Friday, May 15, 2020

An Interview with Oleta Adams

Four-time Grammy nominated Singer, songwriter and pianist OLETA ADAMS celebrates the 30th Anniversary of her major label breakthrough album Circle of One this year which includes the album's signature ballad "Get Here" as well as "Rhythm of Life" and the title track "Circle of One". I caught up with Oleta Adams' to discuss how she got signed to record the album, her Jazz Walk of Fame honor, new song and much more...

TERRANCE: First, congratulations on being inducted into the American Jazz Walk of Fame.

OLETA ADAMS: Thank you.

TERRANCE: Talk about that honor and what it means to you.

OLETA ADAMS: You know, the first time I came to Kansas City, I didn't realize what a musical town it was and there's so much Jazz history here. In fact, there's a photo that somebody shared with me from the 70's when I first came. I think I came here the first time in 1975 and they had what they called The Count Basie Day and Count Basie came to town and there were other Jazz people like Ella Fitzgerald, Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis, Harry 'Sweet' Edison and some other Jazz favorites that came. I was sitting at a table with all of those people, not realizing at that time, what a special thing it was. For people to listen to me after all of these years and to help raise me up musically, is just a marvelous thing that I can be included in such a prestigious surrounding of people, because I know that there was a lot of great Jazz music going on here for so many years and we had some fabulous times here in Kansas City at the shows I did that could rival anything that I've done elsewhere, so that was very, very special and unexpected too by the way. I just never thought they would put me in the Jazz Hall of Fame. That's amazing.

TERRANCE: Your album Circle of One turned 30 this year and so with that being said, how did you get signed to create it?

OLETA ADAMS: Well, just so happens that in 1985 I was working in Kansas City at the Hyatt Hotel in the Crown Centered area and in the audience was a group called Tears for Fears and they had a concert in town and they were staying at the Hyatt and so when they got through with the concert, they went upstairs and showered and changed and came down to the club where I was working as a trio and they sat in there the rest of the night listening to me sing and I did not meet them on that night and I remembered John Cushon who was my drummer and now my husband coming to me and saying that, Tears for Fears is here, and I thought, yeah a British Pop group, what is that going to do for me? And the strange thing is that it was two years later without ever having spoken to them. They hunted me down. They called the hotel and asked where to find me and the hotel put them in contact with my agent at that time and I remembered that phone call on like a September morning and Roland Orzabal from Tears for Fears called me and told me what I sang on those nights and said how inspiring it was. Then they actually came to back to America to visit me in Kansas City and stayed for about three days and we hung out and I had some gigs I was doing alone and they came to my gigs just to hang out with me and asked me to be a part of their The Seeds of Love album and they asked me to record that next year which would've been 1988. So I went there and went on my way and not expecting anything else and they called me back to do a little bit more work. Because of the work I did with them, I was invited to have my own record deal with Polygram/Fontana.

TERRANCE: Was there a particular goal set out for the album or just creating music?

OLETA ADAMS: Creating music. There was no theme. It was, what do you feel like singing for your first record? I remembered that Roland said that the A&R guy whose name was David Bates said, yeah but how do we market her? And Roland told him to just let her sing. In fact, Roland told David, after our album The Seeds of Love comes out, since I was on "Woman in Chains", I was also singing a little bit of "Badman's Song" and I was playing piano on some songs as well as "Standing on the Corner of the Third World", she's going to get a lot of offers from other record companies. You'd be smart to be the first and so that's how I got the deal.

TERRANCE: What was the writing process and story behind the title track "Circle of One"?

OLETA ADAMS: Well, the first thing that happens when the company signs you is they then decided to send me out to L.A. I've been in L.A. before and that was sad news for me. I didn't particularly want to be in L.A., but they sent me out there to write with other writers and with some well known writers, but the problem is when I showed up at their house individually, they'd say, oh I got this great song that I'm giving to Whitney Houston, Anita Baker or Mariah Carey. We tried writing together and that was not comfortable and I didn't really get a lot out of it and usually you're surrounded by your own little posse, you know? Your own circle of friends, but instead it was just me out there and I felt very, very lonely. It was a circle of one and that's how I ended up writing that song. Not to mention, I should say that this was a very important time for me to experience learning from Roland who was a very, very great writer. He taught me about writing in a way where there is continuity that you can say things in a way where it becomes something special for each person who hears it. So, a circle of one could mean a lot of things to someone.

TERRANCE: How did "Get Here" come about?

OLETA ADAMS: Well, actually I was playing piano bar right after I recorded with Tears for Fears. I left them in England to go on a six month tour of playing piano bars in Scandinavia, alone by the way. While I was over in Oslo, Norway, I was in a dress shop and I heard Brenda Russell's new song "Get Here" over the loudspeaker and it also happened that John had sent me the new cassette to me while I was in Norway. I fell in love with that song the very first time I heard it. So when I got back to the states, we were performing it in our shows and it started out probably earlier in the set and I think I did about 3 or 4 sets a night. Then later on, I pushed it to the last set so that we could play it as long as we wanted to and that song had a really great fit for my voice and I felt really comfortable with it and so when I got the opportunity to record, Roland asked me, what would you like to sing? And of course that was the first one I brought up.

TERRANCE: What can you share about "Rhythm of Life"?

