If anyone knows a thing or two about life, it’s Fantasia. The 32-year-old singer has experienced many obstacles in her life, including rape at age 14 and a suicide attempt in 2010, that has made her a survivor. Her new album, The Definition Of, is the soundtrack for anyone who’s going through tough times.
“The Definition Of represents strength,” Fantasia reveals to Rated R&B. “I’ve been through some things that people may have not been able to bounce back from. I am fighter and I will continue to fight. My reason for fighting is to encourage other women to accept the storms and the tests because they only come to make you strong.”
Fantasia worked closely with music exec and producer Ron Fair to create The Definition Of. It wasn’t easy, especially since the album steps outside of her R&B box to explore different sounds and genres of music. “Rock soul” is how she describes the album’s sonic mix.
In an interview with Rated R&B, Fantasia discusses the challenges of making her new album, finally gaining creative control, bringing back passion to the music industry, returning to Broadway and much more.
RATED R&B: What was the most challenging part of creating/recording the album?
FANTASIA: The most challenging thing is when you hear a sound and you want something so bad and you need certain things for it. Thank God for the relationships because there were a lot of times when we needed certain things or we wanted to bring in a live band. When you call the label and you tell them that, it’s like, “We don’t have the money for this…we don’t have the money for that.” That bothers you when you’re in the studio and somebody tells you, “We don’t have the budget for it” or “we don’t believe in it.” That can be frustrating.
What does The Definition Of represent?
It represents real music. When I say that I’m not just talking about the singing, I’m talking about the horns that you hear, the guitar, the strings, the drum, the arrangement, the vocals. Ron Fair really brought something out of me I didn’t even know I could do. There were times when I would be in the booth and he would play [music] on the piano and would be like this is the note I want you to sing. I’m like, “Ron, I don’t quite hear that in that.” He’s like, “Just do it, just do it.”
We wanted the album to represent the definition of music — the definition of the strength of a fighter. He and I both fought for this record. We don’t have timeless records like we did back then. You can still put in a Luther Vandross CD or Anita Baker or Elton John or Queen or Stevie Wonder, and those were timeless records. It seems like they were just recorded yesterday. That’s what we wanted.
Although you wanted to bring back real music on this album. Did you ever feel the pressure to cater to radio and what’s being played on there now?
Nope! I think that’s what everybody else on the other end was thinking. Right now on the radio, it’s really not a lot of singing. It’s mainly hip-hop. Right now there’s no good messages in the songs. There’s no motivation in the songs. Nobody hears good love music anymore. So I just wanted to know when the radio stations would stand up and say, “Let’s bring back music.” Let’s do both. People are saying singers are dying off. They’re not. It’s just that we aren’t getting the support we need to continue to keep that type of music alive.
With you being in the music industry over the last 12 years, do you believe creative control is something that should be given to artists early on, or is it something that should be earned over time?
Early on. If you are an artist and you are a writer and you know what the sound is and you know what you want it to be arranged, I feel like it’s something you have to fight for in the beginning because it’s harder when you put people in control of everything and allow them to do what they want to do. You kinda get stuck in a box, which can hurt you in the long run because you are allowing them to make you what they want you to be and if it doesn’t go far, then you find yourself fighting harder to get back to that place where you know you should have been. For me it was a lot harder because I was coming from a show and they had everything all planned out. Your deal is already there, so you’re walking into a ready-made situation and it’s kind of harder for you to call the shots.
That’s why it was such a fight, but I finally got to that place where I just knew what I wanted, and if I couldn’t do it, then I just couldn’t do it anymore. Twelve years is a long time and I plan on doing it for as long as I can. But when you’re getting up on that stage and you’re away from your family and the sacrifices you make when you’re out here, you want to do what your heart is telling you to do. You want to create music and be in that space you’re in and share that with the audience. I’m at that place right now where I just couldn’t do what they wanted me to do or record a song just because it was sent to me. That’s where the fight came in for me on this album.
So, The Definition Of is the album where you felt you had some creative control and was very hands on?
Yes, with the help with Ron Fair. He fought with me because he believed. With Ron I was almost at that place where I was like, “I would rather not do it at all if this is what you’re telling me I have to do as an artist.” This is what you’re telling me is hot right now, and musically what it should sound like. If you’re telling me that, I would rather stay home and be with my family. When I met him, we were in the same place of, “Somebody out there wants to hear good music, timeless records.”
