Interview With Londa Larmond
Telling The Whole Story
Life is a whirlwind for Londa Larmond these days. Since her song "Once" came to the attention of the Gospel nation by way of the WOW Gospel 2001 project in January of 2001, thereís been a growing buzz about this new EMI Gospel artist with the unusual accent, wonderfully resonant sound and fresh perspective.
ó interview by Stan North ó
We managed to find a window of opportunity to chat with the Toronto native via cell phone as she sped around town in her car getting ready for her Love Letters project debut. The interview as punctuated by her absolutely infectious laughter (and the occasional odd beeping from phone technology), as we asked her about the whole experience so far, and what sheís learned.
Londa Larmond: "Wow, as far as the recording process goes, Iíve learned that itís really long! I did not know it would be so long! For me, itís taken at least a year, no make that two years. I remember in November 1999 when I did a showcase as a new solo artist, we thought the album would be done around summer of 2000. And itís just getting done now [in mid 2001].
Itís a lot of start and wait. You record maybe two songs for about a month, and then you wait for like 3 months for new songs to come in. And then you record again, and then you wait probably for five months. And then, when the album is finally finished, itís pure waiting, because thereís the mastering, and the liner notes, the album cover compositions, and so on. For sure, I donít think the second album will take that long!
The other thing that Iíve learned is about my peers, my fellow artists. Theyíre so supportive! Itís not that thought they wouldnít be, but I sure didnít expect to get so much of it. Everywhere I go, I Ďm just getting a lot of looooooove from everybody.
Itís very cool, especially being new and everything, seeing all these artist superstars (I call them superstars). All these other people have been there for so long, and have gone through the process. And thereís me who is just coming in. Youíre wondering if people are going to like [the album], or if they are going to dump it. Or, maybe they donít like it, but they wonít tell you. Maybe theyíll just tell somebody else. But everybody loves it, and I thank God for that, itís a blessing.
GospelFlava.com: We can imagine how it might be difficult to adjust to a situation where suddenly the focus is all on you. You suddenly see your face on all the publicity shots, and you hear and read your name as the label puts out the word about your new album. But your message isnít about you, itís about Jesus. Do you find that there are challenges in that?
Londa Larmond: For me, you know what, I donít find it that hard, although it could be very easy to get the big head. Iím not finding it that hard to stay focused, because I know why Iím really doing this, and why the Lord has given me this platform. Thereís a message that Heís given me to get out, and the only way for me to do that and to glorify Him is for me to have this platform. Heís chosen to place me in this situation.
I have a story to tell. Everyone calls [being a Gospel artist] a ministry, but what is the ministry? Yes, Jesus is alive and well, and yes He came to save. I believe strongly in all that, and my album is about that. But my album is also about Jesus dealing with the actual person, the actual human being. We as Christians go through hurt, we go through pain. How do we handle that, and how do we overcome those feelings and move on? We all know the Christian walk is not always happy, happy; we go through trials and tribulations. Sometimes those are things the church doesnít want to talk about. Iím here to talk about it, Iím here to go against the grain a bit and bring it out.
GospelFlava.com: What youíve done is risky, on a personal level. Youíre quite blunt in saying that you went throught some situations where you seriously were considering suicide. Thatís not something that many people feel comfortable in talking about, let alone debut artists. Was it a hard decision to come forward with this very personal testimony?
Londa Larmond: You know what....it was. At first, Shawn Tate, the Marketing Director for EMI Gospel, he came to me and said, ĎTell me your storyí.
I said, ĎWhat story?í? [laughing]. I said, ĎI donít have a story, guy!!í So he just asked me to tell him how I started out and what happened and all. So we talked, and then after a bit he said to me, ĎOk, so you really donít have a story."
And he was trying to find stuff, and we just couldnít find anything! So I thought, oh no! Iím a goody two-shoes!! I never got in any accident, I never smoked, I didnít drink, didnít take drugs.
