Music is My Life: Episode 006
Divinity Roxx on Playing Bass with Beyoncé and Victor Wooten
Divinity Roxx is probably best known for her work as the bassist for Beyoncé in her all-female band. She got her start playing with bass wiz Victor Wooten, and has established quite a solo career for herself: Not many people can rap and play bass at the same time! She began her musical journey with a clarinet, and is on the eve of furthering her education with Berklee Online.
Divinity Roxx: As a very small child, I remember just riding in the back of the car, listening to songs, and how they moved me. They would touch my heart and I would sit in the back and just sing my heart out, singing these grown people’s songs and I could just feel this emotion. I didn’t even understand most of the time what I was singing about, but it just touched me.
So when the band director came around to all the classes and asked, “Who wants to play in the band?” My hand shot up in the air, like, yes, I want to play in the band. Then the chorus teacher would come around. “Who wants to sing in the chorus?” My hand shot up. I used to love music class.
Once a week, Ms. Rosalyn Louis was my music teacher. She’s amazing. I just loved it, just loved singing and playing. But as far as knowing that I could be a part of it all, I guess in high school. Well, in middle school I started rapping. Rap changed my life.
So that’s like mid-80s, late ‘80s.
Yeah, late ‘80s.
So it’s an interesting point there, where it’s still some of the old school. Like, the newer way was starting, like PE was…
Absolutely. MC Lyte, Slick Rick, Slick Rick the Ruler. Who else did I used to listen to? Queen Latifah, Monie Love, all the old school hip-hop. I used to record all the shows when I would sleep. I would turn on my little tape deck, turn the volume down and hit record.
So you said your hand went up when asking who wants to play instruments. What were you playing then?
I played the clarinet.
The clarinet? OK.
That was my first instrument. I loved it, though! I did!
When’s the last time you picked it up?
We were in—gosh, what country were we in? We were somewhere. And somehow, we were in the lobby of some hotel.
We being the Beyoncé band?
The Beyoncé band. I don’t remember even what tour it was. Some of the girls always know all the details. I never remember any details. We were in the lobby of some hotel. Tia was playing the clarinet, I think. And I was like, give me that clarinet! I took it and boy, I couldn’t even get a note out of it.
Really? Really? So you played clarinet, then you start rapping for yourself. Are you recording your raps or anything?
Oh, yeah, man. We recorded. We went in the studio. We made an album.
Oh, OK, so this was serious stuff.
Yeah. We were serious. We started our own record label. We pressed up our own tapes.
What was the label called?
Yeah. Foolproof Records—me and my homeys. And we had a group called Datbu—Divinity and the Breakfast Unit.
Is this available anywhere now?
You know, some people will every now and again, pull out a tape and post it on Instagram—say, look at this. It was a little green tape. I still have it. We had some really good songs. We were always positive. We wanted to promote positive rap. So it was beautiful.
We had a song about AIDS on there. Oh wow, I forgot about that song. It was some really cool stuff on there.
Yeah. And if the people you made that music with were in this room today, and you had to rehearse for that—for a show like you’re doing now—would you be able to remember all the words?
No, but we would be able to remember the intro: [rapping] “So tonight, on this very night, you’re about to hear, we swear, the best star rappers of the year…” You know, it would start the show like that—a cappella—the three of us going in and out of each other. And then our DJ would drop the beat. And then it would just be on.
OK. So it’s interesting—this is a great filling in the blank that you’ve done, because in your bio it mentions that you go to journalism school and that’s where you discover bass. But it’s interesting to know the chapters before that. So you’re rapping in middle school and high school and then what’s your involvement? Is that the extent of your involvement? You’re putting these things out, so you’re obviously serious about it.
Oh yeah. We were very serious about it. Well, when we were in high school, when I was in middle school and high school, we weren’t putting the albums out. So what happened was I go to college because I was accepted to UC Berkeley.
The other Berklee.
The other Berklee. How ironic is that?
That’s funny. I loved how you say, at one point—
“I went to the wrong Berklee!” No, not really. I mean, I really wanted to go to this school. It was far away from home. And I didn’t know I was a musician yet. I mean, I didn’t consider being a rapper, a musician. I had to honor my parents and go to school and I loved education and I loved school and I needed that experience. But that’s where I picked up the bass. So I started playing bass there.
