Interview With Lisa McClendon
About Her Music....About Her Soul
In an industry that is often inundated with duplicates and spin-offs, there occasionally surfaces an artist who, in a word, is real. Such is the case with Integrity Gospel's latest hitmaker, Lisa McClendon, who has recently dropped her second solo project titled, Soul Music.
The singer/songwriter has been heralded by many as the "next big thing" in Gospel music. For such an amazing talent, McClendon didn't initially start off with solo aspirations.
"I've always wanted to be a writer," says the Florida native. "I concentrated on just writing. My husband took one of my writing books to a producer who actually goes to our church. That's how I started writing. I started writing for the artists on Shabach Entertainment, which is an independant label. Then I became an artist with Shabach."
During her time with Shabach, McClendon released her debut project, My Diary, Your Life, which received stellar reviews (see album review) and made her artistry extremely sought after. So much so, that when Integrity Gospel wanted to expand their horizons, they came knocking to McClendon's door.
"My first publicist, Kia Jones, and Jackie Patillo (General Manager of Integrity Gospel) are actually good friends," says McClendon. "Jackie was letting her know that she had just started the Gospel division at Integrity and was looking for a neo-soul artist. She described me to a T, and Kia said that she knew the perfect person. That's how that started."
While the opportunity to move from Shabach to Integrity was huge, McClendon wasn't totally convinced that it would work initially.
"At first, I was kind of leary. The first time they offered I said 'no'," admits McClendon. "I really wasn't there because I didn't know of Integrity doing anything 'neo-soul' they hadn't. They hadn't ever done anything 'neo-soul'. Then I just got peace about it and God was like 'This is where you're supposed to be'...so I'm glad I did."
Naturally, with a change of this nature comes a bit of trepidation. However, McClendon developed a strategy early on to deal with being true to herself.
"To stay true wasn't difficult because I'm stubborn and I wasn't going to let anybody change me," states McClendon. "My Bishop was a part of the process as well. He had a conversation with [Integrity] and told them to make sure that they didn't try to change me. He didn't want me to regret this move. I expressed to Jackie that I didn’t want to be changed. I'm not anything but what you signed."
One listen to her new project and it's easy to see the beauty of that strength in character. She’s definitely remained her own person, but if you listen, you'll also hear growth and change. She credits the move to Integrity for this development.
"The good thing about it is that I did have to stretch," admits McClendon. "They tried to teach me to think out of the box as far as doing soulful worship. I had never tried that. So I was able to put two songs on the album that were worship songs but they were still soulful. It wasn't as much of a challenge as I thought it was going to be."
Worship songs for McClendon isn't that great of a leap as she serves as a worship leader in her home church. Certainly, she seems quite comfortable in the worship arena, as is evidenced on songs like "Breathe" and "You Are Holy". The greater challenge for McClendon is finding balance in her life.
"There is a challenge as far as being a recording artist full time because I'm also a wife and a mother," says the worship leader. "I have to balance all three worlds. I've always been taught that my word is my bond. So I try to stay true to my word in whatever I do and if I just can't do it, I'll let them know. God has really blessed me with a ministry where they really understand [me being an artist] and they work around it."
Most songwriters tend to write either conceptual songs or songs birthed out of experience. McClendon's songwriting blends those together in a different manner. "I've had some songs that I've written that God has placed on me and I don't go through it until like a year later," reveals McClendon. "I believe that God has given me a gift to write prophetically. Sometimes it can be scary. I'm like, Lord...I don't want to go through that."
The common denominator found within both of McClendon's albums is producer Maurice "Mo" Henderson. Henderson's production credits include the bulk of the Shabach Entertainment roster including Pettidee and CampQuest.
"He is an undiscovered genius," says McClendon. "He is one of those producers that can change and fit whatever style is needed. If you need him to choir music, he can do it. If you need him to do rap, he can do it. He amazes me. I know he knows that he's gifted and he's a mature producer. I don't think he realizes how great of a producer he is. He is a genius."
Lisa McClendon's writing style is absolutely special. Her ability to put a story into words makes her songs both infectious and thought-provoking. "Stuck (Love's Anthem)" is a fitting song for all marriages and views the God-ordained institution from an honest perspective, citing the ups and downs....|
See full review.
With such a strong producer-writer connection established, it made sense that McClendon would enlist Henderson's services for Soul Music. While she accepted the Integrity deal, the transition from Shabach wasn't as easy.
"Now that was a challenge because I went from being independent where everything was laidback to corporate. I'd already left corporate America and I didn't plan on going back but God saw otherwise," reveals McClendon. "With Integrity, I had to do songs and had to wait on a 'yay' or 'nay' and I wasn't used to that. Me and Mo' did everything and it wasn't a 'yay' or 'nay'. It was hard on both of us because we had never been in this position where we'd do stuff and have to wait for a word back. I wasn't used to that, it was different."
