By the time she was 18, she’d already set the blues world on fire with her debut, 1997’s Turn the Heat Up. 2000’s Grammy nominated Wicked and ’02’s Talking to Strangers put some funk in her résumé. With her latest, The Soul Truth, you can add soul as well.
As brassy as she appears live and on records, Shemekia Copeland’s so whisper quiet on the phone you can barely hear her. It’s not because she’s shy. Despite her youth, the 26-year-old is not going to be pushed around by labels or managers or producers.
Steve Cropper was the producer for The Soul Truth, but Copeland makes it clear who was in charge. “I’m so much a part of my record making process,” the singer says. “Nobody hands me some songs and says ‘These are the ones you have to do.’ It doesn’t work that way–not with me. I choose all my songs, and I don’t do anything unless I want to.”
That includes accepting labels. Asked if she’s comfortable being called a blues singer, Copeland says you can be called anything, but that doesn’t make you fit the tag. “It scares the hell out of most people being labeled as a blues artist. I could be limited in my title, but I’m not limited in my mind,” she says heatedly. “I know what I can do.”
It’s been three years since Strangers came out, but Copeland says that’s about the time she waits for every record. “I don’t want to put out a shit record just because of ‘it’s time to do a record,’” Copeland says. “I think a lot of people do that. I don’t do that. We wait till we have good material and something to say.”
The Soul Truth is Copeland at her sassy, soulful best, with guitarist Cropper re-creating the ’60s Stax soul sound he played on and wrote for. “Breakin’ Out” and “Who Stole My Radio?” are new songs that sound like they’re from the classic days of radio. “It’s a joke,” Copeland says of today’s radio. “It’s not about the music. It’s not about talented people any more–it’s about the almighty dollar. There’s enough money and television time to go around for everyone, but they choose to focus on one or two people, artists that probably won’t be around in a couple of years.”
This singer plans to be around for quite a while, with perhaps a gospel, jazz or live album in the works. With Copeland, it’s all about timing and control–of her voice and her career. “We’ll just take our time and plan accordingly,” she says. “And when we’re ready for it, we’ll put it out.”
Shemekia Copeland plays the Blue Bayou Club in Hillsborough Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance or $35 the day of the show.