Tell me about the first time you actually started playing, like when somebody said, “Here is a bass guitar.”
Well, you know, a friend of mine—and it’s so funny, his name is Paris—that year, he was lugging around this upright bass. And we were having these jam sessions in my—I moved off campus, moved into this apartment with all these crazy people, and met this guy, Paris and this guy who played the drums up in the Bay area, and they were doing jam sessions. So we were like, hey, you guys should just come to our house and do them. They were like, OK, cool. Half of Oakland showed up to my house. Me and my roommates were like, who are all these people? We don’t know who these people are.
And you’re a freshman in college at this point?
I was a sophomore at that point.
Oh yeah, you were a sophomore.
We’re like, what happened? But it was awesome. I was the MC, and I would pass the mic around. We had this one guy—he had a little turntable, he was scratching, upright bass, drums. It was amazing.
So Paris, ironically, only played bass that year of his life. He was a guitar player. So we hung out a lot. I don’t know, we just had chemistry. We’re hanging out and I remember I was painting my room, and he came over in the middle of the floor, and he would just be practicing upright. And I’m painting the walls, painting my room red or something crazy. And I go, “You know what? I think I’m going to get a guitar.” And he was like, “Why? No, you should get a bass.” I was like, “Why should I get a bass?” He was like, “Cause you come across as a bass player.” And I was like, “Really?” He said, “Yeah, and if you get a bass, I’ll show you some stuff.” But he was a guitar player! So I was like, OK. So I went home that summer and I bought a shiny red Washburn.
Because it was shiny and red and sparkly. And I went back and he showed me these exercises. And they were tough and they were long and boring. But I would turn on records like, Goodie Mob was a big deal from Atlanta. And the “Me and You” bass line—[singing] boom, boom boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom—I could play that. And I would just sit at home and turn on records and just try to play along. And I bought a Mel Bay book, because I said, I should probably learn how to read bass.
Taught myself to read bass, because I remembered how to read treble clef. And I would sit there and practice those scales. And turn on music and play. And I just fell in love. So I called my parents. And I think I was running out of money for school. And I was like, you know, I think I’m going to come home for a year.
My rap group—those guys were sort of struggling. And we kept trying to figure out how we were going to connect. I moved so far away from home. I was like, let’s come home. I’m going to come home. Let’s make an album. And that’s when we started the label and put out the record. So we started it when I came home—Foolproof Records.
So yeah, that’s serious stuff. That’s I’m changing my MO and going to do this. That’s not kids in high school.
No, no, no, no. We were very serious. We used to call the labels, and pretend like—my boy had a real deep voice, so he would pretend like he was our manager and start trying to get in touch with A&R and was like, you need to listen to this group.
So this is probably, what—mid-‘90s?
Yes, mid- to late-‘90s.
Is this when you start studying journalism at Berkeley?
I was studying journalism at Berkeley. That was my major.
And then comes the Victor Wooten Bass Camp.
And I don’t imagine many students at Victor Wooten Bass Camp get to go on tour with him after?
I don’t think anybody’s been able to do that since then.
How did that happen?
Dude, so I had this personality in Atlanta where I was a rapper to some people, and then I started bringing out the bass, every now and again to little jam sessions. You know, there were so many musicians at that time—Tarus Mateen was a really big influence. And it’s ironic, because Tarus was a bass player and he played on a lot of Outkast and Goodie Mob records.
So I would see him play, and he was really good. So I was like, I play bass and it was like my secret thing, me playing bass. And he was like, really? I was like, yeah. He’s like, why don’t you come out. My brothers and I play together. Why don’t you come out to one of our sessions and we’ll see. So I go out to their session. And I don’t know much about bass. So Tarus would show me a bass line. He was giving me lessons in the session
It was like a practice bass. It was not like a live session?
No, not like a live session. Seriously, we were outside of this fried fish restaurant in the west end of Atlanta, and they were playing outside for, I don’t know, for themselves and for the customers who would come up, so they were just playing outside.
So he would show me a bass line. So I was like, OK. He’d wait till I got it. I would get the bass line, and I would just sit on it. And then he would just solo all over it. That’s what he wanted to do. He needed somebody like me in his band so that he could just take solos all the time.
So he was like OK, you’ve got a groove. You’ve got a pocket. He’s like, you should start doing gigs with us. I was like, what? He was like, yeah. We have a gig at the Comedy Corner on Sunday. We were playing for poets. And after we play, and the poets do their thing, there’s a comedy show.
