A Star Is Born - Interview with Michael Debbage
Who is Cadence? Unless you are a huge fan of Mars Lasar the likelihood is that you have never heard of the Northern California born Jennifer “Cadence” Spalding. With a pure and angelic voice multi-layered in the rich tradition of Enya, the impending release of Cadence’s first solo album, "Save The World," is likely to change her anonymity.
Raised in a musical family, art major Jennifer “Cadence” Spalding has been constantly exposed to the arts around her. Such experiences varied from playing keyboards in a rock band to stage productions and even the television media. However, 2006 was the year of change when she met and recorded with Mars Lasar. Jennifer performed on the track “Valley Of The Giants” on Lasar’s stellar album "Yosemite." Apparently, the recording session went very well and the two had much in common both on a musical and personal level. Once again she was featured on Lasar’s jazz album "At The End Of The Day" on the track “Sometime.” On an even grander scale she was the prominent vocalist on Lasar’s Christmas celebration "A Star Is Born" with her involvement extending to composition and production credits.
As wonderful as these contributions are, Jennifer “Cadence” Spalding has not been showcased as a solo entity. However, the imminent release of her first solo album, "Save The World," will change all that. If her forthcoming solo performances parallel her inspiring Christmas renditions on Mars Lasar’s album "A Star Is Born" then it is in my humble opinion that the Christmas album title may have more than one interpretation. Despite being in the throes of putting the final touches to her solo album "Save The World," Cadence Spalding took the time recently to speak with Mainly Piano.
MD: Born Jennifer Lynn Spalding what inspired the name change to Cadence?
CS: The CEO of my former label called me one day to let me know that my name “Jennifer Spalding” was “surely not a name for selling records!” as he put it, and this being my first major record deal I said “no problem! You can call me ‘muffin’ if you’d like.” That’s a true story, could I make that up? After some thought, I landed on a nickname my fiancé had given me teasingly in the studio, “Cadence” as in “extended song ending”, and the executive was kind enough to stick with my surname from birth. After that, the name stuck.
MD: I understand that you were born in San Francisco, California. How has the city and state effected your musical perspective?
CS: Luckiest girl in the world to grow up in the San Francisco music scene in the late 70’s and 80’s with great old halls like the Fillmore, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, Great American Music Hall and the like, venues where you could literally feel the pulse of all those sizzling hot bands members and where an entire generation of legendary musical acts was embraced. It felt like they were playing in your living room. And San Francisco audiences respect live music and always gave a good listen and, they were the very best at letting it all hang out.
MD: Your biography mentions that you came from a family of four generations of female musical influence. Was there any undue pressure to follow in their footsteps?
CS: There was pressure to succeed in every way possible as a female growing up in Northern California in my generation. Big shoes to fill with an ancestry of women who beat the odds and weren’t only professional musicians, but educators, hard workers and mothers of huge families. But we all had a lot of intense scholastic competition and pressure to get amazing degrees, have a groundbreaking and lucrative career and for the girls, birth perfect children. But degrees were desirable in things like medicine or law or business, not so much in music or the arts. Because of all that, it took me a long time to give myself permission to focus solely on my music – which was always my deepest dream. I now encourage young people to get to their dreams as soon as possible, because self fulfillment seems to be a recipe for much more relaxed parenting and just a happier life. My female ancestors were a very serious group of trail blazers in their day, and they took their music theory and music education seriously, and I am grateful for their guidance and inspiration. Their children are well adjusted and successful in today’s world, as musical homes will often nurture success and confidence in children, even if music is simply a hobby or just a personal passion, it’s one that lasts a lifetime.
An art major at University of California, Davis, you temporarily joined a rock band. Would you care to site some of your influences then and now?
CS: Oh my! The pressure not to leave anyone out, and allow me to say it’s such a privilege to even speak these names out loud. (Regarding the college band, we were called “Jane His Wife” and we did covers from the Police, U2 and the Pretenders mostly – so fun!). OK so I might have musical ADD, but here are some of my personal favorites: Beatles, James Taylor, Jackson Brown, Bonnie Raitt, K.D. Lang, Tower of Power, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Genesis, George Winston, Sting, Fleetwood Mac, Tower of Power, Grateful Dead, Scott Joplin, Etta James, James Brown, Frank Sinatra, Janice Joplin, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Elvis, Bach, Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Mozart...and I’m a big fan of American Musicals.
