Ever noticed how many of the great female R&B and soul singers of the past three decades have first names beginning with A? There's Aretha Franklin, Annie Lennox, Amy Winehouse, and Adele, not to mention Aaliyah and Alicia Keys. Don't be surprised if the name Andria Simone joins this illustrious A team in the near future.
This 24 year-old singer-songwriter was born and raised in Toronto, but a colorfully adventurous life to date has helped her develop both as an artist and a self-confident young woman ready to take on the world. After all, how many aspiring soul singers have studying poker in the Ukraine on their resume?
More conventionally, Andria has also studied flute, piano and voice, and her love of writing was established at an early age. "I've always enjoyed writing and poetry and getting my feelings out on paper," she explains. Simone has long had a love for a wide range of musical genres, from heavy metal to dubstep, but has recently found herself a happy creative home in the world of soul and R&B. "I'd love to go back in a time machine to the '50s and '60s and dance to that live music," she declares. "I prefer the real raw sound of the voice, not the AutoTune sounds of today."
Given the raw power, passion and precision of Simone's voice, it's a shock to learn she was self-conscious about her voice, even all through high school. A turning point came during the year she spent in the Ukraine at age 19. "All I had with me there was an Amy Winehouse and a Michael Buble CD," she reminisces. "I mimicked every song on the Amy record, and then I thought the fact I could mimic this singer was showing me that maybe I should be pursuing this. When I came home, I told everybody I was a singer!"
Andria's big career break came when her music reached the perceptive ears of veteran Toronto record producer/songwriter Greg Kavanagh, and his songwriting comrade Demetri James. JUNO Award-winner Kavanagh has worked on platinum-selling albums and with such artists as BKS, Michael Burgess and Wendy Lands, while JUNO-nominated songwriter James scored hit singles as a member of Brattt Pack and has extensive experience in music retail and a major record label.
This dynamic duo recently launched Artist-tree Music Group, a triple threat as a record label, artist management company and production house. Their combined experience and excellent reputation within the music business is now sure to pay off for their new venture. Both Kavanagh and James were so knocked out by Andria's talent and potential that they have made her the flagship artist for their new venture.
"I've been in this business a long time and I've never come across such an all-in package," says Kavanagh. "Andria is a rare bird and the real deal." Signing her to Artist-tree was a very quick process, he recalls. "Demetri came to me saying 'I've found this really interesting singer.' She came in, we talked a little bit and I asked her to sing something. She just sat on the couch and sang an Amy Winehouse song, and I went 'O.K.!' Then we said 'let's try to write something,' and it has turned out to be a magical combination."
Whereas so many young artists working in the pop and R&B worlds are dependent on outside songwriting and production teams for their material, Andria Simone has insisted on a hands-on approach. "From quite early on, I realised I didn't want just to be a singer," she explains. "I want to have my name under that song, as its writer." Her dedication to the craft led her to take songwriting courses in Wales and Spain.
To Greg Kavanagh, "having Andria contribute so significantly to the shape of every song has been crucial." She and Demetri work on the lyrics and melodies together, and they have nicely complementary approaches. "Dee has previously focused on pop and dance music, while I'm very into soul," Andria explains. "He brings a contemporary feel, while I'm teaching him about soul and he's loving that." Greg Kavanagh then applies his skills as a producer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter on the tracks, with ear-catching results. His early years of playing R&B in Detroit gives him a natural feel for this style of music.
Andria couldn't be happier about the trio's creative chemistry. "I don't even understand how it happens, but we've been coming up with songs so quickly. We've been finishing a song in 45 minutes then recording it in an hour. I had worked with other producers earlier, but I've never felt as confident and comfortable as I have with Greg and Demetri. I have finally found my niche with them."
The quality of the songs they have been writing and recording has already attracted serious international attention within the music industry. Upon hearing the new tracks, Clarence McDonald, the former musical director for Ray Charles instantly contacted Kavanagh with an approving thumbs-up.
There's a refreshing variety to Andria Simone's songs. The riveting and forceful "Do What I Want" showcases her bold feminist approach to life, and, as Kavanagh explains, "it defines the way she feels and thinks." "Shame" is a classic Southern-soul style ballad that captures the power of Andria's pipes to full effect, "Nothing Comes Easy" is rousing and gospel-tinged, while "Change" is a deeply personal song inspired by those facing illness and hard times.
The use of a horn section, B3 organ and female backing vocals on every track proves the ideal accompaniment to Simone's powerhouse voice. The result is a sound that evokes memories of the golden days of soul and R&B, but that still has a relevant and modern edge. Call it Motown for the new millennium.
Andria is now building a presence online while she completes a debut mini-album slated for a fall release. YouTube clips of her covering songs made famous by the likes of Etta James ("I Just Wanna Make Love To You"), the Rolling Stones ("Paint It Black") and Sam Cooke ("Bring It On Home") have been uploaded, to very positive response. They demonstrate her skill as an interpreter, but it is the strength of her original material that will make Simone a star.
Much as she enjoys writing and recording, it is performance that most captures Andria's heart. "I would rather sing live than hear my songs playing somewhere," she declares. "I really do leave it all there, onstage. I perform my soul out of my body!" She is a charismatic and natural performer, as those who have caught her recent showcases at The Drake and a triumphant show at the Fashion Art Toronto event can testify.
As with the best soul artists, Andria Simone is in this for the long haul. "This not working out is not an option. I will just keep doing it. I would love to have longevity and hopefully inspire young girls to pursue what they enjoy doing."
Watching this young talent chase her own dream is going to be very exciting.