So he’s like come on Sunday, and we’re going to play. I’m like, what are we going to play? He’s like we’re just going to do what we just did. What? So I’m nervous. I’m trying to figure out how to get out of it. I can’t get out of it. I show up with my bass.
And this is still the sparkly red Washburn?
The sparkly red Washburn, yep. And the whole show, he would just play a bass line, wait until I got it. I would get it. His brother, Omar, was playing drums. His brother, Roggie, was on saxophone. And we were just improvising behind poets.
Tarus was so good at that. He would catch their vibe off the first line and just go in. And then we would just create this magic. And he would solo and play all these cool licks on top of it. And I would just, back to the audience, scared, playing my little bass lines. It was so funny.
And then he paid me at the end of the night, the first gig. I was like, yo, you can make money doing this? He was like, yeah. And don’t ever let anybody not pay you to play. So I said, wow, I can do this. So that’s the moment, I think, when I realized.
And did you never go back to school?
I went to Georgia State. I was accepted into the jazz program at Georgia State, at the urging of my family because they started saying, OK, you want to play bass now. I mean, imagine this: I had never played a bass as a kid. I come back from one of the best schools in the world with a bass guitar, and they’re like, what are you doing? Who are you? Why did you leave school?
So the only way that my grandfather, or grandma, my parents, my dad—my dad was so just disappointed.
Are you the oldest?
I’m the oldest. The first one to really go off to college, so they were like, OK, we can accept this. If you want to stay here, you can do music, but you got to go to school. If you want to do this and I agreed with them, because there was so much more I needed to learn.
So somehow, I got accepted. I couldn’t read. I remember the audition. This guy was so nice. I cannot remember the director’s name. He sat a piece of music in front of me. It was a chart. And he was like, OK, read this. And I was like, uh… So he’s like, OK, just play.
So I just played something. And he was like, oh. He was like, you can play. He’s like, you just need to learn. So you just have to be in my ensemble classes, and I’m going to accept you into the school.
So I stayed there for a little while, and everything was so over my head. I didn’t understand the theory and I was older at this point. All these little young kids are blowing me out of the water. They’re giggling at me when I’m called on as solo in the class. And I was just feeling really bad about myself.
And one of the professors asked me once what do you want to do? I was like, man, I just want to write my songs. I want to get out and play, and be on stage, and do my rap and my playing. And he’s like, go do that. And I was like, really? He’s like, yeah. He said, go do that. I said, OK.
And the next time I saw all those kids who were laughing at me, I was on stage with Victor Wooten.
That is a really good moment. So at that point, you’d been able to be an MC, and you’d been playing bass. And listening to your music now, it’s astounding that you’re able to put such a concise—you’re able to provide the bass foundation and freestyle rap over that. Was that a challenge to get those two skills together?
Because the bass is just so rooted and has to be rooted, and free styling requires being out there.
It’s almost like two different parts of your brain I’d imagine.
It is. And it’s still a challenge. I don’t think it ever stops being challenging, which is probably why I enjoy it so much. I like to be challenged and pushed. Yeah, it took a while. I mean, the very first song I wrote was the “D-I-V-I-N-I-T-Y,” and that’s the song I played at Victor’s base camp.
Vic has to tell the story, because from my perspective, I’m standing there, I’m just playing my song, and I got all this attitude. I’m in the pocket. And you know—MC’s, you know, all we do is brag on ourselves. So I’m like, bragging on myself about how great I am and like—and then the song is about my name, which is ridiculous.
Vic is in the back like, we should take her on the road. But he never let on throughout the rest of the camp.
OK. That’s great.
So I go throughout the whole camp, and I’m thinking, man, I’m learning so much. It was really great. It was an incredible camp.
And this is shortly after dropping out?
Yeah, after dropping—after leaving Georgia State. I ruptured my Achilles tendon, so the thing with the hip-hop group sort of fizzled out a little bit. I couldn’t tour. I was down for a year. So all I could do was play bass. And a friend of mine gave me a Victor Wooten CD, and said, you want to play bass, you should listen to this.
I listened to that CD. I was Iike, I ain’t gonna never be able to play like that. Who is this guy? He’s amazing. And then I went through all the liner notes. And I remember the liner notes saying, this record, with a show of hands, this record was recorded with no overdubs. I was like, he a liar. He’s lying. There’s no way he played all that with no overdubs.
