The city of Philadelphia is filled with so many musical talents that can simply be described as dope. It’s amazing to watch these artists of different genres find creative was to capture the struggle of their beloved, edgy, blue-collar city with music. Take for instance soul singer Jacqueline Constance, a Mt. Airy songbird who has been making a name for herself in the City of Brotherly with her voice for the past seven years.
Trained in classical music during her time time at CAPA, Jacqueline Constance used those vocal skills to create soul music and with her debut album The Jacqueline Constance Show. In the time since, with the assistance of her looper, and other bits of electronic music technology, the soulful songstress found a way to expand her sound and keep her name known in the local music scene of her city. Recently we were able to sit down with Jacqueline and talk about her beginnings as a singer, how she got into looping and the moves she has planned for the future.
The Key: You said that your mom signed you up for a talent show when you were 9. What was that experience like?
Jacquline Constance: That was my first time performing and singing in front of people ever in life. I always knew I could sing, always knew this was something I could do, but never something I would do. So she signed me up, and I did it, reluctantly. I liked it, but even after that, I didn’t really quite pursue it, I wasn’t really into singing in front of people, it’s one of those things where you’re at a family function and your mom is like “Sing in front of ya aunties and cousins” sort of thing. It’s funny because I applied CAPA to become an instrumental major because I played the trombone for a couple years and was really good at that and they told me they had no more room for instrumentalists, “but we have vocal auditions you can try.”
Since I knew that I could sing a little bit. I tried it and thought “I’ll switch over to instrumentalist if I got accepted.” I auditioned, got in, became a vocal major and stayed with it, but even still, I was like if I was going to do this, I was going to do classical music, operas and musical theaters. I got to college, Wilberforce University, that’s when I thought that this contemporary thing could work. I was in a music collective called My Soul, it was like eight of us making music. We put it out and people enjoyed it, and it was then where I was like “Ok let me try this out and see if I like it”…because I’m all about trying something out once to see if I like it and if I don’t then it is what it is. Once I discovered that I liked it I started getting in the swing of things, then I graduated and came back home in 2012 and was like “Let’s try it and see where it goes.” And now I feel like I’ve built a name out here, and that feels pretty cool.
TK: I agree, you have made a name in your city. You said you were into classical music when you were in CAPA. What did you learn in CAPA while studying classical music that you use to this day?
JC: So I learned a few things, like the technical side. A while ago I was conversing with Beano on Twitter, because he had posted something about having a vocal trainer and having that in the tuck and getting better with his voice and perfecting what he has. And I’m like, let’s talk about this, because to me vocal training is not on everyone’s radar as far as popular music but it’s so important and crucial because there’s so many artists that are losing careers because they have vocal problems. I think last year SZA had to take a break because she was damaging her vocal chords. So classical music taught me how to take care of my voice, how certain diets can affect your vocal dexterity, but I think being classically trained taught me the grind of it. If you’ve ever talked to anyone in the classical realm, practice is bigger than mandatory. You’re looked at crazy if you go into a classical realm and say you haven’t practiced today. I don’t know where I heard this from but the idea of execution and mastering is this: execution is being able to do [something] and mastering is being able to do it again. I think being classically trained taught me how to do that, you know what I’m saying? And there’s things on the technical level that help me out with performing, musicality, being able to sustain myself on stage.
TK: You’ve worked with local acts such as Chill Moody, Beano French, Antwan Davis, No Headliner, James Weldon, I Know Brasco, Boogieman Dela, Kirsten Anderson and King Britt. What do you look for in artist before you decide to work with them?
JC: Honestly, I’m not a real big on collaborating. It takes me being a fan for me to want to collab with anyone. I have to be in love with your music first. Energy is important to me, but not an essential because of technology and they way things work now we can work remotely. We don’t ever have to be in the same room to get dope things done, but if we’re able to come together and create an art form I think it leads to a better product. But I haven’t been too big on the collabs, and part of that is that it’s taken me awhile to figure out what I want and like as an artist. So I’m very weary about introducing someone else into that mix until I learn that for myself. Music and the music business are two separate things but the music is very personal to me. It took me awhile to get my own workflow and figure out what that was. But again for me to collab, I have to be a fan first, all those people you listed I’m huge fans of their work, I have a rolladex of all their songs somewhere on Spotify and Soundcloud.
TK: You worked with The Coalition in 2012 and met producer Wes Manchild. From there you two went on to collaborate and create The Jacqueline Constance Show. How did that project come about and what was the process like making it?
JC: So I had met Wes a few times here and there through working with Antwan and Chill. We had known of each other and worked together a few times but hadn’t really done anything before The Jacqueline Constance Show. He had put up a tweet, I don’t think Instagram was really a thing yet, I think Twitter was still stronger, saying “I would love to do an R&B album with a soul singer, can y’all start tagging people?” So I’m like let me shoot my shot real quick and was like “Well here’s my email if you wanna send me some stuff.” I think that night he sent me a batch folder of stuff and I think one of those was “Good Life.” If I’m inspired I’m quick, I’ll literally write it in an hour. Around that time I didn’t have my full studio set up, I had like a plug in microphone from a karaoke machine I had at the crib and Audacity, that free program got me through some times. I recorded it and sent it to him, and a couple weeks later we were in the studio and started working, it was organic and he understood my workflow. It wasn’t hard, it was very easy. We recorded The Jacqueline Constance Show in three weekends. I’m big on having something recorded first, like a voice demo, so when I do go into the studio I’m not in there just wasting time. Like times is money and I paid for these sessions, I don’t have time to be in the studio for three hours not doing nothing. When I go in, I have everything set so it would just be at the point where we would knock out three or four songs during that three hour block. It was efficient!
