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Q + A With Candice Monique, A Woman Of Soul

Australia’s premier collective of female-identifying artists Women of Soul, is proud to share the first two tracks from their forthcoming full- length LP Feel Good, set for release on June 2 on House of Valerie Joan. Featuring more than 25 creatives, the album contains contributions from artists such as Kylie Auldist, Stella Angelico, Thndo, Maria Moles, Monique diMattina, Vanessa Perica, Kathleen Halloran, Tamara Murphy and many more. With Chelsea Wilson as executive producer and Anna Laverty as producer and engineer, the album was entirely composed, recorded, performed and produced by an all-female team, a rare feat in the Australian music industry. We caught up with Candace Monique for a Q + A

Hi, thanks for taking the time to chat with Hear 2 Zen, what have you been up to today?

Thanks for having me! I’ve got a 4 month old baby and a 16 year old and it’s almost Eid so I’ve been up all night feeding baby and today busy cooking, hitting the gym, shopping, doing my elder daughter’s Henna and trying to figure out what I’m going to wear to family celebrations in amongst smashing the socials for the release of the Lifeline/I Am Enough single, all on very little sleep haha!

Tell us about yourself, how long have you been performing/creating music for?

 I’ve working as a vocalist for 20 years, mostly in the hip hop and soul scenes but have also been active in Melbourne’s spoken word scene for many years and have been dancing pretty much since I could walk. I grew up on stage and in front of the camera dancing and acting and always wrote poetry so when I moved into performing music, which at the time was essentially just singing my poetry, it was a natural transition. Poetry has always been a part of my live shows with my band the Optics, where we’d frequently include an improv track in the set over which I’d read spoken word which became a hallmark of our performances and something I really enjoyed.

Who are your greatest inspirations?  Why?

Musically, my biggest inspiration of all time would have to be bassist and vocalist and poet Me’shell Ndegeocello. Her two albums Plantation Lullabies and Peace Beyond Passion were played on the regular in my home growing up and I to this day know most of those albums by heart and sing my own harmony parts to them when listening the car, haha! It was bucket list stuff seeing her live in Melbourne in 2019, she is just an incredible musician and poet. Her timeless music has that combination of love songs (gut wrenching soul bearing rawness of emotion) and songs that were outspoken and politically relevant. I guess that combo is also why I love artists like Jill Scott, India Arie, Erykah Badu who have always been huge inspirations to me.

How do you create music?  Are you lyrics/story driven, or does the music/melody come first?  Explain your process.

It depends what project I’m working on. With the Optics, it was quite often just our guitarist I writing to begin with, messing around with riffs and vocal melodies. Often the melodies would come first then the lyrics, and we’d bring a rough sketch to the band and build on it as a group. We’d often be performing the song for a while live before recording it so it would go through a few incarnations or versions before we record it, at which time I’d then have a field day playing with backing vocal parts and harmony parts on the recordings. A lot of the Women of Soul stuff is like this too, working with keys players and other musicians. Sometimes though I might come up with lyrics and a rough vocal melody and bring it to the band and we’d build up from there. In contrast, I’ve done some other projects with more electronic music and hip hop based producers whereby I’m usually given a selection of beats a producer has made to choose from, pick one and then will form vocal melodies and lyrics around that and take it into the studio and play around with harmonies and often not perform the song live until the full studio recording is completed. I like both styles, they’re both creative and fun and bring different things out of me as an artist.

What has been your greatest challenge so far in performing/creating music?

