Soul/hip-hop singer Ladi6’s last album, 2010’s The Liberation Of …, won the Taite Music Prize. Again working with producer partner, Parks, she is about to release her third album, Automatic.
Your new album is the follow-up to a Taite Music Prize winner. Nervous?
Not at all. I feel like prize-winning for music is such a subjective thing – you gotta take it all, criticism and accolades, with a grain of salt. My nerves, if any, would come from people’s lack of understanding about what it is we’re trying to do with our music, and even then I don’t really care too much.
Is it easier or harder to make a record after a success like The Liberation of …?
Easier for me. I feel like that record helped expose my music to new listeners, so for that reason I have a larger audience to share with – which is nice. The “success” of that record is also subjective, and perhaps my views differ from others. I particularly care about what we are doing and saying musically as a collective, and this album surpasses that one already. So, for me, it is successful already, and we haven’t even released it yet.
How did you hook up with [renowned producer] Waajeed and [Grammy-winning engineer] Todd Fairall?
Waajeed was a dream collaboration we had in mind when we started to think about who we wanted to help finish this record. We reached out to Jeedo, and thankfully he was willing and able to jump on this project with us. Todd came as a package with Waajeed, as his preferred engineer – which was our complete fortunate accident, but one we feel so grateful for.
Did they live up to expectations?
Absolutely, in more ways than one. We particularly enjoyed taking in the amazing stories and experiences of both these guys. It served as inspiration to feed off while working, as well as both being exceptionally talented at what they do. I feel we all personally invested in the production of these songs, and in wanting them to be the best they could be in the time we shared.
Detroit has just declared bankruptcy. How did you find it there?
I found Detroit rundown, large areas abandoned, the city huge and desolate. I felt there’s real hardship there, particularly because we were there during winter.
As guest rapper Invincible has it in one of the songs on Automatic, “Christchurch to Motown” – that must have felt special.
That felt unbelievably exciting. It was a proud moment for Parks and me. We didn’t expect Invincible to say it, but yeah, we were quite emotional about that. She also says, “Conant to Colombo”, name-checking two main city streets of our hometowns. We were super stoked.
Who are the Motown singers that matter?
Smokey Robinson. Diana Ross and the Supremes. Marvin Gaye. The Jacksons. The Four Tops. Gladys Knight. Pretty much all of them. I was raised on Motown, so being in the birthplace of the incredible labels, learning the story – because it’s always about the true story for me – was incredibly poignant for me.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t have smoked. I would’ve gotten deeper into playing the guitar. I would’ve eaten healthier younger.
After years of working at it, you’re starting to really break in the US and elsewhere. That Lorde comes along and she’s a hit straight off. Dagger eyes or “good on her”?
Good on her! There’s this perception all musicians want to be famous, want to break big somewhere. I’d love to be that guy that exists on the precipice but makes money and is successful enough to work and travel without the pressure of hit songs and preconceptions about how I should sound and be – due to overly obsessed media and fans. I like my level. Any pressure is self-induced, and I can barely handle that. I wouldn’t survive otherwise. The position I’m in is a really special one I truly feel grateful for. There are no complaints here.
AUTOMATIC, Ladi6 (Question Music/Universal), released August 16.