Recently singer/songwriter Terra Naomi launched an Indiegogo campaign to crowd-fund her next album. She called the campaign “#HelpYouFly Terra Naomi’s 2016 Reboot.” The page for the campaign features a video for a song also called “Help You Fly,” which features a variety of different people holding up signs that are as inspiring as the lyrics themselves. I found it personally inspiring and started working on a novel again as a result. So, naturally, I wanted to interview Terra, and help her with her campaign, and was delighted when she granted me said interview, which was one of the most fun I’ve ever done. It was also as inspiring as her campaign, listening to her talk about the philanthropists that will donate a million dollars to charity if she reaches one of her goals as well as a charity that she herself wants to start next year. If you’d like to help her campaign and get some goodies in exchange, head on over to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/helpyoufly-terra-naomi-s-2016-reboot–4#/. Based on how fantastic all of her previous albums are, I can promise you that the new one will be superb.
MM: First of all, I was just curious – because I lived in Glendale for a few years – whereabouts in LA do you live?
TN: Well, I live in West Hollywood, but I live more often than not with my boyfriend, which is sort of by Silver Lake downtown area. So, that’s closer to Glendale, I guess. Glendale’s up by Pasadena, right?
MM: Yeah. It’s in between Silver Lake and Pasadena.
TN: Where are you from originally?
MM: I’m from Massachusetts, which is where I am now. I’d still be out there but I ran into some health problems and it was getting difficult, living alone. So, I ended up coming back here. I definitely plan to move back there. It hasn’t happened yet because I have a cat with an immune system disorder who sucks up most of my income.
TN: Oh, geez. Yeah, I know how that goes. That’s like with my dog, Elliot. He has all these health problems and I’m still in debt for his healthcare.
MM: Yeah, that can happen easily.
TN: I know. I know. It’s wild. I spend more on his doctors and medication and needs than I do on my own.
MM: Me, too. So, you just launched a campaign for your new album on Indiegogo. Is this your first crowd-funded project?
TN: It’s actually my second.
MM: Was the last studio album or the unplugged album the one you did the first one for?
TN: The last studio album in 2010 and I did a Pledge Music campaign to record the album that was produced by John Alagia. So, we did that and that one came out in 2011.
MM: What made you choose Indiegogo this time around?
TN: Well, this time I wanted to go with Indiegogo because I have a lot of friends in the tech world that have been comfortable with Indiegogo. Also, because the people involved with Indiegogo are friends of other friends of mine. And I thought I might get more attention doing it that way. Also, their fees are lower. Because the thing about crowd-funding, which you probably know, is like, every dollar that you make on crowd-funding, you’re paying a percentage to the platform. Like if I raise 35,000 dollars I actually walk away with like 20 percent less than that because after eight percent fees to Indiegogo and after the fees for my management, who’s helping with the campaign, there’s stuff that happens.
MM: I have to say, your Indiegogo campaign and videos and such are really inspiring.
TN: Aw, thank you.
MM: I write fiction and memoir and stuff and I just got totally jazzed up to write.
TN: Oh, awesome.
MM: Yeah, I wrote five episodes of a TV series I’m trying to sell about teenage witches and I wanted to do a young adult novel adaptation, so I started working on that.
TN: Oh, that’s awesome. That’s so great.
MM: Is “Help You Fly” going to be on the album?
TN: Yeah, it will be. It’ll be the first single on the album. The version that I put out on that video is just as acoustic demo that I recorded when I wrote the song. And the version that will be on the album will be a fully produced version.
MM: You should put the version that you have out now on there as a deluxe edition bonus track because it sounds great.
TN: Yeah, you’re totally right. You know what I’ll do? I have all these acoustic demos of all the songs for the album and I think I’ll make those all bonus tracks on the deluxe edition. ‘Cause I do like them. I think they’re really beautiful recordings. And there’s something special about them. Especially when you capture the moment after you write something. It’s such a special time, I think. So, I think I’ll put those all on as a bonus on the deluxe edition for sure.
MM: I saw yesterday that you’ve raised about 36,000 now?
TN: Yup, so far.
MM: Cool. Were you surprised that your fan base has already come through for you so much?
