Powerhouse vocalist Cheesa first came into our homes on last season’s The Voice. The Honolulu native swept Cee Lo off his feet at her blind audition with her rich and soulful voice. He gushed, “You could go on from here to be everything you were meant to be.” Now at 22, Cheesa has released her debut album Naked via her own independent label. It’s reminiscent of 90’s R&B/Pop vocalists like Mariah Carey and Brandy, and features catchy hooks and sweeping melodies bolstered by vibrant, unflappable beats. Her journey to entrepreneurship and the music industry was by no means an easy one. Her family was plagued by financial hardships, converting their home into an elder care facility and moving themselves into the garage to pay their mortgage. Despite her parent’s initial hesitancy and the strong Filipino traditions which pointed to a more traditional career, Cheesa’s family moved from Hawaii to Los Angeles for her to pursue a career in music. We recently caught up with her to chat about the new album and her newfound exposure.
1. You’re just back from a stint doing shows and press in Hawaii, where you’re originally from. What’s your favorite activity or food spot to hit up when you go back home?
There’s so many things that you can do and so many things that you should eat. But my favorite, and I think a lot of locals can agree, is Kahuku shrimp. You can either go to Romy’s or Giavonni’s shrimp truck. And you also have to hit up THE BEST - Masumoto’s Shaved Ice. What I like to do is go to the beach. It’s quite as simple as that.
2. How old were you when your family moved to LA? What was that transition like for you?
I just turned 16 about 2 weeks before we moved to LA. It was such a culture shock. I went to an all girls Catholic school in Hawaii, so to go to a coed public school [in LA]...I think I had way too much freedom. I kind of wilded out. It’s definitely difficult to adapt.
3. What is The Assembly?
The Assembly is the production company that I’m in. One day we just decided let’s do it; let’s produce songs, make albums, and just go full force with it. We never thought that it would become this serious, so for us to produce a full-length album is really surreal. [It’s] gratifying that we have everything on iTunes and people from around the world are appreciating the music that we put out there.
4. What is your creative experience like? Where do you find the balance within The Assembly, as far as who writes, who mixes, produces, etc?
It’s a very collaborative effort and everybody has their certain niche. I think we mesh well together because everybody has a specific role.
5. You mentioned your brother, Troy who is also a musician and music director, and has toured with the likes of Demi Lovato , David Archuleta, and Cherice (aka Sunshine Corazon from Glee). Is music something that your parents impressed upon you two growing up?
It was something we were introduced to by my dad who also sang when he was young, but it was never really an option to be a career choice. Because my dad sacrificed a lot for us, he was more expecting us to be in the medical field or in law, something more stable, and, from his standpoint, more realistic. He never really wanted to see us struggle because he knew how hard it was to struggle in his own life, living in the Philippines. But after a lot of convincing he agreed to move to LA so we could pursue music.
6. Being from a close-knit Filipino family, did your parents have a reaction to your rather provocative album cover?
[Laughs] I remember the day after we got it, I remember thinking this is really controversial and I was really scared to show my mom. But surprisingly the one that we thought was going to be more mad about it was the one who was more accepting. My dad was like, she’s not really showing anything.
7. Was there a moment or battle for you on The Voice that was particularly challenging?
It was my first time ever doing things on my own. My brother and I have been performing for quite some time as a duo. And as I was in a competition show, social media is such a big outlet for people to express themselves. It’s an open forum for people to talk negatively and positively, and it was my first time seeing all these comments. I don’t think anyone can mentally prepare themselves for that, so that was a big challenge for me. It was like a flashback to times in my childhood where I was bullied, so it was definitely challenging. It actually led to one of the songs on the album “I’m Not Perfect.” I want to inspire people to accept themselves and love themselves despite all the flaws and insecurities. You’re still beautiful.
8. Your single “Crash Boom” (my personal favorite) features Jamar Rogers from your season on The Voice. Are you still in contact with a lot of your teammates/ Cee Lo?
I just recently watched Cee Lo’s show in Vegas, Loberace. Great show! And I do keep in contact with a lot of people, Anthony Evans, Jamar obviously...we become so close being on the show. I’ve gained a lot of good friends from being on that show.
9. Where does the album title, Naked come from?
Naked was not meant to be that controversial. For me Naked meant stripping out the outside layers and the perception that people had of me. It was being able to use this album as a therapeutic journey to reveal my soft side. It was to inspire women, most importantly young girls, because society shows that women should look thin when really all sizes, all shapes, all colors should be accepted. Thats what I wanted the album to be about - for people to accept who they are and not be afraid to show it.
10. How has the post The Voice experience been for you?
I love the show. It gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of great people, Cee Lo and all the other great coaches and it opened doors for me. I would have never gotten the opportunities that I get now to travel around the world and sing, to be interviewed by people like you. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity and now I get to live out my dream.
For more of Cheesa be sure to catch her upcoming summer promo tour on both on the west coast and in Asia. More details to follow on her websites.
With an eclectic style that won’t be tamed, Dezi Paige explores a range of musical styles in her debut, the recently released, Tall Tales. Paige was born to the into a Psychedelic Rock family; she is the daughter of David Getz, the drummer of Big Brother and the Holding Company, where Janis Joplin cut her teeth. With a best friend kind of ease about her, Paige shared with me how her father’s early influence and her world travel have informed her musical styles. I recently spoke with this up-and-coming Rock/Soul artist and asked her 10 questions about her life and her music:
1. What’s in heavy rotation on your iPod right now?
One of my favorites is Tame Impala, Lonersims. Jack White. Ty Segall, with his Twins album. I am loving Beach House. My friend India Shawn released an EP called Origins and my friend Rich King is an amazing artist out here in LA and he released an EP.
2. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town called Fairfax [California], which is in west Marin County. It’s this funky little hippy-dippy town. It’s really special.
3. Your dad famously drummed for the psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company, which also featured an up-and-coming Janis Joplin. Do you find a lot of your influences come from your Dad? Or are you musically spurred by other artists that you might have grown up listening to?
That’s a great question. I think I naturally was influenced by Janis and Big Brother and the Holding Company. [My father] also started me early on The Beatles. Big Brother was probably one of my very very musical first influences. I heard the music from Cheap Thrills like Piece of My Heart, Down on Me, and all those other classic Big Brother songs, so many times just tagging along to these shows when I was little had a big influence on me. That early psychedelic rock.
4. You have this one interlude track on your mix-tape called Beginnings. It’s a clip of a little girl, maybe five years old, which I assume is you, recording with her father. Can you tell me about your first experiences playing music?
Yeah (laughs)! Yeah that’s me, you’re right. Its actually funny, I didn’t realize a lot of people would not realize it was me. I thought it was so obvious. I’m glad you got it. My memories are kind of blurry, but I guess that’s when you could say a started writing and singing. You know, I was like six years old. I would go to the downstairs of our house, that’s where my dad had all his instruments and recording equipment. I remember putting on these big ol’ headphones and sitting there and just kind of singing freestyle -- a stream of thought thing. And he still has all of it.
5. Now I read that you went to UCLA. I’m just going to lay it out there - I’m a USC Trojan, along with many of the other Made Woman ladies. So I’m just going to call a universal truce. But in all seriousness, can you talk a little bit about your time in school - were you a music major? How did you find your college experiences influenced your progression as an artist?
Funny enough I was not a music major, I was a dance major. I was accepted to the World Arts and Culture program at UCLA.
I find inspiration from all forms of art. Especially because I’ve been a performing arts person my whole life. Dance, acting, music, it’s all related to me. It definitely influenced my music. I came back into music about halfway through college. It’s hard to pinpoint and describe but college is definitely a character builder. The amazing thing that I really appreciate I got to do through this program is to go to Senegal to study dance and language there. All these things, you may not realize what it means at the time but there’s a power in it, definitely, it all is influential and inspirational.
6. The name of your debut album is Tall Tales. What does Tall Tales mean to you?
Well, Tall Tales (The Sky is Falling) is the name of one of the songs on the project. It probably is my favorite. That song really meant a lot to me and it embodied a theme that is a thread throughout the project. Tall tales a are mythical stories. They’re lies, but they contain an element of truth in them. I wrote it after I had been in a situation that left me heartbroken. Looking back on love, and the innocence with which you look at love at certain points in your life, and then having that - those dreams - crushed for you. There’s an element of truth sometimes, but it’s not what you thought it was.
7. You have a lot of musical influences on the album and you tread a lot of cover material in your mix-tape as well (Bob Marley, Coldplay). What genre do you find the most fun to perform?
I love all genres and that’s why my project is eclectic, like you said. I love mixing them all. Different styles of music speak to you at different times in your life, different days of your life and that’s why it’s so beautiful. Last year I was in a really rock n’ roll state of mind. That was what really got me going.
8. There is a lot of pigeon holing in the music business, for women especially. You know, “She’s a Britney type,”or an “Alicia Keys type,” or “A Beyonce”, etc, What do you think is important for women to do in order to set themselves apart in the business?
I think for women, it goes for men as well, to set yourself apart think about what do you have to say. What is your voice? What is your contribution? Be authentic. Be honest. I think that will always set you apart. I think there's still too much in the industry of chasing current musical trends when, in my mind, what has always won and stood the test of time throughout the history of music, is an authentic voice.
9. You’ve worked with some great artists already in a relatively young career - JR Hutson produced Tall Tales, you’ve worked with Frank Ocean who just had a huge year with his Grammy noms - Who would be a dream collaboration for you?
As far as producers go, for a long time I’ve really wanted to work with Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson, and also Dangermouse. Greg Kurston. He worked on The Shins last project and does a lot of indie and pop/rock stuff. A dream collaboration would also be Stevie Wonder. He is my idol.
10. Should we keep an eye out for any upcoming shows or tour plans?
I am currently organizing a show, that has been long delayed, for the end of March in Los Angeles. I’ll be posting details on all of my social media sites.
“You can’t wait for someone to deliver your dream.” These are the words of Dawn Richard, and judging from the chat I had with her yesterday, it’s safe to say it’s also her life’s motto. Since just 2005, we’ve watched in awe as the Nolia-bred powerhouse beat out thousands of contestants to secure her spot in the platinum-selling girl group Danity Kane, survived Hurricane Katrina, toured with Diddy himself as part of the super group Diddy Dirty Money, got “dropped” from Interscope (more on that later) and--without skipping a beat--went on to launch her solo career...without a major label. The average person might be exhausted just thinking about the energy that would take. But just this week, we’ve seen her extraordinary efforts validated as her new EP, Armor On debuted at #1 on the US iTunes R&B/Soul charts and her bossy new video, Bombs, has cyberspace buzzing.
I had the privilege of talking to the refreshingly gracious Miss Richard during what must be a whirlwind of a week, and I could just feel excited energy bubbling out of her. “This feels amazing. Out of all the number ones I’ve had, this feels the most rewarding because it’s my baby. It had no features and it was an EP--not even an album. These numbers confirmed everything the movement and the EP is about.”
The heavily conceptual Armor On EP serves as a prequel to Goldenheart, tentatively slated for Fall 2012. Goldenheart is the first of three full-length albums she plans to release over the next couple of years, and to her, Armor was a natural link from Last Train to Paris to the trilogy. “Everybody has watched me go through what I went through: Making the Band, Katrina, Danity Kane, Dirty Money...people have seen the ups and downs of it so I felt like I had to come from an honest place.”