MD: You were also involved in television media and stage productions. Are you still involved and if not what aspects of that life do you miss?
CS: Happily I’m still involved with most aspects of production, post-production and even television media occasionally. I miss LA, the people mostly, but I love Northern California where my roots are. We took a couple of years off live performing to have our son, but that gave us more time for recording. Lately we are back out performing again, and getting the kinks out of our live show because for this new “Cadence sound”, sky is the limit! I’m also working on a couple of very special “live” band projects for future videos, one specifically for children, another for a Christmas special, and we are developing a brand new concept in musical DVD’s for newborns. As parents of a toddler, and having recently ventured into DVD production in addition to all other aspects of music production, it’s non-stop around here day and night. So I guess the answer is a big YES regarding involvement, too much music to even make, but we are overflowing with inspiration and thank God for all of that. And what could possibly be better than having this type of work when even the music toys are so much better?! Mars and I are also excited about a new project involving film, and an innovative radio station is in the works as well.
MD: My first exposure to you was courtesy of Mars Lasar’s creation "Yosemite- Valley Of The Giants" back in 2006. Was this your first collaboration with Mars?
CS: Yes, that was the first commercial track I recorded with Mars. It was the very first time I sang in his studio. It was mostly improvisation and recorded in the romantic and snowy mountains of Lake Tahoe when I was rather - pregnant! It was my song to the squaw, a tribute to the spirit that is in every woman, and the connecting of women to one another through all of time and place through the act of giving birth. That song now has nearly half a million hits on You Tube along with a video made by a radio station in Turkey. The bloggers often ask who it is singing, and then go on to argue about the meaning of life. I guess this is typical for New Ager’s – such a deep group! We love reading all of the passionate comments on our very first song together – even the bad ones.
MD: Now the fiancé of Mars Lasar clearly there is a personal and musical marriage in existence. What came first and how was the transitional period?
That’s a definite chicken or egg question. It was love at first sight, but not the kind of love you might think. We connected instantly through intense conversations based on our mutual love of music theory, and we had similar new ideas about teaching music to children. Mars and I first met after being referred to each other by a toy company executive to work as potential co-producers on a children’s music CD project. We didn’t end up working together on that particular project, but after several lengthy conversations about theory and music education, I felt really connected to Mars. His mastery of the piano and his passion for sound design, and just immense talent, made me an instant fan of his music long ago, and a fan I am still, even as his wife. But let’s not forget ladies, Daddy’s a hot Aussie, so no shortage of inspiration around here! And so after our initial connection that was based on being hard-core music nerds, some time later our paths crossed again, and this time that timing thing was right for us romantically. Ok on our first date, we inevitably got to talking about theory once again, and later that same night we sat at the piano together for the first time and played into the wee hours (wink wink). It was the beginning of something magical and yet so unexpected, like the best things in life often are. Meeting Mars was like finding the other half of my musical brain! It’s just not something I can even figure out, so instead I’m just grateful. So just a few weeks into our romance, we co-wrote “I Do”. Our intellectual and artistic connection is so intense and yet so easy, and now it’s just icing on the cake to a beautiful marriage and we are so blessed to have each other and we know that and try not to ever take it for granted. Our son is a miracle to us and he is a daily reminder of our love for each other.
MD: Your musical break-thru came via your musical collaboration with Mars on the very impressive Christmas celebration A Star Is Born. While it was still released in Mar’s name, your involvement was very significant. How did the creative process work?
