SOCIAL STUDIES: An interview with Sy Smith, Hardest Working Woman in Underground Soul
John Richards (Twitter: @jrichards202) | 6/7/2012, 3:41 p.m.
Singer/songwriter/producer/ and all around Jane-of-all trades, Sy Smith has created an impressive and diverse resume while establishing herself as a mainstay in the underground soul music scene. Some may know her for providing backing vocals for the late Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan and Usher on tour; The Ricky Minor Band on American Idol; contributing her voice to the THQ video games Saints Row and Saints Row 2; while others will know her for her recent work with The Foreign Exchange, Zo! as well as her latest album, Fast and Curious.
Described by her "musical brother" and collaborator Zo! as a "perfectionist", Sy and her sound are ever evolving, constantly moving forward. Sy took some time out of her busy schedule to speak with The Washington Informer to discuss her musical influences, reality television and her upcoming tour with Zo!
Washington Informer: Singer, songwriter, producer. If you could only do one, which one would you choose?
Sy Smith: Aww man, don't do that to me, that's hard. That's a horrible question. Oh God [laughs].
Washington Informer: The question are supposed to be hard, they're supposed to make you think.
Sy Smith: That's a really hard one...It's really hard to separate the three of those things though because even if I'm signing, chances are I'm making extra stuff on the side, which means I'm still writing.
Washington Informer: And more than likely you're singing a song that you wrote?
Sy Smith: Right, or, or arranging or producing my own vocals, like, on the spot. It's a rare day if I ever perform the song the same way twice.
Washington Informer: Okay. So all the above?
Sy Smith: Yeah, yeah.
Washington Informer: Ok, that's a safe answer.
Sy Smith: [Laughs]
Washington Informer: Who are some of your musical influences?
Sy Smith: I'm from out here (Washington, DC) so definitely the sound that Chuck Brown is responsible for creating in this area. I was really influenced by Michael Jackson's vocal arrangements and stuff like that. And then any band that had lots of horn players, I was really in to. I kinda always pictured myself, vocally, as sort of sounding like a horn, the trumpet especially [laughs]. So I was really into bands horns; Earth, Wind, and Fire, old Cameo, Commodores, Bar-Kays and stuff like that. And you know, like back in the day how the Go-Go bands had big horn sections too.
Washington Informer: While you were at Howard University, you played in an all girl Go-Go band. Did you ever play with Chuck?
Sy Smith: No I never played with Chuck. I played in a band with Sweet Cherie who played with Chuck. It was an all girl band back in the day called Royalty. Way back in the day, I played keys (keyboard) and sang.
Washington Informer: Are you originally from this area (DC)?
Sy Smith: I was born in New York and I was raised here.
Washington Informer: Two cities with very rich musical histories. How did the different areas influence you musically?