A diehard literary fan, she fashioned this concept like she would a novel. Above all, she didn’t want it to retell a cliche love story. Armor On is a reflection of what she’s gone through in the industry, “How it’s affected me, how I fell in love with it, how it hurt me, and how I’ve armored myself.... Instead of wallowing in self pity, armor yourself and you don’t have to go through it alone.” As for the sound, she wanted to build a “moody, atmospheric, tribal” experience. And she attributes a large part of this musical landscape to Druski, the Grammy-nominated sole producer of the EP. “He’s so phenomenal--he’s a huge part of the EP, it’s really a collaborative effort. I would be like, ‘I’m thinking of a tribal cave party in 2055..go!’ and he’d come back and it would be exactly in my head how I dreamed it.” She expressed that so many producers are worried about making a “commercial” or “radio” record, but “there’s no limits between him and I.”
Growing up with musical influences like Phil Collins (“I’m a Phil Collins junkie!”), Prince, and Bjork, Dawn knew this wouldn’t be a “comfortable” sound. “We took a risk. People don’t hear R&B like this. But I thought, you know, I could be who everyone thought I was, or I could be who I really am.”
And although she’s spent the last few years constantly in the limelight, many of us still may not know much about who Dawn, the woman, really is. Born to a musical family, her father was also a musician and the director of her church choir, and her mother was a dancer who ran her own studio. It’s not surprising that she proudly credits her parents--who have been together 40+ years--for providing the foundation that has served as the launching pad for her success. “[Music] was always a part of my life.” Beyond the music, her mom appears to have instilled in Dawn the work ethic that has fueled her career. “My mother is a champion. She is beyond amazing. I watched my mother work, create a dancing company by herself while teaching... I watched her build up a life for herself and her family for 51 years, lose everything in Katrina and rebuild everything in another place, and do it all with grace. I wish I could be half the woman she is.” From where I’m sitting, it seems like she’s on the right track.
As a 20-something singer, her list of accomplishments is already long. Multiple number-one singles, platinum selling albums, an EP that has now charted in multiple countries... And let’s not forget being mentored by industry veteran and business mogul, Diddy. But as you might imagine, building a career with Mr. “Bitchassness” wasn’t all roses. “It’s like working with anyone who’s a great mind or who is brilliant. It’s difficult, it’s perfect, it’s abnormal, it’s stupid...all the time. Why would it be anything else when you’re dealing with someone who has an empire?” Still, she says “It was everything it needed it to be because it prepared me for now. I hated it then but I’m thankful for it now.”
Her feelings about her split with him and former label, Interscope Records, are positive as well. “I’m so grateful to Puff for allowing me to go pursue my dream.” She said that after it was clear the Diddy Dirty Money project wouldn’t be continuing on Interscope, there was a decision to make. “Just because I decide I’m a solo artist now doesn’t mean I’m next up [on the roster]. There are acts in the works and people who have been waiting for their spot.” When she spoke to her mentor and realized a new album might not happen for a couple of years, “Puff said, ‘I’m sure you want to come out before that.’ So I made a business decision to protect my brand. I prayed to God that he would let me go and [that he would] be the person everyone thinks he isn’t. But you can’t blame anyone for your own success--you have to go fight for it.” She parted ways with the label in 2011 and is proving to show signs of a solid solo career ahead of her.
So what’s next for the songstress? As far as major labels go, Dawn feels like the release of the EP has relieved some of the pressure. “Now the ball’s in our court. At first it was we need this, we need that. Now I feel we can be independent if we want. Right now I’m going to sit back and be a great artist, take the journey as it comes and just move a little bit easier now that we know the plan works. In these seven months I have a #1 EP with no features. It shows that Puff did his job as a mentor and i did my job as a student.” She’d love to collaborate with Florence and the Machine, J*DaVeY, fun. (“I’m loving the new record with Janelle Monae”) and The Weeknd in the future. But her “biggest dream of all” would be to work with Björk.
As for the future of her career, “Success looks like whatever your heart tells you it is. It’s not measured by how many records you sell or how much money you make. I just want to be happy. If God tells me I’m happy then that’s all I need.”
Check out Dawn working it out in the Bombs video below and preview/purchase her EP here.
You might not be able to read a play-by-play in the newspaper or hear the latest updates on TV, but we women are in the midst of a revolution. It has been bubbling for years, and is arguably reaching its height. What I’m talking about is a curly revolution.
Everywhere you look these days, you see women “going natural.” Gone are the days when kinky coifs were simply tolerated or straightened without thinking about an alternative. Big, bouncy, curly hair is being embraced now more than ever. And while to the layperson, curl-rocking may appear to be a purely aesthetic preference, I believe it speaks to a much larger, less superficial trend that’s taking place. Women all over the world are finding it easier to accept their natural, God-given hair assets--instead of regularly frying it in order to fit some cultural norm. Enter: the ladies of Mixed Chicks.
As someone with curly hair myself, I was especially excited to speak with Kim Etheredge and Wendi Levy. They’ve not only helped me get my own curls looking right--but they also represent a huge part of this movement and have spearheaded it in many ways. With a tagline like “a curly revolution” it’s clear they planned to make the world take notice of curly-haired women.
“Mixed Chicks” themselves (Wendi has a black mother and Jewish father, while Kim has a white mother and black father), Kim and Wendi grew up experiencing what one might call...hair issues. Like other curly girls, when they walked down the hair care aisles (in the 1970s, no less) they were faced with what can only be described as product segregation. They could choose products from the “normal” hair care section, but they found that the alcohol in them left their hair a frizzy mess. On the flipside, the hair products from the “ethnic section,” were often too oily and would weigh down their curls.
