When folks speak of Debórah Bond and 3rd Logic’s 2003 debut album Day After, words like “classic” and “masterpiece” are often uttered. After a nearly 7 year hiatus, they have signaled their return with the highly-anticipated and critically-acclaimed follow-up, Madam Palindrome, and it’s no surprise that those same two words are being used to describe this album as well. I talked to the petite powerhouse about the keys to unlocking the secrets of the palindrome, hooking up with heavyweight engineer Al Stone, embracing independence, and leaving a lasting impression for the youth…on her terms.
UF: Let’s talk about the key, which is an integral part of the artwork, it’s on your neck on the album cover. What does the key represent for you?
DB: The key, for me, represents a lot of things. If you look at the artwork, you see different perspectives, you see different visuals, you see different times and spaces and I really think that for each of those perspectives in those portraits within the art, the key could symbolize different things. I feel like at different points in my life, there’s a different key. I feel like it has many perspectives for me. I’m really more curious when people listen to the music and really read the lyrics and get really into the album, I’m just curious to know what they think is the key…before I give it away…because for me it could mean a lot of things. I’m just curious to know what the listeners think. And I hope that because of that, it will challenge listeners to be real-deal listeners and to pay attention. I feel like the music right now that a lot of some of the bigger artists are presenting, they’re not making you think very much, you know what I mean? You listen to it and you’re like, okay cool! I know the song, the hook is repeated in my head over and over again, then it’s over before it even goes anywhere. I like music that plays with my head a bit and makes me think about things, and that’s a major reason why I think the key is important in the art, because I want it to make you think and I want you to discover things. I think we’re missing that in music, you know? You’ll be called old-school, some people say it’s kinda corny or old-school or whatever. I don’t know, but myself and 3rd Logic, I think we’re slightly weird people, we’re weirdos, so we enjoy the kookier things sometimes, the things that are a little tripped out, and the key is definitely a play on that.
I appreciate the fact that you are not afraid to make people think. For me, that means you don’t underestimate the power of the human brain.
You’re not looking down on your listeners. Whoever your listener is, you’re giving them a chance to become a part of this concept that you’ve created.
Yeah, I mean I feel like that’s what I owe to people when I present what I’m doing. I feel like I owe it to you to take it somewhere, whatever it is. And for Madam Palindrome, I come back to the word ‘perspective’ because it’s a very general thing, you know? We all have perspectives on all kinds of things in life. You can talk about things when it comes to perspectives over and over and over again and the conversation can change so many times, and I guess, like, you know, food for thought, things that make you think, things that make you talk about stuff, that’s me naturally even outside of music, that’s the type of person I am. So I do think we owe it to the listener to make you think and to take you somewhere and to give the album the feeling of a journey in some way.
Can you explain what a palindrome is, and how the concept of it comes into play throughout the album and throughout the entire project?
A palindrome is a picture, a word, a phrase that can be read or seen the same forward and backwards. The word “racecar” is a very popular palindrome and any number, you know, “909,” there’s even pictures that are palindromes. If you look at them from a different angle, it’s the same thing forward and backwards. I honestly think that palindromes are really kinda cool! Beyond the album, I think, it’s just fun to think ‘oh look, that’s the word Hannah, it means the same forward and backwards, that’s kinda neat.’ But with the album, it’s funny because we did not plan to make this album conceptual. We didn’t want it to be a concept album. Myself and 3rd Logic, my crew, my team, Robbie McDonald, Chuck Evans, and Kinard Cherry, we’ve only done two albums together and, the first album Day After, we just basically created music and along the way the title came along.
