AD: You’re related to Nat Adderly and Cannonball Adderly, who are both legends, how did their influences effect your musical style?
Akina: Well, it’s interesting because it’s in there, but I guess it’s kind of subtle, it’s like what happens if you put Miracle Grow in your garden kind of, in like that, when the plant blooms, you can see that the plant is healthier somehow, but you don’t see the specific steps that went into it. It’s kind of like that. I’m not a Jazz singer, really, I do perform Jazz sometimes and I certainly have Jazz pieces in my repertoire, but I wouldn’t consider myself a Jazz singer the way that I would consider, for example Kim Hart as a Jazz singer.
My grandfather, because I never knew Cannonball, he died a couple of years before I was born, but my Grandfather, who I was very, very close to until he passed away when I was about 20. Just hearing him play several times and talking to him about music and aI went on the road with him when I was kid, about 10. Just absorbing all of that I think just opened my mind to musical exploration and creativity and expression, so the way that I was influenced was probably not like a direct, specific thing I can point to, but just kind of a general attitude towards music and a kind of richness of perspective. I’m sure grateful for it but it’s hard to pinpoint, but I know that it’s there.
AD: So, any great stories from your very first tour when you were 10!?
Akina: (laughs) I don’t remember any very specific ancedotes, but I remember my little sister who was 7 at the time was taught to swim in the South of France on that trip by Vincent Herring, the great saxophone player who played with my Grandfather for a lot of years, but he was like a pretty well known cat so the fact that he taught my sister how to swim in the South of France is pretty hilarious.
AD: So, the music industry’s considered “a man’s world” do you agree with that? If so, what have you done to counter it?
Akina: I definitely agree that there are some barriers that we still, as women in really, frankly any profession, but certainly music is a profession that in a lot of ways kind of remains a boys club but I feel like a lot of us are doing as much as we can to kind of break down the barriers and forge ahead with confidence and determination. For example, I happened to lead a band where everybody, other than myself, is a man and that’s just sort of a coincidence. I would obviously gladly take a band of female musicians, it just happens that my band is comprised of dudes. One thing that I do to kind of move past, or ignore, or combat that fact that music is, in a lot of ways, a boys club is that I just lead them like I would lead anyone and I’m not afraid to speak my mind, and I’m not afraid to act the way I want. I certainly take tons of input and the music sounds the way that it does because of the contributions of the individual members but certainly if I make a musical or artistic decision, I am not shy about getting what I want and I do my best to be strong and clear and confident. I feel like the more women who do that, the less there is any difference between anybody of any gender who is making music or leading a band. Hopefully over time the boys club will diminish more and more.
AD: The first time I (Russ) saw you, I’d been told that you would remind me of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. I could see it, but you definitely have your own thing going on. Wondering if you’ve ever met her and how you feel about that comparison?
Akina: I have never met her, but I’ve seen Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, I’d say about 4 times…
AD: So you’re a bit of a fan?
Akina: Yeah, I love those guys. I would certainly say that the comparison is…I’d definitely say cheers to that…but it’s for a number of reasons, from the sort of obvious like, she’s a short, black female, I’m a short, black female. I’m kind of like loud and, um…
Akina: Energetic and powerful, people have said that. I’ve got a big band, she’s got a big band, I’ve got horns, she’s got horns, but on the other hand, what I’m doing is heavily influenced by old school funk and soul, but also so heavily influenced by classic rock like Zeppelin and The Black Crowes and stuff like that. There’s other stuff in my band just because of where I come from, but also because of the influences and history of the individual members. I have two guitar players who both come from a rock background so that informs them and also when I was a kid just as much as I was listening to Stevie Wonder and Aretha, I was listening to Zeppelin and the Stones and The Beatles, so that kind of snuck in there. I think Sharon Jones, I mean I’m sure she has tons of influences as well, but I think Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are more clearly, specifically are like a 60’s/70’s soul feel. I feel like my sound has that other stuff at the same time and that’s really fun. Because that, you can have within one set, like you can have several funk songs, several sort of like soul songs, and also several kind of rock-edged songs, but what’s really cool is that within even one song, hopefully people can connect to several different influences and that’s a lot of fun.