So I needed to meet this guy. So I started low-key stalking Victor Wooten. Kind of low-key, going to—doing his shows. YouTube was not a big thing back then. So you couldn’t just pull him up and watch videos. So people had to pass you a VHS tape.
So this is like early 2000s?
Yeah, early 2000s, late ‘90s. I think it was ‘98. When did he put that record out?
I feel like that was late ‘90s. That’s around the time he and Béla Fleck came to prominence.
Yeah. So I toured with him December of 2000. That was my first tour with him.
Wow. So you do the camp. At the end of the camp, he makes this overture and you’re like, yes. Do you automatically know that you’re able to do this and that this is your calling?
Absolutely not. When Victor called me and said: Hi, Divinity, this is Victor Wooten. He was like, so that thing you do, you did at camp, is that what you do? I was like, yeah, that’s what I do. He said do you have more songs like that? I was like, yeah. I didn’t have any more songs like that.
That was my one song that I had just figured out I could rap and play together. So he’s like, OK, so, I was thinking that it would be cool if you came on tour with me and opened up the show doing that. I like, literally, laid down on the floor, and it was like, OK, yeah. I can do that. But inside, my stomach is churning. I have butterflies. I’m thinking, what am I going to do? I need to write some more songs.
He’s like, we’re going to tour in December. We’ll bring you to Nashville, and we’ll have some rehearsals and I want you to start the show just like that, what you did at the camp. And we’ll have a section in the show where you can do some of your other songs. You can play with the band. And that was that.
And then I went on tour with him again. Course then he called me again. OK? Then I would talk to Anthony. And Anthony would say, hey, you know, I think we getting ready to go on tour again. I would be like, am I going? He’d say, yes, you’re going. I was like, oh, cool.
And after that tour, some time would pass, because he would go on tour with Béla. Anthony would be like, yeah, I think we’re gearing up to go again. I was like, do you think I’m going to go? He’d be like, yeah, fool, you in the band. I was like, I’m in the band? He’s like, yeah. What you mean? Of course you’re in the band. I didn’t know I was in the Victor Wooten band.
That’s great. So between that lying on your back phone call, just terrified, do you think if that call hadn’t come, you wouldn’t—do you think you would have written more in that style?
Yeah, you were headed that way anyway?
That’s great. So it just gave you the extra—
Push. Now, do it now.
So how many songs did you end up churning out?
I think four songs. Yeah. I had a section in the show where I did four songs.
OK, so it wasn’t like, I have to put together 12 songs.
No, no, no, because you know, it’s Victor Wooten’s show, but he gave me this space within his show. He would have me, and on the spot, Vic would say, you know, because they were all improvising a lot during that show, so they would start a groove and Vic would be like, Divinity, come out here and bust a freestyle.
So I would come onstage and freestyle. And sometimes, they would play something that was so cool, I would pull out my pad and start writing. And he would see that I was writing. He’d be like, Divinity, come out here and share with everybody what you’re writing right now. And I would literally have my notebook in front of me, spinning what I had just written.
Oh that’s awesome.
We had so much fun.
That’s great. It seems like, you leave an institution studying music and then you go and get this real-world experience. How much of what you learned studying did you apply in the real world there?
I don’t think I had studied enough to really apply. I was playing with my heart. That’s what I’m going to say. I wasn’t playing with my head. I hadn’t learned to think about music structurally yet. I wasn’t thinking about chords and scales and all these different things. I would practice those things.
And somehow when you were practicing something it finds its way in your playing, even without you being conscious of it. So I wasn’t conscious of it yet. I’m just really becoming conscious of it now, when I’m playing. I’m just starting to think more in my playing. I’ve been playing with my heart for a long time. And that’s part of the reason why I wanted to enroll at the school, was so I could start melding together my heart and my head.
The school being Berklee Online?
Berklee Online, yes.
That’s amazing that you’ve done what you’ve done and you’re still seeking more education.
Oh man, I want to be great.
I do. And I feel like when you do, you start reaching for those things that you know will make you better, and will grow you, and challenge you. And I feel like this is going to be the ultimate challenge. I remember Victor Bailey coming to one of Victor’s camps and talking. And one of the things he was saying to the students—I was always around students who were so much younger than me.
