Sandra St. Victor is one of the most unique, exhilarating and free-spirited musical forces of her generation. She’s a prolific songwriter, an incredible songstress (classically trained) and a force to be reckoned with on stage. The Dallas, Texas born, Holland based singer/songwriter is a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School of the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, which churned out fellow stars Erykah Badu and Roy Hargrove. St. Victor moved to New York in the early 1980s to join Roy Ayers and his touring band, Ubiquity. It was not long before she found work singing and touring with everyone from Chaka Khan to Freddie Jackson and Glenn Jones. Through singer Lisa Fischer, Sandra met Peter Lord and Jeffrey Smith, and the kindred musical spirits united to create the progressive and critically acclaimed group The Family Stand. In 1996 she released her solo album Mack Diva Saves The World on Warner Bros., and in 2001 St. Victor released Gemini: Both Sides independently. In 2010 she released SSV’s Sinner Child, a collection of soulful dance floor anthems. As she prepares to release her Shanachie Entertainment debut album, Oya’s Daughter, produced by Mark de Clive-Lowe and mixed by producer/mixologist Ty Macklin, St. Victor recently took a moment to talk to SoulTrain.com about the new album.
SoulTrain.com: What’s the concept behind the album and the title Oya’s Daughter?
Sandra St. Victor: I was originally going to call it Spirit Talk. Toward the end of the recording process I decided to do sort of a cursory Googling of “spirit talk,” and there was just a lot of stuff coming up that was just not what I wanted to represent. So that told me that I need to more succinctly define what spirit am I listening to. So then I had to do some deep meditation on where that’s coming from and what are the elements that are being shown on the album, and it became Oya. Oya is an Orisha who’s the owner of the winds, storms, change, and upheaval, a protector of children…so many of the elements that I’m talking about on this record. I really, clearly saw it as Oya wishes. So even when I was at the point of the song “I Prefer” I was like, ‘this is certainly Oya’s song.’ So that’s why I had to put that “Oya, Oya” in there because it clearly sang what she sees as the evolution of where we need to go–where we are going to go, speaking from that other place. Of course I’m not saying that I am Oya, but I do believe that energy has many children, one of which I am.
SoulTrain.com: Many of the songs on this album seem to lend themselves to a live performance. Were the songs recorded straight in the studio with your band?
SSV: They were recorded with my band in L.A. and in the Netherlands–you know how we do it nowadays, when people are spread out all over the place. But then the impetus is on the producer and the songwriter Mark and myself, to give it the organic feel that it needs. Of course you have to start with the right song, a good song, and then you put the elements together to keep it organic and to keep it pure.
SoulTrain.com: Being in the industry as long as you have, you’ve seen the progression of how records are made. How do you prefer to record?
SSV: I’m relatively easy. I’ve heard a lot of cats yearning for the old days, everybody in the room writing a song together. I don’t necessarily have to do it that way. I don’t mind that, but sometimes it’s better for me to write the song in solitude because then I can really hear better; I can hear my thoughts and my feelings, so I don’t mind that. Of course, we’ve done both and I’m cool with either way of creating, but certainly when it comes down to that lyric I want to have my head space and my heart space.
SoulTrain.com: “Stuff Momma Used To Say” is a really funky track.
SSV: That’s my favorite one! It means a lot to me.
SSV: Well, my mom met my middle child when she was one, and she (my mother) passed away when my baby was four months old, so she never met her. I live in the Netherlands and I come back to Texas not as often as I should obviously, so with living there, all they have from my side of the family is me and my oldest daughter. So I just wanted them to have some more of the energy that I grew up with–some of that South Oak Cliff “get in the house before them street lights come on!” [laughs] That’s how I talk to them and no one else around them talks like that in the Netherlands obviously, so I’m giving them some of the flavor of what I grew up with. So I sat down and I wrote down word for word stuff my Momma used to say, all of it, and stuff she used to do and I even imitated her voice. I just wanted them to at least have her vibe on that song, so the choruses are my three children’s names, and it’s for my kids just to have some of my country, southern family energy in their life.
SoulTrain.com: The song “Presence” is a really intense ballad and you did some serious vocal riffs on that one.
SSV: Oooh, I meant that…I ain’t even gonna play!
SoulTrain.com: What was the inspiration behind that song?
SSV: Well, all relationships evolve and change, but being in one where you really don’t feel the person’s presence at all anymore, where that connection you used to have is non-existent and it feels like you could just walk away and nobody would be in pain. The chemistry between you, it always evolves but the connection that you share if you’re still in love is always there, it just moves; it changes into something more beautiful and stronger usually. But sometimes it goes in the other direction, and if it goes in the other direction, you don’t feel the person anymore. So being in a relationship and at that point where you are trying to implore your partner to come back home and it’s not like they’re out there doing anything, it’s just like, “Where are you, I’m looking right here at you and you are not here, I don’t feel you.” So the beginning of the song is there, I’m trying to get you to be here with me. By the end of the song I’m like, “You know what, you got to get it together ‘cuz guess what? I could be gone like five or six minutes ago.” So it’s a very real song. I write from the vantage point of personal emotion and that’s where that came from.