TN: I was, yeah. I was really excited. Obviously, I was hoping that would happen but I was not expecting it. You put out there what you need and you hope that it all comes together. My campaign is less about putting out an album as it is about like recording the album, distributing it, promoting it, making a video, basically setting myself up to function like a record label. But without needing a label. So, I’m actually hoping to reach more of the stretch goals to get closer to the budget that I would need to do all the stuff I want to do, but if not then I’ll try to raise funds another way. Maybe through private sectors or something like that, if we don’t reach the goal that I need to distribute it.
MM: You’ve stated that you can get some visionary guest musicians if you reach the 50,000 goal. Is there anyone in particular who you’re thinking of approaching?
TN: Well, I don’t want to say yet because I haven’t talked to them. I don’t want them to see that and be like, oh, what? But I definitely have [ideas]. Like the last album I did in 2011 we had Rachael Yamagata and she sang vocals on two of the songs and I kind of want to do that. There’s certain artists that I would really love to work with and then also I would love to be able to do strings and things that are a lot more costly in the post production. Like there’s a couple string players that I’m friends with who I think are just so wonderful and I would love for them to be part of the album. And it just all requires extra studio time. It requires a budget to pay them. Having strings on an album I think is so important especially when you’re talking about music like mine. And I hear that as part of my arrangement. It just adds to the budget. So, that’s what this next stretch goal is all about.
MM: How confident are you that you’ll get to the 150,000 dollar mark?
TN: Um, I’m pretty confident that I won’t, actually. And that’s OK, you know? I think that was a great goal to set for myself. Even just like my message is, you know, put myself out there so I can inspire other people to do the same. Make myself vulnerable so I can show that it’s OK to do that. That’s a huge part of the reason for my wanting to do that in the first place. So, I knew that setting that goal for myself, a goal that I likely wouldn’t reach, I knew that that was a risk because nobody wants to put themselves out there and look like they quote unquote failed but I felt like it was important to do that. To set some really high goals. Even though I was fairly certain that I wouldn’t reach them. But, that being said, I do have some press coming out hopefully in the next couple days that could help, you know? I’m not sure, but we’ll see. I knew that I would only reach that goal if something went kind of viral and I knew that the chances of that happening were not high, but I figured I’d try. Why not?
MM: Sure, definitely. Is there a deadline by which you have to reach the goal? Or does it just keep going?
TN: No, there’s a deadline. The deadline is two days from today. So, it’s actually this coming Thursday [4/7/16], that’s the end of the campaign. Now, I do have the option – because I’ve reached my goal – I could extend it by a couple weeks. I mean, I could extend it by anywhere up to a month because I did a thirty day campaign. So, I’m definitely considering doing that because I feel like I’m continuing to get the word out and especially if I get some good press in the next week it’s worth extending it. So, I’m definitely considering that. But at the moment I’m not committed to that. So, I’m just asking everybody who’s interested in supporting me to do it in these next couple days because I don’t know that I’m gonna extend it.
MM: Sure, sure. Now, have any of the big ticket items sold yet?
TN: Yeah, I sold a couple house concerts. I knew putting up an option for ten thousand dollars was almost silly but I did it anyway just for fun. And that hasn’t sold. But I’ve sold two house concerts and I know there are a couple other people who have told me they’re gonna pledge on the higher ticket items. So, I’m kind of waiting for them to do that. So, we’ll see. I feel pretty confident that we’ll at least get to that 50,000 dollar stretch goal. So, that’s good.
MM: I just went to a house concert by a singer from Long Island [Rorie Kelly], who did a crowd funding campaign and she invited me to go cover it.
TN: Oh, great.
MM: So, it was interesting. I’d never been to like a house concert like that before.
TN: They’re pretty fun, aren’t they? I really enjoy doing them. In fact, when I used to tour the U.S. I always used to put the word out for private house concerts, too, because there were those days in between club dates where I would just have the day off somewhere. So I always worked a couple house concerts into it and it was just so much fun. It’s such a different vibe. And I love sitting in someone’s living room and playing music directly for them that way. It’s pretty special.
MM: If you reach the 100,000 dollar goal, some philanthropists are going to give a million dollars to charity?
TN: Yeah, yeah.
MM: How did that that part of the campaign come together?
TN: Well, I had this idea because I was thinking about my campaign, thinking about making another album, thinking about, like, what does that even do? I have all these friends who are like creators and founders of organizations that do really big things in the world. I mean, obviously, I really care if I make an album and obviously music is helpful to people and whatever, I know that. But there’s also a part of me that’s just like, OK, so you’re making an album, who cares, you know? And I started thinking about philanthropy and charity and I’m like, well, I’m an independent artist, my chances of giving significant amount of money to charity at this moment in my life, it’s really not possible. And then I thought, well, I know all of these people who can give to charity and do give to charity and I can’t ask them to give me money to give to charity. Then I’m like, well, actually, what if I ask them to give to charity on my behalf using my campaign sort of as influence. And then I feel like I am part of the philanthropy conversation and that makes me happy. And I also thought, this is a really good way to encourage other people to think about ways [to give]. So many of us don’t have money to give away right now. It’s tough times for a lot of people. But it’s like, maybe if I come up with this idea, even though it’s a long shot, and sounds so ambitious and wild. When I first thought of it I was like there’s no way I can do this. But I decided to try anyway and it all came together. But I thought, if I could show ways that I’m thinking of it, if I’m coming up with creative ways to be charitable then maybe I can encourage other people to come up with creative ways to be charitable, too. Kind of reinforce the whole theme of the “Help You Fly” campaign, which is I help you and you help me and we all rise together.
MM: Your page states that the money will go to several different charities. Is the list completed or are there going to be more?
TN: There are a couple more because I think right now there’s seven on there and there’s a few more because I had a couple people drop out and then one of my main donors told me he’ll just make up for it. Because he gives more than a hundred thousand dollars away to charity every year. So, for him to make up the other two people who dropped out, it’s OK, he said he would do that. But I haven’t updated the page yet because I’m waiting to get confirmation from him on what those charities will be.
MM: So, the philanthropists have picked which charities?
TN: Yes, exactly. They’ve picked the charities completely. I went to these people because I believe in what they do in the world. They’re all people that support the same kinds of things that I support. I wasn’t going to go to people who support something that I don’t believe in, you know? So, I went to friends and friends of friends that have similar values as I have. And so I knew that the charities they picked would be things that I believe in as well. Like, I would love to be like, I want the money to go here, here and here. But I’m asking people to [give] a hundred thousand dollars. I felt that if I tried to tell them which charities I wanted it to go to it might not happen. So, I kind of had to make it easy for them to say yes. And I wanted the charities to be things that I also believe in so that informed my choice of who I went to talk to.
MM: This is a question I’ve been asking a lot of people lately: if someone came along and said they’d give a million dollars to the charity of your choice and it could not be divided among multiple charities, which charity or cause would you give it to?
TN: Oh my God, that’s so hard!
MM: I know.
TN: Wow, wow. Well, I’m not even sure. Something benefiting women right now. Because it’s just such a huge part of everything that I believe in and feel and think about. I’m not sure – there’s so many good ones. It’s hard to come up with one. I mean, honestly, my goal after this campaign is to create my own organization. And it’s also why I wanted to do the philanthropy during the campaign because my ultimate goal in relaunching my own career is to create an organization called 30 Over 30, which is an arts incubator for female creatives over the age of thirty. And that’s the thing that I’m gonna be focusing on in 2017. And so, I would ask them to give it to mine. [Both laugh] Because, here’s the thing, my organization is about art but it’s about shifting culture because right now there’s such a cultural stigma around women and aging. Everything is meant to make women feel so freaked out. And there’s so much money in making people feel freaked out. And what happens is that that effects the way that people are treated. Women are lead to believe that there’s like a time limit on anything we want to do. And that is really destructive. So, we’re also missing out on so much incredible art and creativity when we impose these false ideas about what it means to get older, about your value in society. So, I want to help shift the conversation around women and aging around arts and culture. That’s why I want to put money into female creatives over the age of thirty and hopefully come out with a huge project. And make people re-think the way they view women in general.
MM: It sounds like a great idea. I think a lot of people would get behind it.
TN: I hope so. That’s really my big motivation for relaunching my own career. It’s like, if you want things to change in the world, if I want to see women treated differently, if I don’t want to see us all constantly fearing what’s happening and where we fit in, in our place, in our worth, in our value. If I want that to change then I need to be part of what changes it. I need to start by changing my own life.
MM: Are all of the songs for the album 100 percent written or are you still working on them?
TN: As far as I know, they’re all written. I mean, I have enough songs written right now to record. But sometimes what happens during the process of recording I get really inspired and I write some new ones that I didn’t even think about writing. So, I’m sure that will happen, too, just over the next couple months when I’m doing pre-production and really getting close to recording. I’m sure I’ll be inspired and I’ll write some new stuff, too. But at the moment I have all of the songs that I’m planning to record.
MM: Can you possibly tell us a couple of titles?
TN: Sure. Well, you already know about “Help You Fly.” There’s a song called “When You Come Around.” There’s a song called “Bleed For You.” “For My Last Number.” There’s one called “Everything.” There’s one called “Slip Away.” There’s a bunch of them. [Laughs] Now I’m forgetting.
MM: That’s all right. That’s enough. So, what are some of the topics you’ve written about in those songs?
TN: A lot of my themes are about human relationships and perception. “Help You Fly” is about finding a group of people who believe in you and support you and supporting each other and celebrating life together. It’s an inspiring message. “When You Come Around” is about that feeling when someone comes into your life who kind of knocks you off balance and kind of changes who you thought you were. So, that’s what that one’s about. “Bleed For You” is a love song. It’s about kind of falling in love so deeply and being so committed to somebody and that’s not always a comfortable process. Then others are about just like life experience. The disappointments of life. The celebrations of life. Where we fit in with other people.
MM: Will there be any covers on the new album?
TN: I’m not sure, you know? That’s the one wild card right now. I think there will be. I think I’d like to put a cover on. I haven’t picked it yet. If I do include a cover, maybe I’ll decide on that with my producer. Maybe we’ll talk about, hey, what do you think about this one? I don’t know. I don’t know yet.
MM: What about doing a duet? Is that a possibility?
TN: Yeah. I would love to do a duet. But that largely also has to do with budget. Because the people that I’d want to get I would need to probably pay something. If they’re not where I am at the time of recording I might have to pay their travel costs.
MM: Your campaign states that two dancers from So You Think You Can Dance are choreographing a video for your song “When You Come Around.” What sort of dancing will it be? I’m trying to picture it and I’m picturing it like a pop video.
TN: Oh, no, no, no. It’ll be more like classical modern dance. Like a couples dance. Like when you see them move to slow moving ballads. Because that song is a slow moving ballad. That’s what it’ll be like. It’ll be modern dance.
MM: Will you be in the video as well or is it just going to be them?
TN: I think I’ll be in there, too. I think there will be some performance footage. It’s a piano song so I’ll be playing the piano. I really want to focus on the dance as the primary feature of the video, but I also want to get in there a little bit to show some performance.
MM: Do you have a title picked out for the album yet?
TN: Not yet. No. Right now I’m referring to the whole project as Help You Fly, but I don’t think that’s gonna be the title.
MM: There was a period of time during recent years when you weren’t sure if you were going to do music. What were you doing with yourself during that time?
TN: Well, I was working for my brother. My brother was producing film and television. So, I was kind of helping him develop film projects and television projects. Totally outside of my area of expertise. And it felt kind of fun to challenge myself in that way. And I also was writing a book. I’ve been writing a book and it was optioned by a pretty big television show creator here in LA. So, I got really into that and I was focusing on that. Then I was just like wait a minute, what are you doing? You need to be making music. And you can come back and do this later. Let’s get back out there and do what you’re here to do.
MM: Is there anything you can tell us about the book?
TN: Sure. It’s creative non-fiction, so it’s from my own life. It’s funny and it’s kind of dark. It’s about the period of time after everything in my life completely fell apart. And how I dealt with that and came back from that.
MM: Sounds cool.
TN: Yeah, it’s fun. It’s funny and self-deprecating and revealing.
MM: So, when will you find out if it’s going to be published?
TN: Well, I have to finish it first. That’s the thing. Because after I started writing it a couple years ago I got really into writing it and then when this particular person said, hey, I want to option that when it’s published I got really into writing it and then I kind of stepped back a little. I’ve gotta make the space to dive back into that.
MM: If you hadn’t gone back to music, what would your ideal career choice have been?
TN: I think I would just be writing. The thing is, I’m an artist and it’s not like I see myself like, well, if this doesn’t work out, I’ll go into banking. I know myself pretty well. Especially after living for a year in the film and television world. I pretty much know that I will never be happy being anything other than being an artist in some capacity. So, I think I would be focusing on my book and I would still be creating. Whatever form that takes.
MM: What sort of touring do you have in mind for the new album?
TN: Lots of touring! I love touring so much. I want to go back to all the European cities that I’ve played in the past. The UK. I’d like to go back to South Africa. I really enjoyed playing over there and I have some pretty great fans over there, who I know would like me to come back. And I’d like to do some South American shows. I’ve never done that and one thing I learned from launching my campaign and everything is that I have a lot of people in South America that have been waiting. The same with Australia. I want to go to South America and Australia, two places I’ve never been. It’s fun to find out like, oh, you’ve got this whole like pretty active base of people that want you to come play. I was like, all right, I guess I will put those on my wish list of places to tour. But I want to basically spend a whole lot of time on the road. I want to open for other people. I’m talking to some other artists right now about that. Hopefully having a new album will just, you know, help me get back out there. That’s the thing – I would love to be touring this whole time but you can’t really tour without an album. You have to have a reason. Something to promote. To help fund the touring.
MM: You play piano and guitar, right?
MM: Did you take lessons? Were you forced to when you were a kid?
TN: Yeah, I mean, I started taking piano lessons when I was four years old and I hated it. Then I just sort of stopped playing when I was about seventeen. I didn’t play piano for years after that. And then when I started writing songs right after college I was like, well, why don’t I play piano? Why don’t I write on piano? It will give me a different sound than the songs I’m writing on guitar. So, I got back into it. I kind of made peace with my early childhood.
MM: I know your music is on Spotify, which I don’t think was around last time you were making a studio album. So, I was wondering what your thoughts are about streaming services in general? Because I’ve talked to a lot of artists who’ve said they’ve yet to see a dime from it.
TN: Yeah, I mean, for the most part it’s pretty hard to make money on those sites but it’s good promotion. That’s what I think its real value is. And they know that. I mean, I will put my music on Spotify and I want to and I believe that’s the best thing for me, but I also get a little frustrated because the platform – the tech companies, the start ups – they’re making a lot of money. From advertisers. And there’s very little money in it for the artists and it’s like there’s a platitude that music should be provided for free and they’re providing exposure or whatever. It would be one thing if nobody was making money, but the tech company evaluations are super high. They’re making a ton of money in advertising and it’s not going to the artists at all. That’s frustrating to me. But I’m still gonna put my music on there.
MM: Do you use any of the streaming services?
TN: Yup, I use Spotify. I love making playlists. I love it. I just wish that there was a way for the people actually creating the music to benefit. I heard one friend of mine say it’s sort of like if the pizza delivery guy got ninety percent of the money that you pay for a pizza. It’s like without the pizza the pizza guy would have nothing to fucking – excuse me – nothing to deliver. It’s the same thing with the music. Without the people making the music Spotify would have nothing to sell. They don’t really see it that way. They think they should get to keep that money. But it needs to be shared with the people who have the product that’s enabling you to have something to sell in the first place. Your technology is valuable, yes, but without music you wouldn’t have anything to make your technology mean anything.
MM: It seems like they aren’t even very forthcoming about what the formula is that they use to figure out how much to pay.
TN: Right. Exactly. Yes.
MM: I think that’s kind of weird. I think they pay the artists who are already rich big money –
TN: – Yup, that’s what happens. And they pay the labels. They have all these deals with the labels. This is probably not good for me to be saying if I want their support, but I also would like to see fair deals made for the artists, the people actually creating the music. The people writing the songs. The songwriters get really shafted in that equation. The thing is, these companies offer the labels stock options. And they can buy in real cheap. So, now it’s like the labels own pieces of all these tech companies and the labels are making money. So, it’s good for the labels and bad for the artists, you know?
MM: Yeah. Definitely. Now, at the same time that streaming services have been getting bigger and bigger there’s been a vinyl comeback over the past few years.
MM: I was wondering if you’re going to do a vinyl option on your new album?
TN: I will but it might be on demand. I want to make vinyl one of my rewards but I was really concerned because if I offer vinyl it costs a lot of money to make. And you have to make a certain number of units. At first I had vinyl on there and then I took it off because it occurred to me that if I offer vinyl and fifteen people pledge on vinyl I’m gonna have to still make a run of five hundred records. And I could end up losing a lot of money. And I need as much money as possible to go towards the recording budget. So, I had to be a little smart. There were things I wanted to do that just financially didn’t make sense. Like vinyl, like T-shirts, you have to be real careful, you can end up making a lot of mistakes that cost you money.
MM: Yeah. I think you need to find a good distribution deal before you can make vinyl.
TN: I think so, too. Or there’s like different on demand services now so I can make it available and people can order the vinyl through these different companies. I can’t remember the name of it but there’s this one that’s really cool and it’s just like one by one. It’s like, if one person wants a record, great, that person can go and pay the company and the company presses one album for them. It’s cool. That, I’m gonna do. I’ll definitely make it available after it’s recorded.
MM: That’s interesting. That’s the first I’ve heard of that. Now, at the end of our interviews we always ask a few random questions. Is that OK?
MM: OK. The first one is how often are you recognized in public?
TN: Um, it depends on where I am. It used to happen a lot more when I was more in the public consciousness with Youtube and stuff. It can happen in airports a lot. On the street in London. Places like that. But now it happens a lot in venues. If I’m in a venue in Hollywood or whatever. But it doesn’t happen that often. Especially if I’m covered up, they don’t recognize me as much but if they see my tattoos sometimes people recognize that before they recognize my face.
MM: What was the last book that you read?
TN: Um, let’s see. Let me think about that. I read a lot. The last book I read… Was probably – probably by my bed. Oh, Practical Ethics. My boyfriend just helped me out there. It’s Practical Ethics. It’s by Peter Singer.
MM: Have you ever used a line from a book or a movie in one of your songs?
TN: No, I haven’t.
MM: I was surprised the other day because somebody said yes to that and that they do it all of the time.
TN: That’s interesting.
MM: What song is stuck in your head right now?
TN: Right now the song that’s stuck in my head is a Radiohead song. I think it’s called “Lucky.” I was playing it on repeat yesterday. Yeah, it’s called “Lucky.” It was on OK Computer.
MM: I think they really peaked with that album.
TN: Yeah, I do, too.
MM: They’ve just gotten a little too weird, I think, during the past couple albums.
TN: Yeah, I used to feel really emotionally connected to their music and I don’t anymore. But the old stuff I still do.
MM: What is your favorite Star Wars character?
TN: [Laughs] I really like R2D2. I’m old school. I like the old R2.
MM: And the last question is, who is the coolest musician you’ve ever met?
TN: The coolest musician I’ve ever met? Oh, man. Um, I’ve gotta say that Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters is really cool. He’s so cool because he’s so nice. And he’s so approachable. But you know who else is pretty awesome? I met Spinal Tap because they played at Live Earth at Wembley Stadium in London in July 2007 at Al Gore’s concert for climate change awareness. I had a dress rehearsal thing. I got to do a sound check the day before because before that I had only played for like a thousand people. Nobody was supposed to get a sound check, but my tour manager got one for me because he was like, look, it’ll be a disaster if you put her on stage in front of 80,000 people without her ever having done that, so let’s give her a sound check. So, I got a sound check and while I was there Spinal Tap – I think they were getting a sound check, too – probably because they hadn’t played together in I don’t know how many years, how many decades – so they were there and these guys walked up after I played and I was like, oh my God, you’re Spinal Tap! I was freaking out. That was the coolest but then like Dave Grohl, it was so inspiring to meet him because he was just so nice. So down to earth and cool. And warm. He was really warm.
MM: It would be awesome to get him to play drums on a song on your album.
TN: Oh my God, can you even imagine? I don’t even know if I could handle that. That would be crazy.
Much thanks to Terra for letting me interview her and for being so inspiring!