He would say this is the time for you guys to practice now. You guys don’t have to worry about taking phone calls and promoting yourself and keeping up with your social media, or just your business. You guys don’t have to worry about yourselves as a business yet. All you have to do is practice. But once you become a certain age or you get to a certain point in your musical journey, you have to start doing business.
So I’ve been doing business and I’ve been doing it for a long time. It interrupts practice. Even now, I’m practicing, and I’m working on something that I’m really loving and I’m, you know, and then my phone is ringing and the emails are coming in and they’re talking about shows, and these different things, and you have this interview, and you have to do this. And as soon as I get into it, these things are pulling me away.
And oh, you know, you have the show. You haven’t been promoting the show. You need to start promoting the shows. And people are going, oh yeah, put this down. So I need to make time.
That’s great. I’d argue, though, that all those hours you spent onstage with Victor Wooten, that those are practice.
And with Beyoncé—all those hours practicing with Beyoncé.
How did that all come about with—you’d said—so it was before Sasha Fierce, right?
Yes, it was the Beyoncé Experience, the album she released on her birthday.
Right, right, right. It was such a great band, too. And it’s so awesome that you guys are reuniting for the 10 year anniversary. Not just great as a concept. It was a musically powerful band.
It was. It is.
It is, yes. So tell me about the nucleus of that and how it all came together.
Well, everybody came to this place from different paths. So you know a little bit about my journey. I’m in Atlanta. I’m performing. I’m doing my thing. I’m rapping. I’m playing. I’m writing songs. I’m recording. I had been out in LA trying to get a record deal. And, you know, that whole thing.
So wait, just to refresh, it’s 2005, 2006?
Yeah, 2005. So I’m still touring with Victor at this time, so maybe around 2005. I can’t remember. Beyoncé put out a press release. She’s looking for an all-female band and she’s having auditions. And at the time, I’m still a struggling—really struggling—musician and doing my gigs. Because I’m touring with Victor, but Victor is touring with Bella and doing his own thing. So he’s juggling all these different things. So we didn’t tour a lot—maybe two or three times a year at the most.
And he had to spend time with his family. So in between touring with him, I’m still doing my own thing and trying to build my brand and learning about marketing and learning how to produce and making beats and you know.
Are you just teaching yourself all this stuff?
Yeah, dude. I mean, people were trying to take advantage of me. They wanted to sign me and make me give away all my publishing. And I had gone to Georgia State, so I had learned about publishing, and learned about the music business, and really became business minded. So I was like, I’m not giving you all of that.
And then I would go in the studio with different producers, and they would try to shape my sound, and I didn’t like the way it was going, and it didn’t feel like me. So I was like, I’m going to learn how to use Pro Tools, and I’m going to produce myself.
So I’m doing this, and I’m really serious about it. And I would have days where I didn’t shower, and I’m just making beats all day. And I’m into this song, and I’m structuring it. And I’m spending hours on end, up all night doing this.
My sister sent an email and said hey, you know, Beyoncé is looking for an all-female band. I think you should go audition. I was like, whatever. That’s the truth. Like, I thought it was a gimmick, did not believe it at all. Then people started calling me from around the country who I had met on tour with Victor. Did you hear, Beyoncé is having auditions for an all-female band? You’re the first person I thought of.
What was your awareness of her before that?
Well of course I was aware of her.
You couldn’t not be.
Couldn’t not be. I mean, she was huge.
But from that distance . . .
I wasn’t into pop music. I was, you know, real underground hip-hop. You know what I mean? Keeping it 100 percent real. Every now and again I would pass by a video. “Check Up On It” made me stop. I was like, dang, that beat is dope.
And of course, she was on all the radio. And so all her beats were always dope. The songs were always amazing. But it wasn’t on my radar. I’m super hip-hop hit. So I was like, eh. People started calling and they’re like you should go. And I was like, eh OK. I’ll think about it.
I was working on this song. It was a really good song. I remember it was called, “OK.” It was a really great song.
It was called “OK?”
Yeah, it was called, “Are You OK” and it was really personal. I remember the hook was, are you OK? How your mam doing? Are you still dreaming? What are you pursuing? Some days I’m OK and other days I’m not. I really miss you, man. I needed to say sorry to some people in my life. And that song was the way I was doing it. So I’m all sentimental right? I told you this.
