Interview with ...
Tell us more about your early years.
I was born in Mandeville, Jamaica. I migrated to Montreal at age 12, sang in gospel choir and school talents shows.
When and how did you start your musical career ?
At approximately age 16, I decided to try another genre of music and rehearsed with local bands, making my debut as support act for Millie Jackson. Later joining a few local bands, which led to more support acts for artists such as Sugar Minott, Sanchez, Buju Banton, Freddie McGreggor and many others.
What was the first single you recorded ? I know that you recorded "It's My Turn" in 1986 for the Revenge of the general riddim album, is it your 1st single ?
My first single was a cover of Doris Troy's "Just One Look" produced by Barry York in 1985.
You did other songs for Barry York on the Orbitone Records label "Me A No Boopsie" in 1987 and "A Woman In Love" in 1988 under the nickname Juliet "Smurfette" Nelson. Could you tell us where this nickname comes from ?
Smurfette is a nickname I got in high school and everyone got so used to calling me that it became my stage name for many years. Even though I no longer use it on stage most people still call me Smurfette.
You have a certain soulful smooth vocal style. Were you influenced by other jamaican and american singers ?
Most definitely. Judy Mowatt, Michael Jackson, Hall & Oats, Marcia Griffiths, Santana, Phyllis Dillon, Bob Marley, Freddie McGreggor, Dennis Brown, Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross and most of the 60's - 70's R&B groups and of course Phil Collins, Desmond Dekker, to name a few. I could go on for weeks as there are some many amazing talents past and present who influenced me.
Have you ever taken any singing lessons ?
No not professionally, but I learned a lot from being in choirs and from other singers and musicians. The voice is an instrument and should be taken care of and rehearsal is a part of maintaining it.
You write many love songs. Where do you find inspiration ?
My inspiration comes from life experiences, mine or someone else's or I go where the music or melody takes me. I get an idea after hearing the first few bars of a riddim or a melody pops into my head.
You recorded your 1st song for Donovan Germain's Penthouse label "Turn down the lights" - on the Far East riddim - in 1993. How and when did you get connected ?
I felt that I had out grown the Reggae scene in Montreal, and decided go back to Jamaica to experience what it was really like, since I did not grow up there I felt I wasn’t authentic in my music. So in 1992 or 1993, I had an audition with Donovan and one of his engineers which led to the recording of my first single "Turn down the lights", one of my compositions from late 80's.
Did you integrate the Penthouse team to make background vocals or directly as a lead vocalist ?
I went with the intention of promoting a solo career after polishing my act but landing the gig as one of the background vocalist for Buju Banton and Wayne Wonder is the best singing lesson I ever got.
Tell us about the other singles you recorded for Penthouse.
"Love me or leave me" : I disliked this riddim - Swing Easy riddim - at first and got no inspiration for writing on it. I sat in on Bere Hammond's recording on this track and explained to him that I have to come up with a song but I can't feel the music. He gave me good advice saying "when the riddim is a bit slow speed up the melody a bit and do the reverse for a faster track". I tried it and came up with my song.
"Show and tell" : Andrew Thomas, a fantastic Penthouse engineer, who I worked with on most my recordings, suggested that I do a cover of the song for the Tempo Riddim and it worked beautifully. He could not have chosen a better song for this riddim.
"Lead you" : This song was an idea I started working on and thought it would be perfect for the Things Come Up To Bump riddim, but was not happy with how the lyrics were flowing. I don't remember if I requested or if Donovan did but the end product was done with Mikey Bennett of Two Friends Records who at the time was one of the most sought after producers. I recorded the song at his studio and always liked working with him.
"On fire" : It was another on of my 80's compositions so I was thrilled to be recording my material, Tony Kelly rocks.
"Lessons" : This song was one of my earlier compositions written in the late 80's. Donovan got a team of musicians to record an original riddim for this song if I'm not mistaken.
"Somebody else's lover" : Donovan returned from a European trip extremely excited about this song saying "You have to cover this song, I think you would be perfect for it, you have to hear it". I Heard it, loved it and was happy to record it.
