Res Rocks: Res on Res

“When is your next album coming out?” Ever since How I Do (2001) introduced Res to music audiences craving a progressive blend of rock, pop, and soul, the Philly-based rocker has regularly fielded that question. Finally, she has a definite answer: “Now.” Black.Girls.Rock! is the album that was intended to follow How I Do, but it got tangled in Geffen Records’ executive turnstile. Amidst many current projects, including Idle Warship (her group with Talib Kweli and Graph Nobel) and a solo mixtape, Res is offering the previously unreleased Black.Girls.Rock! as a free download on her website She recently shared her thoughts about five of the album’s numerous highlights with PopMatters. (Note: watch for an extended interview with Res on PopMatters later this winter.)

“On My Way”

The opening song on Black.Girls.Rock! that, for many listeners, is a “Res anthem.”

“Every artist has a song that represents them. I think this song represents what Res is to people, what people think Res is. I wrote most of it. I didn’t have to compromise for it. It was written by me and this girl Jill Cunniff from Luscious Jackson. For me, I felt like it was a great album opener because it bridged the gap between How I Do and this album.”

“For Who You Are”

Only one person was destined to write this song with Res: the legendary Wah Wah Watson.

“I opened up for Maxwell. Wah Wah was in the band during that time. I think I needed scissors and no one in Maxwell’s camp would give me scissors. Somehow, I ran into him and he was like, ‘You need scissors? I’m going to get you scissors!’ He brought me this concoction to drink of ginger and lemon. ‘Here you pretty ladies go’, and he gave it to me and my background singers. We’re like, ‘Who is this guy? He’s like Santa Claus.’

“A year went by, and I saw his number. I called him and I went to his house. He has a great wife and three big-ass pit bulls that are gorgeous. He has a studio with platinum records on the wall. He makes a great Long Island Iced Tea, smokes turkey in the back. He’s a great host and a cool person. He was kind of like my big brother while I was in California, so far away from my family. He’s from the same era as my father, so it felt normal to be around someone like that.

“The best part of it is that, growing up, I listened to a lot of Motown. I never thought, ‘Why do I love these songs?’ When I met him, I found out that he played on the majority of the songs that I love to death. To know that he did that, it was like, okay, this shit is destiny. It’s not for no reason. I would just go over and play him songs. He played me songs and he’d cook dinner. I went to Thanksgiving with him, just regular shit like that. There’s not too many people I can talk to about music in that way and they get it. It’s only a thing you can get with someone who does it. He’s taught me so much about being an artist and music. He’s not even trying to teach me anything, but he teaches me.

Photo by Sho

“I was in the middle of writing songs for Black.Girls.Rock!, which was supposed to be a self-titled release, and I wrote this song to three chords on my guitar. It was about my ex-boyfriend. I called him up and I didn’t know I said the magic words to him: ‘I wrote a song and you’re the only person I know that can do it justice.’ I played it for him and he was like, ‘Oh yeah, girl. I got a treatment for this.’ That night, we stayed up until 10 o’clock the next morning, and he would just play different guitar parts under my melody. He played the whole song through and he said, ‘This is enough for you to sing to.’ I was really tired, so I laid on his couch and he was like, ‘Don’t get up.’ He put the microphone over the couch and said, ‘This is how Marvin Gaye did it a couple of times.’ I sang the song and then he put 25 different-sounding guitars on it. It sounds like heaven.

“He’s a Detroit-Motown studio guy, so they do stuff way different than anyone thinks about doing music now. I got to witness it. He took me step by step on how he was going to produce it. He brought James Gatson, Ray Parker Jr., Freddie Washington, and all these people to the studio. We recorded the whole thing on videotape. They did nine takes, but seven of them were full takes. I was in one booth singing, all the players were in one room together. We did it at Sunset Studios in L.A. where Marvin worked, and they all had been there before. Wah Wah was directing the whole thing and had it all charted out. He really took it seriously. That made me feel good just because he thought the song was that good. He was excited because he was like, ‘This girl’s giving me her song and told me that I’m the only one that can do it.’ All these people came to the studio to work. They didn’t come with entourages. They came to play with some real shit. It’s honest. The seventh take that they played was the seventh take that I sung. That take is from me hearing what they played. We were all in sync. That’s it. We didn’t want to cut and paste, because then it would defeat the whole purpose. Everyone was that good.”

