Following on the heels of his heralded 2017 solo debut, Introducing Stokley, which resulted in a pair of hit offerings; ”Level” and “Organic,” long-time Mint Condition front-man Stokley Williams is back for more. The talented singer returns with the lead single/video, “She…,” featuring The Vu. The song comes from Stokley’s eagerly awaited, soon to be unveiled follow-up LP, Sankofa.
Fresh off his performance at the 2019 Soul Train Awards, honoring Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, we caught up with the singer to talk about his forthcoming project and much more. Check out the full Stokley Williams interview below.
Parlé Mag: First things first, who exactly are The Vu?
Stokley Williams: This is what I named my band. It’s pretty much a double meaning. First, it’s just about seeing things from my/our perspective, sightline. Peering into this world and tapping into the vision I am/we are creating, offering. Second, it also stands for Volume Unit, as in how sound equipment displays the signal level of what you’re listening to. I guess a simpler way to look at is… we just like to turn up!
Parlé Mag: Now let’s hop into this brand new entry “She…” — Tell me about this particular composition?
Stokley Williams: This came about by me creating a certain mood on keyboards, and it pretty much grew from there. Aside from me working in a solitary fashion, I like to collaborate as well. On this one, I teamed up with the amazing songwriter Carvin Haggins. We also did “Organic” off the last project together. I usually have a concept and melodies galore. We just mix it up and… Presto!!
Parlé Mag: “She…” comes courtesy of your still forthcoming sophomore solo collection — What all can you reveal and/or divulge about this upcoming body of work?
Stokley Williams: Well the title of this offering is Sankofa. It’s a concept out of Ghana, which for me basically says look back while traveling forward. I think we have to do more of this while we are in this ultra modern technology. I don’t believe “out with the old, in with the new” should be applied to everything. It seems these days that’s the case. I’m just bringing what I know and what’s near and dear to me, to the public. I love mixing traditional instrumentation with modern computer generated sounds. Like Steel Pan and some crazy stiff robotic sounding keyboard sound. Melodies of yesterday and today, etcetera. As far as producers go, I’m still at the helm, but also collaborating with some friends of mine. One being Ivan Barias who was on the first album. His partner Carvin Haggins is an amazing songwriter who has been contributing on this one as well. Also, young songwriters Tradessa Willis and Trevon Trapper who go under the moniker Shakespeare. There are a few artists that I have in mind that will hopefully join me on this ride, but not confirmed yet.
Parlé Mag: How does Sankofa either differ and/or compare to that of your first solo record, Introducing Stokley?
Stokley Williams: This ride, I simply feel I will take the experience from the first one that I’ve done and apply all that I’ve learned. Not only with the music side, but also the business side. Of course I feel that everything will be better and more polished for public consumption.
Parlé Mag: For this new album, you teamed back up with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis as they relaunch Perspective Records bringing everything full circle again — What particular strings of events actually led to this reunification?
Stokley Williams: Well Jam & Lewis have never really been that far away. Always in the corner championing my journey. In the early years they constantly fed me and Mint with so much information, mentoring just comes naturally for them in my eyes. They have a wealth of knowledge that is unmatched. My manager/business partner has a label, Blu Raffe. Perspective and Blu Raffe have joined forces to bring excellence to the world.
Parlé Mag: As just mentioned, it’s also a joint venture with indie imprint, Blu Raffe (What does that name signify anyway?) — What are your future goals and/or plans for the label?
Stokley Williams: Well, Blu Raffe stands for strength, trust, loyalty. The intention is to turn this into the largest influential mini/major on the planet. Right now, the roster is small on purpose so that we can focus on what’s in front of us. It’s me and Shakespeare is all.
Parlé Mag: You’re an incredibly talented songwriter. Please explain your creative process.
Stokley Williams: I try to remain as open as possible, just because I may end up blocking something that may be creatively beneficial. So therefore my process comes in many different forms. Could be melody/phonics then words, music first via keyboard, or guitar. I used to have the whole song in my head. When that happens, then I start from drums. The drums usually predict the genre. That’s the thing that draws the line in the sand as far as feel goes. Songs come from conversations I have, books, movies… it’s endless the more open you are.
Parlé Mag: What’s an average day like for you?
Stokley Williams: An average day for me is always doing something musical. I don’t think you can call yourself a writer/producer, etcetera, if you don’t do it every day. Otherwise, you may miss a golden opportunity by not having developed that creative idea. You at least gotta check into your virtual office every day. Hanging with my kids, taking them to their after school activities: volleyball, basketball, piano training, etcetera, a movie every now and again. Other than that, recording for myself or someone else. I’ll also take the occasional drum gig. I miss just being a drummer a lot. That keeps me spiritually and sonically grounded.
