Shaprece: Jacuzzi Time with a Power Chanteuse
It's the bottom of the ninth inning. The Seattle Mariners are batting against the New York Yankees with two outs and no men on base in a 2–2 tie. Winner goes to the World Series. In a surprise move, Mariners manager Eric Wedge calls for a pinch hitter. Wait, who's this? Out of the dugout trots Shaprece Renee, the upstart soul-singing power hitter. She's more an engine than a diva. She's a power chanteuse with sultry, embossed vocals that cross up Janelle Monáe and Mary J. Blige. I can see why Wedge called her number. Shaprece stands at the plate, cocks her elbow, and rolls the bat slowly over her head. It's a first pitch fastball, and Shaprece connects, belting it deep, way back over the center-field fence for a walk-off home run. She doesn't round the bases, she stands on home plate and sings Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," and the crowd goes wild.
Shaprece's voice contains a wide range: When she's loud, she muscularly wails, but closer to the mic, she's quiet, controlled, and smoky for personal revelations. Onstage, she maintains a nimble and lynxlike presence. Her songs are emotion-based and push the straight-up soul mold into odder electronic and sample-based palettes of funk and R&B. Shaprece is earnest about what she does. She's true. Nothing is a put-on. The song "Lift" off her Scatterbrain EP converts speakers into a glass parlor room above the city at night. There are 300 candles and a sleeping lynx. There's a luxury to her sound. Luxury that calls to mind bubble baths and Jacuzzis. So we spoke at a Madrona-area Jacuzzi. I was in the water with the jets on high. Shaprece sat fully clothed next to the Jacuzzi in a deck chair. I brought a loofah.
Your dad is in your band. Did you always know he was going to play with you?
No. I'd been writing and recording for about a year before I ever played live. My first show was at Neumos with Fly Moon Royalty. I didn't just want to do my songs to a track. I broke down and called my dad, Joshua Richardson, who's an amazing keyboard player and has been playing music forever. He said, "I got you," and put together a great band. I was kind of expecting it to be just for that one show, but I got a call for a couple other shows and had my dad head up the musicians for those, too. It developed and evolved into what it is now. I was hesitant at first because it's something that I wanted to do on my own. I had a pride thing with it. I wanted to develop my own sound before I got anyone else involved. When I showed it to my dad, I felt solid about it being my thing.
Would your dad be mad if you loofah'd my back?
Put the loofah down, Trent.
Talk about singing with Prince.
It was after his Tacoma Dome show. I didn't go to the show; I stayed home and watched Purple Rain. I had seen him in Vancouver two nights before. I got tickets to the Seattle after-party, though, at Republiq on First Avenue. Prince has been showing up to the after-parties, so we took a chance. Tickets were $70. When I was at home watching Purple Rain, I had this intense feeling that something crazy was going to happen.
You had a premonition you were going to sing with Prince while you were watching him ride his big purple motorcycle in Purple Rain.
I did! My sister was laughing at me—who goes to a Prince party thinking they're going to sing? We got to Republiq, and there were only like 200 people there. Some guy came out and started sound-checking Prince's guitar. The one with the leopard-print strap. Then the New Power Generation comes out and starts "I Wanna Be Your Lover." Then Prince comes out wearing a Pepto-Bismol-pink suit and gold slippers. He was onstage, feet in front of me, going off on his guitar. They were doing funk jams and covers. There's Prince, right there! I was looking at him! I couldn't believe it. Then his backup singer Shelby J. started passing the mic around in the crowd. It got to me, and I went off. He turned to his band and hushed them a bit. I gave it all I got. They let me sing for a while. Needless to say, it was exciting. I called both my mom and dad at 5 a.m. to tell them I sang with Prince. I was squealing with joy.
You have a new side project called Party Art. What's Party Art?
Party Art is a electronic funk project I'm doing with producer Elan Wright (Sol, Kung Fu Grip, SuperFire). It's very Chromeo sounding. I'm working on Party Art in between my solo releases. One thing I want to make sure I do with my full-length album is take my time. I want to make it personal and bare my soul. I want to put a lot of care into writing the songs. Writing is everything to me. It can be scary because you're telling everyone the most intimate parts of your life.
Like how you're loofah'ing my back right now?
Put the loofah down, Trent.
You are a real soul singer. It's an innate thing with you. But soul music delves into pain. Where does your pain come from?
Besides the loofah? [Laughs] You'll have to wait for the album to hear about my pain. I struggle with the same things we all struggle with: love, relationships, mother-daughter, daughter-father, sometimes feeling like I'm out here working hard and getting nowhere.
