by Jay S. Jacobs
In the image-obsessed, party-hopping world of pop music, it’s kind of nice to find someone with her priorities straight. Stacie Orrico has been recording since she was twelve, but she’s never been part of the pop star scene – though she has certainly made significant strides towards stardom.
Perhaps this sense of perspective comes from her background. Her father did work as a missionary and as a young girl she lived all over the world, spending time in rodent-infested, poverty-stricken villages where things like edible food and warm water were a rarity. By the time she was twelve, her family had moved back to the States and she stumbled into her career path. As a fluke she joined a singing contest in Estes Park, Colorado. She not only won, but caught the eye of a music exec who wanted to sign her on the spot.
In 2000, when she was only fourteen, she released her debut CD Genuine, a Christian Contemporary disk which became a surprise crossover success and led to a tour with Destiny’s Child. Her second self-titled disk came out when she was seventeen and became an even bigger smash, sending the song “(There’s Gotta Be) More to Life” up the pop charts. Orrico was just at the point that most aspiring musicians dream of attaining. However it did not make her happy. After the success of the Stacie Orrico CD, Orrico felt her career was swallowing up her life and she quit the business so that she could experience a normal existence.
Now, three years later, twenty-years old and musically invigorated, Orrico has returned to the fray with her best album yet. Beautiful Awakening shows her to be a musically diverse, smart and soulful. A couple of months before the album’s official release, the first single, “I’m Not Missing You,” is making its move up the chart and looks like it may become her biggest single yet.
In New York for a pre-release artist showcase, Orrico took the time to sit down with us and discuss her music, her dreams, her lifestyle and the allure of just being an average girl.
How did you originally get into music?
Actually, it was kind of on a fluke. (laughs) I really never had any desire to get signed or be a child pop star or anything. When I was twelve I ended up going to this music seminar [in Estes Park].
When I was a kid I lived in Colorado for a little while.
Oh you did?
Yeah, I lived in Boulder for a year.
Oh, okay, yeah. I was in Arvada, so I was close.
I’ve been in Estes Park many times, it’s a wonderful town.
Yeah, it is. I go to this music seminar to see some shows and ended up entering a vocal competition on a whim, at the last minute. One of my judges was an A&R guy from EMI and he offered me a deal. I didn’t really take him seriously and didn’t take him up on it for like nine months, after he kept calling and said, “Come on, just come to Nashville and try it out and see what happens.” Then a year later I was signed and beginning to make records.
You were only fourteen when you released your first album and had your first hit single at a time when most of your friends were in junior high school. How surreal was that?
It was really crazy, because people ask me; do you feel like you missed out on a normal life? But really, starting at such a young age, my whole life was so abnormal. I left school. My last year of school was when I was fourteen. I never went to a day of high school. I didn’t go to proms. I didn’t play sports in high school or things like that. But, you know, my whole life has been very unconventional. My family – we did a lot of missions work when I was younger, so we lived out of the country. My dad had a job that allowed us to travel to Europe a lot over the summers. So my life had always been in and out of the normal system. I don’t know that I would sit down with every parent of a talented child and say you should try to get them record deals when they’re twelve. (chuckles) Because I think it can be a very potentially dangerous industry. At the same time, I feel very, very fortunate to have gotten to experience so much in twenty years. I realize that at the age of twenty I’ve gotten to see and experience and visit more places than a lot of people get to in an entire lifetime. I still have my whole life in front of me. I could make records for another fifteen years and then decide to quit and never make music again and I’d only be 35 years old. I’d have plenty of time to get married and have a family and go back to school and do something totally different. I’m very lucky.
Through that album, Destiny’s Child kind of took you under their wings and let you open for them on tour. Even though your first album did well, you were known at the time as more of a Christian Contemporary artist than a pop artist. What was it like to know that a huge group like that would take interest in you?
