Jazmine Sullivan talks love, growth & showing her softer side

Jazmine Sullivan’s debut album Fearless, was received with critical acclaim and earned her seven Grammy nominations and a host of other accolades; two years on Sullivan releases her second album Love Me Back. Album number two offers a mix of contemporary R&B with a nod to ’80s production and a smattering of dancehall. The lyrics give an insight as to how Sullivan has grown as an individual and artist; with heavyweights such as Missy Elliot and Mary J Blige championing her, the success of this album seems assured. Jazmine speaks to Soul Culture about her beginnings, the pressure of replicating the success of the first album and her aspirations for 2011.

SoulCulture: You grew up in Philadelphia and started out singing in church how does that shape what we hear today?

Jazmine Sullivan: When you sing in church you sing from the soul and my music s definitely soulful. I was doing that until I was 12 and then I decided that I wanted to sing R&B. I started singing at a club called ‘the Soft Spot’ which is a place that women could get a platform to perform…

Philly is historically rich in soulful singers and soulful music so as a child I went to this place to perform [Soft Spot] and got the chance to listen and see and hear wonderful performers like Jill Scott, Kindred, The Roots – this was the Philly soul scene that I was in and that definitely shaped my music now. I sing from the soul. Everything that I sing, I sing from the heart.

I understand that your mum exposed you to a lot of Aretha Franklin has that affected you as a recording artist…

JS: I’m influenced by anyone that I have encountered musically in anyway. Growing up my mum was a huge Aretha Franklin fan and when I was younger I didn’t really want to hear it [Jazmine mimics herself as a 12 year old] but as I got older I appreciated her and who she was and what she did and she definitely has influence.

Where do you begin with a second album when the first is Grammy nominated seven times?

JS: Ah man, you begin second guessing yourself… Everything that you do, you don’t know if it’s as good as the first one and then you don’t know if people are gonna like it… Something just clicked and I was like, I have to just do me.

I can’t worry about if people are gonna like it or how people are gonna feel I just have to put it down and do exactly what I did with the first album where I didn’t feel pressured because I was just doing what was natural to me, so I had to remember that and do it again for this one.

You talked about just being you but a couple of years have passed since Fearless (the first album) and I’m guessing a lot has changed. How has that shaped you as a person and how did that manifest itself on the record?

JS: I’ve grown just from life – and I think that, that is reflected on the album and whatever it is that I’m going through and learning and experiencing, I’ll put it into words and put it on the album.

With this particular album I think people saw a softer side of me, I wasn’t just the angry woman. During the album I was in a relationship and there were good and bad times and I wanted to explore more with the good times and show a softer side and show love.

On the first album tracks such as ‘Bust Your Windows’ paint a picture of reacting impulsively to situations where as on album two we have tracks such as ’10 Seconds’ that show the power of reflection.

JS: That’s right [on the first album] I just went. But as you grow older you realise that you can’t do that anymore! (laughs) You have to stop yourself and think about it first.

You’re heavily involved in co-writing many tracks on the album – recently there has been talk about women having a more difficult time in what is still a male run industry [Nicki Minaj talks double standards in her recent MTV documentary, My Time Now] How do you feel about that?

JS: I don’t know it to be difficult as that’s all I know. I came with my records, writing my material, they loved it, it was what it was. What I will say is that when I was younger I didn’t write at all; but I think that’s less about me being a woman and more to do with not having anything to write about. Totally and honesty if someone put a pen in my hand and told me to write about love when I was 16, I couldn’t because I didn’t know it, I didn’t know what that was, I didn’t know anything. [Now] It’s easy to me as it’s what I do.

There is a lot of story telling on the record – ‘Redemption’ in particularly strong tale of a female drug addict and abusive male; where do you find inspiration for a story like that?

JS: ‘Redemption’ was mostly from me just being creative. Fortunately I have never known anyone in that situation – to my knowledge – so I really just took from being creative, although they are stories that are possible and probably happen every day, it wasn’t a personal situation… [We both give a nervous giggle of relief!]

How can we get a sense of who you are as an artist when your album is so eclectic?

JS: That is me, where I grew up I was listening to so much. I went to a school where I sang classical music and jazz music. I love music, I love all types of music and I don’t want to really be boxed in with having to do a certain type of thing as that wouldn’t be true to me.

Your success in the US has been phenomenal; seven Grammy nominations and a BET awards amongst others. How do you plan on replicating your success in the UK?

JS: (Laughs) I don’t really have a plan, I just hope that people like it and appreciate it like they do in the States. But what I will say is one thing I love about the UK is that they do love really, really good music. I performed there with the Black Lily when I was younger and they loved me and took to me and that was when I was just a kid and just singing, so once people start to get into my music and start to hear me, they’ll take to it.

Do you have any plans to return to the UK?

JS: No plans as yet to come and perform live but I was there about a year ago; I performed at the Jazz Café; the show sold out and they were the best shows that I have done in a really, really long time. There was great energy and everyone knew all of the words to the songs and people just wanted to hear me sing and you don’t get that a lot. It’s about so many other things so when I was there, I really appreciated that.

I mention the recent Tinie Tempah and Kelly Rowland collaboration and perhaps hooking up with a UK act is a way to get her over here sooner rather than later.

JS: Someone that I do love is VV Brown. When I first heard her, I was surprised as her voice was so rich, I wasn’t expecting that to come out of her. It surprised me and the fist thing I thought was, ‘Wow we would sound great together’. To have two rich voices on a track would sound cool.

It would seem that Jazmine’s album is unashamedly eclectic. She has strong soulful roots from Philly a training ground where she got the chance to explore a rich mix of music. Along with some well known producers she has made her stamp on the back catalogue of talent to come from Philadelphia creating a colourful, soulful sound which is reflected on her new album Love Me Back.

Love Me Back is out now via J Records; iTunes US / UK, Amazon US / UK.