SoulTrain.com: In addition to the band Family Stand, you’ve worked with some legendary artists like Chaka Khan, Curtis Mayfield and Roy Ayers. How did working with them prepare you for what you’re doing in your career now?
SSV: Wow, I learned so much I’ve been to music and music biz and music life university. I got a PhD three times over from just being around these amazing artists and very interesting characters with depth and watching them go through their thing. I actually lived with Chaka for a while and was damn near living with Roy because we were on the road so much. It’s really been a gift because I think kids now–a lot of the new “star” kinda folks–a lot of them became famous from a television show so it’s almost overnight. It’s like, they didn’t really get to grind, man, they didn’t really get to develop themselves or watch the people that have done it, do it. I think that lessens the perception of the reality of what you’re doing and who you are and how you go about it. And then I think it becomes harder to focus and to stay pure with art. Of course we are living in a different time and hyper-capitalism has totally taken over America; that doesn’t help. When I was coming up many artists on the radio were socially conscious and active. Who is socially active and conscious on the radio? Who, who…anybody? A show of hands? [laughs] And it’s a little frustrating, but I think growing up and listening to what I listened to and then having some of those people that I listened to be in my life and being able to sit and talk with them and have them support me and encourage me, I got the strength. My backbone is fierce! My strength, my resolve and my confidence about who I am as an artist, it ain’t based on a record sale, it’s not based on radio play, so I don’t need that to feel righteous. I think with a lot of our younger artists today, that is their validation, and that’s temporary. But I learned a whole hell of a lot from the cats that brought me up, and that’s something you never forget. I’m ever grateful. I don’t ever want to misuse or abuse those moments and those gifts, and I won’t.
SoulTrain.com: This album is on an indie label, Shanachie Entertainment, but you’ve released albums totally independent and you’ve been on major labels. Specifically when it comes to the majors, what are the pros and cons?
SSV: Yeah, there are definitely those! Honestly, I think Shanachie is the best of both worlds and I’ll tell you why, because I’ve been on major labels and everything is taken care of. Basically all you have to do is sing and create and then you hand it over and basically it’s out of your hands. Then whatever is gonna happen, happens; and it better happen fast because then they’ve got to move on. So that’s the major con. Then I’ve done the total independent thing where I put it out myself with Gemini: Both Sides, and then you realize how much putting a record out entails. So I had to make a little schedule for myself like, “Okay, Monday I’ll be the promotions person…Tuesday I’ll do radio…Wednesday I’ll try to reach out to fans…Thursday I’ll do interviews and Friday, maybe I’ll write a song…” So I really had to try to divide myself and that’s exhausting and it’s actually quite taxing on your artistry; it’s really hard to do well. And now with little kids and a family it’s next to impossible; but having Shanachie, they’re a label so stuff is taken care of. I don’t have to worry about trying to get records to the stores, I don’t have to call radio stations, and I don’t have to reach out to press, so that piece is done. But they’re also a small enough indie label that I can talk to them, I’m involved with the process, and I know what’s going on. I’m clued in and I can help them help me. That feels really good.
SoulTrain.com: Would you ever consider signing with a major label again?
SSV: It would have to be a deal that they don’t even do anymore, because I don’t trust them and it ain’t about money for me. It’s about what are you going to do with this record because when I make a record it’s like a child, and handing your child over to somebody for them to put it in the refrigerator [laughs], it’s weird. So I don’t trust them anymore and I don’t see where they would be down to put any sort of comfort in a contract that would make me trust them with my baby. So I don’t see that, I really don’t. I mean, I’m never one to say never but at this second, honey, I don’t see it. No.
SoulTrain.com: Looking back on your days in Dallas as a young artist, did you ever have any doubts about how your career would turn out? Did you envision it as it is?
SSV: I actually knew when I was eight years old that this was going to be my life. I had all kinds of visions as we do growing up, of how it was going to be, but I did know at the age of eight that I had to sing and I had to express myself that way. I’ve never had a thought that this is not what I was supposed to be doing. Of course there are frustrating moments over the years and times when you might want to give up, but the core of me is never that. I’ve just kinda always known that this is what’s happening and this is where I’m going to be. This is going to be where I do my thing. And as long as I can do it to the best of my ability, which means being as honest as I can, then I’m going to be okay. I’ve always known that.
Montrose Cunningham is an independent funk/rock/soul artist and devoted music aficionado residing in Dallas, Texas. When he isn’t digging through the crates–digital and analog–he’s jamming with his band or hanging with his daughters, sometimes at the same time. Purchase his latest release “Inertia” at www.cdbaby.com/cd/montrose, visit him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter @MontroseC. Check out his blog, Daddy Rock Star, at www.daddyrockstar.tumblr.com.