Get ready for Donn T, she’s the sister of everybody’s favorite late night drummer ?uestlove, and her new album Kaleidoscopic is out for global release. The Philly native and global citizen is no newcomer to the music scene; her parents were touring musicians and she’s been working behind the scene with Common (“I Am Music”), the Randy Watson Experience (“Morning Bell”), licensed music for TV and film, and shared stage with artists like Amy Winehouse, Zap Mama, John Legend, Les Nubians, Floetry and more. Now it’s Donn T’s turn to be the headliner. The album is produced by the French broken beat wizard and jazzman Dj Simbad, and with Kaleidoscopic they go on a genre-busting journey where he backs her beautiful deep vocals and lyrics with a broad range of moods, styles and tempos.
URB: You’ve been in the industry for years: how does it feel to have something to finally call your own?
Donn T: My debut Kaleidoscopic refers to the broad color spectrum. It’s the title and it also makes reference to my creative philosophy. A lot of ingredients go into that; my artistry. I have a diverse approach and I am as much a vocalist as I am a songwriter. Without the music, I am a writer at the core. I’ve been writing songs that have directly gone to TV/film for a few years and written for other artists. I have been steady performing live, and being a recording artist is simply another seasoning added. Like a refreshing summer stew, I like to think of my artistry as layered, flavorful surprising simmering pot. I don’t feel like I’ve finally found something to call my ‘own’. I guess I don’t identify with that idea. It’s all my own; all of what I’ve created behind the scenes, what is coming to the forefront now. I’m different in that way.
Did you consciously choose another musical route than your family or the Philly scene?
I grew up in a family where everyone’s unique creative expression was celebrated. My parents as artists were very open people, unique in their own right, eccentrics. So, there was never this feeling of having to “rage against the machine”. Both my mom and dad were recording artists, my dad at 13yrs in the late 50′s, and my mom later on when they met. She was a ballet and tap dancer with companies as a kid, and was trained in her youth by legends Charles “Honey” Cole and the Four Step brother’s. With that blend, there was always music being played, written, rehearsed, recorded and spoke about every day. The music library included soul, rock, gospel, country, classical, jazz etc. Within my family, I never experienced having to counter anything creatively. There was enough room for everyone. Independence was key and encouraged. Even so, I think if you look closely there is a unifying thread that each of the “T” family has which is undeniable. Kaleidoscopic is clearly on its own path. It’s not me being different for the sake of being different. It’s simply me being very Thompson. In regard to the Philly scene, it’s always evolving. It isn’t one thing. I think people outside of Philly may think of it that way. Of course, there was the Sound of Philadelphia movement and the Neo soul movement. I see myself and others as very much within the pulse of what is emerging right now in Philly. With artists like Tu Phace and Santigold, with parties like Lee Jone’s Sundae Party which brings DJs from all over the world and the Mo Money No Problems Party at Silk City with DJs Sammy Slice & Cool Hand Luke. The emerging music scene in Philly is getting a lot of support. Radio shows like Eavesdrop also highlight the “goings on” of this new movement. Although, my “world” over the last few years is mostly London – LA – Philly, Philly never stops happening musically.
Your album has a broad range of styles, did that happen organically, or did you want to showcase your taste and influences?
Yes, it happened organically. But, for an artist like me authentic expression would hint towards my influences. The album was made in 8 days start to finish. I met London based French DJ/producer Simbad (Jay Electronica/Roots Manuva) at The Sundae party in Philly, King Britt was spinning. I’d just returned to Philly that day from LA, he was in town from London. We met on a Sunday night and connected. We agreed to meet at the studio the next day. 8 days later Kaleidoscopic was born. Born = Written, recorded, mastered. So, that was crazy. A very intense experience. You learn a lot about someone when you’re locked in a room with them for a week. Like camp syndrome. day one everybody’s cool, day three someone’s getting cussed out. lots of humor throughout – we should’ve had a camera on! By day 8, it’s all love. So, it wasn’t planned in the way it came about. It created itself.
Do you think you’re gonna be judged by the fact that Questlove is your brother?
Donn T. rocks a dress, heels + a microphone. Questlove = rocks the drum set + legendary ‘fro. People seem to get the distinction. Plus, folks that have known both of us as artists often find the differences intriguing. People that are just now finding out that Questlove has a sister are usually so stunned that they’re open to anything. That fact that I’m feelin’ a bit of house, broken, dubstep as well as feeling a lot of the nu-disco movement, with producers such as DFA/LCD Soundsystem and Hercules & Love Affair right now – seems fine. There are traces of this on Kaleidoscopic and on “Look At” (single) remixes. Folks end up being like, “Sure. Of course!” Beyond that, I’m pretty clear and comfortable with who I am as an artist.
This is truly an international record in terms of your producer and your management, was that a formula for you?
More About Music label/management is based in the UK and has a very eclectic roster, a very modern approach. House, hip hop and other underground musical forms is their thing. They work with established artists as well as, some hot underground talent. Frankly, the music industry is a totally different game right now; I wanted to be signed to a label that could work well within those shifting parameters. We’ve been utilizing social networking as well as other technology. It’s really about covering all the angles; video, blogs, websites etc. A lot of what’s happening in London right now musically resonates with me. So, my relationship with More About Music and producer Simbad pieced together very naturally.
How do you think the American crowd is going to embrace your unique sound?
Kaleidoscopic is soulful futuristic dance music. It appears that everywhere hip hop is slowly moving closer to dance music, with a lot of commercial pop artists, r&b + hip hop artists, sampling house music/dance music as they once sampled funk and disco. Both minimal and lush in spots, this album is about that progression.
What current artists inspire you?
Mayer Hawthorne, Estelle, Dam Funk, Quadron, Janelle Monae + etc.
Do you look at the digital age of music as a challenge or as an opportunity?
The digital age is supportive to indie artists like me. Still, I like to see a blend. For example, “Look At (what u startin’)” single and remixes were released digitally and on limited 12″ white label. In addition, Kaleidoscopic will be available worldwide digitally as well as, in stores. I’m hoping the physical element never completely disappears. For me, DJs rule!! To entirely reduce the DJ game to digital or to Serato alone would mean the loss of an original art form. In addition, if music buyers never get to handle a CD or wax ’cause foot traffic is a thing of the past and retailers go out of business, we all lose. I’m hoping the past and the future can coexist compatibly for a lil’ bit longer. Sure, I’m a digital girl ‘in a digital world’ still I really honor the past.
Your songs are very different sounding, yet TV/radio friendly. Any plans for music videos?
Well in fact, songs from Kaleidoscopic are presently being licensed to TV and film. In addition, a music video is in the works so, folks should look for it.
Follow Donn T – Facebook * Twitter
Buy the record here: Amazon * Underground HipHop * itunes
Here’s a lil’ something for the readers; 2 free tracks to download!
Her first single “Look at“, a beautiful soulful broken piece.
A garage/dubstep remix of her first single from Londoner Extra Breaks: “Look At (Extra Breaks Remix)“