Chanté Moore: More Precious Than Ever…and Still Blossoming
by A. Scott Galloway
There’s a lot awaiting so I’ll make this quick. I had the pleasure of documenting the evolution of singer/songwriter Chanté Moore since before her debut album Precious made her an immediate darling of the R&B-Pop world…especially on what was left of the Quiet Storm circa 1992. She has always been very open in her writing, very classy yet always willing to take a dare or two. Her latest “dare” is her raised public profile as one of six cast members of TV-One’s runaway hit reality show “R&B Divas: L.A.” on which she co-stars with Michel’le, Lil’ Mo, Claudette Ortiz (formerly of City High), Dawn Robinson (formerly of En Vogue) and Kelly Price (who has turned out to be her arch nemesis).
Now two high profile marriages/divorces, two children and, surprisingly, only five previous solo projects to her credit, Chanté Moore has just released her sixth project Moore Is More (on Shanachie Records) with several songs more than alluding to her dissolved union with singer Kenny Lattimore. The album debuted at #1 on iTunes R&B Albums chart and features such gems as the sensual confessional “Talking in My Sleep,” the wedding song “Giving You My Always,” an inspirational song penned by her sister La Tendré titled “Jesus, I Want You,” a brilliant rendering of the torch standard “Cry Me A River,” three sizzling club numbers, and the tour de force “Don’t Make Me Laugh” which lays bare how she feels about Chanté’s most recent man at home and her marriage that is no more.
In the conversation that follows, I have a silly to serious chat with my old friend and among my favorite artists for the first time since her fourth album, Exposed (MCA – 2000), discussing the lighter and deeper aspects of all the above plus her poignant closing reflections on the memory of her first producer, George Duke who just passed away from leukemia.
A. Scott Galloway: What was your motivation for doing a reality TV show like “R&B Divas: L.A.” at this point in your career?
Chanté Moore: When they asked me to do this show they talked about making something musical and creative with five other women in R&B. That really piqued my interest. They said they would respect my boundary: my children were not filmed. Sophia came to one event but she’s16 so she can handle it. They were very clear about their intentions and honored their word.
Scott: Were you a follower of any existing reality show?
Chanté: I really don’t have a lot of time for television. When I do its movies and (giggles) “Forensic Files” kinds of stuff – a show that starts with a murder then they work their way through it. It could be a hair from the dog of a neighbor’s friend’s sister’s puppy that leads them to find who murdered the person! I find that so intriguing. I really don’t know why I love that stuff so much – retarded, I know. But it’s kept me from killing people! (laughs)
Scott: Are you saying you recently wanted to kill somebody?
Chanté: I won’t answer that!!
Scott: How much of your “precious” time did filming “R&B Divas” take?
Chanté: We shot for 8 weeks, 6 days a week, on-call. Sometimes it was just a scene in the morning with one other person, or days where you have one scene with two ladies and another one later with four. They would mix it up which was good. I liked getting to know each of the divas separately. But getting six of us together who were all used to talking by ourselves was clashing big time for a minute. It was like, “I didn’t get to finish my sentence! What did she say? O.K.-O.K., say it again! Right…right…” We learned how to interact with one another as we got better acquainted which helped a lot.
Scott: “Diva” is a word that people either embrace or hold at arm’s length. As an admirer of yours from the beginning, I never saw you as a “diva” type. What’s been cool about the show is seeing all that playful silliness.
Chanté: Let me tell you what’s strange … I did not know I made those faces when I talk. Who talks to themselves in the mirror except somebody that needs a little medicine?! I was really taken aback watching myself be as animated as I know I am. It’s bizarre but really is fun to watch.
Scott: I’ve never been a fan of these types of shows. I watch this one to observe you ladies form a sisterhood and prepare this monologues show of confessions and songs – like, “how are these ladies going to get this project done?” It refreshingly doesn’t have the cocktails to the face/baby mama drama I’ve glimpsed in other shows. But this situation about who is directing feels like a lot over a little.
Chanté: Well, it gets resolved and we do a monologue that is what I wanted it to be – regardless of the process to get to it. What was good about it taking as long as it took to get to it is that you didn’t see much of the monologues ahead of time.
Scott: I saw “The Vagina Monologues” in Beverly Hills many times with different actresses. It was riveting. With your crew’s “What Would Divas Do Divalogues” being autobiographical, I’m looking forward to as riveting revelations.