So then I had some other friends, this other producer, who had really been hooking me up with sounds and he believed in me as a producer. He really took me under his wing to teach me things about sound design. And he’s like, Divinity, you know Beyoncé is having auditions for an— I’m like, I know. He’s like, you should go. You should do it. I’m like, man, but I don’t think it’s real. I was like, she could call anybody. I think Rhonda Smith is going to get the gig.
I was like, and what about Meshell Ndegeocello. Who else? I had a list of great female bass players who would probably play this gig with Beyoncé. Certainly I was not on that list. Seriously, so I was like, she could have anybody in the world, why would she want me to do it?
And they were like, you should go to the audition. They came over to my house. They really did this, him and his good partner came over to my house one day. And I was in producer mode, which means I hadn’t showered and I’m like in my pajamas for three days. And they’re like, we’re not leaving your house until you say you’re going to the audition.
So I was like, well, sit down, turned on the TV. If you guys want to eat, here’s the refrigerator. I remember, like, I’m all dramatic. You guys can hang out as long as you want. I don’t think I’m going to do it. Go back in the room, start working. They hung out, too. And I came out and I’m like, you all are still here? They’re like, no, seriously, Divinity, you should go.
So is this the day of the auditions?
No, this isn’t the day of the auditions. Probably three, four days before. And they’re like, you should really go. I was like, alright, I’m going to go. I’ll do it. I didn’t think I was going to get it. I was just going to do it. So she had auditions in different cities. So I was . . .
You’re in LA at the time?
I was in Atlanta. So I show up to the Atlanta audition. I pretty much know most of the girls there.
How familiar are you with her material? Did you like sit down and be like, alright, I’m going to listen to . . .
Yeah, because they recommended that you get the Dangerously in Love DVD. And we were playing the arrangement of—it was like this James Brown-esque song. So I learn it. And I was getting ready to go on tour with Victor at that time. So I go in the audition, play the song. When I get there, CNN is there, because this is a big deal. Beyoncé is having auditions. And somebody says, oh, you should interview Divinity, because they knew me and because I’d been all around Atlanta. So it was like, would you do this interview? I was like, sure, why not?
You had finally showered, right?
Yes. I had showered. I was looking cute. You know, I had my hair, and makeup. I had a cute shirt on—got all dressed up. And it started becoming exciting. Did the interview . . .
How was the audition itself? She wasn’t there.
No, she wasn’t there. She had some musical directors and people she trusted who were there. I played the song. And then they just asked me to play. And then I left. I was like, OK. I did it. And I go home, and I’m getting a little anxious because around midnight I didn’t get a call, but I didn’t even—it was like, oh well, didn’t get it. It’s OK.
My phone rang after midnight. And his deep voice on the phone, like, Divinity, you’re going to go to New York for the second round of the auditions. I was like, oh, cool, OK. So we’re going to get a plane ticket for you, hotel, blah, blah, blah. I had no money—
After midnight. I had no money. I didn’t even know how I was going to pay the rent the next month, honestly. I had negative $200 in the bank, literally. So I’m like, I’m going to go to New York. How am I going to eat? What am I going to do? Called my mom—like mom, I’m going to New York for this Beyoncé audition. I’m like, I don’t know. It still wasn’t that big of a deal.
So I get up to New York. I’m nervous—so nervous, so scared. I couldn’t eat anyway. Then we’d go through the whole audition process. I remember the first time I sat down with Nicki and played with her. I turned around and was like, yes, OK. We were playing “Deja Vu,” I think— “Work it Out,” that was the song.
So we play “Work it Out,” play “Deja Vu,” —killing. Slowly, the girls who were going to be in the band started coming in the room together. Because at first, they were just putting different configurations of girls together—give me the girl from Atlanta, give me the keyboard player from Houston, give me the saxophone player from New York.
Finally, they found this combination on the second day of rehearsals. And we were like humping. Like, it was feeling good. We were having fun. We were encouraging each other, talking to each other, like, yeah. You know, like—
And what are you playing?
We’re playing “Deja Vu,” pretty much over and over and over again, because it was her single. And of course it had that crazy bass line.
Can you give me the “Deja Vu” baseline though.
[BEATBOXING] You know? So killing, right?
That is a crazy bass line.