Then one day a little later, I was telling [my manger] Richard Picart about some stuff that I went through when I was younger, and he said to me, ĎLonda, thatís your story!í
I said, ĎReallyí? And I thought about it for a few days, and then I realized that yeah, this is my testimony! The fact that I attempted suicide two times in my life, once when I was a child, and the other time when I was in high school.
And then I thought, ĎUh oh, I canít tell people this.í
Especially coming from my background, since my parents grew up in Jamaica. Itís just a very, very private culture, those kind of things, you donít bring them out.
So when I finally decided to talk about my testimony, I first had to go to my parents and tell them.
I didnít want them at the album release party. Imagine, everyoneís happy and then suddenly they find out there for the first time from me that, ĎOh yeah, I almost committed suicide two times!í So I had to talk to them about it.
Being open about all this, yes, it is a risk. Youíre letting people inside. Youíre letting them see your secrets, your past sins. And when you do that, you become vulnerable, very vunerable.
But I think that people appreciate it when you donít dwell on the negative, but focus on the fact that God brought you through. And thatís where I turn the tables.
Yes, I almost committed suicide. Yes, I was sexually violated. Yes, I was in relationships where there was betrayal and guys cheated on me. I had real low self esteem, I lost an awful lot of weight, my hair started falling out (which is the reason why I cut it short like it is now). I was so stressed about everything.
But when I finally talked to God and turned it over to Him the Comforter, the One who said that Heís gonna be there for me, that Heíll never leave nor forsake me. He gave me peace. I was able to go through every day knowing that he was there.
People tell friends about their problems, and thatís great, thatís what you have friends for. But friends can only take you so far. They canít deliver you, that has to come from God. Heís the one that brought me out of that situation. People need to know that they can make it, that they donít have to commit suicide.
I was ashamed that I was even thinking about suicide, with the position I had in the church. The fact that the devil can have us around his finger so tight, itís a real shame, and itís so sad. People need to realize that while they are having those thoughts, God is right there beside them, ready to help. Thatís what my story is.
GospelFlava.com: Ok, so to tell this story, you decided to go with some producers and songwriters that may not be familiar yet to many. Mookie in particular, heís not done a lot of work on the Gospel side, although he has a great track record on the rhythmic CCM end. What was the background to that decision?
Londa Larmond: Mookie did three songs: "Once", "Ascension" and "I Delight With You". We went with him because they say heís Nashvilleís best kept secret, and I would have to agree with that. He is so fly! I just love him to death. He brings something really different. My album is one of the first in Gospel to have his kind of sound to it, a real pop feel."
He talked to [EMI Gospel exec.] Ken Pennell and said, ĎMan you gotta listen to this song, itís so dope.í So we went to Nashville and heard it and said, ĎYeah, this is the one.í Right away I recorded it, because is was jamminí and it was pumpin, and it was different, something you didnít hear on other albums.
Plus I like Stacie Orricoís music, another artist he produced. He puts pop and just some pumpiní, driviní stuff that punches you in the belly when you hear it. And thatís what I wanted, something you can celebrate Jesus Christ to.
Iím glad Mookie didnít try to change me, Iím still Londa on every song. I may tone down a bit on different songs, I may be wailing on others.
GospelFlava.com: You also have Alex Asaph Ward producing and writing several songs for you, such as Hold On". Anyone familiar with Kim Burrell knows him from the incredible studio work he did with her on the Everlasting Life project. What was it like to work with the Kim Burrell guy?
Londa Larmond: The Kim Burrell guy! [laughing] Yes, it was just awesome. When you hear his stuff, your impression is, ĎOh this must be the guy who produced Kim Burrell, because he has that feel.í And I have no problem with that, because if Iím going to be compared with anybody, itís gotta be Kim Burrell. Sheís my favorite female soloist of all time, sheís my mentor, I hold her in high regard.