Chanté: The divas in this show are really brave and courageous. We wanted to press ourselves to another place so it would really be of substance. Fred Thomas Jr. did a wonderful job of working through our stories and helping us to really say what we mean. It is a lot of life information to share with the world in a moment. To do that in a way that it doesn’t feel chopped up or like you’re throwin’ up on the world, either – I really appreciated the way he used his talent for the tenderness that was in our hearts. He didn’t “play” us. And he didn’t make me feel like I was being used up for usery’s sake – “Yeah, say that – they gon’ love it!” I take my hat off to him because he went through a lot. Of course, we could have had more theatrics, props and lighting, but for what we had we gave everything we had.
Scott: “The Vagina Monologues” was three ladies sitting on stools. Plus they didn’t sing! So I look forward to your program’s epic conclusion as I know you are, too, because you have no idea how this is all being edited!
Chanté: I don’t! So I’m sweatin’ with you guys, bitin’ my nails, worrying and hoping the best for everybody. I know there’s a lot of drama around Kelly and what’s on tape and off tape – “is this real or not real?” I’m here to tell you that what I saw is accurate. Every point and reference – every gesture and word spoken – cannot be on film. It’s only an hour show and there’s only going to be eight of them, so it is what it is. I take my hat off also to TV-One for the editing process which is not easy with 6 points of view, having them all make sense and making everybody happy. And, honestly, you can’t put words into people’s mouths. You have to be responsible for what comes out of your mouth.
Scott: Your latest album, Moore is More, has been a long time coming. The last solo record, Love the Woman (Peak Records – 2008) is the CD of yours I was least happy with because you did a lot less writing.
Chanté: I wrote three song on that – not as much as I would normally have written. It was a strange time… This (new) album will explain a little bit about what I was going through. Moore is More is very autobiographical. As you know I’m always writing from where I am but there were some dark moments in my heart and in my life at that time. This album reflects as much as what I can say politically correctly.
My son’s father is my ex-husband and right now, being forthright, I’m still angry – still a little tender when it comes to speaking of him. I have to get over that then maybe other things will be said, done and all that good stuff. But this record right now reflects where I’ve been the last 5 years.
“Don’t Make Me Laugh” is pretty clear…very exposing. I feel very raw when I sing it and even when I hear it back in front of people. I almost come to tears because of how real it is to me…how tender that spot still is.
Scott: In my notes, I call “Don’t Make Me Laugh” Chanté’s “This Masquerade.” “Stop, where’s my understudy / I can’t go on / Maybe she can take my place / You don’t even look at me / You don’t even bother / When you hold me I don’t feel anything at all / It’s not funny anymore.” That song – compositionally and in the arrangement – is the masterpiece of this album. Even the layering of your voice, the high-pitched laughter hook…there’s so much on the table here. If you were saying that you weren’t being explicit…reading between the lines, that’s a cold-blooded piece right there.
Chanté: Yeah…it’s what happened. And it’s my experience. I know that Kenny will have his own take on his life for the last 5 or 10 years. I know he put an album out a couple of years ago (Timeless – a 2008 album of cover songs on Verve Records). I didn’t hear it. But this is what I do as an artist. I believe my job is to take you with me on my journey and offer you a part of who I am with each record. That’s what I’ve done with this record. I’m very proud of it. I feel very vulnerable because I’ve never been though this kind of emotion before.
As I’ve written in the song “Alone,” I’m really happy to be by myself and to be in the moment. Sometimes as women we get a little lost in “I can’t wait to find a man” or “I can’t wait to find the one” or “I can’t wait to fall in love” or “I can’t wait to get out and over him!” Well, I’m happy that I’m right here in this moment. I’m enjoying right where I am. I don’t think I’ve been happy where I am in the moment in a real-real long time. I’m happy just to be. I don’t need somebody else to be here with me. I don’t need somebody to call me. I don’t need somebody to do anything for me. I’m happy just to be at peace…such a beautiful thing. And I wish that for every single person – man, woman, child. It’s more valuable than money.
Scott: Many people don’t get to experience that. They get into relationships or situations, they stay and they stay until they’re miserable, and they never get back to a point where they can just be alone with themselves – to rediscover or reaffirm who they are…or even discover themselves for the first time because they jumped in with someone else too early before knowing who they were in the first place.
There’s a line in “Alone” where you flipped something that I wanted you to explain. What did you mean by “You snatched defeat from the jaws of victory?”