The solution? For Kim, who grew up in LA with her white mother who has fine hair, the answer was the blow dryer and curling iron. Like many multiracial girls, Kim’s fine-haired mother never really knew how to style Kim’s coarse hair, and straightening it was the best way to make it more manageable. That is, until Kim met Wendi.
Wendi, from New Jersey, had similar issues with her curls, but they were no match for her mother--who was no stranger to coarse, curly hair. She had an arsenal of tricks to help Wendi manage her curls; one of which was a leave-in cocktail she created from numerous hair products. This cocktail became a staple for Wendi in managing her curls. Little did Wendi know, this cocktail would change not only her life, but that of curly girls everywhere.
When Kim and Wendi met, Kim just had to know how Wendi’s curls stayed so moisturized and defined. When she found out about the cocktail, she knew Wendi had something amazing and took her straight to the lab. With no chemistry or scientific background (according to Wendi, “Growing up in the ‘70s with curly hair was our chemistry class”), these ladies developed Mixed Chicks and began selling it out of their garage. “Kim is a hustler,” says Wendi. “She made calls and put me in front of the right people.” A decade later, their press features are extensive, they’ve received celebrity endorsements from the likes of Halle Berry and Macy Gray and Mixed Chicks is distributed in retailers all over the United States and beyond.
Most recently, the adult line was picked up by Target, a huge win in the ladies' book. Target will become the first mass retailer to offer the full line of adult and kids Mixed Chicks products. “We are thrilled to offer Target’s guests the full line of Mixed Chicks products,” said Kim Etheredge, co-founder of Mixed Chicks. “Wendi and I created the brand to be effective on an assortment of tresses, and we feel Target’s guests will appreciate this unique offering.”
But success hasn’t come without a few bumps in the road. Since day one, many have misinterpreted the Mixed Chicks brand to be some sort of exclusive club for a certain hair type--or even skin color. Not so, says Kim: “Every woman in this country is really a Mixed Chick and most have a combination of hair, whether curly or straight. Beauty is often segregated, and we have to educate the people in charge [of this industry] that times are changing and they have to adapt.” To them, their product fills a gap and offers a solution for women whose hair needs have long been ignored.
Beyond the curls, Kim and Wendi’s strong partnership has helped them weather storms, such as the lawsuit they filed last year against Sally Beauty’s Silk Elements line, Mixed Silk. Kim and Wendi were appalled when Sally’s created the product. Mixed Silk’s packaging and claims are quite similar to that of Mixed Chicks, but is sold at a fraction of the price. Hoping to set a precedent in the US, Kim and Wendi made the decision to sue the billion-dollar company. “We’re both Taurus women so we have a way about us. We don’t back down,” explains Wendi. “We both have dominant personalities but we have good hearts. So we get each other.”
What makes their partnership work? According to Kim, “you have to like who that person is and what they stand for.” Wendi adds, “you have to respect them and know that they’ll work hard and be in the trenches with you. Kim and I are similar in a lot of ways but the fact that we have different ideas and don’t always agree is what keeps us creative.”
And that creativity has led the ladies to expand their product offerings greatly from their original shampoo, conditioner and leave-in trio. They now offer products for men, a gentler line for children, and even products for rocking a straight look. “We had to be sensitive to our mission but also what clients need. I had a kid and Kim had a nephew and it inspired new items,” Wendi says. As far as the straight hair products like the flat iron, hair silk and straightening serum, the ladies explain, “even if you do love your curls, some women like to wear their hair straight too--and versatility rocks.”
Inspired by women like Michelle Obama, Gloria Steinem and their own mothers, Kim and Wendi are happy to be part of a multicultural movement which includes beauty products for all types of women. “We don’t have to conform to society. We want women to learn to embrace who they are,” says Kim. With a mission like that, it’s easy to see that these ladies are truly Made Women.
Since I last spoke to the ladies of Mixed Chicks in June 2012, they have had a major breakthrough – and victory – in their lawsuit against Sally Beauty Supply. On November 2nd, 2012, after a nine-day trial, a ten-person jury found that Sally Beauty infringed the MIXED CHICKS® trademark and Mixed Chicks product trade dress. This ruling set a precedent for small businesses everywhere, as the women of Mixed Chicks were awarded $850,000 in actual damages and $7.3 million in punitive damages.
Wendi explains the milestone that was set with the success of the suit: “We do represent a lot of small businesses. You have to stand up for yourself, just like a bully in school. That bully will keep pushing you until you stand up for yourself. I think a lot of these [big] businesses will think twice now. There is a line in the sand that wasn’t defined for a long time. Just because a business has more money doesn’t mean they can wear us out and force us to take a wack settlement.” Still, Wendi admits that the battle wasn't easy. She says, “It really got scary paying the attorney fees for 20 months; we could have spent that money on advertising, on running our business. We were forced to put a lot of our creative ideas on hold.”
Says Kim, “[Winning the lawsuit] was a big relief, obviously. It was a huge stress… It took a huge toll on us physically and emotionally.” Kim, who is pregnant, -- due in early 2013 -- says they are just ready to “focus on the good blessings that are coming our way. Now we’re exhaling. We can get over that fatigue and get going. We’re excited about the New Year. it’s a fresh start for Mixed Chicks.” Congrats ladies!
There is a certain audacity that comes with being an artist. You have to be bold and brave enough to take whatever you have etched in your mind and translate that onto a canvas for the world to see. As someone whose stick figures are hard to decipher, I can’t help but admire the work of a truly fearless artist like Allison Torneros. Coloring the canvas with more emotion than concept, she manages to draw you in with each piece—even her series of just mouths, titled “Mouth Piece,” captures your eye.