It was really amazing, even how it all came about. Fortunately, the girls grew up listening to a lot of gospel music. So even though I wasn’t signed with Virgin yet – I was signed to a gospel label – they somehow became familiar with my music and wanted to give me a chance to play in front of more people. More diverse crowds than I had had the opportunity to up until that point. I just learned a lot from them. First of all, they’re obviously excellent at what they do. They’re truly, truly talented. They set a really high standard for me early on, on just how to treat the people around you. They came in – I’ll never forget them coming into my dressing room, opening night of the tour, they came and sat with me and I’m just this little fourteen-year-old kid. They’re like, “Stacie, we just want to let you know that we really value you as a part of this tour. We’re really glad that you’re here. Anything that you need, let us know.” You know, who does that? Beyoncé. They were wonderful to me. I think I’ve always tried to remember that and how much that meant to me when I’m working with other artists, or even my band. Just letting them know how much I appreciate them. Getting to see [Destiny’s Child] perform night after night, that was definitely very inspiring.
Even after the success of the debut album, your self-titled second CD was even a huge jump up from that and “(There’s Gotta Be) More to Life” became a huge hit. Suddenly you were all over the radio and TRL, playing bigger and bigger shows… it must have been kind of overwhelming for a seventeen year old. How did you handle it?
I think it’s going to be overwhelming for anyone at any age. Especially for me as a seventeen year old, it began to cross the line of just being overwhelming into being kind of dangerous. For me, growing up in the music industry from the age of twelve and spending some of the most vital developmental years of my life in the music industry – I began to just find my whole identity and the entire foundation of my life and my relationships and what I perceived to be normal. It was all rooted in entertainment. In the music industry. I didn’t have a healthy foundation of normal life underneath that, to be able to gauge things. It really threw me off. I woke up one day and was like, oh my gosh, I don’t know who I am or what my identity is, where my value lies, outside of my job. I don’t think that’s healthy. I don’t think that’s right. It kind of wigged me out for a while. That was when I decided I needed to take some time away and kind of shut down the whole machine, even if it meant getting dropped from Virgin. I knew that I needed to go and discover who I was and find my identity outside of Stacie Orrico, the artist. That’s what I was doing for those couple of years. It’s the best thing I ever did, not only for myself personally, but for my relationships and my family and even for my career. Because, I just see things with such a different perspective now. There’s so much more freedom in the way I approach my career, because I’m not clinging to it for my validation as a person, you know? If I put out this new record and it flops, yeah that will suck and I’ll be disappointed. It’ll be sad, but I won’t feel ruined as a person. It’s what I do. It’s what I love. It’s not who I am.
I thought it was really fascinating that after your success with your last album, you decided to take that break and chuck it all and move to Seattle with your parents and took a job at a fish and chips place for minimum wage. What was it like to finally be able to be just another teenaged girl and was it at all a culture shock to go from having hit singles to just being in a normal working environment?
Honestly, it was so much more comfortable for me there than it is in the music industry. It’s funny, in my free time, I don’t go out and party. I’m not hanging out with P. Diddy and Paris Hilton at the clubs of New York. I’m in New York right now, I’ve got a free night, I’m not going down to the meat-packing district to go out drinking and dancing. It’s not like I’m saying I have a problem with people doing that. It’s just not me. I’m kind of a homebody. I love being with my family. I would prefer to go home and go to the grocery store and cook with the family and sit around and pull out the guitars and sing songs around the fireplace. That is much more natural for me. The whole celebrity thing or being stopped on the street and having people want me to sign stuff and things like that – that has always felt really unnatural to me. Even after being in the industry for eight years – not that I’m like Madonna or anything – if people stop me it still feels unnatural to me. I still don’t fully feel even completely comfortable with it. So, getting to work at a job where I had to wear an ugly outfit and just got to interact with people over normal life things. Got to live a much more normal life. It reminded me, wow, this really is who I am. (laughs) This really is what I love and I think that’s why it’s been so important to me to balance out my schedule a lot more so that I do get time to live my normal life. I’m just a normal girl. (laughs again)
When did you decide after taking the break that you were ready to get back into writing and recording?
You know, it was a really natural progression. Slowly, as I began to kind of be able to let go of… I don’t know, just the clinging that I had had onto the music industry and onto my career and success and all of that – I was able to kind of let that go and just be able to re-embrace music as something that should just be enjoyable and just a free expression of my life and my experiences. I started to become inspired again and it didn’t seem so scary. It just felt more like I’m going to make music because I love it. Not because I have to. Not because anybody is breathing down my neck. Not because there’s some high standard that I feel like I need to be reaching. It’s just because I love music. I didn’t even tell the label that I’d gone back into the studio, because I knew I was ready to write but I didn’t know if I was necessarily ready to go back on the road or turn in my album to the label. So, I just got in the studio and started writing. 55 songs later I had an album. I was like, okay, actually I think I’m ready to turn this in. I called them up and they’re like, “So, are you kind of ready to get working again?” I was like, actually, my record’s done if you want it. (laughs) They’re like, “Are you serious?” Then we just started getting the ball rolling again. But, again, I feel like I’m starting my career from scratch.