Chanté: (clears throat) Well, (Kenny) kinda had it in the bag – you know what I’m sayin’? We could have made it and had an amazing, victorious, fabulous, wonderful life. Then it was as if defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory. We were already winning – it was good. It could have been more good – mo’ better! I feel like stuff just went left… You can be in the limelight but it affects your life personally…it’s how you deal with it personally. You can put on the happy face – smile, bow, be done and it’s all fabulous – but you can’t stay in that place unless you work and you devote who you really are to who you are really with.
Scott: Going back to Love the Woman, what was going on in your personal life that was precluding you from being as hands-on writing-wise and autobiographical as you are on Moore is More? Just before that on the double CD you did with Kenny – Uncovered and Covered (Verity/LaFace – 2006), the two of you came up with some beautifully insightful songs about being a couple that not enough people heard because the albums were straddling the fence between secular and Christian.
Chanté: Sometimes when you’re married it’s a little different. You can’t always…well I can’t always speak about things that have happened and be as careful as I should be. I don’t want to say anything that might hurt anybody – not their career, not their personhood, not their persona. When I’m married, I’m protective of who belongs to me – extremely protective. So if there is unhappiness, I’m not the one to really write about all of that in that moment. I wasn’t gonna be, “O.K., I’m in a pit and I’m gonna sing about my being in a pit!” Sometimes when you’re going through a lot, it can be draining.
In all fairness, in the middle of making Love the Woman, a lot of it also had to do with the lady (running the label), Andi Howard (head of Peak Records). I don’t usually write people’s names down but this lady drove me bananas! She wanted one record at first. “I want the Chanté Moore that I know!” I said, “O.K., I can do me – I can do that!” Then it was, “I want a jazz album because that’s the kind of label we are.” I said, “O.K. – we can do that.” Then we delivered an album and she was like, “I need more R&B, more forward.” We did that. Then she said, “I want to release more jazz!” So it was crazy – really hard to get clear vision.
Which is why with Moore is More, my manager, Cheryl Cobb-Debrosse, and I talked about this record knowing I had a story to tell. We knew how much we would have to acquiesce if we were signed to a label to make sure they were pleased with what we do but we wanted to make sure that we made the record we wanted because I had something to say – me. I wanted to make sure that my voice was heard – not compromised, with not one opinion voiced before I was done figuring out what I wanted to say first…who I wanted to present myself to be. It’s a little different than what you’re used to but I can’t be the same person that I was in 1991. I’m not that person from 20 years ago. I’m not who I was 5 years ago. Musically, lyrically and emotionally, I’ve had to develop and grow.
That is what this album reflects. I know who I am. And as many times as I’ve lost myself, I’ve found me. I always find me. Sometimes we do get lost and that’s o.k. It’s o.k. to go through things and times in which you don’t feel absolutely sure about everything. That’s called Life (soft chuckle).
Scott: I love the way that you grow and change and morph. But I know how the music business is and there’s a contingent of your fans that love the Chanté of Precious and A Love Supreme – the jazzy sultriness – and there’s not a lot of that on Moore is More. Did it feel risky to push the envelope so much musically?
Chanté: I don’t agree with you. I start out with, to me, what is classic Chanté: “Baby Can I Touch Your Body” – there is not a more classic Chanté Moore song than that. Then you have “Talking in My Sleep” which is a little more “Chanté’s Got a Man”-ish where it has a little bit of funk and soul but still that melody and the intent of the lyric. The remake (“Cry Me A River”) is a great one plus “Giving You My Always” – all of those are classic Chanté Moore songs. Then you have “Don’t Make Me Laugh” which, to me, is more me than anything on the record.
If it’s not me that you want then you don’t get me and you don’t love me. I really completely disagree with you, Scott. I believe its pieces of the same style you got on Precious and A Love Supreme…but ‘today.’
Scott: Well it is less jazzy and more contemporary which makes the difference to my ear. “On and On” is hardcore dance music of today that reunites you with rapper Da Brat (from “Take Care of Me” off of Exposed in 2000). And “Doctor Doctor” sounds to me like you’re comin’ after Beyoncé…comin’ for her!
Chanté: No, I’m not! She’s in a class by herself – and I love her, by the way.
Scott: I’m sure you do…but this is a business (a la “Purple Rain”)!
Chanté: No doubt. She has her fan base and that is wonderful. I love “Doctor Doctor” but it wasn’t like, “Gimme a Beyoncé track!” Sometimes people do formulate strategies like that. What I love about music is it really does ignite the inside of my spirit…makes me excited about writing. Kwamé Holland wrote the music for that song and we wrote it together at the studio in his house. We had so much fun so I know this came from my soul.
