Photo by Emily Gringorten
By Lily Doolin, WERS Blog Editor
Local hip-hop legend Red Shaydez has been "chillin' in the shade" for some time, keeping a low profile, but last year she took to the spotlight and brought fans an intimate look into her personal life. Her 2019 Chillin' in the Shade EP took Boston by storm, but now, Red is returning to the album that started it all for her – Magnetic Aura. Her upcoming album, Feel the Aura, is the second of three albums in the Aura series, and is the first project of hers in which the Boston music community is heavily featured. Just after finishing all of the production for Feel the Aura, Red spoke to WERS Blog Editor Lily Doolin about the creation of her albums, working with artists and producers in her own backyard, and how sleepless nights have finally turned into the dream she always wanted.
I first wanted to talk about this amazing album of yours that you released last year, the Chillin’ In The Shade album. I am totally obsessed with it, and I wanted to hear a little bit about what the writing and recording process was like from your perspective.
Red Shaydez: Yeah, no problem, thank you so much, I appreciate that! I think of the Chillin’ In The Shade EP as a therapy session for me, because this was sort of a one-off project that had nothing to do with my previous effort, which was Magnetic Aura. Magnetic Aura is a part of a trilogy, so my new album this year is a continuation of that. So Chillin’ In The Shade EP was something that I felt like I had to release to my supporters and new fans, because I had a lot of personal things that I wanted to get off my chest before I gave another full-length album.
The thought process and the writing process behind this was like, “OK, I have a lot of these pent-up personal issues that I’m going on with and in order to release and let go, I have to put it in a song, because that’s the best way that I can articulate myself and express the way that I’m feeling.” So, you know, I’m very private in how I treat the show online, but I am an open book, and I tend to get very personal in my music. It was so long since I did my first album that there was a lot that I had to catch people up with, and my... I don’t know what you would call it, but a lot of people started to find out about me more when the Chillin’ In The Shade EP came; There was a lot of stuff in my journey that they didn’t know before, so I was sort of dealing with this popularity that I wasn’t accustomed to.
That’s why the first song is called “Friendly,” and it talks about not knowing who to trust, not knowing who the real fans were, and who are people who jumped on the bandwagon. It was really just a lot of hesitance, and you hear that in that song. But then, as you go deeper into the EP, it sort of talks about the relationship with my mom, it talks about my anxiety, and how I’m my own worst enemy sometimes. Then, towards the end of it, we start talking about love and taking care of yourself, which is a fan favorite, “Self Care ‘18” and beyond. So it was sort of like a release session for me more than an album.
Seeing how it was a personal therapy experience as you said, is there a song on that EP that either taught you something really special or important about yourself, or even your songwriting process in general?
RS: (Pause) That’s a great question (laughs). You know, with me being a Libra, I’m always going to have two answers, so please forgive me (laughs). So, I have a special connection with “My Conscience,” just because I remember specifically being up from like 2 to 5 am writing the song. For whatever reason, I thought it was very wise to drink Bustelo, which is this very, very strong coffee, and I don’t even drink coffee like that, and I couldn’t go to sleep; I woke up at like 2, and I wrote that song until about 5 am. The lyrics just kept flowing and flowing, and that song – especially because it’s literally my conscience speaking to my actual self – it just shows the struggles of me trying to progress and trying to make some headway, and then the little voice in my head is being negative, and making me feel like I can’t accomplish the things that I want to accomplish. So, by the time I got to the end of that song it taught me, “Hey, it is all in your head, you need to take a stand and block that voice out and start trying to move forward.” But then I would also say – I like to show balance a lot – and so “You Like It, I Love It” was a fun song because I remember recording it, that process of having one of my favorite singers collaborate and accompany me on that song. It was just like a nice little hip-hop R&B ballad, if you will.
That is so great, and I’m a Gemini, so I feel the double-sided-ness.
RS: (laughs) You feel my pain!
(laughs) Yes! I totally, totally feel that. Switching gears now, as you said you’re working on this second iteration of the Magnetic Aura trilogy that you’re doing. How has that been going, what have you been working on, and especially during this time, are you working on anything?