Allison found creative inspiration early in life. When she was just two years old she created her first piece of art by sketching her brother’s Cinco de Mayo mask. As time passed, her interest in art grew. Her parents were supportive, but her mother did urge her to draw something besides graffiti-inspired block letters…something more Thomas Kincade-ish. But Allison was hooked. And the gritty appeal of graffiti culture and subliminal dark undertones began to emerge in her work.
In 2006, Allison created a painting called “The City.” Paying homage to her brother who passed away, she says this piece remains her most popular. The piece is a self-portrait that depicts a city extending from her torso. She said she still receives emails from people saying they've had this image tatted on them.
This style that Allison created was uniquely her own and it clearly was connecting with audiences. But she was not quite ready to throw caution to the wind and commit to art as her career path: “I’ve always been a rational-minded person, so I ruled out art as a career. I thought about architecture or design.” So, like a good little realist, she started a branding and design company called Circledot in college. The company was conceived as a mock business for a class, but once she laid out the pieces, Allison realized she wanted to make it a real venture. “It was like a dream board for what I wanted my company to be,” she remembers. Little did she know she would go on to have clients like Disney, Procter & Gamble, DreamWorks and start-ups like–our fav!—the Nom Nom Truck.
Circledot became a success, but after five years in business, Allison realized that success was no substitute for passion. “I was miserable…I had hit rock bottom. Something had to change.” She began to scale down on her design and branding projects and focus only on clients that she was really passionate about. She had learned a valuable lesson, “If you aren’t super passionate about something, there is always someone who will get ahead of you because they are.”
While Allison now devotes more of her time and creative energy to creating her own original works, that lost period has left its mark on her life and her art. Her subjects remain relatively simple--the outline of a woman, a mouth, a hand—but the colors explode from the images. The pretty pinks and bright oranges mask the eerie undercurrents of each piece. From far away the paintings seem beautiful, perfect even. But up close you see the grotesque deformities and flaws marring the faces of her subjects. You are pulled into the painting wondering what else you will discover on a second look. For her, these sinister undertones are reflective of real life people she’s met. “I’ve met a lot of crazy people who are beautiful and put together on the outside, but once I got to know them the illusion fell apart.” Allison says that she is “embracing the creepy” and exploring “the state between the beautiful and the grotesque.” The dichotomy of the two is striking. Viewing the paintings up close reveals that beauty is nothing more than a trick of the light. She says, “I really like ambiguity because it makes me feel weird and I want others to feel weird.” Mission accomplished.
The paintings strike you like vivid snapshots of a dream you've forgotten. Your eyes are drawn to them, looking for clues behind the soft swirls and bright spots. The effect is created by Allison’s process. She first splatters paint around on a canvas and then lets it dry overnight. The next day she interprets the shapes like a Rorschach test to see what she can create out of them. “Over time this is where my aesthetic has taken me. Flowy, organic, fluid. I like to let loose and see where it goes.” If there is one thing she hates, it's a sketch book. She says that if she sketches things out first they come out too perfect. “I welcome mistakes because sometimes that’s when the best things happen.”
Recently Allison got the opportunity to showcase her work at her first solo art show, Streams of Consciousness, hosted by Hold Up Art in LA. Her next show will also be hosted at Hold Up Art and the theme is superheroes. While she considers gallery shows a huge milestone in her career as an artist, the rebel in her is never satisfied. She recently launched a line of apparel with North Face and will be a featured live artist at this year’s Jazz Reggae Fest. But breaking into street art is the next big step for Allison and requires all of her courage. “Think about it…you are tagging buildings and then signing your name.” She plans to take on a tagging project creating a huge wall mural in Venice. Most artists start in the underground scene and then are scouted by gallery owners. Allison is once again shirking tradition and going the opposite route. For Allison--with her unique talents as a business woman and an artist--we can be sure that her passion and creativity will lead her to success. No sketch book required.
Watch Allison in action in the time lapse video below!
This article was originally published on "Wilson's Where To Guide."
This past holiday season in December, I attended Hill Harper and Nate Parker’s Annual Manifest Your Destiny Toy Drive at Drai’s Hollywood.
On a trip to the ladies’ room, I ran into the lovely Brely Evans, who you may remember from her hilarious Twix candy commercial (shown below), her role in Just Wright as Queen Latifah’s friend and who you’ll now see in the upcoming remake of Sparkle, being released this summer.
Her warm, friendly smile was just as radiant as her energetic, bold personality, so I found myself excited to talk with her, rattling off about her acting projects, my blog and everything else. We parted ways, promising to link up again for an interview. And, later on as I caught glimpses of her working her way around the room with such charm and confidence, I knew she was someone with a great story to share.
And what a great story she had!
During our meeting at one of her favorite LA destinations, The Viceroy, Ms. Evans shed light on everything, from how she transitioned from her girl group Emage into films to what it was like working with the late Whitney Houston.
I’ve split up the interview into two parts: this week’s part touches upon her professional endeavors and acting career, and the second part, debuting next week, sheds light on where she “where to’s” in Los Angeles and around the world.
Ms. Evans: Oh my goodness, the experience was a-maz-ing. My wonderful girlfriend Jeanette Jenkins who is a celebrity fitness trainer was like, “Brely! You’re not famous because no one knows you’re alive. We’re gonna produce some videos on you and put it on YouTube. Everyone else is getting famous off YouTube.” So we got a camera crew, we wrote a show out called The Brely Show, and I begin to do these sketches. At the time, Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” was hot. So I was like, “Beyonce? You mean Brelonce? She got it from me!” And we put those sketches up, and it wasn’t like it got 15 million hits, because that’s usually what happens. Mine maybe you know, soared around 2,000, maybe even sometimes, 100, 300, because things started to cook for me around the 300 range. Maybe not a lot of people saw it, but the right people saw it.