Ooh, it’s so killing. And I knew the guy who played on the record—Jon Jon. Jon Jon played that bass line. I had just been hanging out with him in Atlanta. Anyway so, whatever. We played together and then we’re tired of playing that song at this point. Like, we have given everything we have.
And people are watching you, too?
Yeah. You know, Beyoncé and Jay-Z showed up.
Oh, they’re there?
Can you imagine?
Man, that’s pressure.
Yes. I remember them sitting there. And I’m just like—that’s when it became really real for me and I started thinking this could be cool. After all of my, eh, whatever, I was like, wait a minute. This could be really awesome. So I would go in the bathroom, look at myself and say, you, just dig in. You got to get this. You can do this. You know, like all these pep talks I would have with myself.But I remember Beyoncé and Jay-Z were there. And I think that’s when they made the final decision.
Now, are they talking with you? Or are they like—
Sitting behind a table, American Idol style?
They’re sitting behind a table, American Idol style, smiling. She’s just checking us out. We don’t know each other so we don’t know how to act with each other yet. So it was just kind of dreamy in my mind. It’s this dreamy thing, you know?
So they leave. And I’m thinking, oh man, I don’t know what’s going to happen. They call us back in the room. We think we’re about to play again, so we put our instruments like, OK, we’re going to do this again. And Matthew stands there—her dad, Matthew Knowles—stands there and says, Beyoncé has chosen all of you to be in her all-female band.
And I remember just looking around the room at each one of the girls, slowly, just having this moment looking at everybody and thinking, wow, that just happened. And he says, and you guys are playing the BET Awards in two weeks, so go home, get packed, get ready, and we’re going to be doing a lot of work.
Crazy. I call my mom, of course. We called my sister on three-way. She’s like, what happened? I was like, I got the gig. And then I start crying.
Yeah. Well, it’s a huge moment.
I started crying. And she’s like, why are you crying? I was like, because I’m so used to everybody saying no. She’s like, well, somebody had to say yes. And we were off. Crazy.
And so when did you become—you were the musical director?
Not then, no. I think it was when we started rehearsing for the tour. Because we were just rehearsing for the promo. We did so much promo. Oh my god. We would fly to every single TV show that there was in the world. We played it—Japan, London. I mean, this is our first time going to all of these places—Germany, New York, LA.
We were just flying all the time—Good Morning America, Ellen, Oprah—everything. It was just like, we’re doing this.
And so that’s also an incredible bonding experience for all you guys, for the band. Is Beyoncé right in there with you?
Absolutely. She was there, yeah. She was coming to rehearsal. I think she was excited. I think she had been wanting to have an all-female band for some time. And she really, literally, chose each and every one of us. So she was in rehearsals. I mean the Beyoncé Experience—when you watch that show, you can feel the love and the energy.
And I mean, we put our blood, sweat, tears—you know, we fought. We argued. We cut things. We added things. We rehearsed forever. We were tired. We were hungry. We were hung over. We were partying. We were all these things. And you could feel that in that show, to this day, you can feel it. It was really a beautiful, beautiful time. And we bonded as sisters.
Yeah. So this goes on for a number of years. How many albums in total?
I think I was on the tour for the Beyoncé Experience, Sasha Fierce, 4.
And you played on the albums as well, right?
No, we didn’t play on the albums. I think Nicki played on one of the records. The horns may have played on some of the tunes. We were in the “Irreplaceable” video. We played on that. They used our recordings on that. But we released live albums, I think, from the shows, which was really cool.
Now why is that? Is it just she had her studio . . .
I think it’s the producers a lot of times. They pretty much are creating the music. And they have their guys coming in. And they’re presenting tracks that they’ve done some time ago. You just never know.
So then that runs its course. Blue Ivy is born and then there’s a little bit of time off. And then she starts something new, as she often does.
Well yeah. When she was having the baby there was a part of me, I think during the 4 tour, During the Sasha Fierce tour, this person inside of me started to creep up.
Your own little Sasha Fierce?
Yeah, you know, that girl I left in the bedroom making beats. She started to tap me on the shoulder, sometimes, during the show and be like, what are you doing? What do you mean, what am I doing? You see me. I’m on stage with Beyoncé. She’d be like, yeah but, I thought we were going to be making songs and doing our thing? And I’d be like, shut up, it’s cool.
But she really started to pull at me. And then when Beyoncé took a break, it just seemed like the right time for me to get back into doing what I’d been doing. And I’d grown so much and I had so much to say, and write about, and I had to honor that person. I had to see if I had it.