Just hearing my records is not getting to see me completely. When you see me live, you see that I am energetic and I am a goofball. Some people call me “spark plug.” In a studio, I try to display a song’s mood at that moment but live I can express more when I’m talking – which, again, is what’s so crazy about “R&B Divas.” It’s so hard watching myself speak! (cracks up) But I love it, Scott. I get to see and get to know me – how `bout that – at the same time you get to know me.
Scott: One fave moment of “R&B Divas L.A.” (ep. 2) is when you donned the Wonder Woman costume which on the CD we learn ties into “On and On” where you sing, “Wonder Woman, Supergirl, I’ll be there at the speed of sound.”
Chanté: Wonder Woman was my favorite on TV when I was a little girl. I’ve been Wonder Woman three years as an adult and worn my outfit with my daughter three times. As far as me bustin’ out as Wonder Woman on “R&B Divas,” that wasn’t planned. We had a really emotional meeting the night before so I just wanted to lighten everybody’s continence and give them something to laugh about. I surprised them with the Wonder Woman outfit just to get the women’s morale up.
Scott: So you just happened to have that in your luggage?
Chanté: Well, we were in Vegas so I knew we were going to be by somebody’s pool at some point! So I thought, I’ll just bring my Wonder Woman bathing suit. I also have a full costume but that was the bathing suit that I found one day when I was out shopping with my daughter. She got Batgirl and I got Wonder Woman. I just threw it in my suitcase thinking we’ll be in the pool one day so I’ll slip into it which will be so funny. When it got a little intense the night before on the set, I said let’s just make it a goofy Wonder Woman moment.
Scott: Well, it was definitely memorable. But beyond the goofiness, you are also the one on the show who seems the most centered and nurturing. Am I accurate in that assessment?
Chanté: Well, Lil’ Mo knows who she is. Each one of us has our strengths… I know who I am. I know, under pressure, I excel. When things happen, I don’t freak out or fall apart. I’m gonna focus, center and move. If it’s an earthquake, a fire or gunshots – whatever – I have very clear thought in those moments.
But I was praying the whole time Kelly was talking to me. I was like, “Oh, Jesus, help me, Lord Jesus!” I didn’t want to say the wrong thing but I didn’t wanna get punk’d. I didn’t want to not say what I felt but I didn’t want to get combative for real. It was a whole lot going on in my head. And dealing with people’s emotions you have to be very careful. I didn’t want to make anyone feel like I was trying to make them look bad. I was very conscious about that because there were cameras rolling – and I didn’t forget that they were there. In a normal situation I would have said, “Girl, let’s go take a 10-minute break somewhere, have some coffee or tea – whatever you need – calm down and let’s figure this out,” then come back and have rehearsal. But with cameras rolling, we can’t just “time out.” It’s got to be real life on real time and we have to deal with whatever rolls out in front of us.
So you do see me being me…but it’s in a very extenuating circumstance. It affected me when I left those rehearsals. I would get in the car and it really would hurt. I’d be in tears going, “I didn’t sign up for this mess!” I don’t like to feel that kind of tension. It’s not the way I live my life. If somebody and I don’t get along, it’s o.k. – you can be pissed off…just don’t piss on me. That’s all I’m sayin’. So to go through all that then know that you still have to see these people for the next however many weeks that were left was rather draining.
Scott: My hat’s off to you for sticking through to the end. The last two songs of Moore is More are especially special. You always had inspirational songs but “Jesus, I Want You” was written with your sister. In all the conversations we’ve had, I don’t think I knew you had a sister. Tell me a little about her.
Chanté: Her name is La Tendré (pronounced “la-tahn”). It’s French just like Chanté is. She’s my big sister but I call her “my little big sister” cuz she’s shorter than I am. She’s been my inspiration for such a long time…so talented. She’s taught herself to play the piano, the guitar, the flute, the drums, she writes, she sings, she draws – she’s literally a great artist. When I was a little girl, she used to sing at church. I didn’t. I was in the choir but I never led songs. It was she who led the songs. She has such a beautiful angelic voice. One day soon you will hear it. I want the world to hear her and not just her songs. You’re going to love her.
