record label, the girls are currently on the road in America tearing up the circuit with their authentic adaptation of retro soul-meets-classic Hip-Hop. Pushing a genre often overlooked by the mainstream, Walker and Wray, led by their head and their hearts, have an undeniable date with success.
Speaking to SoulCulture prior to their American takeover, the girls explain what it is about music that keeps them inspired still to this day, and the reasoning behind their resurrecting a genre that inspires a world of feeling.
Delving straight into the origins of the simple yet gender strong band name, Terri claims that there was another name on the table at first. “[Originally] it was meant to be Walker-Wray,” she remembers. “Then I think the guys came up with Lady. We then kept saying it [over and over] and we thought, ‘You know what? It’s kinda dope. It makes sense.’ [At the end of the day] we are ladies.” Explaining that it was more about people being able to associate the two – who were already established artists individually before Lady – with a title, they also wanted to stand up for their gender. “We want to stand up for strong women because we are [strong women],” adds Terri.
According to Nicole [and her creative sense of humour], Lady’s conception was one that leapt straight off the pages of a Blaxploitation novel. “Well Terri was a hooker in New York,” she jokes. Continuing after a telling off from Terri, Nicole tells the actual story of the group’s birth. “We were working with the same producers [in New York] and we just started hanging out, having some drinks, and [then we] got to know each other.” Discussing their girlmance further, Nicole continues, “We became girlfriends and then the singing came after our lil’ friendship blossomed. She introduced me to Truth & Soul. We then went in the studio and they played some tracks for us. We fell in love with them and now we have an album together.”
Simple right? Well according to Terri there really is no sugarcoating how natural and easy their coming together was. “To be honest this whole experience has just been very organic. It’s not been forced,” she admits. “It was just something that was so natural. It was just meant to happen. So when people ask us about how we met, it’s really unexplainable.”
New friendships tend to be born out of a mutual respect for one another and generally both having something in common. For Walker and Wray it’s the love of the obvious; music. Describing what it means to them, both have an unconditional love for the creative outlet that has allowed them a career. “We love everything about music,” says Nicole. “Music is my life. Music is Terri’s life. We just happened to meet and make our dreams come true together. We’ve come across a lot of the same obstacles in the music game, and to be able to come together and share that [is a beautiful thing].”
Released in March, Lady is a finely tuned release that comprises of 11 tracks filled with honesty, feeling, and authenticity. The brainchild of Truth & Soul production duo Leon Michaels and Jeff Silverman, the album is high off of intensity and full of quality material. Whilst not really knowing what type of record they were going to make upon first coming together, Nicole explains how it all came to be. “Truth & Soul are incredible,” she gushes. “This is their thing. We kinda came in and just sampled what they had.”
Describing their sound, Terri takes charge. “I would just call it soul music. It’s feel good music,” she announces. “But [we’re] people from the now making the music of the past. I would just call it soul music. Just deep soul. We’re taking it back but with today’s energy.” Interjecting, Nicole then drops a gem. “We’ve been to so many places with our careers that I just think it makes sense to be able to do something that’s more meaningful – and I’m not saying the stuff we did before wasn’t meaningful, but – it just feels good to be able to sit next to a sister who does some of the same things and can share the same emotions, trials and tribulations over the top of some beautiful music.”
“My inspiration would be the struggle and trying to get back, to figure out where I stand,” Wray reflects on the album. “The struggle of life and watching other people, [as well as] watching your own situation. That was definitely a motivation for me for the album. When I leave the studio and I fly back home and I got all these things going on. Every day is not a good day in life. There’s always ups and downs, trials and tribulations, and struggles. When you come out of that you feel so good about it. [I just want to] speak the truth because I know I’m not the only one going through it, [and hopefully] it could help somebody else.”
Taking the more musical approach, Terri quickly adds, “I think when it comes to a sense of inspiration in how we sang, we were little Aretha [Franklin] and little Gladys [Knight] trying to get ourselves in to that mode – if we had to say anybody. But I think a lot of the melodies and just the energy kinda came from the way the music sits. Yes it reminds you of back in the day but I don’t think I’ve heard anybody sing like the way me and [Nicole] sing together.”
The girl’s first single goes by the name of “Money.” Now while usually a song with such a title in this day and age would be considered a baller anthem of sorts, Lady’s approach to the subject is comparatively different to that of today’s norm. “It’s just friends, family, and relationships. You go out and you work hard for yourself so you want it to be yours, says Nicole. Adding her two pence, Terri backs her sister-in-song up; “There’s always someone out there who’s counting your money and spending it without you even knowing. Most of the time we’d give anyone our last bloody penny. That’s the problem with us. There’s people that would take advantage of that situation and [the song] is letting them know it’s not like that.”
On his song “From A Woman’s Hand” Trey Songz once sang, “Tell me why when you put a camera on a thug, the first thing out of his mouth is I wanna thank my mama.” Searching the deeper meaning of the lyrics, he’s effectively pointing out that the fellas, especially those in music, are quick to thank their mothers. While it’s not unusual for the ladies to do the same, it isn’t as noticeable. With that in mind, another song up for discussion from Lady is the dedicatory “Sweet Lady.” When asked why the decision to shout out their mamas, Terri felt very strongly about it. “[It’s] because we love our mothers. Our mothers are incredibly strong women. They’ve set big and bright examples. I’ve written a lot of songs about my mother and not necessarily spoken about it in that way… It’s about feeling. That’s why we write the songs that we write.”
Touching upon a few other subjects, one that sticks out in particular refers to sounding like the artists of yesterday. “We’re not going to do the same thing as before, we’ve moved on,” says Terri. “I think when you become a great singer, or even a great artist, you kind of have to hone your craft to be able to know how to mix it up and adapt to it. If you listen to Aretha back then there was nobody like her.
“All of the artists [from back in the day] had their own sound, and that’s something that we tried to find as it’s very important. There’s no point in us sounding like someone. The first time someone said to me, “You need to write a song to sound like this person,” I was like, “No!” Why didn’t they just go to that person instead of coming to me? We just went back in to the time and have written our own versions of what we would have said. You know what I mean?”
Besides looking for Nicole Wray’s solo career [“My solo career is floating out there somewhere. If you can find it just let me know!”] the girls plan on world domination as part of their next chapter. Or at least that what Terri claims. “I’d say just world domination. We’re not ruling anything out. I’d love to [take over the world]. It would be great to see everyone with afros and wearing bell-bottoms. The more you see of us the more it becomes infectious.”
Nicole closes things off with Lady’s mission statement. “People know us individually but they don’t know us as Lady. We just want them to gravitate towards soul music. You know? You’ve got artists like Kanye West and Jay-Z sampling from the old school records. We’re here doing it live. We wanna bring it to the youth, the hip-hop fans and everybody.”
Lady’s self-titled album is available to purchase via Truth & Soul.