I didn’t even know if I could do a show anymore. I remember coming off tour and calling my best friend and being like, I don’t know if I could get on stage and perform. She was like, what? I was like, I haven’t done it in so long. I don’t know if I could get up and do my thing. She was like, you’re crazy. I was like, no, I don’t.
I remember the first show I had coming back and I didn’t know if I could do it.
That’s interesting, because it’s doing part of something you already were doing for millions of people. And but doing another part that you hadn’t been doing for them.
I just didn’t know. I think I became a bass player on Beyoncé’s tour. Before Beyoncé I wasn’t a bass player yet. I was an artist who played bass. I didn’t really know what it meant to be a bass player in the band. I remember after one of the rehearsals thinking, oh, I’m a bass player. This is the role of the bass player. This is what the bass player does. So, cool, that’s what I am. That’s what I’m doing.
So I left the artist sort of. That’s when she sort of went to sleep.
I’m guessing the hours were grueling, so you probably didn’t have time to write on your own at all.
No. I mean, I would write sometimes, but it wasn’t at the forefront of what I was doing. The performer in me wasn’t out.
And now, after that tour ended and you’re getting back in touch with the performer, are you reconnecting with any of these people from the band?
No, because everybody left and went to their different cities. Because nobody else lived in Atlanta. I was the only person in the band from Atlanta.
Right. So is this now, these anniversary performances. Are they the first time you guys have played together at all, since then?
I think Nicki said that the last time we all played together was 2010.
So tell me about, finally, being comfortable with this artist within you that you have ignored, who’s tapping you on the shoulder on stage.
Yeah. I had a little studio in my basement in Atlanta and I would stay up and write all these songs. And it’s so funny, because that stuff is actually on this album that I just released called, I’m Possible. But before that, I moved to LA. I still had all these other songs I had recorded that were really rock and hip-hop.
I had found this lane where I wanted to meld and mesh rock and hip-hop. That seemed to match my intensity as a performer and as an artist and as an MC. So I figured I needed to go to LA. Moved to LA, hooked up with some cats, recorded an album called The ROXX Box Experience. And then the band broke up. So I’m just kind of out there.
I went back on tour with Beyoncé after that—he ROXX Box—after releasing The ROXX Box Experience. And then the 4 tour—after she had Blue. No, I can’t remember. And then that’s when I finished, stopped altogether, to give myself the space.
So I started doing a lot of stuff in Europe. My bass company Warwick is a German company, so I spent a lot of time in Germany hanging out with them and going to their clinics. And they were doing ads of me in a lot of German bass magazines. So people in Germany really had a sense for what I was doing. And the rock and the hip hop thing was really happening there, I guess.
So I was touring a lot. And this last tour I did, maybe two years ago, or a year ago, with these musicians, Lamar Moore and Julian Litwack. We were in the van and I was saying, man, I really need to record a new album. And they were like, we should do it. We should do it.
So I started letting them hear all these records that I had been sitting at home, late at night, playing. And none of them were like rocked out hip hop. It was all really pretty stuff. And it was soulful and jazzy, and just all these snippets of ideas. And it was this side of me that I had not really shown anybody on stage—had not been onstage.
And they said, hey, we should record these songs. So we went in the studio and recorded this album, I’m Possible.
So you’re starting Berklee Online. And we spoke a little bit before about—before the mics were on—about how you’re going to be on the road and you’re going to be taking classes. You can’t bring a full-sized keyboard with you. But how do you plan on incorporating what you may learn in these courses into your profession?
Well I’ve been doing a lot of master classes, and going to universities throughout Europe giving master classes, and it really gave me this penchant for teaching that I never felt before. It was super rewarding. My dad, years ago, had said to me, you should teach.
I was like, yeah right, dad. I’m not a teacher. He said, if you really want to know something, the way to know it is to teach it. And so I had this wanting and needing to know more about music, and somehow people are inspired by what I’m saying in these classes. So I started thinking what’s next for me?
I’m going to continue making music. I can’t stop. I love it too much. It means too much to me. And I feel like I still have more things to say and some more things to express. And I feel like I can—I still have some growing to do. When I started playing bass, I put a bass clef on the back of my neck, because I says, it’s for my life. It’s a lifetime of learning.