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An Interview With Rissi Palmer

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How has it been for you as a Black-American woman primarily working in the country music genre –both the plusses and the challenges? What was your motivation and/or inspiration to pursue that musical direction?

It’s been an interesting journey, that’s for sure! I grew up enjoying and listening to country music but wasn’t sure it was a real path for me because I didn’t see myself represented. I was encouraged by my first managers, two black women, to go for it. The superb storytelling, instrumentation, and connection to home/family is what drew me to, motivated, and inspired me to sing Country music.

Being the representation that I didn’t see growing up is probably the biggest positive of being a black woman in country music. The messages I get from people describing what it meant to them to see themselves reflected on CMT. As for negatives, people (black and white) made assumptions about me. I felt like I was constantly being asked to prove myself and having my intentions and credentials questioned. It was exhausting and hurtful.  

Early in your career you recorded an awesome version of ‘No Air“. That song was a huge hit originally recorded for Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown. Out of curiosity what prompted you at that time to cover that song? 

That song was entirely the idea of the record label. At the time, the label I was signed to had just partnered with Universal Records for distribution and an executive from Universal suggested that I record it.

Since you recorded your first album in 2007 for a major record label, you moved from Nashville to North Carolina where you recorded most of your latest album, REVIVAL. How is it different from your previous work?

Revival is the first album I’ve made that wasn’t recorded in Nashville. This is a completely Durham, NC production. From the studio, personnel, photography… everything was local. I think it speaks to what an awesome musical town Durham is. It’s also the first time I used my band in the studio. They are the ones that helped refine the sound of the music on the road so it only seemed right to have them record it.

The sound of this album is a total departure from my earlier work. I experimented with sounds and vibes that I’ve never tried before. It’s the most soulful collection of songs I’ve ever recorded. Revival is musical gumbo and probably the most accurate reflection of my musical tastes and influences to date.

What inspired the title and the songs on this album?

The title of the album was inspired by where I feel I am in my life. After a lot of searching, fighting, and frustration in my personal and professional life, I feel like I’ve hit my stride. Like I’ve been reborn…revived. Each song on the album is inspired by an event in my life or something that has affected me going on in the world. For example, “Seeds” was inspired by the murder of Michael Brown and the uprisings in Ferguson, MO; “Soul Message” was written about the first argument and make up my husband and I had while dating; “Ghost” was written about my mother, who passed away from cancer when I was 8 years old and “You Were Here” was written about a miscarriage I suffered in the summer of 2018. This album is very personal to me, it’s a snapshot of me at this moment.

H&S recently featured soul singer-songwriter Brian Owens, whom you’ve collaborated with several times over the past few years. You co-wrote “Soul In My Country” for Owens’ SOUL OF CASH album and on your latest project REVIVAL, you have teamed up once again to write and record “Little Black Boy, Little Black Girl.” Owens also produced much of the album. Tell us the back-story of the song and what was it like to work with Brian in the studio as a producer, as well?

Brian is someone I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for as an artist and a person. After working together on the Soul of Cash album, I knew without a doubt I wanted him to produce the album. He and I started writing “Little Black Boy, Little Black Girl” while I was on the road doing some dates with him. We were discussing Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway’s duet albums and our children. From that, we came up with the idea of writing a love letter to our children and wrote the chorus. The verses came over the next few months. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album and the kind of positive message I want to put out in the world.                      

Rissi Palmer photo Chris Charles

What have you learned about yourself while working on this project?

I’ve learned to trust myself and to respect my years of experience. I can second guess and talk myself out of things and I made a conscious effort through this project not to do that. To allow myself to just feel and create and I’m pretty pleased with the results of that.

What do you want your listeners to walk away with after listening to REVIVAL?

I hope that the listeners will walk away feeling release, uplifted, hopeful, and like they aren’t alone. That my trials and triumphs are theirs, as well, and we’re in this together.

Since your first album, you have become a wife, mother of two daughters and a singer-songwriter. How does that change the way you approach your music? How do you balance all of those roles?

When I made my first album, I was a single and carefree 24 year-old. I could create 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Now, I’m a 38 year-old wife and mother. I am WAY more focused and deliberate when I create now because time is a commodity. I also think about the material I create and the messages I put out more critically. I am way more aware of my platform and how I use it. I want to be an example to my daughters.

As for balance, it’s important to me that my children have a consistent schedule and stable home life.  I also want to be there when the big things happen, so there are opportunities that I have to pass on because they don’t fit my family’s schedule. For example, I mostly play on the weekends and try to be home either late Sunday night or early Monday morning so my family can either travel with me or I can at least pick my oldest up from school. If an opportunity comes along that I absolutely can’t pass up, then my husband and I will figure out how to make it work so that our home life isn’t disrupted. I couldn’t do any of the things I do if it weren’t for my husband. His help is imperative. 

Rissi Palmer – Soul Message (In Studio)

Is you eight-year old daughter musically inclined?

My daughter, Grace, is a superstar. She sings, acts, and has personality for days…she’s a natural. I marvel at her poise and fearlessness.

Heart and Soul is a health/wellness magazine and a lot of talk recently has been in the news about ‘Mental Health.” What is your personal opinion on that topic and how do you keep yourself ‘mentally healthy’?  Any advice to readers?

I love the fact that we as a society and black people are speaking so openly about mental health. Our mental well-being is just as important as our physical health. I see a therapist on my own and my husband and I go to marriage counseling. I believe in dealing with issues before they become all consuming, just as you would treat a cut before it becomes infected.

What do you and your husband Bryan do to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle including diet and exercise for your family?

Bryan and I are pretty health conscious. Bryan’s a runner and I’m into Crossfit. We eat a mostly plant-based diet and I love to cook and experiment to find healthy ways to make old favorites. We encourage our daughter to be active and make sure that her lunches and snacks are fun but healthy.

Will you be touring to promote the new album? If so, how do you stay healthy on the road?

Because my youngest daughter, Nova, is still an infant, my touring is modified for the time being.  When I am on the road, I make sure I drink at least a gallon of water a day, rest whenever possible, refrain from talking when it isn’t necessary, take my vitamins, and eat well. It takes A LOT of focus because its so easy to just grab a cheeseburger and a beer, but you end up feeling, looking, and sounding like HELL afterwards.

What new artists are you listening to now that you enjoy and/or are inspired by?

Right now, I’m listening to a lot of H.E.R., Yola, Violet Bell, Daley, Lucky Daye, Emily King and Maren Morris.

Rissi Palmer – Seeds (official video)

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