By: Megan Braden-Perry
New Orleans Hip Hop/Soul artist Willard Hill graduated from Howard University in Jazz and Audio Production, had a hit single on Q93, is Pro Tools certified and produced all but three tracks on his album, Gemini Mood Swings. In this interview, he shares his musical background and lets us know what to expect in the near future.
1. What/who made you go into music?
I’ve been fascinated by music from an early age. Even when I was at St. Aug and playing football, I was more focused on the band cadences than what I was supposed to be doing on the field. My entire family is musically talented in some way but I’m the only one to ever take the path of being a recording artist. When I listen to or am playing a song, I get this energy that’s indescribable. It’s like a drug and I needs my fix!
2. What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
I was all over the place. I’ve always liked older music because of the musicality, but I began listening to Hip Hop heavier at St. Aug. But even then I was listening to Susana Baca and Queen, or I’d have some Steel Pulse mixed in with my Hot Boys. I just love music—all kinds. I just can pick up on the energy and absorb it all.
3. What CD’s are in your heavy rotation?
I’ll have to say that most of my music in my iPod predates the invention of the iPod. With a few exceptions like Washed Out, Kendrick Lamar, Peter Bjorn and John, J. Cole, Frank Ocean and my own album, the music’s all over the place. I’m a program director’s worst nightmare.
4. What sets you apart from other artists?
I don’t really see myself as being apart. I think of music as a continuous stream of sharing through time and space, whether it is life experiences or stylistic influences. We all incorporate what we like into what we make. Having said that, my influences color my sound. I was exposed to so many forms of music as a kid that now I’m fighting to harmonize ‘em all. Jazz obviously, Hip Hop, Soul, Samba, Classical, Gospel, and God knows what else. So I may be rapping, playing the piano or singing Jazz licks over a heavy 808 kick and snare. Ya never know.
5. How is it that you appeal so well to both NOLA and out-of-town audiences?
I’m trying not to come off sounding pretentious, but I think my music appeals globally. Good music has that power. I’ve decided to focus on making “Soul music”… however you want to define that. Some of the stories I tell may have a stronger impact on a New Orleanian, but the energy and musicality is universal—when you put humanity first and vanity last, that is. And by vanity I mean the cars, jewelry, money, and fast women (laughs).
6. Tell me the story of a track or so from Gemini Mood Swings.
The concept for the album Gemini Mood Swings comes from me trying to deal with the duality of life. Just like everybody else in the world, I want to be happy, but it’s hard to turn a blind eye to injustice and suffering. Above all else it’s all coming from an honest place. I would say my favorite track is called “Where I Grew Up,” which I wrote for my mother. I sing the entire song—it’s the only track on my album like that. My mother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s when I was a freshman at St. Aug, so she was spared the pain of Katrina. In this song I describe to her what it was like to see my childhood home torn down and turned into a parking lot. It took me three days to write ’cause I was bringing up so many repressed memories. True story.
7. When was your first time performing in New Orleans?
As a recording artist I haven’t had the pleasure of performing at home yet. I was living and performing in Brooklyn, NY for four years following the storm and never got a chance to come home until recently. Now that my album is done, I have my own material to let loose. I was fortunate enough to meet Wild Wayne from Q93 at the BET Awards and he liked my music and played it on the air. It’s weird ’cause people were telling me they were hearing me on the radio, but I was still in New York. Now that I see that people actually like my work, I can get over my shyness (laughs).
8. Do you have any performances coming up in NOLA soon?
I’ve been working with my cousin Jarred “Nation” Savwoir from the “Liberated Soul Collective” and the “BlackStar Bangas” on some new ideas to bring to the stage. I want to showcase more of my instrumentalist background but still keep the energy raw and unadulterated. My earlier shows were just me and a DJ, which can get boring. I’m looking to bring the new show to the light this spring so I’ll definitely keep you posted!
9. How can you be reached by fans/media?
I’m not huge into social media but I do like to keep up with folks. For anybody on Twitter my name is @WillHill504. Facebook is Facebook.com/WillardHillMusic. YouTube is YouTube.com/WillardHillMusic. And my website is WillardHill.com. I’m usually good about answering folks unless the Saints are playing.
10. When will Gemini Mood Swings be available for purchase (iTunes or hard copy)?
I have one single on iTunes now called “Future Fresh” that I wrote and produced with no samples, for those that still appreciate that. You can find a link to it on my website. The full album will be available in about a month. It’s finished but I want to tweak a few things. I’m sort of a perfectionist.
Willard Hill: “Future Fresh”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbWW3laa_mM&list=UUiuhxsBcvt3GueIxcny5PaQ&index=10&feature=plcp
Willard Hill Live at Southpaw in Brooklyn- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QRo0-6pL_Y&list=UUiuhxsBcvt3GueIxcny5PaQ&index=1&feature=plcp
Willard Hill: “Where I Grew Up”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5E0RoJfDwkY&list=UUiuhxsBcvt3GueIxcny5PaQ&index=9&feature=plcp