With this one, we were on that same path, but then for some reason…we had been working on it for so long, it’s been 7 years or so that we had anything new, so we had been working on it so long that midway through creating it we just started brainstorming about what could be the title. I really have to give a lot of credit to “Funky Chuck” Evans, my bass player, for really challenging me to think about it because we were talking about it and I couldn’t really think of anything at the time. We only had a few songs, so we ended up listening to a bunch of the tracks that we did have and the lyrics and just really trying to figure out if there’s anything cool that we could get out of it. And the first thing that jumped out at us was that there were a few songs that sounded like there was just two sides to the story. Like, someone had their side, the other person had their side, or maybe its that I saw something this way at one moment and then I see it at this way at a different moment, but in the end of it all, it’s kinda like the same thing even though its from two different corners or two different sides. I just noticed that there’s this really interesting duality kinda thing or back and forth. And it’s really weird, I don’t know why those songs happen to be that way, but that’s the only thing I noticed and Chuck just thought about it and though about it and it brought his mind to a palindrome, something that’s the same forward and backwards.
It’s a really cool little quick journey to figure out the title but he came up with the idea, Madam Palindrome, and once we just decided that it was a good name and got over the fact that some people may think it’s strange or not the most dainty or cutesy…I had quite a few people say to me that they weren’t really feeling that title, but once we all decided that we thought it was cool, it was like alright, this is about to be interesting…now we can have some fun with the rest of the record, what else can we do to develop this? And then it morphed into this kind of slight conceptual thing. It’s crazy…we didn’t set out, like ‘let’s make a new record and we’re gonna make a concept album.’ But it’s…kinda, you know, that’s how life works sometimes.
It almost sounds like you’re reluctant to call it a concept album.
Definitely. I’m only reluctant to call it that because it wasn’t that at first. We just make music. The guys, they give me some tracks and I listen and I absorb and try to get a feel for whatever it makes me wanna write about and go from there. We’ve never sat down together and said ‘this next album is gonna purely be about this, we’re gonna take it in this direction and we’re gonna do these things.’ We really didn’t create the first album like that. So yeah, it’s weird, I am a bit reluctant to say it, only because I feel like a concept album is an album that, from right off the top, you have a concept, you know what you’re gonna do, and that’s what it is. But this really wasn’t like that. Midway through, we’re like ‘this’ll be cool…Madam Palindrome…hmmm.’ (laughs)
Let’s talk about Al Stone’s involvement. He mixed 3 of Jamiroquai’s landmark albums, Björk’s first 2 landmark albums, tracks for everybody from Massive Attack to Estelle to Amp Fiddler to Kelis. He produced the theme song to The Sopranos!!! He knows a thing or two about making things sound pretty damn good!
Yeah! He is an engineer that we came across on a whim and then he turned out to be one of the biggest blessings. He turned out to be one of the keys, I think, to Madam Palindrome.
What was the whim?
We had been working on this album for a while. We were in the studio for a very, very long time in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area. The process was going pretty well until we got really deep into the mixing. It got a little frustrating because this album, when you listen to it, it’s a lot of stuff going on. It’s a lot of music and a lot of production, This being our second album, we’ve had a good time off to experiment with technology and instrumentation and vocal arrangement, all kinds of things, so we went as heavy as we could with a lot of things and I think it was a little bit of a challenge during the mixing process midway through that. On a whim one night I was having a convo with Robbie McDonald of 3rd Logic about…just venting about how we really want this album to be great and we hope we can get the mix right.
I’m gonna segue way for just a second just to say that I urge independent artists, especially those who are working on an album who are trying to give you quality work, I would just urge them to really pay attention to the mix! I think sometimes as a singer-songwriter, sometimes we can get so excited about the song itself and what we hear in our heads and what we think it’s gonna be like that we don’t always get deep into the mixing process, and that can make a really huge difference to the sound, the quality, the level of respect it even gets from people in the industry. So I urge the lead singers, especially independent folks, when you’re working on your album, pay attention to the mix. Really try to make it as elaborate, or as gritty, or whatever it is you’re trying to achieve in that mix. Go for it, really work hard on that.
