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Crouching “Tortoise,” Hidden Magic: The Jazzyfatnastees Chat

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– interview: jianda johnson

On the day the Jazzyfatnastees’ second release is out (“The Tortoise and the Hare”), we call Tracy Moore, one half of the one-two power punch that is the Jazzyfatnastees . She is stranded in Memphis, Tennessee.

“Home of Elvis Presley, ‘The King!’ Tracy enthuses. Apparently, it’s hot out, and there’s been a mix-up about her hotel. Okay…she’s not stranded , really. As we got to talking, she sauntered over to the pool to recline. All nice, natural and cool, just like her music.

JJ: So, you’re touring on the Sprite Liquid Tour with Talib Kweli. How’s that coming along?

Jazzyfatnastees:It’s going well. It’s been nice, and pleasant. I can’t complain. It’s cool, because we had to take a hiatus (Mercedes Martinez, “the other sis,” recently had a baby), so I had free time. Gave me something great to do.

JJ: Excellent. So, what inspired the title of your album?

JFN: Well, you think of that old folk tale. The tortoise is sure and steady and consistent on his path, and the hare is quick to get to the finish line. All he cares about is being the winner. And it just parallels the path we’ve taken with the industry. Staying steady to what our truth is, as opposed to trying to race ahead, like the music industry usually does.

JJ: Jazzyfatnastees used to be a bigger crew, and then there were two—you and Mercedes. How did the Jazzyfatnastees come to be to begin with?

JFN: We really felt like the only people who could write what we wanted to say, was us . And when the “Jazzies” first formed. we were that kind of group. We agreed to be together, and immediately understood that each voice needed to be heard equally–and we didn’t feel like another writer could do that.

JJ: The Jazzies had mentioned in the press there were some challenges with record labels—people trying to stick you in a genre box….trying to make you like En Vogue….

JFN: The four of us, when we formed we wanted to write our music. We knew what we wanted to do. And upon doing that, we immediately stared getting people wondering how we were actually going to pull it off. Our song structures were atypical. We were all lead singers with four-part harmony. How are we going to make it work, everybody wondered? We were fighting to be heard, and for each one of our individual voices to be heard. So, by the time the whole Tommy Boy thing ended and we searched for a new home (we found that in the Roots, their management), we had been together for like, three or four years. So, we learned a lot of things on our own. No one was taking us seriously because we were girls. We were younger, but still…when I joined, I was 22. We were young, but we weren’t that young!

JJ: Tell us how you feel about “neo soul.” How do you feel about the promo machine? The construct vs. our reality…the “business” part of the music business?

JFN: What they call “neo soul,” we were doing that in ‘92 or ’93, and at the time, people thought we were out of our minds! We just didn’t care that nobody liked it. So, it’s funny, because we fought so hard for so long to be heard. So much of music then was so contrived. I definitely feel like if that’s where your heart is and what your music is about, more power to you. I don’t have a problem with that. I just don’t see why we have to one-up each other. Why we can’t all just be a collective, and work towards expanding the minds of our children who, at this point, don’t have a clue what real music is about.

Also, it doesn’t matter who’s making’ it—the Roots, Jazzies, Maxwell, Talib Kweli, Common…as long as it’s comin,’ it doesn’t matter where it’s coming from. As far as black music and this particular movement, it’s always “one person on top.” There’s D’Angelo, then Maxwell knocks him out, then Erykah, then Jill knocks her out…

How can you have Vanessa Carlton and Michelle Branch, they sound alike–same label. One plays guitar, one plays piano, but they’re equally supported. With us, people gotta find somebody to deem as the conqueror. It’s crazy! Then, I don’t wanna get into being a black female songwriter…how no one takes you seriously…I’ve been writing for years, and it’s so hard. And Missy Elliot…she’s a great writer, but is she an all-around writer? She’s helping create the urban pop scene today, and that’s great. But, what about all the other writers up there, and people only hire one writer…Missy. Then there are all these men writing all this stuff for the women, why is a man writing for a woman—when there are so many good female songwriters?

JJ: Agreed. It’s a reality we need to look at. You’re looking at it all head-on, much respect for that. Mad respect…I heard about a singer-songwriter once who was totally ignored and they just paid attention to her band, who hadn’t even written any of the songs…

JFN: ”Yeah, right? Like, ‘we just need a little hook written, and look pretty for us.’” (Laughs) The fact that we are both attractive women, I mean, thank god we found a family and a manager who believed in us who know that beauty works for you, but that’s not it. We’re a lot more complex than the way we look, and dress. We have voices and we want to be heard.

Richard Nichols, he’s our manager. He manages The Roots, Jaguar…and I don’t know where we’d be if we hadn’t found him. We were desperately seeking something, and had already exhausted anything everybody could have possibly done for us. We have already worked with Stevie Wonder (On his album “Conversation Peace”), so where do you go from there? You don’t get any bigger than that, as far as respect, and songwriters go.

