“I can only be me, okay! I cannot be Luther Vandross, I cannot be Sam Cooke, I cannot be Nat King Cole, I can only be me. I can understand and imbue and embody the spirit of one of those fantastic people, but I can only be me!”
￼Photo: Courtesy of Chiko
Having prematurely left the lucrative but demanding field of the US stock market, FiL Straughan pursued his inner calling of becoming a full-time singer/song-writer and entertainer. A wise choice indeed, as FiL is now very much in demand on both sides of the Atlantic, performing his live and very interactive sets. His dedication, love and professionalism towards his art have seen him rightly acknowledged as the premier Luther Vandross tribute singer – Vandross being one of the major influences on both his singing and writing. With the recent release of his sophomore UK album “FiL the SouL” in July 2011, Michael “The Dood” Edwards was invited down to Shaka Zulu in Camden, one of London’s newest entertainment and live music venues to sample the FiL Straughan ‘Spirit of Luther Tribute Show’ for himself on the anniversary of the great man’s passing, July 8th and coincidentally also FiL Straughan’s birthday (Some say the torch has been passed on.) Shortly afterwards The Dood caught up with a still buzzing Mr Straughan backstage, for a brief chat with a man on the brink of major-league recognition.
The Dood: Welcome FiL “The Power” Straughan! I believe that was the moniker given to you this evening by a member of the audience?
FiL Straughan: You know what?! I wish I’d heard that before, because that would have been the name of the album “FiL the Power.” That title would have been a great follow-up to my first album…It will definitely be the title of my next album.
The Dood: Anyway, it’s a pleasure to link at last. First off happy birthday to you, or was it yesterday?
FiL Straughan: No, it hasn’t gone midnight yet, so it’s still official. So thank you!
The Dood: Would you agree that Shaka Zulu is a lovely venue to perform your “Spirit of Luther Tribute Show,” as well as your own original material? Give us some feedback on the vibe you got the night?
FiL Straughan: The vibe I got was amazing; uplifting; inspiring and just like wow! Gosh! There were people here from my brother, who doesn’t hang out with me very much to a fellow who I went to primary school with right before I left the country (England).
The Dood: So there was an A-Z of people from your past and present?
FiL Straughan: I feel very honoured and very very privileged and it was very very wow!
The Dood: I hear that! Where does this new project fit into the FiL Straughan story with regard to album releases?
FiL Straughan: In the FiL Straughan story it’s about the 11th album, but the second big album in the UK.
The Dood: You’re giving it the full marketing pizzazz etc. What is you’re feeling toward this album now that you’ve finally brought it from the studio to the market?
FiL Straughan: I’m scared! I’m scaaaarrrred!!!! It’s actually baring my soul. It’s definitely baring my soul, because it’s a fusion between the different sides of me. And as some wise lady said to me, “It’s got something for everyone.”
The Dood: I’ve noticed on this and your previous release you do keep it real – ‘laying your soul bare’ I believe is the term as you alluded to earlier. Just like your great inspiration Luther Vandross used to do as evidenced by his classic emotive track “Any Love.” And this same mature emotional theme is carried over into your album via the tracks, “On My Knees,” “Oil and Water” and “Don’t Give up on Love,” to name but two. Those type of heartfelt tunes that people can relate to and what I call “long-termers.” Initially you might get into a song because of the beat and the rhythm and then after while you actually start listening to the lyrics and the song becomes meaningful to you. Agree?
￼FiL Straughan: Photo: Courtesy of Mike Dote
FiL Straughan: It’s simple. If you open up or share anything of yourself, it’s important to commit. By that I mean “COMMIT.” What comes out I have to believe in, and if I don’t believe in it I keep it (my mouth) shut. There’s no two ways about it, it’s as simple as that. The same thing with music, the same thing with telling a story, because it transcends language, it transcends any type of dialect, it’s something that everyone gravitates towards.
The Dood: It’s universal?
FiL Straughan: It’s universal!
The Dood: There are quite a few songs on this album, 17 tracks altogether I believe. I take it that you were in “Prince Mode” when writing these tracks and that you have enough material for two or three further albums?!
￼Photo: Courtesy of Mike Dote
FiL Straughan: We actually had about 400 tracks to choose from!! I am proud of this album because it’s a labour of love, but it’s also a journey from my former self to my current self. And it’s all happened because of love, loss and learning.
The Dood: The three L’s. Which tracks on the album came to you very quickly and were written in the shortest time?
FiL Straughan: “On My Knees” actually came in about 30 min, “If It’s Over” came in about 10 min, which is basically about the notion of acceptance. “Work in Progress” is another one that came extremely rapidly. And “While You Sleep” is another one. I mean most of these for me came extremely quickly, impulse, reaction to the moment, and capturing the moment into something that is a jewel in itself.
The Dood: Talking of your writing process, how do you lockdown an idea for a tune before you forget it?
FiL Straughan: I’ve got one of those multi tom-toms. It’s a voice recorder and calculator. I also have stacks of cassettes of ideas, and it’s easier just to have it all on my phone, because everything is in place.
The Dood: Can you expand on any musical influences that have impacted on your life thus far? Were there any family members who sang etc?
FiL Straughan: My mum! My mum was extremely influential because she was a fairy good Opera singer… And Nat King Cole – a man who delivered a song in a way that…wow!
The Dood: His phrasing and everything?
FiL Straughan: Yeah! I actually love soul music! And that to me is anybody who sings with a Soul. So I love James Taylor; Phil Collins; Anita Baker; of course Luther Vandross and Sam Cooke. You can keep it to that handful for now.
The Dood: So, if one was to expand on the theme of the spirit of Luther, you’ve taken the spirit of those artists you mentioned and put FiL Straughan’s accent on if you like, your flavour?
