Catching Up With Jean Baylor
Many of you may remember singer/songwriter/producer Jean Baylor as a memeber of the 90′s R&B duo Zhané. Since then, Jean has built an impressive résumé as a solo artist. In 2007, she released her debut album, Testimony: My Life Story, on the independent label, Be A Light, with her husband and producer, Marcus Baylor and last month she released a Christmas EP called Light Up the World. The album is creating quite a buzz and it’s for good reason, as the songs are not the traditional holiday covers that we’re used to, but instead a fresh perspective of the reasons for this season. The album single is appropriately titled Celebrate.
In addition to her solo pursuits, Jean has been working with several other artists including Eric Roberson, with whom she collaborated on the song For Your Love, from her Christmas EP and the song How Would I Feel from his new album Mister Nice Guy. Jean’s songwriting credits also include work for Mary J. Blige and the Warner Brothers film Of Boys and Men. She also performs with her husband’s band, Free Day.
Jean and I had a great chat about Light Up the World and her future plans.
Mimi: How did your experience with Zhane influence your first solo album?
Jean: I would say that before I was in the group, I was a ballad writer. But, while I was in the group I was exposed to more uptempo writing. Now I’m proficient in both areas. So, that was a great time of development for me and it helped me cover different styles of music now.
Mimi: If you were to describe your experiences as an indie artist in three words, which three would you use?
Jean: empowering, challenging, and hopefully profitable (laughing)
Mimi: Can you tell us more about your new Christmas EP?
Jean: Sure. Light Up the Word was just released on iTunes and we’re getting so much great feedback from it. It was my husband’s (and business partner’s) idea to release a Christmas album and use it as a marketing tool for a future project. We’re probably about 75% done with the next project.
Mimi: Why did you choose Light Up the World as the title?
Jean: There are six songs on the album and it was either between Light Up the World and Celebrate. We kept going back and forth between those two songs and Celebrate seemed more “Christmasy” but Light Up the World seemed more global. We didn’t want to make a traditional Christmas EP. Our idea was to make an original Christmas project because it’s not something that’s done a lot. We just wanted to do something a little different and this is a good time. People are looking for new music to play at their holiday parties.
Mimi: You’ve said that you hope the songs will encourage the spirit of giving love and sincere regard for others. How did you choose the six songs to reach that goal?
Jean: You know what, we didn’t even write any other songs. It wasn’t like we recorded a bunch of songs and then picked which ones we liked the best. My husband and I produced the album along with another producer Dana Sorey and we literally went track to track. It was a little hard core because we were in the studio at 3 or 4 in the morning at times and then back up at 7:30 or 8 in the morning. It was challenging but it was a lot of fun writing and producing the songs.
Mimi: It’s amazing to hear that it came together that way. Is there a song on the album that’s extra special to you?
Jean: You know, I have a special story about the song Praise Song. It was a late night around 2:30 and I was about to go to sleep. Then God was like, “You keep singing for everybody else, when are you gonna just sing for me?” It was like I heard the Lord say that to me and then the vocals of this song just popped into my head. The phrase Hallelujah played in my head just like that. So, clearly I had to get up and record it. That one was literally dropped in my brain (laughing).
I also love the duet that I did with Eric Roberson. When I heard the track, all I heard was Eric Roberson. I said “I’ve got to get that brotha’s voice on this.” It took a minute because he was in and out of the country on tour. But, we were finally able to do it and I really love that song. I hope we get to sing it live.
Mimi: Let’s do a couple fun questions. I’ll say a phrase and you say the first thing that comes to mind.
Jean: Oh brother! (laughing)
Mimi: (laughing) Ok, something you’ll always be grateful for
Jean: My parents
Mimi: Something you enjoy giving to others
Mimi: Something that inspires you
Jean: Hmmm, entrepreneurialism
Mimi: Something you always do whenever you celebrate
Jean: Eat. I love to eat!
Mimi: If you had to part with all of your music except three albums, which three would you have to keep?
Jean: I would keep Stevie Wonder. It’s the one with the song Superstitious. I can remember the name of the album but I can see the cover in my head. The next is Cece Winans’ Throne Room, and probably something Anita Baker. I don’t know what my favorite record of hers is though.
Mimi: What else will you be working on in the coming months?
Jean: In addition to my next solo project, hopefully we’re gonna start recording songs for my husband’s Free Day project. You know, being independent, you have to handle everything yourself. You initiate everything. It’s not like being on a major. You can only do so much at one time. (laughing)
Thanks Jean for a great conversation and for new Christmas music! Light Up the World is a wonderful fit for any holiday celebration. Check out Celebrate and a snippet of For Your Love below.
Jean Baylor – Celebrate
Jean Baylor ft. Eric Roberson – For Your Love (snippet)