That album wasn’t his greatest masterpiece. I think he feel into the loop we all do. You start believing the hype everybody is telling you. Meanwhile, Stevie created a whole form of songwriting, all his own. You don’t have to follow anybody, Stevie! :) We’re following you, everybody in the game is following you. There are just too many people in everybody’s ears sometimes. Too much talking, not enough creating, supporting. Too much judgment rather than, “let me see who I’m going to be.”

JJ: That brings Jill Scott to mind. She is a big, beautiful woman, and when they first shopped her music, they didn’t show any photos. Her voice is what caught us, and she is just this beautiful presence, but people wouldn’t have taken the time to listen to her at first—at least there’s that possibility. And how she looks, she’s just been so embraced; it’s a pleasant surprise.

JFN: She’s incredibly talented, and she came at the right time. Sadly, not too many big girls are becoming sex symbols. So she was another person to open a door. To let people understand that it’s bigger than that. It’s really hard being a woman in this industry. Nobody gives a sh*t. If you don’t look good, forget about it. I know the reason we’ve been able to get ahead is because we’re beautiful, you know? But it’s okay. I understand it. But I’m somebody of substance. More than just that—and I WILL get heard.

JJ: That’s so valuable for our audience to hear—music lovers, artists of all kinds, anyone, really.

In that vein of confidence and support, tell us about Black Lily (, the “Women if Music Series” of performances in New York and Philadelphia.

JFN: We started it about four years ago at The Wetlands in New York. We wanted to give other female artists an opportunity that we didn’t have when we were trying to figure it out. To have an audience…and really work out what they are trying to do for themselves…and see if people are responsive, and also to help them gain confidence.

JJ: How can indie artists get involved?

JFN: The best way to get involved would be to send a tape to the office—either to, or Rykodisc, and we’ll listen. If you’re trying to get a spot, we need to know what you sound like, etc., but anybody is welcome to submit whatever they like at any time. You can find out more about it at also.

JJ: Speaking of…you’ve got a website, photos, all kinds of multimedia at your Okayplayer site…it’s wonderful.

JFN: Yes! Go, Internet! It’s about to change the world, just like the music movement I’m in. We’re that underground voice that’s tryin’ to be heard, saying, “Look, there are other things out there.”

JJ: It seems you carry a responsibility, and take great pleasure in taking real control over your image, a sense of agency—making that a part of everything you do.

JFN: Yes. We are doing it ourselves. CoolHunter is Richard’s label, so they just handed us the money and we did what we wanted. We hired our photographer. With MCA, we spent so much money and we got nothing. We told them “we’re telling you what our concept is, we’re clear about this. Trust us,” and they refused to do so. They spent money (and not even a lot) on a video, the budget that we got…it wasn’t that much money, but for them, it was a lot of money to spend on us, because they didn’t think we were going to go anywhere (which made us think, “then why did you sign us??). They got it all wrong. We had to go back and trying to fix it at the end. They didn’t support our vision. Now we’re doing it the way we want to do it, and it’s been working out thus far.

No one knew our music was out last time–I think that’s what we were lacking. Our fans, and music fans, they know about us, because they’re into finding what’s new, what’s unique, what’s putting out a vibe. So, as far as I’m concerned, those people are like artists. They have the same mindset as I do: always just looking for something that makes them feel good. We did reach people.

And even if we never do reach “the heights,” we have Black Lily, which is really starting to fend for itself. We perform there every week. People do call us for gigs. We’re fine. I completely support myself. I haven’t actually had a regular job since 1992. The way things have gone for us, it’s been great. We’ve just been really, really blessed. And blessed enough to have people believe in us, so we can believe in ourselves. So, we’re going to be fine regardless. We finally got a chance to finish our album exactly the way we’ve wanted to, so I’m very excited about it. If nobody but our fans listened to it that would be great. I know we do have some diehard supporters, and that’s what we’re concerned about today.

JJ: You mentioned Mercedes is a mommy now, which is fantastic. And you’re about to embark on a U.S. tour, so how’s that coming to light?

JFN: We’re planning to go back in October, and do some shows that first week. Black Lily shows, and show in Philly and New York, Washington and Boston, those are where our fans are, and we can drive….the baby’s still young, a. brand new baby. I feel like we’re going to be taking him around enough when he gets a little older, so we’re tying to do it right.

It’s a day to day struggle, but families are like that. We’ve been together for 10 years. We’re like family. We’ve had our sh*t, too! Not speaking to each other, then the best of friends, then those days like, “let me just get through it…” We’re sisters, and we do have our days, but it never gets beyond a point where we can’t look at each other and try to work it out.

I think that right now we’re in a very good place with ourselves as well as where we’re going. Now, we really are making the calls for ourselves and that gives you a certain sense of joy in yourself. When you feel like the things you are doing in your business and home life are working, you’re just a happier person. And it makes the group that much stronger. So yes, we’ll be back in October with our first show.

JJ: That’s so cool. Keep doing what you’re doing. Hope they figure out your hotel situation…!

JFN: That’s all right. I’m just sitting by the pool, talking to you, my feet in the water, relaxing, cooling down. It’s fine. JJ

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  • Eric Olsen

    Excellent – love your interviews!