Beautiful Awakening seems a lot more laid back than most contemporary soul albums – not all the busy production and the over-singing that you hear so often. Were you trying to make a more reflective, quiet album?
You know what, I really wasn’t. I think that… you know, I don’t want to be one of those artist that’s always bashing my last project. Like, oh, the label made me do this and this… Because the truth is every album I’ve put out has been kind of a reflection of that season of life and that time. I was fifteen years old when I made the last album. I think that if I would have had full creative control, in the past, I think all of my albums so far would have been much more organic in the production. Much more simple. I mean, every record that I’ve ever been deeply, deeply inspired by growing up has either been black gospel music, soul music, jazz music, blues music, R&B. That’s all I’ve ever been inspired by. The fact that any of my previous records would reflect any type of pop-rock or anything is almost laughable, because I didn’t grow up being inspired by anything remotely close to that. It wasn’t like I went into this album saying, okay, now that I’m older I want to be more sophisticated and I want to make a record like this. I just finally had the freedom to kind of do what I do. What naturally came out was definitely a more organic body of work.
It was really interesting way you played with styles on the album. Where everything was definitely soulful and much of it had a backbeat, there were subtle little touches in the songs. The title track is an acoustic ballad, “Dream You” had little hints of world beat, “Take Me Away” mixes smooth jazz and hip hop, “Don’t Ask Me To Stay” had a bit of a disco backbeat, “Wait” was really quiet storm and “Easy To Luv You” had something of an old-school doo wop feel. Were you looking to experiment with styles on the album?
Yeah, I really was. I ended up feeling like I went to music school or something for a year and a half while working on that album. I got to work with such a diverse group of people. Everybody from… you have the big names like Dallas Austin and She’kspere and stuff who have on there the R&B and hip-hop stuff. But then, like Track & Field do a really… are very much into world music. We experimented with… like we had Brazilian drummers come in and I had some of the drummers from the original cast of Stomp… you know the musical Stomp? I had some of those drummers come in. They built drum sets out of cans and little… big trash cans and all this stuff. They just kind of took all this stuff that was laying around the studio and built makeshift drumkits and they played drum tracks. We just got to really experiment and play. And then going on and working with Salaam Remi, who did all the early Fugees stuff, The Score and Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Getting to experiment with all these different people really taught me so much. Made me have the opportunity to discover what types of music I do and don’t identify with. There were some sessions where I went in and where I worked with people and it was like, “Okay, let’s do a full-out rock session!” It was like, okay, I just wasn’t feeling it. Or, “Let’s try to do something really hip-hop, just for the heck of it. Let’s see…” It’s like, okay, that’s not working. You settled on the stuff that really felt right.
I really love the first single, “I’m Not Missing You.” When you were writing songs with people and recording, did that feel always like the single to you? Did you decide which one would be the single, or was it the label?
You know, I’m going to be totally honest. In the past, I probably would have made up a great story about why I wanted that song to be the first single. Truth is, there are definitely a lot of other songs on the album that I like better. (laughs) I think that “I’m Not Missing You” is by far the most straight up pop song on the album. I totally understand why the label felt like that was a good bridge between where we left off with “More to Life” and where we’re going with this new album. The truth is, every song on the record I am proud of and I’m happy with and I wrote. So it’s definitely not something that I’m ashamed of or not proud of, because the song is great. But I am excited, because I think that “I’m Not Missing You” kind of cracks the door open to what this new album is. Hopefully, once people buy it, they’ll be pleasantly surprised to see that there’s a lot more depth on the album than “I’m Not Missing You” embodies.
Early on in your career, you were a Christian Contemporary artist, but Beautiful Awakening seems to be mostly rather secular. Why did you make the change and do you feel your spirituality comes out in the music anyway?