AD: As an educator, what advice do you give to young ladies wanting to be songwriters and rock n’ rollers?
Akina: I’ve given this advice because in addition to teaching school, I teach at Girls Rock Camp over the summers, so I have the good fortune of hanging out with and watching the development of young musicians. What I would say, especially to young women and girls, is to do your best to learn as much as you can because when you get out there you want to feel like you have all the tools possible to make your way, in whatever that way is. Whether you want to compose music, or perform music, or study music, you want to make sure you know as much as you can. I mean, that doesn’t mean you need to get your Doctorate in ethnomusicology or music theory, that just means that you have to do your best to hone your craft and listen to as much music as you can and go to as many shows as you can and, if you’re into it, read some books and take some classes – that stuff certainly helps me. Enjoy the process of absorbing as much music as you can because when you do that, you feel like you have an arsenal at your disposal when you get out into the world. That’s the best thing you can do I think, that is the best way you can honor yourself, with knowledge and experience.
AD: So you and some of your band members moved to here from California. How did you choose Austin, and how do you feel about that choice?
Akina: I love the choice! I’m very, very happy here. I’ve lived here for 5 years and my husband and I just bought a house, we really love it here. The decision was actually was one of the more flippant decisions I’ve ever made. I’m usually much more kind of like, I take a long time to decide on things. My husband and I had lived in California, this was before we got married, we lived there for about 2 ½ years, and we were both just kind of like “ugh, we’re tired of this traffic and tired of living in Los Angeles” so we were throwing around ideas of where to move to, but more than where, we were just kind of like, “Let’s get out of here!”. I had visited Austin just once, coming to see ACL (Austin City Limits) and I really liked it, and my husband’s from Dallas, so one day I kind of walked in the house and was like “So, Austin? Yeah? Maybe?” and we talked about it for a little while and decided yeah, that sounds great so let’s just give it a shot. Then in like 3 weeks we were in a U-Haul and on our way to Austin.
AD: That’s awesome! I feel like that’s how a lot of people kind of end up here and it’s really cool! “Let’s just do it!”
Akina: Yeah, it was fun, it was interesting because, like I said, there are very few decisions I’ve made that way in life but I’m really glad that we did it and it’s been really great. I’ve been really fortunate to play with some great musicians and the music community here has been really welcoming and really collaborative and easy to meet and work with lots of other musicians. I’ve been really happy here.
AD: You started to touch on it, but what’s special to Austin and the music scene here?
Akina: One thing that’s special to me in Austin, paired with my life as an educator, in other towns when you are a professional musician you’re gigging, and you’re rehearsing, and you’re spending a lot of time and effort on that, sometimes that’s kind of frowned upon a little bit if you’re trying to be a teacher. And here in Austin, I feel like incredibly fortunate and really supported by not only the parents of the kids I teach, but all the teachers at my school, and the head of the school, all of the people that I come in contact with as an educator have been incredibly supportive. People have come to shows, sometimes multiple shows, people have bought my record, people have just been really kind and really cool about the fact that they know that in the daytime I’m at school, but at night I could be like in a short dress, on stage rocking out every night and they don’t judge me in any way and in fact they really encourage and support me. It’s really cool.
Also, living in Austin, for me personally, I’ve found that I really enjoy collaboration. I mean, I really like leadership and having an artistic vision and going through the process of having that vision realized, but also I really love collaboration and throwing around ideas with other people and seeing how a song is affected by somebody else’s spin. I found that I’ve been really comfortable here in Austin with collaboration. As an example, one of the guys who plays horns in my band, he plays trumpet, Eric Strafford(?) when he was in his old band, his band and my band would perform together quite a bit so we kind of became friends and then he joined my band. He did an arrangement of one of my songs called “Say Yes” and the horn arrangement that he did – and that song, that’s one of my favorite songs that I’ve written – and I love it even more with this horn arrangement. When that record comes out that’s (the horn arrangement) is gonna be one of the most memorable things about the song, and that comes from a collaboration with a guy I just happened to meet playing out. And that to me sort of speaks volumes about how fruitful collaborations here in Austin can be.
