Divinity Roxx – Bass Musician Magazine, April 2016 Issue…
How did you start playing bass?
I started playing bass in college after hanging out with some musician/artsy friends at UC Berkeley. I had gone there to study journalism. But left determined to play bass, write songs, perform and tour, inspire others, and live the life I was meant to live.
You toured with the legendary Victor Wooten and appeared on his albums. When and how did you meet him? Tell us the story!
After I left Berkeley and moved home to Atlanta. I started gigging locally and wanted to learn more about the bass and playing bass. I heard about Victor’s Bass Camp from a friend and mailed in my application. I was accepted and went to Vic’s very first Bass/Nature Camp years ago. On the first night of camp we’re asked to introduce ourselves by playing bass. I rapped and played bass as my introduction. After the camp Vic asked if I would like to tour with him. Of course I did! He gave me a shot. Thing is, I didn’t expect anything from him and what an incredible experience it was. That was my first tour ever, and my life and career as a bass player really took off from there.
Touring and playing for Beyoncé? White House?
I auditioned for the Beyonce gig like thousands of other women around the world and like 9 of them, were chosen to tour and perform with the pop star on world tours, TV shows, guest appearances, private parties and the like. The Beyonce gig was where I learned how to be a “bass player” in a band and realized what the role of the bass player truly was. Up to that point I had played a few gigs for other artists, but mainly I had been playing my own gigs with my own bands and building my own brand as an artist. The Beyonce gig was for sure a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am so lucky and blessed to have been one of the female musicians she introduced to the world stage.
We were given the opportunity to play a State Dinner at the White House for the President of Mexico and his wife. President Obama had just taken office and the excitement we all had of not only visiting and performing at The White House, but visiting and playing for the first African-American President and his family was beyond words. The First Family are huge Beyonce fans and I was head over heels to be able to stand there next to the biggest star in the world and play for the leader of the free world and his family.
When did you start your career as a solo artist?
When I met Victor I had already begun working on my solo career. I had left a rap group I co-founded in high school called DATBU and had begun writing and performing songs on my own, utilizing the bass more as a songwriting tool while I was learning more and more about the instrument. I also started teaching myself to use the Akai MPC drum machine to make beats and produce music. I started teaching myself music production software and played with a bunch of different keyboards and drum machines and effects processors and started creating a really unique sound that came to be known as “Ghetto Rock”. I released my first album, Ain’t No Other Way on CD Baby while touring with Vic. It was a mash-up of rock and hip-hop. That’s when I started the slogan, I Only Rock Hip Hop®. I played many shows locally in Atlanta and the South East and had just started working on my second solo project when I started touring with Beyonce. Needless to say, my solo career came to a halt once I devoted my time and energy to the Beyonce project.
Where do you find the inspiration for new music?
For me, inspiration comes from many different places. It’s always around me. I may just hear something in my head when I wake up. I usually record a voice note on my phone and create a song out of the voice note later when that happens. I may be standing in line at the airport and a riff pops in my head or a lyric comes to me and I jot it down or record it on my phone. I also listen to a lot of different music from different eras too, from Classical to Rock to Funk and R&B to Rap, from Trap to Hip-Hop to Blues to Electronic to Jazz. Listening to many different styles of music from different eras is inspiring. Living life is a big inspiration as well. Living, struggling, loving, being loved, anger, frustration, rejection, joy, all of those things inspire creativity, lyrics, melodies, rhythms. Inspiration is everywhere. My Grandma’s garden, a stranger’s conversation at the table next to me in a restaurant, the news, a homeless person’s gaze. Anything can spark creativity. Sometimes just sitting down and playing bass inspires new music. I may start practicing and end up writing and producing a song out of a riff that I ‘happened upon’. Its not always good for practice, being creative, as it can get in the way of focusing on really practicing, especially when I’m trying to improve certain aspects of my playing. Anthony Wellington gives me a hard time about that. Sometimes I take lessons from him and he’s always telling me to FOCUS. I try. I really do.
