Many musicians would give a limb to have the career Divinity Roxx has had thus far. Having played for everyone from Oprah to Obama, and being not only Beyonce’s bassist but her musical director – yeah, this is one hell of a woman and the perfect candidate to kick off a month dedicated to women who are true blue musicians. They are not just singers or dancers, they are also women who can kill it in the instrument department whether it’s the keyboard, the guitar or Divinity Roxx’s weapon number one, the bass.
Kendra: Back in elementary school I joined band but lacked the money to have the drums, so had to settle on the flute. Not my first choice I quit soon after. You’re obviously way more dedicated than myself, but with that – was the bass your first instrument of choice when you decided to pick one up?
Divinity Roxx: The bass wasn’t my first instrument. The clarinet was. I picked up the bass while studying Journalism at UC Berkeley.
Kendra: I noticed you met one of your heroes recently, Larry Graham. What about his style, his essence have you always looked up to in your own performances and recordings?
Divinity Roxx: Yes, I had met him years before doing this event sponsored by the bass company I endorse, Warwick. It was called “Fuss on the Bus”and we hung out with some other incredible bass players and made some music and took some pictures and videos. It was Bootsy Collins (James Brown, George Clinton), TM Stevens (James Brown, Mahavishnu Orchestra), Verdine White (Earth Wind and Fire), Steve Bailey (Dizzy Gillespie), Jonas Helborg (Miles Davis), Lee Sklar (everybody and their mama), Rob Trujillo (Metallica), Ralph Armstrong (Aretha Franklin), P-Nut (311). It was a blast.
Anyway, I was sitting on the balcony of the hotel at The Hard Rock in Riviera Maya where the Cancun Jazz Festival just happened to be going on at the same time I was there to attend the wedding of my former Beyonce bandmates, Tiffany and Kwiz Ryan. There was a stage set up about a quarter of a mile from my room and as I was having coffee I heard a bass thump that I know all too well. I said aloud, “Is that Larry Graham?” I jumped up, threw on my clothes and pretty much ran to the stage to see, and it was Uncle Larry himself.
Larry Graham pretty much invented slap bass as we know it today. He is an innovator, a true originator of style, funk, groove, technique, and that voice, man, he is truly ‘One in a Million.’ He even had a microphone added to his bass so he could sing and play bass simultaneously. He was an integral component in one of the greatest bands of all time, ‘Sly and the Family Stone,’ and he went on to be a successful solo bass player and band leader. That man is a living legend. He’s spent the last decade touring and recording with Prince off and on too. He’s pretty amazing.
Kendra: He could not have been the one that led you down a musical path that’s paved in both rock and hip hop. A style that came up in the 80’s but continued through today – are you more for the old school RUN DMC meets Aerosmith or bands like Linkin Park?
Divinity Roxx: Nah…that’s the modern stuff man, and it’s cool, and yes I did listen to all of that but when you get into the true innovators and creators you gotta go back. Larry Graham is definitely one of the guys you go back and listen to when you pick up the bass. Before I even picked up the bass, this was the music my parents were listening to, George Clinton, James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, Earth Wind and Fire, Maggot Brain, P-Funk, The Rolling Stones. Listen to the old Sly and the Family Stone records. They incorporated everything into their music, from funk to rock to jazz, to soul to blues, to r&b, everything. Back then everything was a mash-up. Nobody had boundaries. Music was free and you made what came from your heart. It was always soulful and always had a kick ass groove in it but it incorporated everything. That’s where I believe my musical path from rock to hip-hop to soul to funk came from.
Kendra: Onto more of your music though. You dropped ImPossible back in April and for those reading this that’s pronounced, “I’m Possible.” So I’ve been wondering what was the first thing someone told you was impossible that you went and proved them wrong by doing?
Divinity Roxx: I’m not sure what the first thing someone told me was impossible was that I proved them wrong on. I can remember boys usually underestimating me as a little girl and I would usually prove them wrong. I was a tough little girl and I was strong so I was up to just about any challenge. My dad once told me I wasn’t gonna make straight A’s but I did most of the time. People didn’t think I would get into UC Berkeley, but I did. No one thought I would become a bass player and be able to play music for a living, and I pretty much do that too. I’ve been told that I’m impossible to market and promote, that my music is not hip-hop enough, not rock enough, not this, not that. Whatever. I’m done proving people wrong. I’m done proving anything. I’m just making the Art I want to see and hear in the world, inserting my voice which I think is important. I got something to say.
Kendra: People often think a lot if far more impossible for women rather than men. Which is crazy when you think about it because a lot of the biggest, most renowned artists are women like one of your favorites, Janet Jackson, and your old tourmate, Beyonce. So why if women are more the stars, are they given the crap end of the stick at times still; judged more and whatnot?
Divinity Roxx: People think these women are anomalies I guess. I’m sure they still catch the side eye and deal with misogyny all the time despite having proven that they do know what the hell they’re doing. Also, they’re the stars so it’s not much dudes can do to belittle them. So they try to pick on the women who are on the same level as them I guess. I met this guitar player today on the elevator of my building who had a snotty little attitude when I told him I played bass and was asking about his gear. I don’t know why guys think women can’t do things. It’s something they must be taught as kids to make themselves feel better. But they really just end up growing up to be douchey men who find some means to justify their behavior. My Dad was really adamant about me growing up with the ability to do things for myself that women don’t typically do. Whatever, it’s par for the course.
Kendra: You had a show over in the UK in September but what’s to come after that, and in the new year? Any tour plans just yet?
Divinity Roxx: We’re working on a tour schedule for 2017. Just traveling to the UK to play Jazz Cafe and doing some bass clinics throughout the UK and in Dublin right now. I’ll also we playing the Suriname Jazz Festival this year in October.
Kendra: With you being all about that bass, but the literal kind – if you had to make a mixtape that showcased the best the bass could do, what songs would have to be on it?
Divinity Roxx: These aren’t ALL the songs but I would certainly have to include:
“Holding You, Loving You” by Don Blackman
“7779311” by The Time
“Lady Cab Driver” by Prince
“Glide” by Pleasure
“Teen Town” by Jaco Pastorius
“Haboglabotribin” by Bernard Wright
Just to name a few.