As New Yorkers, who among us hasn’t experienced the discordance of entering a filthy corner market with the word “gourmet” boldly emblazoned on its signage? In the hyperbolic, marketing-driven universe we live in, where descriptives like “artisanal” “genius,” and “gifted” are peppered about with such reckless abandon that the words utterly lose their meaning, singer/songwriter Imani Coppola is the real deal: a recording artist. From her 1997 debut Chupacabra and its hit single “Legend of a Cowgirl” through eleven subsequent album releases, Coppola has explored her creativity with great commitment and a consistently high degree of excellence. With a fascinating mash-up of genre elements and influences to draw from, Coppola continues to challenge both herself and her fans through her musical exploration.
In 2008, Imani and collaborator Adam Palin formed a side-project called Little Jackie, releasing their debut album The Stoop (its title track was acknowledged in Stargayzing’s Song’s that Should Have Been Top-10 Hits, Volume 5). The Stoop melded various old-school elements like Motown, classic soul, and mid-60s girl group harmony with more contemporary rhythmic sounds and a fresh, street-wise attitude. The results nimbly navigated the elusive lines between genre musical eras. Like so much of Coppola’s music, Little Jackie exists in its own glorious universe.
Now Coppola and Palin are back with Queen of Prospect Park, a collection that, if anything, is even more swinging and joyful than its predecessor. The new release (out today) is a valentine to 1960s pop and soul, a jubilant blend of old and new school elements: a vibrant, shimmering success. If you are a lover of great pop craftsmanship, big choruses, and surprising, uplifting lyrics, Queen of Prospect Park should be your soundtrack for the next few months.
I was so thrilled when Imani recently agreed to check in with Stargayzing in this new installment of “20 Questions With…”
1. Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Yes, It was around second grade, I was walking home from the bus stop. It was a gray day, and it had been gray and raining for quite a few days prior. I felt overwhelmed with emotion, not necessarily sad emotion, just stuff I felt the need to get out. So off the top of my head I began to sing a song roughly based on the Doors song “People Are Strange”—same progression, different melody and lyrics. The lyrics were simply, “It’s always raining, raining and raining, every day….” I guess I had recently watched The Doors movie on HBO and felt somewhat haunted by that song in particular.
[The Doors’ “People Are Strange”]:
2. Was there a defining moment you knew you’d broken through or “made it?”
That would probably be when I was shooting my first video; when I first walked onto the sound stage. The fact that I had my own trailer was absurd to me. I was a very sarcastic teenager and until then, the whole experience was just ridiculous and surreal. I was so intimidated but the amount of people in the crew—it seemed like there were hundreds—all the equipment, the activity, everyone seemed to be so on top of their shit and doing their job with such precision and accuracy. I felt I was the biggest amateur on the set, and they were all there for ME! I was very nervous, not about how my video would turn out, but rather how I would come off to these professionals who did this everyday for a living. But when it came time to perform, I blocked it out and just did my job. These people want you to do good. They’re not there to intimidate you. And the better you do, the sooner they go home.
[after the break, 18 more questions with the enchanting Ms. Coppola]
3. What was the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio?
I was hanging out with my boyfriend at the time, we were at a beach out east in Long Island where a friend of his was playing a show. After the show we were all hanging out in the parking lot next to our car which had the radio playing. And suddenly that Donovan “Sunshine Superman” loop dropped from the intro of “Legend of A Cowgirl,” and I nearly shit myself. My boyfriend couldn’t believe his ears, we were all freaked out. It was just scary. It wasn’t joyous, it was purely frightening. We all kind of rode back in silence, not speaking, just quietly reflecting on what just happened. All I can say, in retrospect, is that a shift occurred when I first heard that song aired. It was such a powerful feeling. Like somehow I had made it across…I was on the other side now. Perhaps that was my true breakthrough moment.
4. What’s the first record you ever bought?
I think it was Live’s Throwing Copper My sister and her band turned me on to their music.
[Here is their “Lightning Crashes”]
5. What’s your favorite Burt Bacharach song?
I think I have to say, “Alfie,” just because that’s my brothers name. And throughout [my] childhood we morphed the melody into something of our own and taunted him with it for years. Not quite sure he’s even heard the real version of song.
[Most people are familiar with Dionne Warwick’s hit version of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David standard—or the Cilla Black recording, if you grew up in the UK. Most people don’t know that the original end-title recording of the 1966 Michael Caine film Alfie was actually sung by Chér and produced with Phil Spector-ish flourishes by then-husband Sonny Bono]:
6. Which song of yours should have been a big hit but wasn’t?
I think “Raindrops From The Sun (Hey Hey Hey)” should’ve been a hit. It’s such a feel good song:
7. Recording artist or songwriter you’d love to collaborate with:
Linda Perry—although we’re quite similar in our approach and may actually clash. I don’t know, could be awesome, too. I find her to be intense and not afraid of baring emotion and deep insecurities. I’ve been getting into her new VH1 show. Just watching these artists transition into better artists because of her advice and nurturing and even all of the buttons she pushes is truly amazing to watch—inspiring even. I’m kind of a sensitive, hard ass too, so I really get her approach.