Parlé Mag: Is there a(ny) hidden meaning / message in any of your music?
Stokley Williams: Messages aren’t really hidden in my music. There may be some double/triple entendre going on. I’ll have some things that can make you listen twice, three or four times. But that’s what I think music should be doing. It’s a sonic painting. Meant to be viewed over and over from different angles. I realize we all love to reach for the low hanging fruit ‘cause it feels good and we don’t have to think too hard about it. In the same breath, ain’t nothing wrong with thinking. Matter of fact, these days everything is right with it.
Parlé Mag: Please discuss how you interact with and respond to fans…
Stokley Williams: My fans seem to be as close as you can be to an artist. I like to have conversations with fans, which I enjoy most times. Listening to how and when they discovered me, my voice. Whenever they jumped in is cool. It’s always something uplifting for the most part. In my shows I give them all I can, so I believe they always wanna reciprocate that energy.
Parlé Mag: What is your favorite part about this line of work? Your least favorite? Why?
Stokley Williams: My favorite part is just seeing and/or feeling the immediate reaction at shows or when songs come on in a club, event or even hear something on radio. That is when I turn it on, ‘cause I don’t usually. My least favorite is maybe the craziness on social media. There’s nothing sacred it seems. I know it’s very easy to reach and say/do something controversial for likes or looks/shock or whatever. But there are real people on the other side with families, loved ones. It just seems that people who serve up poison usually don’t like it spit back in their face. That’s natural. This is part of the silly game though.
Parlé Mag: Speaking of that, how has not only the industry itself, but even more-so you as an individual, either changed and/or evolved since your whole inception into music?
Stokley Williams: Well, the entertainment industry is ever-changing… one must be pliable to the ebbs and flows of life in general; and Music is life. A very simple example of coming from the analog world in the beginning, to now operating inside of this digital realm is probably the biggest thing to happen. Everything is everywhere all at once. There are so many options for people that it’s hard for anyone to concentrate and focus on one area. So we all end up jockeying and vying for positions to be seen and heard in the best way possible. Back in the day, we received music and videos and films pretty much in one space or very few spaces at one time. This made the impact bigger. Made the event more specialized. Now with the influence of the internet, it has changed everything completely. Both for better and worse. But that’s the balance of opposites at work for you.
Parlé Mag: Longevity, what do you attribute yours to?
Stokley Williams: For me, it’s just getting out in front of people’s’ faces and having a conversation with words, melody, rhythm, imagination, creativity, energy, movement. That’s just primal. Everything else is just virtual, second best. There’s nothing like having a live experience… something you can touch and feel.
Parlé Mag: What do you want people to get from your music?
Stokley Williams: I just want them to feel passion, to be moved beyond anything they could ever express with words. We both speak the language of music this way, which we know is truly universal.
Parlé Mag: On a more serious note, are you happy with the current state of R&B?
Stokley Williams: All I truly know is Music fits inside of all people. It just depends on what your musical sensibilities are, what sounds were around you. But anybody can be turned on in an instant with something they never knew about before. I think of myself as sort of a bridge. Between new and old. The state of R&B is cool. Again the way we receive music is all over the place, so now the only big difference is you have to search for it. Before, it appeared in one or two spaces more or less and that went out to everybody, and the next day you were talking about it in school or something.
Parlé Mag: What has been your greatest career achievement(s), at least thus far anyway?
Stokley Williams: I would say not just meeting some of my musical heroes, but being able hang with them and just talk. Stevie Wonder, Prince… amazing people. Also, I would say traveling with my friends all over the world seeing things I thought I’d never see. All from me loving drums and having it blossom into many other musical areas.
Parlé Mag: What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Stokley Williams: Nothing they haven’t heard before really. Pay attention to history; you gotta know it, that’s why and how we are all here. Pay attention to technology, otherwise you will get left in the dust, pay attention to the media business which is what I used to call the music biz, because it’s all intertwined. I will also say that there is no magic wand, no magic drug, no one person, no one thing to make you better. Only the hard work you put in day after month, after year. Be relentless; you really gotta love this thing. Stop looking for fame, that will come. Stop seeking one big payday, many will come and return. I will also say lazer focus is required if you want a career. If you want a moment? Well then, try the opposite of what I said. Although there are some exceptions, but most don’t make it through.
Parlé Mag: Lastly, what’s the present status of Mint Condition?
Stokley Williams: We all have been doing our separate things. I can’t pinpoint every detail of the members to you because I’ve been so crazy in my world. But exploring spaces and places we haven’t been able to explore I’m sure has been the thing.
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