AD: We’re also going to interview Nakia for this issue, so have you gotten to play with him much?
Akina: Yeah, actually we did an awesome show a few weeks ago, it was called Akina and Nakia Soul Shakedown, and by the way, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but our names are anagrams. But, yeah, we did a soul shakedown, like a big soul show, with my band, his band, and ???. We did it at Mohawk and it was terrific. They were really great about it in the press and gave us great write ups, it was in the Chronicle and all sorts of stuff, it was great.
AD: Do you have a favorite venue to play in town?
Akina: Well, I really liked MoMo’s and for a long time that was a fun venue for my band to call home. It was a venue that was really welcoming to different genres of music and it was just kind of homey for us, and the sound was nice and the sound guy there was great, and really good to us. It’s such a shame that they’re not here anymore because it was a great home base for us and for lots of Austin bands, but I also really love The Parish. It has awesome sound and it’s a really nice room, a couple of years ago they renovated it really nicely and it’s got a really great backstage/green room, and I LOVE a nice green room where – you know I’m not prissy, if I go to a club that doesn’t have a green room and you have to get ready in the bathroom, that’s cool, I’m cool with that, but man, a green room with like, you know tea and water, and beers for the guys, and couches, an air conditioner, ahh, that’s pretty great, it’s top notch if they have that. So I love The Parish. I love Antone’s, I love that nice, big room, that nice, big stage, I’m with a big band and how I like how excited I am to run around so it’s nice to be on a big stage like that. We played Stubb’s once, and I love that venue. Clearly, there are several venues in town that I really like!
AD: Do you write your material and when is your next album coming?
Akina: I do write my own material. I’d say I write about 90% of my material. On my first record there was one song where I wrote the lyrics and my guitarist wrote the music. Then on my second record there’s one song where I wrote the lyrics and Annette Funk’s End (?) wrote the instrumental, but other than that I’ve written all music and lyrics.
My next album is coming out in about a month or so, probably the beginning of June. If I had a hard core record label, I’d have a specific date and we’d be going on tour, but it’s like, I’m teaching at the same time and I’m independent, and my Dad is producing it, and he moves kind of slowly, so my goal is by Summer solstice, by June 21st!
AD: So, do you want to tell us about some of your influences? I know you said earlier, you were talking about the music you listened to and your family but, who do you feel are some of your most influential influences?
Akina: I really love Stevie Wonder, a whole lot, so if I had like one main influence it would be him. The reason is that I really like his songwriting, meaning I really like everything you can do to be really specific about communicating an emotion or a story, and I feel like Stevie Wonder is the king of that. Every song he makes with the melodies, with the chords, with the lyrics, each and every word is unique and really goes to tell the story. I’m really inspired by that and I love that. So, Stevie Wonder would be the biggest one. I also really love Donny Hathaway. I just love how powerful and evocative his voice is and how his piano chops are so soulful. The type of energy that both Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder bring, the kind of energy, the kind of artistry, the kind of creativity, the kind of soul, that’s the kind of stuff that makes it last.
AD: Where do you see Akina Adderly and the Playboys, in say, like 5 years?
Akina: Oh, hopefully playing all over this great nation of ours and hopefully a lot of festivals. In 5 years hopefully we’ll have a third record and hopefully we’ll be on some late night shows like Jimmy Fallon and Colbert and all that kind of stuff. I’m hoping that we really kind of make it to that next level.
AD: So, to end things, our question for everyone this month is: Do you have a favorite swimming hole in Austin?
Akina: Favorite swimming hole? (laughs) Ummmm, I really like Deep Eddy. I’ll tell you why – because you have grassy banks there, but you also have the swimming pool with a relatively controlled temperature. I am kind of a wimp when it comes to really cold water, thus, while going to Barton Springs is beautiful, I’m not getting in that water!
AD: Hahaha, well, thank you so much!
Akina: My pleasure, I’m delighted to do this!