Tell us more about your brand new album “ImPossible”
I’m really excited about sharing this album. I had a friend describe it as “very you”, which made me laugh out loud. I really put my heart, soul and love into this project and it is deeply personal. I named it ‘ImPossible’, pronounced “I’m Possible” because the word impossible has such negative connotation and is thrown around so much we tend to believe that our dreams, our aspirations, our very survival and success in this society are indeed not possible. Yet, within the word impossible are the words I’m Possible, and it really is a matter of shifting your mindset and your perspective to reflect something positive rather than becoming entangled with what and how others may perceive your uniqueness. This album encompasses my perspective on the times and how I fit into the social construct we all have to exist in. The music, lyrics and songs reflect who I’ve evolved into as a woman, a person of color, an artist, a musician, a song writer. Of course I’m playing bass and rapping but I’m also singing on this one and being a bit more vulnerable than I ever have been on record. Musically, it’s really diverse. From jazzy riffs to dub bass lines to some straight-up r&b, I’m having fun on this record and I’m finally breaking down the persona of Divinity Roxx and sharing my truest self in this music. Of course this album has some hip-hop and rock elements but I’m having trouble trying to figure out what genre it should be categorized in. It definitely highlights my musical influences and the people who’ve inspired me over the years. One of my favorite songs on the album, ‘We Are’ was inspired by the late June Jordan who I studied poetry with while at UC Berkeley. She presented a poem to the UN in 1978 to commemorate 40,000 South African Women and children using their bodies in protest to the system of Apartheid and she ended the poem like this:
And Who Will Join This Standing Up
And The Ones Who Stood Without Sweet Company
Will Sing and Sing
Back into the Mountains
And if necessary
Even Under the sea
we are the ones we’ve been waiting for
How was your last tour with Stu Hamm and Ove Bosch? Any cool story? 🙂 Or talk about your last tour in September 2015.
What a combination right? Hans Peter (the president of Warwick) has such a diverse group of endorsees and we all respect each other so much and are always open to collaborating with one another. I think we may have been a little skeptical about how this particular combination was going to work but not only did it work musically, we all became really good friends after the tour and would love to go back and do it again. The funniest thing that happened on this tour happened as we were leaving Austria. We got a strange and frantic call from the young guy who was driving the gear van (I nicknamed him ‘lil homie’). We had two vans on this tour, one for gear and one for the players. Just as we were getting on the highway to travel to the next gig, he called to tell us that the van carrying all of the basses and amps was missing. Well, you can just imagine the sheer panic we all felt. How were we going to tell HP that the van carrying thousands of dollars worth of Warwick gear was missing? Well, it turned out that the van had been towed and we recovered it quickly but not before ‘lil homie’ almost had a nervous breakdown. He’s a young, eager bass player from Germany and this was his first job with Warwick so you can imagine he was devastated, and frightened that he “lost the van.” I created a little video about the entire ordeal and posted it in my road journal on my website. I edited it like a CNN news story called ‘The Case of The Missing Van’ and we had a good time with it. We ended up telling some coo-coo story about how the van had been stolen and how we found some guys selling the gear under an overpass on the highway and beat them up, recovered the van and the gear and took off before the cops arrived. It was silly, but when you’re on the road you become silly, well I’m just silly anyway but we really had a great time on that tour. We laughed quite a bit and shared a bunch of music and books and stories from our times on the road and our past. It really was a great experience.
Do you have other projects/collaborations going on?
I collaborated with several amazing artists and musicians on the ‘ImPossible’ album. Keith Harris, who has toured produced and written with the Black Eyed Peas, Estelle, and several other artists produced and played drums on the song I mentioned earlier, ‘We Are’. Another amazing artist I had the privilege of co-writing and performing with on the album is a young artist from Virginia, Anhayla. She has an infectious voice and we collaborated on one of the most personal songs on the album, ‘Break Down These Walls’. She was most recently featured in an AT&T commercial that ran nationwide. I also worked with a poet, Daniel Watts who is also a powerful actor, singer, and emcee on a song ‘Hey U,’ that I wanted my nephew to be able to listen to for years to come and begin to understand his history and legacy. Daniel is currently on Broadway in the hit play ‘Hamilton.’ Speaking of my nephew, he’s on the album singing the hook on a song called ‘Just When U Think Its Time to Quit,’ featuring an up and coming NY emcee, LD. We actually recorded my nephew’s vocals in the bathroom of my sister’s house on one of my visits home to Atlanta for the holidays. I met an extraordinary singer and actor through Daniel named Derrick Baskin, who was in the hit Broadway play, ‘Memphis’, and he is singing with me on three songs on the album, ‘Stinger (What It Is),’ ‘Question,’ and a song called ‘WhachADoiNWherEUatWhoUWit.’ The great Victor Wooten plays an incredible solo on a song called ‘Can It B SO Hard’ where I question what this life is really about and the album opens with a voice mail from my Mom who is always encouraging and inspiring on a song called ‘Miracle’. A good friend and former band mate of mine, Kat Rodriguez, who toured with Beyonce as her Tenor Sax player and is featured on the Mrs. Carter album wrote with me on a bi-lingual record, ‘I Like It (Te Gusta)’ which features my good friend and partner, Yani Marin singing. Yani was in the most recent Broadway resurrection of ‘West Side Story’ and more recently a guest star on the hit TV show, ‘Empire’. She is also one of the Executive Producers of the album. Of course, the band Julian ‘J-Lit’ Litwack on guitar and Lamar ‘LA’ Moore on drums are both young killin’ musicians I can’t wait for people to experience. Together we really made musical magic and I really hope people recognize how much talent each one of these guys posess.