Obviously everybody can interpret music in different ways and there can be songs that make zero reference to anything spiritual and it can connect with somebody in a really spiritual way. There are songs that somebody can write directly to God and somebody can have it sung at their wedding, because it speaks to them in a relational way. You know what I mean? It’s like I can’t fully control the way that people receive the music. It’s interesting, because I did end up writing a lot of relationship songs on this album. It wasn’t at all because I went into it like, okay, now I wanna make a record that moves away from anything spiritual. That wasn’t it at all. It just happened to be that I was really experiencing the ups and downs of falling in and out of love during that year. The album, even though it’s not all in order, in sequence, the album kind of tells the story of meeting this guy and falling in love. And enjoying it and then starting to ask questions. Questioning him and questioning myself and then breaking up and the pain of the break up. Actually the last song I wrote of that series was “I’m Not Missing You,” which was when I finally felt free. So, as far as my faith and how that plays into my career and my music and my life – to me this feels like the most spiritual body of work I’ve ever made, just because I know what was going on in my mind and heart while I was creating it. I feel like my relationship with God is much more real to me and much more alive and much more something in a personal way now than it even was when I only signed to a gospel label. I don’t know that people can always fully understand that how many times you say Jesus in a song doesn’t necessarily depict what your relationship with God is actually like. (laughs) So, to sum it all up, if anybody wonders if I’m hitting a point where I’m like, okay, I’m older now and I don’t really care about the spiritual stuff anymore, or I don’t want to be defined by that anymore, that’s not it at all. I’m totally open and fine and happy to talk about the fact that I am a Christian. That’s who I am. I’m a Christian and I sing songs about every aspect of my life, including my spiritual life, my relational life and all of that.
Say you were looking back at your career from many years in the future. How would you like people to see your body of work?
It’s interesting, because I actually just got a call this week saying… there were some people from the label who were saying, “We feel like we need more cabaret drama or a scandal or something around Stacie, because we need to get people talking. So, we need to get some dirt, you know? Even if we have to just make something up. We need to have a scandal.” It’s really sad to me how we’re living in this time… I feel like it’s especially in the last five years, it’s all about just being famous and being a celebrity. There are people who are on the cover of every single magazine who are super famous kazillionaires, but you don’t even know what they’re famous for. They’re just famous for being famous. I feel like as musicians and artists, because there’s been that celebrity craze, we’re kind of swept into that same category. In order to do well, yeah you have to have a good song and good production, a pretty good live show… but also you have to have a famous boyfriend and a clothing line and a reality TV show. I’m just not interested in any of that. I’ve never dated anybody in the music industry. I don’t go out and party. I don’t want to have a clothing line. All those things just don’t interest me. I would love for people to look back and say, “Stacie Orrico was able to be a true artist and she always kept it just about the music. It wasn’t about having a mascara endorsement. It wasn’t about dating some hip hop producer. It wasn’t about her line of boots. She genuinely made good music. She put on an amazing performance. Her records were always solid. She stayed true to that. We didn’t see her going in and out, shopping at Barney’s every day. We didn’t see her all over the tabloids. But, she still did well, because the music spoke for itself.” I don’t want to add a bunch to that. I hope that people will remember me just for that. If in twenty years people can’t ever remember who I dated and who I was married to, or what the names of my dogs were and stuff, I will be totally fine with that. (laughs)
Are there any misconceptions you’d like to clear up?
Oh, that’s a good question. You had me thinking a lot with what I was telling you about the whole scandal thing. It’s sad to me that I feel like even the label; their fear might be that I’m too boring of a person because I don’t have a bunch of drama around me. I think that I’ve lived one of the most interesting, fascinating lives that people could ever imagine. I’ve lived in other countries where I had to take freezing cold showers and all I could eat was peanut butter for three years of my life because the food was so disgusting. I would have rats crawling up out of my sheets in the middle of the night. Then I’ve been at crazy, huge award shows getting to perform with artists from all around the world. My life has been very full and very exciting. I hope that people don’t ever look at my life and my career and go, “Oh, because she doesn’t have all the drama going on she’s a boring person.” I hope that people will realize that doesn’t make your life interesting. That doesn’t make your life fun. It doesn’t make you more exciting of a person to have a bunch of scandalous drama going on all the time. It’s really about getting up every day and maximizing each day and living well and loving the people around you and making wise decisions and working hard and setting goals and pouring yourself into achieving those things. I would love for people to not see my lack of scandal as being boring.
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 15, 2006.
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