I would’ve been happy just to be a bystander in the Big Morning Buzz Live studio taking in the soulful sounds of Erica Campbell as she performed the title single off her new solo debut Help this morning. But Erica made my morning even more special by sitting down with me just before her live Buzz performance to talk about her transition from being half of the groundbreaking gospel group Mary Mary with her sister Tina, to living out her childhood dreams as a solo artist. We also talked about her musical children, her ongoing battle with her manager, her dream collabo, and even what she prayed about this morning!
So your solo debut album, Help, was released just two days ago, on March 25th. And speaking of help, what did you pray for “help” with this morning?
Ew, help with my voice, that I not be tired because I only got three hours of sleep. And for peace because I lost my cell phone, so that means I can’t call my kids, or my husband, or look at my schedule, or any of that stuff (laughter).
How has the response to the title track of your album been? What has been the most powerful response?
People saying they needed the song. I see a lot of that on Twitter, people saying. “I needed that song this morning, this song gave me strength.” Everybody says, “This song gave me life,” that’s the new phrase, so a lot of people have said that, just to start their morning whether it be a mom, or a student, or someone dealing with a sick relative, a lot of people have said the song has blessed them, even up until this point, and it’s only been out a short while, so I feel really really good about that.
And your daughter Krista is featured on the single “Help” along with gospel artist Lecrae. Are any of your other children showing signs of musical talent?
Warren is my son, he’s three soon to be four and has two drum sets, he’s slightly obsessed with the drums and plays at very inappropriate times at home. But he’s happy about it so I let him do it, because I tell him that he’s practicing so he gets in the rhythm of knowing that practice is necessary. It’s not a very quiet house, but we’re training them up to be fully prepared if that’s what they want to do. Krista is in her room interviewing herself at all times, “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, introducing… Krista!” Sometimes I have to lift up the sheet aka her curtain and pull it back so she can stand onstage. She has shutters in her room, so one time she called her daddy in to do the shutters because she was like, ” I need the lights to come on and off, so daddy when I start to sing move the shutters.” And then she even called me to pass out! She was like, “Mommy I’ma throw this to you. Pass out when I throw this to you,” and I was like OK! She’s getting ready — stage lighting, audience — she’s getting ready.
Are there any other features on the album?
No, it’s just me. I think when a lot of people come out they do a lot of features, and I’ve spent my whole career being heard with someone else, so I just wanted it to be me, my voice, what I wanted to say and sing. Plus, the process was so quick and so fast that I really didn’t have time to catch up with someone else’s schedule and see if they could get in the studio. It’s not easy to get collabos done with travel and scheduling.
Who would be your dream collabo down the road, for maybe your second solo album?
Let’s see… maybe Mary J.? Michael Bublé — I love him! I love all kinds of music and I like odd people… you’d be like, what?!
Has anyone ever told you that your performance style rings of Tina Turner? It’s fierce, it’s intense, and it draws people in.
I’ll take it! I love her. I think it’s important to show your strength when you’re onstage. And even in showing strength, there’s a vulnerability to that because it’s real real honest. So if the song is sad, you’re gonna be sad. But if I’m happy, I’m all the way there. And if I’m in beast mode, we all the way there. Like, I’m not playing with this song or this audience — you gonna take all of it. So sometimes that’s how I feel. I always tell people when they’re doing my hair that my hair is an accessory, so they have to make my hair so that it moves. I can’t do stiff hair, I can’t do ponytails, I need it, like my microphone.
How would your describe your new, unique sound, and how is it different from what you’ve been doing all these years with Mary Mary?