She would sing “Never Alone” by Walter Hawkins – the song I remember most as a little girl watching her in church. Afterwards people would come up and say, “Your sister is amazing!” Boys would come up and go, “Oh, my God, I wanna marry your sister – she’s so beautiful.” I was like, “Yeah, I want some of that!” But as much as I love The Lord, I really didn’t think – and I still don’t think – I have that voice. My sister was the one who slayed them at church.
Scott: Is “Jesus, I Want You” a song La Tendré wrote a long time ago or recently? Did she write it for you? Where did this song come from?
Chanté: She wrote it for herself. She was over my house with her guitar one day, and played and sang it for me. Both of us were in tears…she always cries when she sings. I fell in love with it and I’ve sung it live around the world for years. When it was time to do this record, recording it was a definite for me. I immediately identified with it because of where I’ve been. I’ve been in love a couple of times and honestly, I realized the horizontal love is not the one I need most. Growing up in the church, it is a lesson to learn that you need Jesus more than anything and anyone on the Earth…one thing you really need to know for yourself.
Scott: You close Moore is More with one of the torch song standards of all time, “Cry Me a River.” I have such a pet peeve about singers recording these classic songs yet haven’t lived enough to overstand such sentiments. You did this song justice. Your version vacillates between cabaret and jazz with a contemporary twist. I really love it because I can tell you lived this lyric, felt it, and delivered it Chanté’s way. Tell me how you came to sing this song. Did you select it?
Chanté: Oh, yeah… First of all, I’m a humongous Barbra Streisand fan. She is a great actress, a hilarious comedienne and an impeccable vocalist. My daughter and I watch “Funny Girl,” crack up together and I love that it’s still appealing even to my 16 year-old. I would absolutely love the opportunity to star in a production of “Funny Girl.” I would put some twists on the man-thing part of the storyline, but that would be amazing to do.
“Barbara Streisand’s A Happening in Central Park” is still one of my favorite live performances by anybody. That was where I heard her sing “Cry Me a River” for the first time. It was so alive to me though I had not been in that place. That’s where my love for that song came from. Having that feeling now through my experiences, I love singing that song from where I am right now.
Scott: In closing, reminisce a little about our mutual friend we just lost, Mr. George Duke – how he became the one to shepherd you through your first album, Precious, and how your relationship developed with him over the years.
Chanté: He was one of my favorites before I ever thought that I would work with him. The first time I ever had puppy love, “Sweet Baby” and “Touch and Go” (both from The Stanley Clarke/George Duke Project – Epic Records – 1981) were the songs that remind me the most of falling in love for the first time…ever. So he was already there in my musical/emotional life. Then when I signed with Louil Silas (Silas Records), he asked me if there was someone that I would like to work with. George Duke was my first choice. There were other producers. George did six of eleven [“Precious,” “As If We Never Met,” “Sexy Thang,” “I Wanna Love (Like That Again),” “Listen to My Song” and “Finding My Way Back To You”].
The very first time I ever sang professionally behind the microphone in a studio was with George Duke. He taught me how to convey my heart in a song behind the microphone. He would talk to me, out loud – over and over again – cheer when I was doing something right and point out lightly when I wasn’t doing something so right…but in such a gentle way that he never made me feel uncomfortable or that I couldn’t do something. There are times when you’re in the studio and you can’t get the emotion out or the note out. He’d say, “Yes, you can.” Or he would say some words – or some person’s name – that would take me there! That’s what a producer is supposed to do…pull the essence that is within you out onto your record.
My first performance live singing my music anywhere for an audience other than my record company (which was only once) was live at the Montreux Jazz Festival with George Duke. I was so petrified…but I knew I could make it because he was there with me. He really gave me strength…that undergirding, father-figure love like, “I love you and you can do this because I believe in you!” I can’t even count how many shows or tours… We were just in Indonesia together with (saxophonist) Everette Harp who was also part of my very first show playing “As If We Never Met” with me. He’s just always been there. We have music recorded together that hasn’t even come out. So, you know…he’s “Big Daddy.”
I did interact with him recently. I didn’t get a chance to on the phone but we did email back and forth about two weeks ago. I knew that he was ill. I just didn’t believe he would go quite this quickly. He was in Japan with Stanley Clarke a couple of months ago at the same time I was in town – that same night. We left our show as fast as we could to jump in a taxi to see him at The Blue Note.
There are people that when I look at their faces I recognize them as my family. George is going to be greatly missed… Not just for his music but because he had the most decent heart of all beings.
A. Scott Galloway
The Urban Music Scene
August 13, 2013