CS: We recorded "A Star Is Born" when our son was just a few months old. We locked ourselves into a 100 year old house with studio equipment and a baby, and came out a month later sleep deprived with a record we are extremely proud of and a much bigger baby! We had to edit out baby sounds from the home studio recordings! It was a very intimate recording process, a true fifty-fifty collaboration, done mostly in our PJ’s late at night. At one point, I was singing while lying down on the couch because it was like 3am and I couldn’t stand up anymore! (So I’m here to say that the “couch casting in my own home” rumors are actually true!) We fell in love with the sounds we were getting and repeated the process of experimenting with layered tones, while carefully dissecting chords and debating voicing choices as we moved along. We weren’t afraid to experiment, or to argue, and that is how we found the magic. It’s hard not to be inspired by those timeless and haunting Christmas Carols though. You can create all the sounds in heaven, but without the structure of solid songwriting, it has no place to go. So we tried very hard to respect original writings of the carols and balance their true essence with our own spin on them. I think of that CD as a celebration of our new lives together - a collaboration of love, much like our child really. To both of us, music is a personal expression, but we believe that it’s inspired from a sacred outside source, and is a gift meant to be shared. The originals on that CD like “A Star Is Born” and “William’s Hallelujah” were written by me and initially for my children’s choirs, and “My Prayer” was co-written by the two of us for our little one, and all that being said, the whole process is still really a mystery to us, and we try not to over think it. Sounds cliché but we try to go with the flow and stay open to the inspiration, while being respectful to the timeless laws of theory. And Mars is the master of pushing the envelope on technology. He has even written his own software to help do that. He is amazing!
MD: You are also featured on Mar’s latest 11th Hour release "11:05 Revival" on the track “By The Sea” as a writer and a vocal performer. It has a sultrier lazy jazz feel to it as does “Sometime” from Mar’s jazz album "At The End Of The Day." How did you prepare for these performances?
CS: I prepared by wearing something sexy to the studio which is in my home – and that might sound silly, but that is what helps me get into character or more specifically, to relax into the music. When relaxed, I can then focus on using my voice as an improvisational instrument. My years of experience playing jazz piano really helps. I try not to make any plans musically and just stay present and concentrate on the words and the sentiment and then - just let it happen! Being relaxed is critical, and throw in a fresh Mars Lasar jazz track that I’m free to decorate as I wish with poetry written often the night before or even the morning of, and that sultry lazy sound seems to emerge naturally and organically. This style is very fun for us, and a lot faster and easier to make than the Cadence sound. In fact, it’s just way too much fun for two people to have! We definitely plan on making the time to finish an entire CD of these jazz songs very soon because we’ve been getting great feedback! Mars used to work with Herbie Hancock and Seal, and these two artists are inspiring to both of us even now, as are so many others today and yesterday.
MD: The title of your new cd is "Save The World." Would you care to elaborate on this very dramatic title?
Regarding the new title "Save The World," yes a little bold, but if you knew me in person - I am fairly direct - and I'm passionate about all of us chipping in when and where we can - in little ways if not in big ways - and mostly for the voices that have no sound. I think that when you see the finished product of the CD/DVD, you will see that it really lends itself, but gently I hope, to this title :) Hippy stuff really ;) The songs are about my deep gratitude for the simple beauties in life and just how precious and diverse we all are and how much we all need each other now! The DVD features a large variety of the earth's exquisite inhabitants, and the process of using double micro lenses is groundbreaking. All of the photos we are using are animals, children, rural landscapes etc. attempting to subtly echo Sting's beautifully expressed sentiment "how fragile we are" and I'd like to ad "how diverse we are – how beautiful and special we are - while sharing a single home and sanctuary - the earth". Praying daily for peace.
MD: Considering the bold title of the album where did you draw your inspiration from when you wrote the title track?
CS: I wrote and recorded the title track "Save The World" right after watching Al Gore's documentary on global warming. Still pulling my jaw up off the floor as I watched the US Army march into Iraq, the twin towers go down, and just all of these global tragedies from my comfortable living room while holding my new baby - and I was floored emotionally and moved to tears and wanted my message to go deeper than before. Having just become a new mother, the feelings I've had all of my life were now magnified. (If I weren't a singer songwriter, I'm sure I'd be a minister hoping to motivate the masses into taking baby steps up tall mountains - I just wouldn't be able to decide on a single religion!). I believe in speaking from my heart and with as much honesty and self disclosure as possible without offending others - I hope that makes sense. Also, the style of the song "Save The World" I think works well as an exemplary musical track for the entire CD.
MD: For the readers not so familiar with your music how would you describe the music adventure that they can expect to hear?