And, the story is, when the cast was taping Just Wright, and I affectionately call Dana my – well, Queen Latifah – I call her my big sister. She was laughing at some of my videos on set – this is the story I hear – it’s been passed down so many times. And her and Paula Patton were watching them, and Paula goes, “Dana has this little sister that’s the world’s best kept secret. She dances, she sings. She’s an actress. She’s amazing. Why doesn’t she put her in anything?” Then Dana’s laughing, “Are you talking about Brely? That’s not my real sister.” The director [Sanaa Hamri] happens to walk in and she was like “I have a little one-liner for her.” So they gave me one line.
And in the beginning of the movie while the credits are still coming up, you’ll see me come in with Queen Latifah into the hospital. I play a physical therapist. I come in and I go, “Whatcha gonna wear for your date tonight?” And we both go, “black.” That was my one line.
I got in my trailer and I was like, “Thank you, Jesus! I’m in a film! Oh my god, a huge film!” Got a knock on my trailer door and they were like, “you’ll be here all week. We just love your energy. Can you learn these lines and be ready?” I was supposed to be there for one day, for one line. I ended up staying to the wrap of the movie. My name was CO-WORKER 1 and I went to SABRINA GILLAR, being Queen Latifah’s best friend at the hospital. It was an avalanche. It was great.
Miss Wilson: Did Queen Latifah or the director give you any words of advice on "making it" in the industry?
Ms. Evans: Not really advice, but more so inspiration and telling me, “Girl, you got this. We’re waiting on you. You can do this.” They gave me inspiration and the go get 'em attitude that I needed to succeed.
Miss Wilson: And I read that you were in a gospel stage play with Shirley Murdock and you also worked with Whitney Houston in Sparkle. Was it inspirational as well to work with these women?
Ms. Evans: Can I just say, this is when you’re glad you used to be in a singing group! The Shirley Murdock thing happened first. I had come off the movie Just Wright, gotten home, was like “Oh my Lord, this is great.” My phone rang. It's the director. I had auditioned for this play nine months prior but didn’t get it. He said we’re reviewing our tapes and we would like to have you come in for the lead role and you’re gonna be playing opposite – not come in, excuse me, we’re gonna give it to you – opposite Shirley Murdock. I was thinking, I get to sing onstage with Shirley Murdock. You know her vocals are crazy, right? So I went to Boston and we did this stage play. She’s like another mother. She’s a very spiritual woman. She’s like “God has created in you something that the world needs to see and let them see it. Don’t be ashamed. Be bold and be you, because there’s none like you.”
Now fast-forward to just getting off the movie Sparkle. Whitney Houston. First of all, walking on set and seeing her, you’re kind of like quiet, and you’re like, "Oh my god. That is Whitney Houston." And you’re just kind of watching her every move, seeing how she eats, how she picks up her purse, how she’s talking to people. And then she looks over at you like, “Come here, baby. What’s your name?” And I’m like, “Umm, Brely?” – I turned into a baby. So we’re all loosening up around her and she’ll start singing, playing her gospel music, so we all start singing, too. And she’s like, "do this, baby" [Brely sings a couple of runs]. And we’re singing and she’s telling us how to do different runs. Crazy. And again, she was like, “I’ma call you niece. You my niece.” I was like, thank you!
And Derek Luke? An amazing actor. Just to watch his process and how on set he’s very solemn and quiet. He doesn’t do a lot of talking because he’s in character the whole time. Omari Hardwick, who is super fine. Can I get that on tape? He's about to get married soon, but girl, you know what you got. He’s amazing and loving, and they just embraced me like, oh there’s the baby on the set, because I’m kind of new. But although Jordin Sparks is also new to the film, she did an amazing job.
Working with Salim Akil – you know the Akils obviously from The Game and Girlfriends – T.D. Jakes was on set. I’m just overwhelmed by being a part of such people who have done great things in their career, and that my talent allowed me to be a part of that.
Miss Wilson: It sounds like you had a lot of mentors who took you under their wing. Would you say that’s the norm in Hollywood, or is that something that’s rare?
Ms. Evans: I think it’s very rare, and I think that it is a great necessary for anybody in any industry to have a mentor. I didn’t per se have an up-close and personal one that I distinctly called mentor, but I took those various moments that I was able to interact with someone who was great, and I got any questions out. I asked them their thoughts on what I should do. I did have mentorship moments, but it’s not like I had someone I could just pick up the phone and call and say, hey, you know what should I do here? I didn’t really have that and a lot of us other actors and entertainers won’t have that.
So I just want to encourage everybody, too. That even though you don’t have that, should you pass someone’s way, take that moment to not be scared of them because they’re so amazing. Take that moment. They’re willing to give. It’s just that those are not the typical questions that people ask. I would say definitely seek out mentorship, but if you don’t have one, like I said, take the moment and just use it to your benefit.
Miss Wilson: And do you have any other advice for aspiring singers and actors as well?
Ms. Evans: I would say hone your craft. If you’re a singer, sing all the time. I don’t care if it’s in the car, in the shower. Make yourself available – I don’t care if it’s for Craig’s List to sing for a funeral. Make yourself available to use your gift because really, I think our gifts were given to us by God for others. It wasn’t for our own edification. You should share your gift as often. Share it for free. You don’t want to know how many times I’ve sang for free or how many times I’ve been in a production, acting, for free. Because the money will come. And I know people say that when they got some. No, trust and believe. Struggling as I am, even sometimes today, I still realize that my gift is not my own and work begets work. So if you find yourself working, then somebody else in that audience might say, hey I’d like to hire you for something else. Work, work, work. Just work your craft.