TK: You’re known as amazing performer, especially when you have your trusty looper beside you. When did you first started getting into looping?
JC: So my roommate at the time, who is also on The Jacqueline Constance Show, Kirsten Anderson, called me into the living room and pulled up a video of Kimbra at SXSW. I think she had the voicelive touch board on the table, an iPad, a little mixer, two microphones and she’s literally in someone’s backyard. So I thought it was super dope how she was making the beat and we researched how to do that and we came across a looper. My roommate was asked if I wanted one and I was like”….suuuuure.” I was super broke at the time but she was willing to get it for me because she thought it would be dope for me to have one. That day we ended up driving to Guitar Center and she bought me the one that I use today, a Voicelive Play T-C Helicon, and I spent 48 hours straight trying to figure it out. I didn’t think I would use it to perform but ended up using at a gig that Rico Anderson threw that was in this hole in the wall spot in late 2013. We were both still starting out, and when I tried it out, people there went crazy. The second time I used it was at The Coalition. Those two performances let me know that this was a thing and I should keep using it. I’ve been rocking out with my looper for six years now.
TK: Your YouTube channel has videos of you looping songs from big name artists such as Michael Jackson, Rihanna, Jodeci, The Roots and even Disney songs. What are some of your favorite loop videos?
JC: Hmm, my most recent one is the one I put out for NPR’s Tiny Desk. The “Pray You Catch Me” cover is one of my favorites because it showed me how far my loops could go…and I love that Lemonade album. There’s one a friend of mine recorded “It’s You,” that’s on my channel, Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” which was one of my first covers in like 2014. But my favorite one of all time is my “Pink & White” Frank Ocean cover and that’s because I did like some theatrical stuff in there and took some time with that one. There all my babies but those are my favorite ones.
TK: I love your “Best Part” cover because, like your “You Got Me” cover, you added another song to it. Just how you followed “You Got Me” with Sade’s “Cherish The Day,” it caught me off guard hearing you sing “Best Part” then following up with Jesse Powell’s “You.” How is your process like when mixing two different songs?
JC: You know I do stuff like that because it’s fun, because people don’t expect it. They don’t expect two recognizable songs to mesh with each other. Like I feel if you listen to Daniel Casear then you’ll have some recollection of Jesse Powell. It’s weird — sometimes I have moments where I’m recording a loop then find myself singing something else and be like “Oh that fits. That’ll work.” I don’t go into loops with intentions of adding something, sometimes things just fit. When I did the “Pray You Catch Me” and added “XO” for me it kind of fit because of the message of the song.
TK: After a three year hiatus of no new music, you come back with “Orange Moon” and to me it felt like a continuation of the last track on The Jacqueline Constance Show, “Bitter Girls.” Can you explain what went into making “Orange Moon?”
JC: I think I was having a conversation with a homie of mine and it was just one of those late nights on a Saturday with wine talking about relationships and cheating. And he was like that would be crazy if you cheated on the person who cheated on with the person they cheated on you with. I was like “Woo, inception!” My drunk mind couldn’t quite understand what was happening. But to me that was a cool concept, like what do you do as the cheater? You just gotta take that L. I’m not too caught up into stuff like that now, like if you would’ve asked me that when I was younger maybe, but I just rock out and let people be great.
TK: You came back recently with your new single “Carl Thomas.” Is that preview of what we expect to hear from Jacqueline Constance this year or is this just throwing out a single?
JC: Umm a little bit of both. I’m a soulful little nigga and I like soulful stuff like that. The song was definitely inspired by Carl Thomas — I even tried to write in a way that I think he would. With the music that’s coming out this year, you’re going to get a lot of experimental Jacq, in ways that you’ve seen Jacq loop on stage but never really put on wax. Carl Thomas was very soulful but still melodic, glitch and electronic shout out to Sound Junkie from the Ratchet Gods who’s one of my favorite producers because he gets me and not too many people get me. That was the first time worked together, me and him run in the same circles but never really crossed path. One day one of us emailed the other, I don’t know who started the conversation between us all I know is that it was had. Within a couple of days after that conversation I was sent tracks and one of those happen to be Carl Thomas. Like I said before, I love that Sound Junkie gets me, he understands my frantic moments because he’s the same way. We’ll both call each other in the middle of the night with ideas because we don’t want to lose them.
TK: Do you feel like your next project will be similar to The Jacqueline Constance Show and be entirely produced by one producer, or will you be a part of the production since you plan to add looping into it?
JC: That’s a good question, and to be honest I’m not sure. I do own production but I’m not exclusively using my own production. I have my own ideas but I’m very aware of people who are amazing at production and I would never short change myself by just sticking to my own stuff. So I think it might be a mixture of both, but this next single is going to be my own production.
TK I read that you drew inspiration from Ella Fitzgerald for this next project. What are some things that you picked up from her to prepare you for this project?
JC: You know what a lot of her vocal phrasing and improvisation is what I take. If you know who Ella Fitzgerald is, then you know that she was one of the most premier jazz singers. I don’t think she invented scatting, but for me she’s one of the end all be all’s when it comes to it. Her choice of phrasing and how she flipped melodies is what I took from her and built my own ideas around that.
Jacqueline Constance plays the Philly Tech Week event FRSHWV at the Pennovation Center on Sunday, May 5th; more information can be found here.
CAPA, Jacqueline Constance, Looper, NPR Tiny Desk Contest, Philly, R&B, Wesman Child