OLETA ADAMS: "Rhythm of Life" was a tune that Tears for Fears had recorded for themselves to put out on The Seeds of Love album, but as Roland said, "Rhythm" didn't have enough rhythm and so he gave it to me and they redid it. It's been remixed, oh my goodness, a whole bunch of times.

TERRANCE: Are there any personal favorite non-singles?

OLETA ADAMS: Oh absolutely. There's two that was great to have a chance to record. The first is "I've Got to Sing My Song". I'm surprised at how that one had hit so many people. I wrote it for my dad who was a Baptist minister and the last thing he wanted me to sing first of all, was anything other than Gospel. Second of all, singing in clubs and in those places where they serve all that wine (laughs). I hated to disappoint my parents. I loved my dad. I was a daddies girl and I remember him saying to me one day, well if I known you had wanted to sing like that I could've found you a little place in our hometown and I thought, no that's not what I had in mind (laughs), but he was so sweet. I loved him for it. So I wrote the song in a fashion that he would understand. It has a Gospel style to it, even though it's not a Gospel song and I've had so many people come up and tell me that's the way they needed to express to loved ones why they had chosen the careers that they had in mind. They needed a voice and had to speak their own voice and live their own life and it doesn't mean you don't love them or disrespecting them, but you've got one life to live. Live it.

The other one is "Everything Must Change". Oh my goodness. I remembered hearing Bernard Ighner sing that song on Quincy Jones record, way back when and I loved that song. I've sang that song for so many years and it's funny, when I start the intro to that song, every time there are people screaming and I don't know what it is. The only constant in life is change and that's just a profound truth. It's a fact that will not change. Everything must change and the funny thing about it is, the irony that for some people that's good and for some people that's bad. You can think of a circumstance each time where you don't want to change when you're in love with someone and had a fantastic night together and you just want to be right here. I can stay here forever and I don't want this day to change and for somebody else, their saying, this moment is so horrible. What we're going through right now is so bad and the only hope that we have is the fact that this too is going to change. That's life. So that's one of my favorite songs, not to mention, the haunting melody and chords that are used. The mood that it brings is just intoxicating. It's comforting and unsettling all at the same time.

TERRANCE: Talk about the message behind your new song "Place of Peace".

OLETA ADAMS: I actually wrote this song 14 years ago and recorded it for a prayer album. I had always wanted to do an album of prayers, but not necessarily all in the Gospel form. I wanted it to have different personas, because people who pray are all different kinds of people and their praying under different circumstances, so I didn't want all the songs to sound the same. I put out a Christmas record at that time and later on the Let's Stay Here that was to be released by this company. They said that they would accept the Gospel record, but when they heard it, they didn't like it, because they said that my music wasn't "in" anymore and that everybody wanted Hillsong music and that wasn't my style of music and so it just sat on the burner for a long time. It was a song that I'm sure I wrote during Lent at that time and we've just come out of Lent and into Easter and it just seem so appropriate. You know the story of Jesus praying during the Passion Week of in the Garden of Gethsemane, and he knew that something bad was about to happen and that an awful lot would be demanded of him. He had a great responsibility and he didn't know how he was going to make it through and so he prayed in that Garden, you know? Lord, it's not my will but whatever your will, let that be done and he took his friends up there to pray with him, but they fell asleep. So I based the whole thing on that and not only that, that's the way it is here. We have a lot of people saying, well I'm going to pray for you. How often do we say that? I listen to even the news people say, you'll remain in our prayers and you wonder... are they really praying for us? We're gonna need some people to really put on some kneepads and really pray hard during circumstances like these and others. I know that they all want to help, but many of them might fall asleep in the midst of those prayers and not be prayed up as they say. I don't want to go through this, but if I'm gonna go through this, I need you to be with me to help me. So I based it on that and it turned out, at this time, I thought this is a wonderful time to release that song.

TERRANCE: Any final words you would like to share with your fans, followers and the readers?

OLETA ADAMS: Well, I do want everyone to be very wise about the next steps that they take regarding opening things back up and that they remain diligent, being safe and practicing social distancing. I hope that they first of all, take really good care of themselves, not only in regards to the coronavirus but I mean good care of themselves on a daily basis, personally, because they've shown over and over again that the one's who are most defeated are the one's who are in bad shape to start with. We have to eat healthily, we have to exercise and make sure we treat our bodies well. To all of the people who have remembered my music and the one's each day that I check on under my Instagram, Facebook and website, who are telling me, I play your music everyday and that it inspires and helps me start the day in a positive way. That just makes me feel great and that's the reason why I'm putting out music. It's for the benefit of those who need that extra pat on the back and extra inspiration, so I thank you so very much.


  1. Refreshingly candid interview. Thank You.
    Once again I walk away feeling I've grown to know an incredible artist just a little more.
    "Circle of One" will always remain near and dear to my heart. Timeless. Captivating. Truly special. I am forever grateful.

  2. Refreshingly candid interview. Thank You.
    Once again I walk away feeling I've grown to know an incredible artist just a little more.
    "Circle of One" will always remain near and dear to my heart. Timeless. Captivating. Truly special. I am forever grateful.

  3. Glad to read again the inspiration behind "Circle of One." I also love "Rhythm of Life" and "Will We Ever Learn."