My greatest challenge in terms of creating and performing music has been nothing to do with the music itself but with life going on outside of music and being able to keep up with being your own publicist, booking agent, band coordinator and manager whilst also being the creative whilst also being a single parent holding down a job and putting food on the table. I was a single parent for 15 years of my musical journey and it hasn’t been easy. I recorded my first album with baby in the studio, she was frequently at rehearsals with me. I did live shows with her on my lap, did radio interviews with her while breastfeeding. Imagine taking a 6 month old baby on the Big Day Out tour as a single parent. I did that. I was so run down I went on stage with a fever at the final show in Perth and slept the fever off breastfeeding the bub in my hotel room before flying home while everyone else went to after parties, but I did that. I had baby sleeping in a pram backstage at the Pyramid Rock Festival and had her on my lap while I sat at my computer applying for grants to fund a launch for my first album. Here I am again responding to interview questions while the new baby sleeps! Chelsea and I literally did a backing vocal rehearsal over Zoom before our last Women of Soul show both with babies in our laps. Doing music would be easy if life didn’t go on outside of it with all the other responsibilities that pull you in so many directions. There have been times when music has had to take a back seat because I had to do what I had to do to make ends meet and had to be there for my little ones, but I always come back to it. Music never leaves when it’s such a part of who you are and I did not want my daughters to see me give up or see the world beat me down, I had to be the example of how to keep going.

Tell us about your new single I Am Enough, how did it come about?

So, post COVID, when we hadn’t been able to perform much for quite some time, Chelsea Wilson and the amazing crew at Women of Soul put on a song writing intensive to try and bring together women musicians to write songs together to try and challenge the status quo with something like only 10% of all songwriting royalties go to woman identifying writers in Australia. The songwriting intensive was really quite revolutionary in such a male dominated industry. During the songwriting intensive, over 20 women writers we got together in different groups and jammed out to come up with as many songs as we could and ‘I am Enough’ was one of those incredible songs that was contributed to by 5 incredible women musicians and vocalists. I was honored to be asked to sing the song on the new Women of Soul album, it was a song that was particularly close to my heart having had my own struggles with body image and beauty standards, which are often magnified for women vocalists whose images are frequently in the public eye for music promotion. It was an amazing experience to work with all women and non-binary producers and sound engineers for the first time in the studio and I was so honored that Thando, who also contributed to the writing, was able to come into the studio and sing backing vocals on the track, slipping some gorgeous harmonies in there. Recording in such a safe space absolutely brought something so different out of me as a vocalist and I’m so so glad I got to experience it.  I wrote the middle 8, the spoken word piece, not long before we recorded the track, almost a year after the song was written, and it all just came together so well in the studio. Funny story, the night before the band recorded, the drummer who had learned all the parts came down with COVID and was unable to be in the studio the next day so another incredible woman drummer, Maria Moles stepped in learning the songs literally the night before (how she did this I have no idea, she’s amazing). As a result, on the day, in the outro of the song the drummer dropped out a little early thinking the song had ended, but as the rest of the band kept playing, she quickly realised and then jumped back in and continued playing. Even though it was totally unintended, that drop out actually ended up sounding really freaking cool and made it into the final take because it just sounded so good and sounded like an intentional stop. Thando and I then crafted ad lib vocals and harmonies around the stop and it’s quite a memorable and special part of the song for me now that I look forward to every time we play it live.

What advice do you have to artists who are just starting out?

My advice would be to cultivate community as much as you cultivate your craft. You absolutely have to hone your skills, but you also need to make connections and build relationships within the music scene and industry with people who are on the same page as you musically or whom you can learn from. Find your kin folk, find the people who are in it for the same reasons you are and support each other and build together. Take up as many opportunities as you can, collaborate and experiment as much as you can. It will all help you find your sound and who you are as an artist. For women identifying artists, I’d also say don’t let anyone or anything make you feel like you’re less qualified or less worthy of your place on that stage. Back yourself and know your worth. Know when you need to take time for yourself and find balance with it. It’s not only ok but in fact it’s productive to rest, you need it.

Tell us your favourite Zen practice.

Baking! I’m an amateur cake decorator and love making cakes and cookies. It helps me zone out to be in the kitchen baking.

Hear2Zen Magazine
Hear2Zen is a "Non Genre Specific" publication that celebrates all things sensory.

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