Among all your singles for Penthouse, which one is your favorite ?
"Turn Down The Lights" is my favourite as it holds much significance in my career.
What is Donovan Germain's singularity comparing to other producers ?
Donovan allowed me the freedom to explore and make the songs my own instead of telling me how to sing them. He gave his feedback after and I prefer that to a producer who constantly interrupts the creative process.
Could you tell us more about your backing experience with Buju Banton ?
I had an amazing time working with Buju and will always treasure those memories. We were a family, some good times and bad but we were a strong unit and it showed in our performances. Buju encouraged me to be true to myself and to write songs about things I'm passionate about.
Do you remember the other artists for whom you did background vocals ?
I had the pleasure of doing background vocals for Judy Mowatt, LMS, Garnett Silk, Devonte & Tonto Metro… These are all in studio, there is more but I can't remember. At Montreal, I did background vocals for Kulcha Connection, Lorraine Klaasen, Vernon “Maytone” Buckley and most of his compilation albums and also for various artists in the city.
At the strong moment of your collaboration with Germain, you belonged to Penthouse Crew, which featured artists such as Buju Banton, Tony Rebel, Wayne Wonder, Beres Hammond or Marcia Griffiths. How was the atmosphere between artists at that time in the recording studio ?
I can only speak of Wayne, Beres and Buju as I sat in on their sessions a couple of times, seperately, and the atmosphere was electrifying. They record as if they are live on stage.
When you recorded for Penthouse, Dave and Tony Kelly were producing most of Penthouse songs. Can you tell us a little more on their way of working ?
Dave and Tony were energetic and fun to work with, always dancing in their chairs and when they touched a button on the board it was pure vibes. They knew what the listeners wanted and encouraged the artist to bring it in a fun and creative way.
Your last single for Penthouse was “On fire” in 1996. Why you did not record any more for Germain since ?
I had left to join the group Worl-A-Girl in New York for a couple of years. During American Reggage Sunsplash 95, Worl-A-Girl asked me to join as one member was leaving at the end of the tour. I had been a fan of this group and though it was a bitter sweet decision I joined as a the 4th vocalist. When I returned to Penthouse after Worl-A-Girl it was a crazy commute between Montreal and Jamaica for rehearsals before touring so recording was on my to do list but never got done.
Can you describe us your collaboration with the other Penthouse background vocalists during the 90s : Twiggi, Dwisdom, Michelle Jackson, Nikki Tucker… ?
I have never worked with Michelle, but I love her tone. Twiggi, Dwisdom and Nikki are amazing artists - solo and background - who have mastered the art of harmonizing, I learned a lot from them.
Did you recorded for other producers when in Jamaica except the song "Is This For Real" you did for Buju Banton and "Syl" Gordon's Cell Block label in 1995 ?
No I did not record for anyone else.
Do you earn a living with music or do you have another job ?
I do have another job which is working with pre-school children which I have always liked but music is my 1st love so this has always been on the side. I now do it full time as I'm a mommy of a 12 year old daughter and so I need to be stable. Music is now my job on the side but only for a while before it's fulltime again.
Can you tell us about your career since you live in Canada ? I know that you recorded the song "Try" for House of Reggae records this year.
Since returning home to Montreal in 1997 after my collaboration with Worl-A-Girl, I have not been on the scene much as I find it’s difficult to work under certain conditions. The scene here is quite different with a limited amount of musicians to work with. I do perform from time to time for events like the Montreal International Reggae Festival or private events sometimes as background or solo. However I am always recording and have lots of works in progress.
DISCOGRAPHY ON PENTHOUSE RECORDS : |
- Lead you (1995 - Things Come Up To Bump riddim)
- Lessons (1996)
- Love me or leave me (1995 - Swing Easy riddim)
- On fire (1996)
- Show and tell (1994 - Tempo riddim)
- Somebody else’s lover (1996)
- Turn down the lights (1993 - Far East riddim)
listen to these singles :
Dancehall Hits 5 cover - 1994