On spanning the genres, picking a winning track and covering the greats with confidence
“Most of the time they find me!” I’d always been intrigued how producers and their vocalists found each other so thought I’d ask. “I’ll get a message from Spen or Tommy Davis, and they’ll say ‘hey, we got a great track for you by this cat!'” But it’s not just the big names that Tasha LaRae has time for. “Sometimes I’ll get messages from producers on social media, and I’ll take a listen to the tracks and if I like it, I go for it.” So there you have it; you can be a member of a legendary hip hop group and be one of soulful house’s leading ladies and still give everyone a fair chance. This warmth of spirit is entirely typical as I would discover during our conversation.
Now the lead female singer with Arrested Development as well as an accomplished solo artist and writer, Tasha LaRae’s journey sprang from R&B and gospel origins. “Whitney Houston, Mahalia Jackson, Yolanda Adams, and when I started getting into bands, Earth Wind and Fire and writers like Stevie Wonder, those were my influences.” She also cites Crystal Waters and Barbara Tucker from the house scene as being prominent in her development. Though interestingly she doesn’t claim to have a specific role model, she can pinpoint exactly the moment she knew her life’s work would be in music. “I remember watching the movie Sister Act 2, and watching Lauryn Hill sing His Eye is on The Sparrow. The second she started singing, something just snapped in me and I said ‘that’s what I want to do.’ I wanted to be on the other side of the television and I wanted to be singing.” At this point I had to confess to getting lost in my thoughts thinking of that iconic film scene. Thankfully she’s quick to put me at ease again, chuckling in agreement “oh my god, it was so good!”
Talking of all time greats, before we met I’d been pondering how it must have been a brave decision for her to take on Angie Stone‘s much-loved classic Wish I Didn’t Miss You in 2019. How did she approach covering such a well recognised track? “For me, when I approach doing covers, especially of someone like Angie Stone, I want to keep the integrity of the song and to make sure that whatever it is that I do it matches the best of my ability but at the same time add my little spin to it so I’m not a carbon copy of that artist.” Sound advice, and as usual there’s a practical line of reasoning. “That’s Angie Stone. You don’t get better than Angie Stone! You have to do you. To try and do better than her that just doesn’t make sense.”
Most recently though it’s been her original work that has been causing a stir. Her singing and songwriting collaboration with producer Juan Chousa Friends hit the charts in December 2019 and has been a regular play into the New Year. It’s a work that comes from the heart in more ways than one. “I fell in love with the energy of the track. You cannot deny the energy of that track. And immediately after I had phone call with one of my best friends, and it was one of those moments where I thought ‘I have the best friends in the world!’ And I just wanted to write a song about it.” At the same time, her work with Arrested Development continues, which I had reckoned might risk her getting caught between two stools. She doesn’t have difficulty switching between hip hop and house though. “I’m not an MC, I’m more associated with lyricists when it comes to that aspect of it. What I love about house music is the energy and drive is almost the exact same thing. The difference is just the BPM really.”
As our discussion draws to a close we finish by talking about what the year has ahead, and as I listen I reflect that it’s not just house music that boasts admirable energy and drive. Tasha LaRae is getting out there in 2020. “I hope to get out and about a lot more. I stayed in the studio doing a lot of writing and recording this past year so 2020, out, house parties, having a great time, travelling the world, putting out good vibes.” Including a trip to the UK, I ask hopefully? “Oh yes most definitely! I’m working on a few opportunities right now.”
And on the evidence so far, who would bet against her grasping them?
Martin Gale, February 2020