And I would like to assassinate the word “aspiring.” I can’t stand it. You’re not aspiring to be something. You are. You already are. You sing? I’m a singer. I’m not an aspiring singer. You’re an actor. I’m aspiring – no, I’m an actor. Already claim who you are.
Miss Wilson: What motivates you to keep on going, to keep on pursuing acting and singing?
Ms. Evans: The one thing that motivates me are the people who constantly congratulate me. The people who say “I’m watching this” and the people who say “I need you to succeed and you inspire me.” Those are the people that push me to greatness, because I feel like if I don’t do it, I’m doing them a disservice. If I get nervous or scared, then I can’t fully live out loud for them to see that they can do it, too. So it’s really the push from the audience and those who are following my career.
We all have seen Project Runway; it’s clear that being a fashion designer is not easy. That’s why a creative powerhouse like Nikki Lund is so unique. Not only is she a recognizable star in the fashion world (most recently she was seen on Access Hollywood Live) but she also is a talented singer. This creative maven does not slow down. She is one half of “Nikki Rich” (a clothing line she owns along with Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora) and she’s got a solo clothing line and record deal! I caught up with this fashion forward force and discovered a woman who makes her own rules.
Made Woman Magazine: I have to ask, what’s it like to work with Richie Sambora?
Nikki Lund: It’s great. We have a really good partnership. He’s a lot of fun. He’s definitely a gregarious, creative force. I love him!
MWM: “Nikki Rich” is a sister line to WTB (White Trash Beautiful). Tell me about the decision to make a sister line and what distinction is between the two.
NL: The distinction is that White Trash Beautiful is custom and for celebrities; it’s tailored to fit perfectly. These are custom stage pieces for weddings or the red carpet. Nikki Rich is for boutiques and department stores. It’s a very affordable price point for well made clothing.
MWM: Who is your favorite fashion icon?
NL: Diane Von Furstenberg. She is classic and makes an amazing silhouette. Her dresses are so beautiful and feminine. Every season is so beautiful!
MWM: How would you describe your personal style?
NL: My personal style is funky and feminine. I like a little bit of edge while being unique.
MWM: Do you have a favorite color, print or material you like to work with?
NL: As far as prints go, I love plaids. I don’t work with it all the time, but when I can cut it on a bias and lay it in a different way, I love it. It’s got a lot of different faces, it can be elegant, classy, or punk rock. I also love modal, it’s so comfy there’s nothing like it. A maxi modal dress can be dressed up or down. I like to be comfy. I also really love silks.
MWM: How did you get started in the fashion industry? How did you keep your motivation going?
NL: My mother and my grandmother were making patterns since I was little. They were always busy. We made so many dresses, including everything for proms. I grew up around it. Later on, I started working and managing clothing stores. For Christmas I would get fabric. I had a prior clothing line called Eccentric Symphony, and it was then that I was introduced to Richie by an old agent. He reached out to me about collaborating on a clothing line.
I keep myself motivated by staying busy. I have a lot of energy, so I am always on to the next project. I am never bored. You have to stay busy to stay innovative.
MWM: What do you think is the most confident look a woman can create for herself?
NL: I think it depends on the woman and what she is most comfortable in. You have to consider her lifestyle. I personally love a woman in a really nice tailored suit. I love to see that. It exudes power and confidence. It’s classy. But a woman looks best when her outer self reflects her inner self. You have to be comfortable and you have to have good character.
MWM: Do you have a favorite piece you’ve designed?
NL: I have a few favorite pieces for different reasons. One of them is my zipper vest. It’s edgy and it can be sexy. I’ve seen celebrities wear it in different settings. Carrie Underwood wore it --she is such an elegant and feminine girl and to see her in that bolero was awesome.
MWM: Tell us about the current Nikki Rich collection.
NL: It’s very beautiful, very elegant, very sexy, there’s a lot of flowers with different prints. It’s pretty. There’s a little boldness with the color. For the most part it is feminine; it’s affordable. Most everybody can wear it. The Spring inspirations were Indian Summer, a transformation between hot and cold, and the palette really shows that. I love seasons, and the changing of them between the clothes and the colors.
MWM: What trends are you embracing for the current fashion season?
NL: I love the tribal, native look as well as the bohemian look; it’s easy, breezy, with linens and feathers. These are things that are easy to throw on in the summer. I love the softness of dresses with lots of chiffons and tribal prints.
MWM: What is your advice to women looking to break into the fashion industry as a designer?
NL: I would say make sure you are very dedicated and committed to a career. It is a full time job; it’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of adversity. You have to follow your heart, don’t let anybody deter you. Believe in what’s right for you, your palette, your home, your mind, your look. Everything has to be s specific. It is tailored to you as a designer and visionary. It’s hard, the hours are long. It’s a difficult job. It’s not a 9 to 5. It is a lifestyle. You have to live, eat, and breathe fashion. It’s fantastic.
MWM: What are your future plans for your fashion lines? What can we expect from the coming seasons?
NL: Chunky knit sweaters, metallics, and ’70s inspired stuff. The lifestyle of blending art and music are going to be present in the shows that you will see from us. We are working on building a wall at MOCA right now, pairing with street artists and graffiti artists. It looks like it’s going to happen. It’s a very L.A. story. Richie and I support artists in all facets. It will be important for artists to have a wall where they have a place as being historic fine artists.
MWM: What do your clothes say about you?
NL: I think strength. Confidence, strength, the embodiment of self. Wear your clothes, don’t let your clothes wear you. It comes from the inside out. You can’t wear my clothes if you’re going to be slouching your shoulders.