Working with 3rd Logic over the years has really taught me to pay attention to that. They have given me an appreciation for that. They’ve helped teach me the importance of a good mix as producers. They are really sticklers for having a nice mix. We were really frustrated with where the mixes were going at the time because it was just really overwhelming to mix all these tracks. One night, Robbie and I were venting and Robbie just asked me ‘if you could have your music sound like anybody, who’s album has a mix that would be better than what we have going on right now?’ And we just started listening to albums that we really respect and love…albums by Jamiroquai, albums by Björk, albums by Incognito and Brand New Heavies. We just ended up doing a little search online to find contact information and we reached out to some folks, and Al Stone was the one that we ended up connecting with, and he believed in the music! I mean, this guy is a big-time guy and he doesn’t have to make time in his schedule for some DC cats that are on a very independent budget, you know? I am so blessed to have just come across him and he be such a cool individual and just connect the way he did with us. This guy is miles and miles away in London. We did everything through Skype-ing and internet and we have such a synergy with this guy, it was just amazing. He ended up taking what was sounding pretty good in the mix to stepping it up a big notch and he made a complete difference in the sound. I have to give love to my man Mike Watert who did all of the recording of the music. We brought in a lot of musicians and he did a great job. I think once we connected with Al, he kinda like piggybacked on the situation and just took it up a notch. So, he is a complete key, for sure, to Madam Palindrome.
I think the fact that Al Stone would take interest in some DC cats, who are independent to the bone, speaks to the power of the content of your music. That’s a blessing.
It’s just crazy. I feel like, although I’m really new in this game…well, not that new but, I’ve been doing music close to 10 or 11 years…I feel like, even though I don’t feel like I’m taking these huge leaps as far as what some other people may think, I hear a lot of people say ‘ooh, when you blow up’ or ‘when you make it,’ in those terms maybe I’m not “blowin’ up,” but I just feel like I’m always being shown how you can achieve things, even on your own. People are only a few degrees away, I really am learning that. You cannot be afraid to just push for what you are doing and what you believe in and push to keep it as quality and as pure as it can be. The situation with Al Stone was definitely a key for so many reasons because it also just proved to me, like okay, I believe in what I’m doing and I reached out to someone who could have totally turned their back and said ‘oh no, I don’t deal with little independent random cats.’ But it showed me that maybe I’m on to something here because I do believe in what I’m doing and I am very motivated with it, so it was a nice confirmation that I’m on the right track. I might not be running yet, but I’m definitely crawling to something, walking a little (laughs). I’m so thankful to him. I haven’t even met him in person yet. I can’t wait until I can get to where he lives.
It’s cool that people are saying, ‘when you blow up, when you blow up.’ Do you think that you’ve blown up on your own terms, as far as you being able to achieve your goals? You know, you achieved something that you wanted to achieve, you did something exactly the way you wanted to do it, so that is on a level of success that kind of supersedes the whole ‘blowing up’ ideology.
I don’t know, because when people say that to me, I know what they mean. They mean that I’m a superstar like Beyoncé or Rihanna or whoever. I don’t feel like I’m blowing up yet. I feel like I’m still very in the trenches with it. I feel like I am starting to see some of the fruits of my labor, but like small little fruits (laughs) here and there that keep me motivated to a bigger picture, to keep me motivated towards getting that. For me, I just want exposure. The ‘blowing up’ thing also comes with fame and riches and all that. Yeah, I’m on my own terms and I am creating music that I believe in and I didn’t change anything, I didn’t compromise in any way for anyone else’s standards. But, not everybody gets to hear it, you know, because I don’t have the means to make everyone hear it. And that thought, I know it’s possible on my own and on my own terms, but it may take me a lot longer to get to when I consider in the Deborah Bond world “blowing up,” what I consider it to be. I’m not there, but I know I can get there. I’m just starting to get so many lights and confirmations from God that you are on the right track. I just know that the path I’m on may be a long and crazy path.
To be continued…