[Though singer/songwriter Linda Perry is still best known for her mid-1990s hit “What’s Going On?” with her band 4 Non Blondes, I am captivated by “Knock Me Out,” a completely convincing 1996 duet with rock icon, Jefferson Airplane/Starship alumna Grace Slick. Of course Perry is widely respected as a writer/producer for artists like Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani and Pink.]
8. What’s your favorite Carole King song?
“So Far Away.” I can really relate to the lyric, “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place any more?” Seems like all of my friends are away somewhere all the time, on tour, in L.A., working themselves to death in N.Y.C, so I find myself singing this lyric often.
9. Do you have a favorite pre-rock era standard?
I like “Misty” a lot. I used to sing that in my college Jazz choir.
10. What most frustrates you about the way the business has changed?
Man, lots of stuff. But currently, like today, right now, it’s the accessibility your fans have to you; its sort of manipulative. I get the weirdest messages on my FB page. They have such lofty demands, it’s ridiculous. I’ve told a few fans to go fuck themselves, politely…and then, some not so politely. They don’t see you as a human being, so they don’t think your feelings get hurt, ever. I just wish they’d respect boundaries a little more. But the Internet has made interpersonal relationships completely haywire, people really don’t know how to act anymore. Also, artists nowadays are expected to be sooooo much more that just artists. You’re expected to be freaking politicians too. Get out there and start shaking hands and kissing babies. Get votes, get “likes”—what about making music? Why isn’t that just as important?
11. From a songwriter’s perspective is there anything good about the many changes in the business?
Well, the Internet gives you the satisfaction of putting shit out immediately. I’m a pretty prolific M’er F’er and I like to get ideas out fast. It satisfies my impulsiveness.
12. John, Paul, George, or Ringo?
John. I find his Mother/abandonment issues to be psychologically fascinating. It’s written all over his music. I empathize, not that I have too many mother issues that I’m currently exploring, I just find his story to be touching. It’s a reminder that no matter what age you are, how brilliant or how famous, we are all just children who desperately need to be loved and excepted.
[Perhaps no Lennon song addresses Lennon’s mother issues as directly as “Mother,” from his 1970 album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.]
13. On meeting your idols: person who you were glad you met?
Cyndi Lauper! She’s just as adorable, endearing, and absolutely charming as she can possibly be.
14. On meeting your idols: person you might have been better off not meeting.
Bob Dylan. He’s kind of cranky, but he’s always been, right?
15. What’s your favorite Elton John song?
“Bennie and the Jets.” That groove is hard as hell. “Hard” meaning “strong,” “bad ass”—it’s perfect. Just die.
[Here is the original 1974 version from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road which went to number one on the pop and top-15 on the R&B chart. Fun fact: did you know that the name is the title is spelled “Bennie” on the sleeve of the single and the album’s track listing, but spelled “Benny” on label of the vinyl album?]:
16. Have any recording artists emerged in the last few years that you particularly like?
I really like what Hiatus Kaiyote does. It sounds to me like a Berkley band except they’re from New Zealand and I don’t think the lead singer, although exceptionally gifted, went to music school.
[I hadn’t heard of Hiatus Kaiyote, so thank you for the tip. Here is their song called “Nakamarra”]:
17. There are two schools of thought about demos: that they should sound like masters or should they be simple, so the listener can project what they’d like to hear. What are your thoughts?
God, I would hate for a listener to project what they’d like to hear on any demo of mine…that thought petrifies me. I’m into production, and instrumentation and arrangement, orchestration. Having a home studio I am able to execute my vision as thoroughly as I possibly can so not to leave much room for interpretation. I like my vision and if a song was intended to be simple, that’s how I would record it initially.
18. Do you have any rituals before you begin a writing session?
Yeah, try to get to the gym, get the blood flowing to the brain. Try not to listen to music, it helps to keep thoughts and ideas more original.
19. Current projects that you’re excited about?
I’m quite proud of the new Little Jackie album Queen of Prospect Park. I’m excited to put it out and make a few videos. Also Mike Mangini, my original producer from back in the day, whom I made my very first record with, well he and I are doing another Chupacabra-style album together. I’m super-excited to start getting into that writing process. I’m trying to channel that innocence and spirit, the whimsy that original album had. Of course, I’m older now, so it’ll be challenging to match the vibe completely, but as my mom said the other day, “You just have to write about what you know.” I’m also excited that I finally took the time to start an all girl punk rock band this past summer. I’ve been wanting to be the drummer in a girl band for EVER! So Pussy Story was born—a collaboration with my friend and fellow artist Nikolitsa Boutieros. It’s been a great learning experience. We track most of the stuff live together, from start to finish. It’s such a nice departure from the normal tracking process.
20. If you could share one piece of advice for an aspiring songwriter, what would it be?
Have integrity…it’s so rare nowadays. Just stay true to who you are…that’s how the best songs are written, in a vibrationally correct manner.
Perhaps to prove Imani’s point of just how much more is required of a recording artist nowadays, you have all these options to learn more about her music:
More Imani Coppola in Stargayzing:
More “20 Questions With…”:
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