MWM: You also design men’s clothes. What makes a man well-dressed in your opinion? Any advice on how women can help their men look more fashionable?
NL: That’s all personal. In my opinion it’s the accessorizing. It’s all about his final touches and how he puts it all together. That to me is what makes a man well-dressed, that and how it’s tailored and how he carries himself. Swag and attitude have to be on. I love all the bells and whistles on a man: his jewelry, his scent. Finding out what it is that he really likes, not necessarily what he would want to wear for you. You have to find out how to make his clothes work for you. Ask him who he wants to look like. Ask him how he wants to look. From there, help him put it together At to Z.
MWM: Any other words for the other Made Women other there?
NL: Dare to be different. Dare to be yourself. Rock what you got. Women -- it doesn’t matter what size you are. Feel confident, feel sexy. Just dare to go the extra mile to make yourself feel hot.
You may have heard words like "down economy," "high unemployment" and, oh, I don't know, "recession," thrown around these days. In lay (wo)men's terms: it's real out there. If you happen to be searching for a job right now, like 99.9% of my friends, you know just how real ish actually is. In times like these, getting an interview can seem like getting Wonka's golden ticket. So when you do get in front of that recruiter or hiring manager, it's imperative that you do something to set yourself apart. Enter: Brag Book.
Bragging. The very word conjures up a visual of that douchey guy who cornered you at a party last week, going on and on about his (daddy's) money and all the places he's been. Or maybe the weird dude at the networking function who tried to wow you by dropping the names of all his industry connections. Yuck and yuck. As a woman, bragging probably strikes you as something you just don't do. You'll just let your hard work do the talking. But while bragging may immediately have a negative connotation, I urge you to read on before you swear it off entirely. In this case, I think it's smart to take a cue from our (non-douche) male counterparts.
A brag book--or professional portfolio--is a helpful tool for showcasing your unique talents. Beyond a resume, on which we've all stretched the truth a bit, a brag book substantiates your accomplishments. So if bragging isn't second nature to you, now you'll have a sort of prop to help you convey your strengths. No matter what industry you're in, or the stage of your career, I'm confident that you can put a brag book to use in your job search. Not searching yet? Start putting one together now so it's not a mad dash to Kinko's the morning of the interview. Plus, it's great to have on hand at annual review time, or when you're shooting for that promotion or raise. In these cases, a little bragging goes a long way. You can thank me later.
A good way to start is by looking at your resume, which you've hopefully used to highlight your collegiate and professional achievements--not just your job duties. Note each accomplishment and find documentation to support it. Earned a special award at your university or on the job? Include a copy of it. Received a great thank you from your boss after you nailed that project? Now's the time to show it off. Here's a list of items you should definitely include:
This by no means is an exhaustive list of items, as it varies by industry and job description. With more creative jobs you can be a little more, well, creative, but its always good to err on the side of keeping it professional. Make sure to place items in reverse chronological order, so the hiring manager sees your most recent accomplishments first. Print everything on quality paper and place them inside a nice binder. Again, if you plan to leave the book behind after the interview, keep your budget in mind. If you're computer-savvy (or have a willing techy friend), an online version can be a great option too.
In today's job market, differentiating yourself from the next candidate can mean the difference between scoring the role and applying to another zillion jobs. Or getting paid a fraction of what you deserve, while Mr. Name Drop gets a raise. Use your brag book to show how hard-working and professional you are right off the bat. And leave the name-dropping to the weird networking dude.
You never know, this may be the year that you land that once-in-a-lifetime job you’ve been waiting on for far too long! So, are you prepared to get that call from a top company that wants to add you to their employment roster? Would you know how to dress-to-impress for the interview or how to best answer an interviewer's questions so that you stand out amongst the competition? As a Talent Acquisition Manager (a swanky title for Recruiter) at one of the leading entertainment companies in the world, I want you to do your best during an interview so that you can sign that coveted offer letter and secure the job of your dreams. Here are a few tips that are sure to increase your chances of sealing the deal:
Girlfriend, those stilettos, jeggings, noisy charm bracelets and dangling earrings might have looked fabulous at the Summer Soiree, but be sure to leave them in your closet for the next night out on the town. For an interview, you want to have a basic, conservative look--the less flagrant distractions, the better. An interviewer should be more attracted to your bright eyes, welcoming smile and confident persona than to your wardrobe.
Please avoid looking at your resume and reading from it during your interview. The first step to impressing the interviewer is to know on-demand all of your experience. You shouldn't have to glance at the paper in front of you to explain the depth of your professional fabulousness.
Never speak negatively about your current or previous employer. It's just like going on a blind date--the last thing that your date wants to hear is all about the disastrous last relationship that temporarily drove you insane.
We have all had that interview where you really vibe and connect with the interviewer. Remember, even if you establish a commonality to break the ice, he or she is not your friend and you are still in the hot seat. You want a job from this person, so always maintain a high level of respect and professionalism.
Be able to recognize the job that you are ready for today. Sure, your mama thinks that you are the smartest person in the world, but landing the right job has less to do with smarts and more to do with progressive experience. True, you may have what it takes to learn the VP level job, but the current skillset on your resume reflects that you are assistant level. While it is great that you are ambitious and trainable, an employer is looking to hire someone who requires the least amount of training and is experienced enough to walk onto the job and do it. Don't be discouraged; instead, get in on the level for which you currently qualify, put your best foot forward and rock it straight to the top, girl! A good boss will recognize your potential, and if you're patient and demonstrate a tremendous work ethic, growth opportunities are inevitable.
In this economy, getting a job is not an easy task. Still, when an opportunity does come knocking, if you abide by these tips, you will be better prepared to seize it. Here's to a brand new outlook and to landing that brand new gig!