“Leave Here Tomorrow”

Res collaborated with Mutlu on this song, a highlight in the catalog of both artists.

“Mutlu can sing his ass off. His voice is the shit. His guitar playing is the shit. He’s from Philly. I liked his songs and he was a fan of mine. I ended up being a fan of his, and we worked together at someone’s house. It wasn’t set up. He came to a family barbecue and everyone kept calling him ‘Moto.’ He got along with my family ridiculously well. He’s on his shit.”

“There’s No Way”

Produced by Colin Wolfe, this self-penned tune captures Res at a crucial turning point in her life and career before deciding to leave her record label.

“Colin Wolfe was someone that my manager knew. A lot of people that ended up being in my band for the first run of How I Do were all friends with him. He had worked a lot with Dallas Austin. I wanted to work with Dallas Austin, but Dallas was kind of like, ‘I don’t write with people who don’t write their own songs, but you can work with my boy Colin.’ I went to work with Colin and we hit it off.

“I think ‘There’s No Way’ is the best song I ever wrote. It was a three-chord thing that I did on my guitar, but I wrote the verses first. I couldn’t write the chorus at the time, because I couldn’t play any more chords. I wasn’t good enough. I was like, ‘I don’t know what the next chord should be. What should the chorus be? If the verse chords are this, what are the next four?’

“That song was basically what my life was at that time. I went to the ATM one day, and literally only had 200-something dollars. I was like, ‘What the fuck?’ I was living across from the beach, looking out at a panoramic ocean view. I was living in this great fucking apartment, but I had no fucking money. I thought, ‘I have clothes in my closet that are the shit, and I can put them on and dress up like a star, but really, I’m like a poor boy in a stolen car. It looks great, but it’s not mine. This shit is mine, but I’m going to get kicked out if I don’t pay the rent.’ My rent was being paid by my label. I had all of these things, but I didn’t own them.”

“So What Am I (Sunday Nite Res)”

The hit that wasn’t. Written with Martin McKinney, “So What Am I” is a sobering listen and one of the most irresistible songs Res has recorded.

”I’m in an industry where people don’t like to be told the truth. I’m lucky that I’m the person that’s unafraid to say the truth. That’s why my manager forced me to write songs. I had a big thing about I don’t write songs and I’m not good at them. Mark Batson, who produced ‘Not a Pretender’ and ‘Angry’, he said, ‘You can tell a great story. That’s what a song is.’ That’s when it clicked, and that’s when I felt at ease about writing a song. I do have confidence in telling a story, and I like to get to the essence of everything. I like to get the essence of every situation, because that’s what my nature is. I meet people and I’m like, ‘They walked in here kind of funny, or they don’t feel comfortable in their own skin, and that’s why I don’t like them.’ It’s not because they have an ugly shirt on, it’s because they’re not comfortable in their own skin, and that doesn’t make me comfortable. I’m not always right, but I do have strong feelings about people and situations. It makes great songs, but I don’t have that many friends (laughs).

“The music industry is like working at SunCoast Video. It’s like working at any job. When I write, I try to make people understand that this shit is real life and we all deal with the same shit. If you get to the essence of it, it should resonate with a whole lot of motherfuckers. That’s why I write the way I write. That song’s about the bigger picture. The hardest part of what I do is writing. At first it was because I didn’t want people to know how I really thought, or I thought, ‘If I write this people are going to know exactly what the fuck I mean and who I’m talking about?’ Really, they don’t. The more specific you get with a situation, the more general it becomes. Once I realized that, I could say anything.”