Is it hard with your dad in the band?
My father's musical path is part of what caused the demise of my nuclear family. In a sense, I resented music as kid. When he'd go on tour, it would take him away from me and my family. A musician's life is hard to have when you have a family. You've got three daughters at home and a wife, but you're out all the time at shows, and you've got the whole groupie aspect.
That's part of the reason it took me so long to figure out if I wanted my dad involved with my music. Not that I didn't ever want him involved, but it was a bittersweet thing for me. I got my musical foundation from my dad. There was always music in the house, always musicians around. I was 2 years old sitting on his lap playing piano while he had band practice going on. Music is also what took him away from me and hurt my family. It took me a while to get over that and be resolute and know he loves me and that he'll do whatever he can to help. I had a wall built up about it. I wanted to ignore the fact all together that he had anything to do with me being musical. But it's something I can't deny.
How did you reconcile with your father?
I was the middle daughter, and my dad was my favorite thing in the world. I loved him so much. When he'd go away, I'd feel betrayed. It's weird to love music so much and have it be the thing that ended your family. It just took time and me accepting the fact that it didn't really have anything to do with me at all.
Music took your father away. Now it's brought him back to you. Full circle. He's in your band. Does he get mad when guys hit on you? Seriously, will he be mad about the loofah?
He's totally cool about it. He leaves right after the shows. I don't think he wants to see it. He's not the overprotective type. He's not going to shoot anybody. It's okay, you can flirt with me and say hi. We did a show at the Sorrento, and a guy got on his knees in the middle of the show and proposed. I stopped the show, serenaded him, and took his hat off and wore it. My dad was all for it. He's all about putting on a good show. He'll probably pretend he didn't read about the loofah.
Do you find that you can communicate well with him onstage?
Absolutely. With all the instruments and things happening during a show, I'm able to just look at him to tell him something. I don't have to speak. It's comfortable. That's the great part about having him there. And I'm happy he's there. And with my sister onstage singing with me, too, it's great. I'm excited to see where it goes.
You've got some seasoned players surrounding you.
Yes. One of the things I love about playing with this band is that they've been around the block. They've toured and played tons of shows. I'm able to learn a lot from them. They've seen a lot of things and know a lot about the industry. There's a give-and-take, too. The electro element is new to them, so they're learning as well. They're funk musicians and have been playing funk a long time. It's all they've done. All the Seattle guys went to Garfield. My dad is originally from Detroit. He grew up in the same neighborhood as Stevie Wonder. He would see Stevie playing in the playground. I'm an '80s baby. I listen to a lot of Zapp and Roger. I'm there with my shirt hanging off my shoulder and the side ponytail. The EP that's out now is called Scatterbain. Recorded at the Battlefield, J Battle's studio. It's eclectic, which is how I wanted it, so when my full-length comes out, no one is surprised with whatever direction I go. No matter what I do next, it's still relevant to my sound. I'm starting to put beats together and formulate a concept for the full-length. Talking to some producers about recording.
What do you think of all this talk about a soul revival happening in Seattle right now?
There are a few soul acts that are doing things right now, yes.
You would be doing your music regardless of whether or not there was a soul revival happening?
I'm completely aware that I have a soulful sound to my voice. Soul music is such a broad thing. To me, soul music is so much more than the sound of your voice or the music, it's what you're talking about. You're baring your soul and conveying emotion through your voice. That's why I consider myself a soul singer. I'm singing about things I'm passionate about. I'm no Al Green or Teddy Pendergrass—that's soul music. Anything coming out of Seattle, I appreciate it. There are multiple movements happening in Seattle right now. It's not one genre. It's a lot of people putting out quality music and trying to perfect their craft. That's what's recognizable.
You've sung backup on lots of people's songs. Everyone wants Shaprece to sing backup.
I love that people will call me if they need to get a hook done. I've sung for Grynch, Sol, Fresh Espresso, Mad Rad, Blue Sky Black Death, SOTA, Kung Fu Grip, and Gran Rapids. As long as I believe in what you're doing and it's cohesive to what I'm doing. No pressure. I love to sing, period.
Some of your shows have been with a 10-piece live band and some have been more DJ based. What's the difference?
There are advantages to both. With a live band, there's more freedom. The songs can expand and go any number of directions depending on the crowd and what's happening in the room. You can set the tone of your show so differently with live musicians. When it's DJ-based stuff, it gets back to that electro element I love. More stripped down and mechanical. I'm trying to find a balance between the two. With a live band, I think it's a better show, but I will never lose the electro.