Q&A w/ Joyo Velarde of Quannum Projects

Categories: Q&A
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Joyo Velarde is taking a break from being everybody's back-up singer. After incessant touring with Jurassic 5, the Living Legend Crew, Blackalicious, Michael Franti, Zion I, Ozomatli, and husband Lyrics Born, among many others, the classically-trained, Pleasanton-based, Quannum Projects vocalist finally released her debut solo album, Love And Understanding, last month.

Velarde has worked on Love And Understanding for years in between other people's tours.  The album's first track, "Mama's Got A Brand New Swag' (So Exquisite)" blasts like James Brown and sets the pace for the rollercoaster of funk and soul to come. The disc also offers spunky collaborations with artists like Philly's RJD2 and the Bay Area's own Asa Taccone. Lyrics Born of course brings his expert rhymes and vocal production to the record too.

All Shook Down recently chatted with Velarde about her training in opera, old school karaoke machines, and what it's like working in the same business as your hubby.

Where does your name come from?

My full name is Joy and as a nickname people always called me Joyo, so it stuck.

How did you get into singing?

As a young girl, I started out with piano lessons. Piano lessons morphed into singing [after] my father brought home a karaoke machine one day. When [karaoke machines] first came out, they were like eight-track machines, and he plugged it in and that was it. I was like, "Forget piano, I'm singing!"

I read that you studied classical voice training in Rome, how was that?

It was amazing. My parents were kind of upset because the opera program coincided with when I graduated from college, so I didn't get to walk or do the actual ceremony, but I didn't care.

Why did you stop singing opera?

After the program I loved it, I was super excited. Since I had my BA already, I was like now what? So I enrolled in a program at San Jose State and was there for maybe a couple months and it just wasn't the right fit. I still love classical music and I still love opera.

How did you get into R&B singing?

I've always loved that genre of music. I mean, I'm a product of the '80s. I think this album is definitely tinged with '80s influences.

How did you meet Lyrics Born?

We met in college at Davis. He was a year ahead of me. When I was a freshman I wanted to work at the radio station KDVS. They said ok, fine--you have to put in something ridiculous, like 16,000 hours, of volunteer work in order to have your own show. And silly me, I actually thought I had to do it. So I did all the grunt work. I was sitting in the lobby of the radio station alphabetizing records, and he walked in. He claims that he saw me and he was like, "Yup, I'm gonna marry her." I had a boyfriend at the time and I wasn't attracted to him, but that's how we met, and we became really good friends.

So did you ever get your own radio show?

No! I actually gave up. I just couldn't do all the work!

When did you and Lyrics Born start collaborating on music?

One of his first pick-up lines was, 'Hey, I own a record label,' which he did, cause he and his friends started Quannum Projects in college. They used their student loan money to start the label. I thought it was just a pick-up line. I didn't know he was serious about it. They actually had this great label in the 'burbs. And it wasn't until he played me one of his first singles that I was actually like, "Wow, this stuff is good." It was Latyrx--himself and another rapper called Lateef the Truthspeaker. The very first thing I recorded with him was a song called "Balcony Beach."

What it is like working together?

It's awesome. When we first started collaborating we were both growing into ourselves as artists. We both thought we knew everything, so of course we butted heads on some creative projects early on, but I think we've definitely grown and we understand each other's sensibilities, you know? So it's amazing to be able to work with him, just to bounce ideas off him. Often times now we'll be listening to something, and we'll already know what we're thinking of.


What musicians do you look up to as artists?

Anything and everyone. Going back to the whole soul and R&B genre, I like Chaka Khan and Minnie Ripperton. I think a lot of my singing influence is drawn from them.

If you could work with anyone in the music business right now, who would it be?

I've always wanted to do a rock record. I would love to work with Jack White. I'd also love to work with Kanye West.

What inspires you to write music?

You know, this interaction we're having--life really--and lots of times things that happen to friends of mine or things that happen to me. Just anything. I had a teacher once tell me, when you write, you write with your heart first and then you edit later.

What song off your new album is closest to your heart?

There's a song called "Feels Right" that talks about me growing into myself--not only as an artist, but as a woman and a wife, and now as a mother.

What other local artists do you like?

There's so many. Goapele, and a lot of hip-hop groups like Crown City Rockers. The bass player for Crown City Rockers, Headnodic, produced one of the songs on the album called "Certain Special Way."

What has been your favorite collaboration so far in your career?

Actually, it's on the album. It's one of the few songs I co-produced, called "On and On," and it's the very last track. I worked with Nelson Braxton. He and his brother are actually pretty famous jazz musicians. Being able to work with him was more of a departure for me. I was able to focus on the jazz and singer-songwriting aspect of the record. It was great.

What have you learned about yourself through making this album?

That I want to work faster. You know how the saying goes, it takes a lifetime to write your first record and then a year to write the second. I definitely feel that was the case with this. It was years and years of amassing things, ideas and concepts. And touring with groups like Lyrics Born and others delayed the recording process, so by next record I want to be able to crank stuff out faster.

What were the two studios you recorded Love and Understanding at, and what was it like recording at each?

One was our own home studio and the other one is a studio in Oakland. The nice thing about working at home is the commute is amazing. And the nice thing about working in a dedicated studio space is that [it feels like] "Ok, this is work" and you have to set up time and you're on the clock. Both have their positives.

When's the next record coming out?

I'm just working on new material. You know, trying to figure out the direction. I want it to be a definite progression. I don't want to do the same thing.  I think I want the next record to be more dance-y.

What are you looking forward to this year?

Really crafting my live show. I don't know if you've ever seen a Lyrics Born show, but he's got one of the most amazing live shows around, and I really want mine to be of that caliber.

What's so good about it?

I think it's just from years and years of honing and working out transitions. It's just got an amazing range. You can put us in front of any audience and by halfway through the set, we've won them over. I want to be able to create that kind of a set too.

You exude so much confidence in your music, how have you gotten to be that way?

Just practice. I mean I think I'm still finding myself as the lead vocalist. I'm still finding where I feel comfortable in my body on stage. After doing background vocals for years, it's exciting and scary to be up front. Every time I do a show I'm more like, "Oh, now I can see what I need to work on, and now I can't wait to do the next one!"

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