CS: It’s like describing water sometimes. Really hard. Technically, it’s a choir of a single voice, or a single voice interplaying with an extraordinary choir, one that breaks all laws of time and space, making the sound completely unique. The artistry of Mars Lasar and his ability to make this very special choir of a single voice literally creates a sound experience; a deeply penetrating vocal tonic that feels like the sound is touching you. Expect the unexpected, and expect to be soothed and sensually inspired, but also expect the music to be grounded in raw emotion, solid musicianship and pure inspiration. My classical roots and love for spontaneity combined with our mutual passion for a well-crafted song will keep the music interesting but hopefully not overwhelming. The adventure of listening is designed to be suited to the individual, as I strive to keep my music very open and soft – leaving room for the listener to join in with me and feel it their own way. Does that make sense? I try to make music that is alluring to sing along with, music that invites you in, singing along, playing along, thinking to or enjoying simply as a participant, even in silence. I’ve been compared to Enya often, but honestly, even though I adore her music, I have never consciously tried to emanate her. I think people just don’t know where to categorize me.
On this CD, I do a lot of my talking with just music and oftentimes with no lyrics at all, using vocal sounds are intentionally organic and even primitive in tone, but then combine with the sophisticated voicings remnant of the most civilized of classical eras - an attempt to paint a sonic picture of vastness, variety, sophistication, infinity, or more simply, a musical picture of how far we have come as a living species - and yet united even still by our basic needs for sunlight, water, protection and on a spiritual note, love. Bottom line... we have become a planet in great peril and by working together we CAN save ourselves, and no living creature is exempt from the situation. I am honored to just say that directly through the mystical powers of music that magically lends itself to individual interpretation - intimate and personal. (I'm also just a big fan of pure listening pleasure and the musically induced trance).
MD: There is overlapping talent as far as the keyboards are concerned. How did you separate your keyboard duties in the recording studio?
We overlap a little, but mostly we fit together like a puzzle. Where I’m weak he is strong and visa versa. He plays nearly every instrument on the planet, but prefers not to sing or play guitar – my two loves. Our piano playing styles are very different, and our writing strengths vary. I’m obsessed with arrangements and well-crafted pop songs, while Mars is a sound design master and can play so many different musical styles with great mastery. When it’s a track that I write, generally I do all the keyboard work and it’s the same with Mars. We experiment with one person writing the piano and the other playing it for a unique spin, and that works really well - sometimes.
MD: Living in a 24 -7 relationship how do you and Mars keep it alive and fresh?
CS: Nothing is more alive and fresh than a 3 year old for starters! There is never enough time in the day. We are both artists, and we both enjoy fine art as well as music. Mars is a genius at photography and I love writing, painting and used to dance professionally. Our interests and hobbies are so similar I’m sure we would have been set up on “e harmony” or one of those personality sites had it not been for the music business. I have to pinch myself that I’m in love with my best friend. That’s a new one for me! That keeps it very fresh!
MD: What are the short term goals of Cadence?
CS: Short-term is finishing our second Christmas album, wrapping up current projects that include a children’s DVD and of course a there is second CD coming soon for Cadence (it’s almost halfway done already) and I absolutely cannot wait to release this one! A jazz album is a definite possibility as well. We are also obsessed with matching our crystalline studio sound with a live performance that is mesmerizing for all of the senses, so we are piddling away at that. And I would love to do something with Cirque du Soleil…
MD: What are the long term goals and any chance of some live performances?
CS: Absolutely! We are ready for anything. Just last week we snuck in a surprise live performance of “William’s Hallelujah” in front of a local festival crowd of a few thousand. The audience seemed stunned. They started swaying and hugging and roared with applause at the end. We were thrilled! We’ve discovered that we can polish our live performance in the privacy of small town venues, working out the kinks for what is sure to be a live show with sound that is to be so huge, intimate and unexpected from any live stage, a sound so new that it promises to create a musical experience that is totally original, from the heart, and with a vocal surround sound that is stunning. Ambitious I know, but to say anything less would be dishonest. But mostly, our long-term goals are to cherish each and every day together. Mars and I are so blessed with love for each other and our children, and also for an endless passion for musical exploration we can use to give back to a world that needs so many helpers right now. With the explosion in music technology and just our pure addiction to the entire process – inevitably we are going there – using the music as a vehicle to reach out, and we thank you for believing in us.