In addition, as part of joining the Integrity label, McClendon was asked to add two worship songs from the Integrity catalog to her project. "When I found that I had to do two Integrity worship songs on the album, and that was already told to me before I signed, I was like, what in the world, how in the world?" admits McClendon. "You know that I'm not a remake type of person. By the grace of God, 'Breathe' happens to be my favorite worship song. We actually do that song in church. That's my all time favorite worship song. And God just gave Maurice the concept for the music. When he started playing the music at first, I didn't get it. He kept playing it and then started singing it and I said, 'That is not Breathe'. He had one way of doing it but the more I heard it, I felt more of a soulful Caribbean feel to it and it just came alive and I love it."
This wasn't the only difference for McClendon on this new project as she forged into new and unchartered territory....production.
"I didn't do any producing on the first project with the exception of the lyrics. But on this project, I had to be in the studio doing the mixing and there when the music was being created. After we finished mixing, I was like, 'I don't want to hear that album anymore. I literally had to put away for two months," admits McClendon. "It was actually Mo's idea for me to produce. He felt like I had it in me. I really learned a lot."
Citing greating ownership of this project, McClendon now loves the concept of producing and wants to be more involved from that angle. "I have a little bit of the producer's bug right now and I would love to produce for other people but right now, I'll stick to just writing. I hear music differently. Even when I hear the radio, I listen for certain things and I wonder why they didn't catch certain things."
McClendon can certainly not be described by the word "bashful". Her bold and unapologetic approach to the industry is second to none. However, we get to see a lighter side of her with the track "Old School". "I actually went to a friend's release party and he does R&B. He did a song talking about black folks growing up with the hanger on the TV to get reception and how you roll your window down in the car and the window didn't roll up. I was at the release party and I was trippin' out and I knew that I had to do a song like that that reflects on the church because nobody's ever done that," says McClendon. "I just started to remember everything about the church when I was growing up. I remembered how my Dad wore a 3-piece polyester suit everywhere we went. He would make me hot. And I grew up in a holiness church."
"I don't feel like I need to explain myself but if I had to, I would tell them that they need to take their God out of the box. I really believe that we are only seeing the upper torso of God. There is so much more to His body that needs to be presented. We are the body of Christ and you might be the eyes right now but can we see His toes please? Can you let Jesus walk? Get God out of the box. I have peace with this. I am not going to be able to minister to everyone. Those who I don't reach, there's somebody that will. That's why we are a body because we all have responsibilities and they just may not be my responsibility. So, I don't lose any sleep on that. I need to be focused on those who God has anointed me to reach."
This self-proclaimed "flower child" willingly tackles all types of subject matter within this project. From unhealthy relationships to premarital sex, no subject seems to be off-limits to the Jacksonville native. However, in her attempts to stay true to herself, there are issues that she just doesn't talk about.
"I could never write about street life. I don't know anything about that. Pettidee has mastered that though. I grew up in a sheltered environment. My mom was a missionary and my dad was a preacher, so I was never exposed to that. I would be perpetratin' if I did that. If I wrote about street life, you would know that I wouldn't know what I was talking about. That's why I believe that 'Holla' from the first album was very hard for me to write because to me it was a street vibe but it still came out soulful because that's me. I don't know how to write street."
McClendon is keeping busy. In addition to continuing to write new music, she's learning to play the guitar as well as entertaining offers to write with other artists. Over the last few years, McClendon has teamed up with some of hip hop's finest in some slickly done collaborations. As good as they were, the neo-soul artist doesn't see any of these partnerships surfacing in the near future.
"Honestly, I didn't really want to do a collaboration with a hip-hop artist," states McClendon. "That was something that my producer wanted me to do. I fought against it. That's not something I'm really seeking to do. I'm sure it will happen and if I do, I don't know who the artist will be. To me Pettidee is great at what he does, but I've already done it with him and I wouldn't want to do anything like that with him again. I'm just not a hip-hop head."
As McClendon releases this sophomore project with Integrity, it's safe to say that she'll be nationally and internationally recognized. She has her eyes on the next hotbed of untapped talent to look out for. She praises the vocal stylings of Freestyle Nation, which features Paul Morton, Jr. (son of Bishop Paul Morton, Sr.). She also speaks highly of soulful artist Joseph Karey and B-Dill.
As she progresses down this new road, she asks that consumers would pray for artists. She also has a message for other artists.
"Stopping trippin' on your egos. I've met so many egos since I've signed and it's sickening. Do you realize that this isn't about you? This is all about God and us doing what God's called us to do. Somewhere along the line people think that their gifts are all about them and getting all of the accolades they can get. Talent comes a dime a dozen, so don't get beside yourself."
As she prepares for the Evolution II Tour slated for Fall 2003, (together with Byron Cage, Tonéx, Percy Bady, Virtue and Corey Red & Precise), McClendon is ready to take the nation by storm. Her Soul Music is already making a heavy impact and winning souls for the Kingdom.
—Gerard Bonner —
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