As far as outside projects, I just became involved with a project I’m really excited about called ‘Made By Girls,’ which is a product of the ‘Digital Media Academy,’ a program that focuses on teaching and inspiring young girls in the field of coding and computer science. I’m looking forward to collaborating with the academy and the students to help foster a community of young women who are interested in developing apps, creating wearable tech, making music and music videos and creatively utilizing new technology. We are working on providing scholarships to young women around the country and raising awareness and visibility of young women who may be interested in the field of computer science but may not yet realize the possibilities afforded to themselves in the field.
What gear are you currently using? You have some wonderful Warwick basses…
I do have some wonderful Warwick basses. My favorite is a 4 string Streamer LX, Swamp Ash body, maple neck with a wenge fretboard. The inlays are pearl reverse bass clefs that look like lower case d’s (for Divinity) with active/passive 2-way MEC pick-ups and gold hardware. I have a 5-string version of the same bass. The inlays are my signature and are on all of my custom basses. I played those basses on the Beyonce I Am tour. I call the 4 string Larry, or Graham. That bass has a lotta punch, and has been my number one for the past few years. I actually have a picture of Larry Graham holding it. I met him around the time I got that bass. I think it was when we took the Warwick photo on the first ‘Fuss on the Bus.’
The most recent bass I received from Warwick was in honor of my dad who passed away in December of 2011. His favorite color was blue so Warwick made me an absolutely stunning blue 4 string Quilted Maple Infinity. I also have a beautiful purple and white 5 string Infinity that turns a lot of heads. I use DR strings. I use MXR pedals, particularly the bass envelope filter and the bass octave. I also use the TC Electronics Flashback pedal and the Voice Live Touch 3. I use the RC 300 Boss Loop Station and I usually travel with my UA Apollo Twin interface and an Akai MPK mini keyboard. When taking the Apollo Twin isn’t possible I use the Apogee Maestro 2 to write and record ideas on the road with Logic Pro X and Pro Tools 12. I also use the Warwick LWA 1000 Bass Amp.
Plans for the future?
Plans for the near future include touring and pushing this new music and message out to the masses. My album, ‘ImPossible’ will be released April 2016 and I’ll be traveling and playing new music around the country and in Europe for the rest of the year. I’m also working on several other creative projects which involve me writing more. I’m working on a couple of books and television shows. I’m always composing music. I’m also working on ways I can be more involved in servicing communities that are underserviced in our country. I really believe that anything is possible and I’d like to get out and help people realize their full potential.
Advices for bass players and final thoughts…
In this life as a musician and artist we oftentimes have these big grandiose plans concerning what will happen for us and how. If it doesn’t happen the way we want it to, or if it doesn’t happen at all, we tend to get frustrated and upset. The other day I was at The Grammy Museum to hear LA Reid talk about his new book and during the talk he introduced a surprise guest, the one and only Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds. Babyface said something that stayed with me. He said oftentimes it’s the things that don’t happen that end up having the biggest impact on our lives. And when I look back at my life, its so true. It’s hard to express and even harder to explain, but with experience you begin to manage your expectations and stop putting so much stock in what you think is best for you and your career. I’ve learned to truly appreciate the experiences and opportunities that come my way. Revel in those moments when you land that gig, tackle that obstacle, or reach a new level of understanding. Practice humility. It goes a long way. But more importantly, really appreciate it all. Appreciating what we have in the now will create the biggest impact on the future.
We Are Video:
Bass The World/ Rebel
‘ImPossible’ Studio Sessions: