Chicago Spotlight: Chic and Soulful... A Conversation with Sheree Hicks

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Sheree Hicks is known for her vocal ability, arrangements, and writing skills. She has been in the industry professionally for over 17 years. Her personal sound is smooth, soulful, and soothing to the ear.  Sheree likes working with producers and writers who ride the same wavelength and If the chemistry is right, it makes for some beautiful and memorable music. I recently had a chance to talk with Sheree about her career and her newest release and venture into the owner of ChicSoulMusic, her record label.

Black Widow:   How did your professional career begin.  

Sheree Hicks:    I started out in a female group. We were a trio and would perform around town; different events like the Bud Billiken parade, park districts and things like that. A guy wanted to manage us.  He promised he could take us to the next level and, so we packed up and moved to LA and got our first deal on Def Jam by singing acapella on the phone for Russell Simmons. That’s how it started for me.

Black Widow:  Oh wow… on the phone?

Sheree Hicks:  Yea it didn’t take long to get the deal that we had. It was pretty smooth, getting that first start and connecting with the right people. Like Christopher Williams, he was the first to put us on a TV show, the Robert Townsend Show.   He performed and had us on the show as his background singers. He wanted us to sing, “Every little thing you do”. From there things, just kind of took off for us as a group.

Black Widow:  When did you become a solo artist?

Sheree Hicks:  After some years had passed, we did the album with Def Jam.  At the time, we had an A&R person, but her ideas were different than what Russell wanted.  She wanted to put us with hip-hop producers. We worked with Rockwilder, Erick Sermon, Redman and they did tracks for us.  When he (Russell) heard the final product, it wasn't what he expected. He wanted us with the Babyface’s and Teddy Riley’s, you know more soul music. She ended up getting fired and we were caught up in the shuffle of not having an A&R person.  When you are that position, the next A&R person doesn’t really give you the attention you need because it wasn’t their project.  Russell asked if we wanted a release and we said yes. We ended up moving to New York and got on the background vocal circuit. Everyone was calling us to do their background vocals, all the labels…they knew us from singing acapella a lot. We started getting attention from people in New York and ended up doing a song with C&C music factory after David Cole passed away, it was a dedication for him. They ended up doing a video and it was on the show where people could order videos, called “The Box”. After some years passed, we disbanded.  One of our members passed away from lupus, April, she was my best friend.  

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I was doing music so much I put my life on hold.  I needed to regroup and step away from it for a minute.  I got married to my then husband and had my daughters and stayed at home with them until they were of age.  That’s when I got back into it and started writing.  I had no intentions of singing. I just wanted to write music and submit to artists.  That was the plan but every time I would write a song and submit it to someone it never sounded the way I envisioned it in my head. So, the only way to really write and interpret it was to do it myself. So that’s what I ended up doing.

Black Widow:  You are known for your songwriting skills? Where do you get your inspiration from? Do you start with the melody or do you start with the lyrics?

Sheree Hicks:  Well, I feed off the music. A producer will reach out to me or I’ll have a producer in mind that I want to work with. Either way, the music is exchanged.  I tell producers, don’t get discouraged if I don’t like the first track you send me. I’ll know it when I hear it within the first 10 seconds. So, once I get that music and it gives me that feeling where lyrics can just come out of my mouth…that’s where it starts for me. It starts with the music.  I have a book of ideas and I’ll match the ideas with the sound and hum the melodies and pin those words. That’s how it works for me.

Black Widow: I have a book of ideas too! {laughter} You mentioned you never intended to sing after your kids were older, you just planned on writing.  What made you decide that singing was what you were going to start doing again?

Sheree Hicks:     I started getting frustrated with the music not sounding the way I liked with other people, but the R&B world had changed, and I wasn’t going to do any trendy pop-like music. It wasn’t me. I don’t like writing about trendy things. It’s here today gone tomorrow. I like to talk about that real stuff. I reconnected with my old friend, Sean Ali, years back and he was like we should get together and do some house music because he was a DJ.  I told him I wasn’t doing house music because I don’t sing like that.   At the time, I remembered a lot of the music with strong, gospel-like voices.  I didn’t think my voice would match. Sean Ali showed me a few YouTube videos of some soulful house music with artists like Marc Evans, Nathan Adams, Stephanie Cook and artists like that and I was like, "I can sing this"!   It was my style. It fit my voice.  I told Sean, I can do this all day long!   Let’s make some music! [laughter] and that’s how it started.

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Black Widow:  You can always tell when a woman writes a song because we really put our heart out there.  The way we love and feel those emotions and feelings really come across in the music and the lyrics.  I noticed a common theme in your music is love, relationships, connections, etc., is that intentional?

Sheree Hicks:  It depends on what’s happening in my life.  I’m really transparent. I wrote a song a while back called “Forever One” and I remember crying in my bed writing those lyrics. It really came from a place and to this day, it’s like my favorite song, out of all my material. I’m really true to what’s happening in my life. You know…I’m telling all my business. [laughter] for the ones who like what I do. It’s to a point, where people send me messages saying that some of my music helped get them through certain things. 

Black Widow:    That’s what I love about lyrics, they are so important.  You don’t know how a song can resonate in a person’s life at certain points in time. 

Sheree Hicks:  Very much so.

Black Widow:    It’s been a process for me to learn how to strip down and allow myself to be vulnerable in my own writing at times.  Lately, I’ve noticed that the more vulnerable I am whether, in music or my blogs, the more people seem to connect with it.

Sheree Hicks: YES!!! THE BETTER IT DOES!

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Black Widow:  There have been moments for me as a writer when things are going on in my life that I’ve allowed to block my creativity.  Moments when I’ve had so much to say but I wasn’t ready to get it out.  Have you had moments like this?

Sheree Hicks:   Honestly, No I haven’t.    My mind is always going. I’m always finding inspiration in things I see.  It doesn’t’ matter what it is. Sometimes I have to stop myself from writing because I do it so much. It’s always an overflow.

Black Widow:    My favorite songwriters and songs come from artists that really “go there” emotionally. I connect with that level of honesty and vulnerability and strive to be the same way in my own writing.  I think the beauty of songwriting is that connection.  Having people connect with your music because of shared experiences and such.  “Keeping My Composure” was a song that was right on time because I was in the midst of dealing with a similar situation.

Sheree Hicks:   Yeah, see…it’s so funny men and women connected with that one and people made sure I knew it. LOL. Lyrically that was one that people that connected with.

Black Widow:    Absolutely, I felt the same way with “Experimental”.  If you take the time and listen to the lyrics, they were sexy and erotic, and you were talking about some things.  [laughter} I love when women break out of boxes.

Sheree Hicks: HmmmmHmmm!  I honestly stepped outside of myself with that record.  I’m usually very conscious about what I write because I have daughters. But I felt like it was time to stretch out a bit. So, my most intimate thoughts and feelings…I just put it out there and I went all in with it, even with the visuals with me holding the whip. If you are going to do it…do it all the way!

Black Widow:  Exactly!  I think it’s important as women to show our different sides. We aren’t just “one thing or one dimensional” We can be sexual and express our desires and still be amazing mothers and incredible women. We have layers! I hate that double standard.  Even when it comes to my children, as someone who has done a record that was more sexual in nature, I always say, I’m a woman first and if there was anything I’d tell my daughter it would be to own her femininity, own her womanhood and her sexuality.  When you own it and understand it no one can define it for you. 

Sheree Hicks:  Ohhhh that’s good! Yes!

Black Widow:  I know you sing all types of music but when it comes to house music, do you prefer to stay with the soulful house genre?

Sheree Hicks:  I do, but you know, like you said, I’m a writer, it’s no specific way to write.  Those words can be put to any type of track or genre but when it comes to what I sing, it’s more of the soulful house.

Black Widow:   What is it about soulful house music that you love?

Sheree Hicks, I feel like my voice matches it and I can identify with that style and sound.

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Black Widow:  Let’s talk about ChicSoulMusic. It's very rare to see a woman-owned label.  What influenced your decision to say, “I’m going to start my own label”. 

Sheree Hicks:   I’m very detailed and I like things done a certain way and I like them done the way I want them done and when I want them done. I didn't want to go to labels and ask them to put out my music. I've done that already.  I felt better just releasing my own music.  It's all me; my vision, my concepts, and my ideas.  I talked to a few people about it and honestly, it was Josh Milan…he was one of the main people who told me you can do this on your own.  You know he said, I’ve watched you and seen how you operate and how professional you are. Go for it.  So that’s what I did.

Black Widow:  What’s your vision for Chicsoulmusic?

Sheree Hicks So far, I’ve only released my music.  I wanted to set the pace for what I expect out of the artists that will be on the label.  I wanted to set the tone and be my own guinea pig.  Just to see what it was like to do it. Now I’m at the point where I’m entertaining other artists that I’m working with. I have an artist now that we are grooming for house music.

Black Widow:  He performed with you at Steve Maxwell’s birthday at Bassline, right?

Sheree Hicks:  Yes! Yes! Jaleal Meadows. He performed one of the songs that’s coming out on his EP, and it looked like people really liked him, I was feeling that energy. It was great!

Black Widow:  Singer…songwriter…producer…now label owner, each of those titles brings a different level of creativity. What are some of similarities and some of the differences that you see creating music as an artist vs creating music as a producer/label owner?

Sheree Hicks Good question.  One of the main things is learning how to find balance for different artists. House music is evolving. I’m trying to find a way to bridge the gap between people my age and younger people because it’s such a soulful sound. I don’t want Jaleal to do a Sheree Hicks record, I want him to do a Jaleal Meadows record. I have to step outside myself to a certain degree but also pull him into what we do.

Black Widow:  It's a delicate balance.

Sheree Hicks It is. It really is, for it to catch on with people who like what I do and also catch on with people his age, so they can appreciate what he’s doing.  I’m really taking my time to figure that out and use the right producers.   You know this will be his first time…and I feel a certain level of responsibility.

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Black Widow:  It’s one thing to put your stuff out there but to put out someone else’s work, especially a 1st time artist, you want them to be successful, the label to be successful but to still stay “on brand”.

Sheree Hicks Exactly.

Black Widow:  Have you experienced any pushback or resistance by anyone as a woman ran label owner?

Sheree Hicks:   No, but I think my reputation proceeded me. It’s been open arms.  I feel like people trust me based on my time in this industry. People trust that I’m going to give them good music, and get the best producers and best vocals. It’s going to be a clean sound and be mastered correctly.  I’m honored by that.

Black Widow: You’ve taken the time to learn the business: sound, mixing, producing, all the elements that go into producing a quality track.

Sheree Hicks: Yes...yes I have and you know what else I love? What I love about the producers is that they trust me.  You know, I can tell them, I need to hear this sound in this song and they’ll make it happen.  It’s never “I’m the producer and this is my part of it, you did your part…now let me do my part. They listen to me.

Black Widow:  it’s a true collaboration?

Sheree Hicks Absolutely.             

Black Widow:  What makes a great collaboration to you?

Sheree Hicks:  It's all about respect. We just listen to each other, critique each other openly and honestly but we aren’t trying to hurt each other. We just want to make the best possible music. And we trust each other. We want to see each other succeed.

Black Widow:  Egos have no place when you all have the same goal.

Sheree Hicks: Absolutely!  That's it!  I need what you have to offer, and you need what I have to offer, so let’s make it work.

Black Widow:    You have a strong but very feminine stage presence.  Sometimes women are encouraged to harden or toughen themselves up in order to "look strong".    I’ve always felt that the “softness” women carry is strong.  You maintain that strength, femininity and “softness” especially on stage and still deliver dynamic emotion-filled performances.  What do you say to that?

Sheree Hicks:  Our softness is part of our strength.  As a performer,  you can be all over the place and that can cause people to look at you, but when you are performing at your level it makes people listen to you!   

Black Widow:  What do love most about performing?  

Sheree Hicks:  I'm very shy. I really go through a thing before I get on stage. Once I get the first sentence out, I’m good! But right before… OMG!  It's crazy. I enjoy the energy of the people, the smiles or people singing along. I love that! It’s euphoric.

Black Widow:   You have a new release called "Love". How did that come about?

Sheree Hicks:  I wrote a song with Lee Gomez and Wipe The Needle and it went #1. It was my second #1 song. Lee sent me a message and said he had a track that was intricate and he didn’t trust anyone else with it but me.  He asked me to listen to it and let him know if it was something I could vibe to.  Let me tell you when I heard the track, immediately, all I could think about was love because we need more of it. So that’s what I started writing. It was so special to me I wanted it to be visual.   So, I reached out to people online.  I love involving Chicago artists, dancers and actors, I used Jozana’s nephew and his friend came. It’s just beautiful.  The song is a release and video.  It’s bright and colorful and puts you in a good mood.

Black Widow: I love that. Especially now, we always need more songs about love. 

Sheree Hicks:  Yes, especially in our communities.  Our relationships are so torn.  People struggling to figure out who they are in relationships. The love gets lost in translation. It can be easy to talk about a breakup sometimes but when you can put a person you love on a pedestal and celebrate them it’s just awesome!

Black Widow:  What do love about being a Chicago Artist?

Sheree Hicks it’s a great thing to be a Chicago artist.   This is where it started. People are immediately are excited about that especially if they haven’t been here before. I will say that I’d like to see more unity in our scene.  I understand it’s different genres but should support each other more.  It disappoints me at times. I’m doing what I can to put myself out there and I’m open to work with anyone I get good vibes from... you know?

Black Widow:  I think that’s what it’s about, people who are linking up in these positive spaces. We are the examples.

Sheree Hicks Right, that’s so true

Black Widow:   It’s a lot of chitter chatter from people aren’t doing anything and sometimes those voices are louder than the people who are doing it and doing it in a positive way. You know because I think house music is so positive, I just don’t connect with negative DJs, artists, producers. It doesn’t work to me. I don’t know how you can play or create positive music with a negative spirit. it’s about how we project ourselves because we are on a world stage.

Sheree Hicks Right, it doesn’t add up.

Black Widow:   Thank you so much for speaking with me today.

Sheree Hicks:  Thanks so much for reaching out to me. It was my pleasure.

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You can find Sheree Hicks and her music on Traxsource or directly on her website:  www.chicsoulmusic.com

On Instagram @shereehicks3

On FB @Sheree Hicks

 

Until next time,

See you on a Dance Floor!

Black Widow

 

 

 

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Black Widow

D.Sanders, a Chicago native, is a devoted mother, blogger and writer who is passionate about her family, friends, women's rights, living authentically and telling her story.   She is also a spoken word recording artist under the name, Black Widow. She has been writing and blogging for over 15 years providing commentary and expressing thought on life, love and relationships. Her artistry can be heard on two house music singles, “Rough”, and “Gruv Me” released by Grammy Nominated Producer and CEO of T’s Box Records & T’s Crates, Terry Hunter under the production of Mike Dunn and Dee Jay Alicia. . Both singles reached #1 on Traxsource’s Afrohouse and charted top ten overall as well reaching the top ten in their year of release.  She splits her time blogging about the Chicago Dance Music Scene on www.blkwidowmusic.com and on her book’s website, www.thesumofmanythings.com.  She is excited about her debut book, The Sum of Many Things, scheduled for release in June 2017.   She wears many hats but refuses to be placed in a box.  She believes that women are "The Sum of Many Things".  Embracing all of her roles as a woman, she firmly believes in breaking free of preconceived notions of womanhood.   She believes it is her mission to define her own life experience, femininity and sexuality and not have it defined by society.  She openly shares her story with hopes that women understand their worth, power and place in this world.