Thoroughly Modern Andra Day
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALEKSANDAR TOMOVIC
If singer/songwriter Andra Day looks familiar, perhaps you’re one of the millions of people who’ve fallen in love with her intimate and charmingly-DIY YouTube performances this past year. Showcasing her unique blend of jazz, soul, doo-wop, rock, and hip-hop, these online videos – a mix of Day’s own work, along with some truly inspired covers (Muse) and mash-ups (Amy Winehouse and Lauren Hill) – have earned her A-list fans the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, and made the statuesque stunner from San Diego one of the hottest new acts in the music business. Call her ingenious, call her a web sensation, but please, don’t call her an overnight success…
“I hear that all the time, people saying, Oh, this happened so quickly for you! When actually, this is 10 years in the making!”
Ms. Day isn’t complaining, she just finds the chatter quite amusing – indicated by her infectiously booming laugh – and remembers a time when she herself would have believed it. “When I was younger, I used to have the same mentality. I used to think, I just need to go be in a specific area and it’ll all just happen! But as I went through the motions [of performing and recording], I began to realize that just like any other industry, you have to put as much into [this business] as you want out of it. Some people want to be a doctor, so they have the process of Med School and properly learning their trade. It’s the same thing with music.”
The Warner Brothers Recording Artist would know; she spent four years learning her trade at San Diego’s prestigious School of Creative and Performing Arts, a high school not entirely unlike the one immortalized in the 1980 film Fame, she admits. “There were ballerinas in leotards dancing in the Quad and music coming out of a lot of the classrooms at all times.” But she’s also careful to note that “it was equally as strong academically as it was artistically.”
That’s because Day doesn’t mince words when discussing the value of education and hard work in achieving your dreams. It’s part of the reason why she laughs off talk of overnight success, but more importantly, why she has little in common with artists who use social media solely to promote themselves.
“There’s such a thing as over-sharing, and some things really need to remain private. I don’t want to put all that stuff out there just for attention. I’d rather do it if it’s gonna motivate someone. Sure, there’s always those people who feel that they have to pull more out of you, but you can choose to share as much as you want, and if you’re honest with people, and you’re doing it to inspire them, then I think you can’t go wrong.”
The same philosophy guides every professional step that she takes as well, from the lyrics that she writes to the covers she chooses to perform. In fact, Day credits her own inspiration – in this case, divinely granted – with helping her to compose deeply personal songs like her current favorite to perform, “City Burns.”
“That song came about because so much started happening in my career. I got interest from different labels and even Ellen DeGeneres, and after getting off the phone with her at one point, I was so excited and it was so overwhelming that I kind of dropped to my knees and just started praying because I got nervous about the idea of moving forward in this crazy world and losing my foundation in God. It’s very special to me for that reason…but also because Stevie plays harmonica on it!”
That would be the legendary Stevie Wonder, just one of the musical icons that Ms. Day has become acquainted with during this past whirlwind of a year. Mary J. Blige, whom she opened for at The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January, would be another. “That was the most memorable night of this past year for me. I got to watch Mary J. perform, and then I was dancing with her while Idris Elba was deejaying, and I decided that we were best friends now. It was incredible!”
Of course, there’s also Ziggy Marley, who adds even more Reggae flavor to the first single off of Day’s upcoming album, a jazzy summertime delight called Coolin’ in the Streets. She explains how that came about. “My producer and I were in the studio just listening to the song and loving it, and we were like, Man, it would be so cool if we could actually get a Marley on the song! Fortunately, I have a producer who’s just crazy enough to make that phone call.”
It helps when your producer is none other than Adrian Gurvitz, a man whose name you might not know, but whose fabled resume in the music biz certainly precedes him. Just ask Ms. Day. “He’s a genius. He’s worked with everyone from Buddy Miles to Jimi Hendrix, Whitney Houston to Kenny G – he just has this incredible depth of music. Honestly, I’ve grown up working with him; he’s such an inspiration to me.”
There it is again, that word: inspiration. It seems to follow Andra Day no matter where she goes, guiding not just her life and music, but also her iconic style (soon to be featured in a Gap ad as part of their popular ‘Lived-In’ campaign). Of her look, she says, “it comes from my upbringing, going to art school and the type of music that I’m into. I love a lot of jazz, I love doo-wop, I love Motown, so I became enveloped in that era, and I love the look of the 50s. I think it’s just so fun and so playful; you can do so much, and then I kind of ghetto it up a little with all the jewelry and chains.”
A mix of technique, tradition, and a thoroughly modern swagger. How can you not be inspired by Andra Day?
Look for her much-anticipated debut album out later this year.
PHOTOGRAPHY ALEKSANDAR TOMOVIC / WWW.ALEKANDSTEPH.COM
STYLING CANDICE LAMBERT AT MARGARET MALDONADO
MAKEUP EMILY GARRIDO USING URBAN DECAY
HAIR SIENREE AT CELESTINE AGENCY USING RENE FURTERER
LOCATION HQ AVALON studios
Production Bello Media Group | WORDS BY BRAD LIBERTI