Richard Picart and I got together and asked ourselves ĎWhoís going to give us our Gospel sound on the album?í That was important because of where Iím coming from. People are used to hearing me sing the traditional sounds and the churchy songs. So I had to have that sound on the album, because thatís me. When Richard asked me what I thought about having Asaph Ward produce, I said, "Yeah, right!!!" When he agreed, I was just so excited.
Asaph, heís so down to earth. I went down to Kansas and actually recorded in the studio he likes to work in, Wheeler Studios. We had a wonderful time, the sessions didnít take long, and oh yeah, he can sing!! Yes, he can! He told me what he wanted to hear in the songs, and I gave it. Sometimes he let me do my own thing, and sometimes he had a certain sound in his head that he wanted to hear from me.
Love Letters shines as highlight among new artist debuts this year. With Londa Larmond's resonant pipes and some stellar songwriting to work with, it's a nice mesh of material that lingers far after the CD stops spinning.|
You can read the full album review by clicking on the image above.
It was hard because it challenged me to be different, to bring out sounds and notes I didnít know I had. I expanded my range a lot. He allowed me to wail, which is what I just love to do! Iím not a riffer, Iíll do a run here or there when I have to, but I love to wail.
The things that he came up with lyrically and vocally, wow. And he used the band to work around me. He had me do the vocals, and then he had the band work around my track, not the other way around which it is usually. I thought that was just the best.
Asaph also wrote "Heís Alright With Me". I loved this song and chose it because it was the church sound I wanted. I wanted that background small ensemble sound. I really love Kim Burrellsí song "Lift Jesus Up" from "Everlasting Life", and I wanted a song along the same lines. When I heard this one, I could just hear myself wailing on it.
Asaph sent it to over to me, and it was great. Actually, every song that Asaph sent I used, he didnít send me one bad song. And believe me, people do send some....stuff!!
GospelFlava.com: Well, what kind of songs were you not looking for?
Londa Larmond: I would say that when people are going to send you music, itís important that they produce it properly. It doesnít have to be in the most expensive studio, but it needs to sound right.
I didnít want songs with clichť lyrics. I wanted depth, stuff that people are going to relate to about whatís going on with their life.
GospelFlava.com:You also have Renee Rowe in your album credits. You donít hear a whole lot about female producers. What role did she play in Love Letters, and what's she all about?
Londa Larmond: Whatís she all about? [laughing] Well, I think sheís awesome, Torontoís best kept secret. She plays the fool, and you can quote me on that, OK? [laughing] She needs to get out there, because when it comes to dealing with vocals and making arrangements, sheís very quick on her feet. She co-produced the title track, "Love Letters". We didnít have the bridge and we had only one night to lay down the vocals and send it off to EMI Gospel for polishing. And Renee wrote the bridge in something like five minutes!
She wrote the lyrics, came up with the melody and then I sang it. We also worked together with the other vocal parts on the track. In Reneeís head, she has so much creativity that sheíll think of six-part harmonies and sing them to you. And then ask you to sing it back! I donít know how she keeps track, but she does. Iím all about getting Toronto out there, and I feel like me along, with Sharon Riley and her choir are going to get that word out.
GospelFlava.com: Is there anything else youíd like to say about the album that we havenít talked about yet?
Londa Larmond: Yeah. The album is telling us that Jesus is in love with us. And you can find out how much he loves us by reading his love letters, which is the Word of God. He want us to hold on to Him, and He wants us to know that Heís always there with us, Heís there understanding how we feel.
The Bible says that Heís touched with the feelings of our infirmities. I know that when I am going through my situations, Heís doing just that.
I believe that when I was crying, He was crying with me. Jesus understands what weíre feeling, and he really will not let us go through more than what we can bear. He wonít allow us to have that trial if he doesnít know we can go through it. Heís right there with us.
And thereís always going to be better days to get to that light at the end of the tunnel. But itís up to us, we make the choice.
And also, that weíre hear to help one another. Like my song, "Help Him Stand", we are our brothersí and sistersí keeper. Jesus is alright with us, Heís alive and well, and we are to celebrate the fact that weíre no longer in sin, weíre free.
All of that.
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