That’s something I can respect about you. It’s so easy to just do what people tell you to do to collect a paycheck. For the simple fact that you’re willing to make sacrifices and fight for music that you actually believe, I think that’s a quality that more artists should kind of take up. I feel like that’s something that will keep you in the industry longer because if you know your worth as an artist and as a person, you’re not going to settle for anything less than that.
The thing about it is — and I think record labels have forgotten this, radio stations, artists have forgotten this — when it all started for all of us, it started as passion. The A&R’s that had that passion to go out and find great artists and then after finding them, go out and build relationships with the radio stations and get them where they could see them going when they first heard them. I think that the passion is gone. It’s not about the money and that’s what me and Ron were talking about. There were days we would come out of the booth and just have conversations where we wouldn’t record. And I always said this is perfect.
I think when you record, everyone feels like they put a time limit on it, and they feel like every day you should go into the studio and do something. Sometimes it don’t work like that and that’s how you be creative. We would go in the studio and just have deep conversations and we talked about this album and the direction we’re going. Some might not like it, some will, but we were so passionate about it. We talked about the sales and what if, what if. We were both at the place where it’s gonna do what it needs to do. I’m not focused on if it’s going to go number one.
That passion I had since I was a little girl, just getting up and singing, it’s my therapy. It blesses me. I remember when we used to stand on the side of street and sing for free. I remember when we would go to different places and it wasn’t about the money, it was about the passion. I think that the whole industry, everybody needs to get back to the passion about it…about singing and writing and deejaying and A&R’ing. We are losing the passion.
That’s what I like about your new album. I feel like you did not put yourself in a box. You didn’t stick to that R&B lane. There are elements of country, pop and gospel. You really kind of just stuck to the music and went whichever way felt more comfortable. I like how you show your versatility as an artist and a singer.
Thank you and that’s rock soul. People say to me, “what’s rock soul?” I tell them rock soul is every genre of music and that’s what I wanted to do on this album. “Ugly,” my country song, people were so blown away by it. When you love music, you love it all. When rock soul came to me, it was that lane of me doing everything. You can invite me to your jazz concert if you’d like, I got a little something for you. You can invite me to your country concert, I got little something for you. You should be able to step into any arena and be able to adapt to whatever is going on. I know I can because I grew up on it.
Let’s talk about acting — because you’ve been in two Broadway musicals and a movie. Do you foresee yourself returning to Broadway?
Yes. Back then, when I first did The Color Purple, I probably would’ve said “hell no” because Broadway is no joke (laughs). Every time I go see a show, I’m always impressed and proud because I know how much it takes to do that every day and to step into that character’s shoes everyday as if it is a new show. I’m always awed and proud of them because doing The Color Purple was no joke. The role I played, Miss Celie, she was tough, and it was all new for me and I didn’t know how to come out of the character. I didn’t know how to let it go. So, I woke up Celie, went to bed Celie. When I look back at it, I couldn’t have played the part if I did not step fully into her shoes. After doing it here in New York for a year, I went on the road with it.
After that, I came back and did After Midnight. I enjoyed the challenge, and I enjoy being able to step away from Fantasia and go into being another character and live that life so well. I get a kick out of stuff like that. I want to do it again. I want a totally different role this time. I want people to say, “I never expected her to do that.” I think from playing Celie and doing my Lifetime movie, everybody knows I can tap into the woman that’s been beaten and been down. I don’t want to do that anymore. Whatever I do, I would want it to be a challenge in a role I’ve never done and something nobody would ever expect.
What’s next for you?
I don’t know to be honest. Everything that I’ve done has come to me. Of course, the tour is next. We are going to do a tour with Charlie Wilson coming up soon and I love him. The man puts on an amazing show. I feel like I’m just getting started, even though I’ve been in the game for 12 years. I have the right team of people around me. I’m working on the rock soul label. I want to bring artists out and actually take good care of artists — we’ll have to have another conversation about that. I want to take care of artists and let them be artists and support and love on them.
Get Fantasia’s new album The Definition Of on iTunes here. Follow her on Instagram/Twitter @TasiasWord.