RS: You know what, luckily, before the pandemic hit, I was 65% done with my new album. It’s called Feel the Aura; It’s slated to release this summer, I’m very excited. You’ll start to see more posts garnering around the release and what’s to come, and it’s completely done now, so I’m happy. Luckily I did so many recording sessions in quarter one that I was able to get all the collaborations out the way, all the songs out the way, so the only thing I really have left now is to master it and get radio versions and show versions.
And this is the second installment to the trilogy, so like I said it was Magnetic Aura, and now this is Feel the Aura. I’m really excited about it because this is the first time I felt like I was able to do everything I wanted to do on one project as far as creativity and growth, and just not being afraid to touch on certain subject matters, because I know a lot of times people are used to hearing a certain thing from me. I’m very versatile in my stuff, but for the most part what I’m seeing is having powerful messages and standing up for the community, which is great. I’m still doing that on this project, but there’s a lot more – let me find a nice way to say this – there’s a lot more braggadocio, bravado on this record. I’m really excited because I didn’t have any collaborators on the first album, no rap features on the second either, and this has all of that on the third. And for the first I’ve been able to work with a lot of local producers, which is something that I’ve never done. I’ve always worked with producers virtually and they were from everywhere but my city, so now just being able to see so many people from the community and have them a part of my new experience is just great. I’m very proud of the final product, and I’m very excited to let the world hear it.
I was reading that you are super involved in every single aspect of your projects, not just with the music, but the marketing, the promotion; It sounds like you have such a hand in everything, you’re very sort of DIY. I was wondering if you had any advice for those people who are really looking to sort of keep everything in their space, and not really give up something to a promotional marketing coordinator or something like that. What advice would you give to those people?
RS: I would definitely say time management. If I had the budget for a team I definitely would get one, but I’ve tried in the past to bring other people on, and oftentimes you get in a situation where they don’t share your same vision, or it’s not their dream. They’re not going to have the same urgency or determination as you because it’s not something that they’re trying to accomplish, it’s essentially yours. So that’s something that I try to keep in mind, and like I said I did try to reach out to other people for years and years but it just never ended up working out. So ,I figured when I get payroll, and I’m able to pay someone that is actually interested in that position, and they’re not someone who you find online or off the street, and you’re like, “Here, do this,” then I’ll do that.
But if you’re gonna be one of those hands-on artists, it’s not easy; It’s a lot of sleepless nights, it’s a lot of late nights and early mornings, it’s a lot of research, it’s a lot of failing, but it makes the success that much more rewarding. I’m at a point right now where I’m starting to see the fruits of my labor; It took over ten years to get to this point and that I actually started getting paid for my art, and so I wouldn’t advise everybody to do it the way that I did. But I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason, and it’s meant for me to have this path. I’m sort of like a late bloomer. So, if you have time management, determination, and persistence, I think you’ll be set to go.
Hearing you talk about working on this second installment of the trilogy of albums, you mentioned that you were a little more involved with working with people in the community and in this Boston music scene, so what has it been like being supported and being involved in the scene? What has your experience been and how’s it been actually reaching out and finally collaborating with people on this one?
RS: It was great, I was missing so much! You know, being that I cross a lot of different sectors – I’m in nonprofit, I’m in technology, I’m in the entertainment world – I sort of was able to, in film and video and you’ll see that on this project, I was finally able to feed both of my passions, which are music and film and video. Being that I’m a youth mentor for the Hip Hop Transformation Program – I also am an artist mentor – I thought I would just put it all in the same pot. I reached out, and people were more than happy to contribute, which I was... I wasn’t surprised, but I was just so happy that they were so excited as I was, and I never really got to experience collaborating with people in the same space and playing off of each other’s idea.
That’s why it was so important for me to showcase that, so in addition to this project, you’ll be seeing a series called The Aura Sessions: Behind the Shaydez where, with every collaborator that was on the project, you get to see from scratch how the song came about and then how we recorded it in the studio, and then hearing the full song – well, hearing a snippet of the actual song. I’m a '90s baby, and back then they used to have shows such as Making the Band, Making the Video, and Access Granted, and I don’t really see those things anymore, other than a few shows online. So I said, "Okay, let me bring my fans inside so they feel like they were right there with me when I was recording."
What’s really great too about these collaborations is that each feature was invited to my house in the red light – in the red aura light in the living room – that is notorious; Everybody knows I have this big couch and red light, and they had to come up with the song in red light, and they had to record it at the studio in red light. And you’ll be able to see that.