Well I’ll tell you what I was listening to, and where my heart and head were when I was making this music, especially “A Little More Jesus.” I was listening to Janis Joplin, The Beatles, John Legend, Michael Bublé, and then of course the gospel stuff that I listen to. I wanted it to have a stronger edge than Mary Mary. I know a lot of people when they hear “A Little More Jesus” think country, I kind of think more rock ’n’ roll. And because I’m by myself now, there’s just a different freedom because I don’t have to be mindful of the move is here, she stands here, we do this now… I’m on autopilot when it comes to Mary Mary, but it’s still the mechanics of the movement, the placement, who goes where. Now it’s wherever I want to move, whatever I want to sing, if I want to scream right here I can, if I want to drop to my knees I can. There’s no reservation with anything. So I tried to put that feeling into the music. So with each song I was able to approach it differently. I didn’t want it to sound like I was taking Mary Mary music and throwing it into a microwave, warming it up again, and re-serving it to the people. I wanted to steer clear of the real funky, urban music that Mary Mary has done. I wanted that to be that, and this to be this. Just yesterday I had an epiphany, that me and Tina didn’t start out as a group. I started singing by myself as a soloist in my choir, and when she was like 17 she was super shy. Super-talented of course as you can see, but really shy. And when we sang together for the first time, I think I was 19, and it was a coincidence. She had a best friend named Erica who wasn’t there, and they just asked me to sing [with Tina] and I was like OK. No rehearsals, no nothing. And it worked like magic, and we were like oh, that would be cool, and everyone was like, ya’ll should be a group. Then when I met [my husband] Warren he was like ya’ll should be a group, so that’s when it happened. And I was fine with that. But my original dreams, the dreams that I had when I was like five and six, or 12 and 13, was what I wanted to do by myself — how I wanted to stand, how I wanted to hold the microphone. I mean, I would lay out on the bunk bed and play and imagine what my commercials sounded like… It was all kinds of stuff, and so now it’s like, wow God you didn’t forget. You blessed me with something fantastic, and I wouldn’t trade Mary Mary for anything in the world, it was fantastic to do all of that with my sister, but now I get to hear my own voice, think my own thoughts.
Is there anything in the process of recording and now promoting your new solo album that you’ve learned about yourself?
I’m stronger than I thought. Everyone calls Tina the strong one, even in my family with all of my sisters. Tina’s strong, she’s aggressive, she goes after what she wants. I’m always laid back and I’m never put in the position to have to talk. Tina’s always gonna overtalk me, even if I wanted to say something you gotta fight to to get in the conversation. But now my thoughts are different, because I don’t have anyone to rely on. Some stuff I didn’t even have to worry about because I know she’s going to send an email, she’s gonna call, she’s gonna do that, so I only had to worry about certain things in the group and we’d both kind of play our parts, me being more creative and Tina being more aggressive when it comes to the details and connecting with people. I miss her. It can be lonely, there’s lonely pockets in doing this by myself, so I have my sister GooGoo with me, cause I couldn’t just be out here with no sisters at all. You want somebody there. I tell her why are you not dressed up? Why are you not… And she’s like, “I don’t do… That’s you! I’m not Tina, I’m GooGoo.” So I’m trying to wrap my mind around just being me. It’s fun, but it takes some adjustment. Fourteen years is a long time, but now I’m just enjoying being myself and growing I think as an artist and as a woman. Now I’m looking at myself through different eyes and I kind of like Erica. I love Mary Mary, but Erica’s pretty great too.
Would you describe your family as the Cosby’s of gospel or the Will and Jada of gospel?
I don’t think we’re either. When it comes to me and my sisters, we’re the Atkins girls. Or the Campbells. I feel like we’re defining our own space. I wish I was more Cosby-esque, mom being a lawyer and dad being a doctor. It wasn’t that, but not quite Will and Jada either. Just somewhere in the middle that’s very normal, very dedicated to our faith and our God, but very regular people who lived in an urban neighborhood where the church was on one corner, and the liquor store was on the other. The drug house was behind us, and the thugs lived across the street. But my house was what it was. And people knew that Mr. Atkins was taking care of his daughters and they knew that we would have a good time, but we would only go so far and we wouldn’t cross the limits, because my parents was running the house for sure. So yeah, we’re kind of forging our own way and I hope encouraging other Christian families, or other artists that battle with if they can have a family and be committed to their faith and still be successful and commercial at the same time, some delicate balance and mixture of all that. I’m just liking this journey a lot, and my family is right along with me. That’s the best part. Tina is definitely my biggest supporter, absolutely, and I love that.
Where do things stand with you and your manager Mitch? You kind of lit into him on last week’s episode of your WE TV reality show Mary Mary, and we’re all dying to know what happens next.
I’m very big on resolve. What you will not see on the show is that we’ve had many conversations since then. I’m the boss and so I hire who I want, and nobody is going to scream at me and insult me when you’re getting paid by me. It just can’t work that way. And you’re gonna holler at my husband and my sister, and insult the integrity of what I’ve done for the last 10 years? That means that you don’t belong on this team. So, keep watching.
Erica Campbell’s hit WE TV reality show Mary Mary airs Thursdays at 9/8c, and her solo debut album Help is available in stores and online now!
Want more of Erica Campbell? Tune in to VH1 Soul this Sunday between 8am/7c and 4pm/3c as VH1 Soul airs her exclusive gospel video picks! #MaryMary @ImEricaCampbell @VH1Soul