￼FiL Straughan – Live at Shaka Zulu (8-7-11) Photo: Courtesy of Garry Castle
FiL Straughan: I can only be me, okay! I cannot be Luther Vandross, I cannot be Sam Cooke, I cannot be Nat King Cole, I can only be me. I can understand and imbue and embody the spirit of one of those fantastic people, but I can only be me! And once you understand that, and I understand that, it’s okay. But I’m not going to try and copy. I will deliver you the message of what they’ve said as it means to me.
The Dood: And that kind of takes the pressure off you when you know you’re doing your interpretation of Luther songs as best you can?
FiL Straughan: That’s it. If you understand the essence of Luther Vandross, he took a song and made it his own. His own means his experience has flavoured and coloured it; his own means that his vocal ability is how he delivers it. So if I take that essence and put it with my experiences and flavour as to how I sing a song, my vocal ability will also dictate how the song’s delivered. So that’s why it is “the Spirit of Luther.”
The Dood: In a nutshell?!
FiL Straughan: In a nutshell!
The Dood: Is this a mini tour that you are doing?
FiL Straughan: You know what’s really amazing! Roger (Payne), the owner of Shaka Zulu – and who has a few Shaka Zulu’s around the world has informally asked me about doing this as a regular thing and potentially doing it for the Shaka Zulu’s around the world! So we’re going to go upstairs and have a drink and I’m going to pull out the contract and make him sign. It’ll be a case of sign, sign now before you sober up! So, this is definitely the beginning of the tour, as it is the beginning of the new me. Speak to me two months ago I was a different me! Speak to me now, I’m a new me!
The Dood: Would you say that you’re on the mission?
FiL Straughan: Actually it’s not a mission, it’s a purpose. I’ve had my regular life. I used to work for an investment bank and September 11th (2001) changed all that for me… I understand that maybe I’ll never have 10 kids; five kids; two kids; one kid. Maybe I’ll never have a big house in the country with the 2.4 cars and what have you, but I know that when my time comes my legacy will be what I’ve done and who I’ve inspired and touched and what I’ve contributed. And I’m okay with that.
The Dood: The term, “Be true to you” comes to mind. For instance, your parents may want you to be a lawyer, a doctor or accountant but within your essence you want to be an actor or a singer or an artist?
FiL Straughan: This is not what I want to be, this is what I was I was drawn to do! This is what I was born to be. And what happened tonight, I cannot do again…And to tell you the honest truth, I don’t know what I did tonight! It felt really good to me and it felt really good to them, and all I can say is thank you.
The Dood: How long did this album take to come to fruition from scratch?
FiL Straughan: Well, the last album (My Music Pt1) was released in 2008 and some of these tracks have been written since before then. And as I said we’ve got at least 400 tracks to choose from. So it’s a lot of work!
The Dood: It must be difficult therefore to whittle the album down to 17 tracks?
FiL Straughan: Let me tell you something, if a CD could hold six hours of music…! I had a fight with the manufacturer who told me about the Philip standard of 68 min and I pushed it to 71!
The Dood: And there’s a hidden track on there as well! (Laughter) So tell us about your support team on this album?
FiL Straughan: I’m privileged and honoured. I’ve only been in this country for six years, back and forth. And I have been blessed to know so many wonderful and talented souls. George Anderson, the bass player for Shakatak is on the album.
The Dood: How did that linkup come about?
FiL Straughan: Oh gosh! I recorded one of the tracks on his album two years ago and he’s come back and it’s been amazing. So there’s him and we’ve got Paul Hardcastle Jr (acoustic guitar/sax) the son of Paul Hardcastle; we’ve got the sax player for Beverley Knight. We’ve got (Robert) “skins” Anderson, the percussionist for Beverley Knight and Lemar. I just feel so blessed to have got the cream as well as some other fantastic people. I’ve been so blessed, you have no idea!
The Dood: So, this is a tight album with tight musicians on there who are extremely professional?
FiL Straughan: Accomplished as well!
The Dood: Live or studio recordings, which do you prefer?
￼FiL Straughan: Live at Shaka Zulu (8-7-11) Photo: Courtesy of Garry Castle
FiL Straughan: Live! Live! Live! We recorded tonight and I’ll send you a copy and you can compare this to this (points to the album).
The Dood: Live every time?
FiL Straughan: It’s three-dimensional, you can get inside the music, I can get inside the music.
The Dood: And you are an extremely expressive performer?
FiL Straughan: No! I’m extremely shy, get it right!! (Laughter)
The Dood: So, what’s the next step?
FiL Straughan: The next album is coming out in two months. The album title was decided tonight, it’s going to be called “FiL the Power.” Basically it’s going to be remixes plus some other tracks. Look out for it! The dance remix is out of “Don’t Give Up on Love.” The slow version is on this album and the dance version is on the new album. And it’s going to be called “FiL the Power.” You heard it here first!
￼FiL Straughan: Live at Shaka Zulu (8-7-11) Photo: Courtesy of Garry Castle
The Dood: And the next stop?
FiL Straughan: I’ve got jazz festivals to do. I was asked to do the Arundel Festival last night, so I’ve got a few things in the pipeline.
The Dood: Thanks for your time and thanks for an awesome show!
FiL Straughan: Thank you! It’s all about people like you and people like me, the unknown, the un-signed and the undiscovered!
The Dood: It’s all about you bringing “good” music to the masses and I’m just privileged to put the word out there to get more people to hear it. From here to Mars!
FiL Straughan: Thank you my man!
Michael J Edwards
￼FiL ‘The Power’ Straughan & Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards
FiL the SouL (2011)
My Music Pt 1 (2008)
FiL the Power (2012)