R&B singer Sugar Joans grew up listening to artists like Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Prince, and Destiny’s Child, and in 2014, she auditioned for The Voice with Franklin’s “Chain of Fools,” earning herself a spot on Pharrell Williams’ team. Since then, she’s released five singles as a solo artist, the latest being “No Patience,” a declaration of independence from a partner who couldn’t meet her needs.
The song was based on a “situationship” in Joans’ own life at the time she wrote it. “We had developed really strong feelings for each other, but he just wasn’t in the right place to be in a relationship,” she says. “I’m at the point in my life where I had that ‘aha’ moment and that courage and that strength to walk away from something that wasn’t serving me 100 percent.” The realization that it was better to be alone than be with someone who wasn’t giving their all made the track “more than a breakup anthem;” for Joans, it was as much about the empowerment she felt in that moment as it was about ending the affair.
Her R&B influences are clear in the song, though she considers it her poppiest single yet. “I wanted it to be kind of authentic and catchy,” she says. The lyric video, which she shot and directed herself, aims to show her expressing the strength and conviction that went into the song. In fact, she says it already began to take shape in her mind when she was writing the music.
“Every time I make a song, I see it visually as well,” she explains. “It creates its own space in my mind, and there’s imagery that goes with it and feelings and smells and moods. All of it exists together, so it’s very cathartic for me to just create something from start to finish visually and from a production standpoint.”
“No Patience” is part of a full-length album Joans is currently working on, which she describes as “a love letter to myself.” Similarly to “No Patience” and previously released single “Gentle,” the other tracks are about finding her voice and empowering herself both personally and professionally.
“For a long time, I kind of looked at myself as a good singer but not an artist,” she says. “I don’t know why I doubted myself in that arena, but I never really had the confidence to let myself flourish in songwriting and just exist as an artist. It’s been a journey, the past year, of really believing in myself and letting myself grow and understanding I’m capable of doing those things. I hope when people hear the music, they can feel inspired to believe in themselves and do what they feel they’re called to do.”
Since so many of her influences are Black artists, Joans hopes to pay homage to the Black community through her music. Along with the surge in activism around civil rights and police brutality, she hopes her listeners learn to value those that have been so influential to her own music, as well as the industry at large. She encourages those who are in a position of privilege to educate themselves about Black culture and racism through books, documentaries, and whatever means available to them.
“Black music is the originator of all music, pretty much, in the history of the world,” she explains. “I just wish so deeply that the world could value Black people and Black lives the way we value their art and their culture and the way we value the music they make and all these kinds of things. I just feel pretty overwhelmed by the state of the world, but I have a lot of hope that if we keep pushing for change, this is going to be a very pivotal time.”
The trajectory of NYC-based vocalist Lisa Ramey’s career reflects an exceptional adaptability and versatility – she started off doing musical theater in St. Louis, moved over to Broadway, then began recording her own music shortly before Cirque du Soleil recruited her to tour as a singer in their show Koozå. The next chapter of her career saw her competing on The Voice twice; during her first attempt, she didn’t make it into the main competition, but she then returned and became part of John Legend’s team, which she considers the launching pad of her solo career.
“It was weird; one day, your biggest audience is a couple hundred people, then the next day, there’s 10 million people watching you singing a song,” she remembers. “You can be a great singer, a great performer, but if there’s no one watching you, how are you going to get paid? The whole point is to climb the door to success — I found the door, but I definitely couldn’t get through it, and being on The Voice got me the key.”
Her experience on the show also led her to break from her past work in the R&B genre and focus more on exploring rock and soul. “As a Black female in the music industry, I don’t want to say you get pushed, but it’s just kind of known you’re an R&B singer, so you feel like you need to be,” she explains. “But when I was working with John Legend, they’re creating an artist for TV, and I was realizing I was more of a performer that wants to get out there and rock and go crazy.”
Her rock influences are evident on her latest release, a cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together.” Her voice adds soul and sensuality to the classic hit, while the drums and electric guitars give it a heavier vibe. In the video, Ramey sings in a leather jacket and boots, pole-dances, and lounges on her bed, pouring over angel cards.
The inspiration for the video, like many works of art as of late, was the coronavirus quarantine. Specifically, it was meant to depict “someone going crazy when they’re going through quarantine,” she says. “When I’m wearing white, it’s like I’m losing my mind, and when I’m wearing black, it’s like this sexy subversion. Then, it just turned into this hot video. I’m a strong sexy black female and I ain’t got anything to hide.”
In its conception, the goal of the cover itself was simple: “to take an amazing, incredible, beautiful song and make it our own,” says Ramey, explaining that she aimed to create a “psychedelic sound with a darker edge.” However, in light of the George Floyd killing and recent protests against police brutality toward Black Americans, it evolved to promote the act of coming together to create social change.
“There’s a lot of hopeful things happening,” she says. “[We’re] defunding police. We’re starting to make decisions as communities instead of giving it all to corrupt police, and those are amazing things. I believe things can be different, but it can’t happen unless we all come together and stop making excuses of BS. And so I’m screaming at everybody out of frustration, and to see everybody rising up and marching against it is amazing. I had no idea that I had so many allies supporting me.”
In light of these events, Ramey encourages people to support Black artists by purchasing their work; for Ramey, that includes her latest album, Surrender, which shows off her unique style blending rock, soul, and R&B. “A lot of people like to reach out and ask me what they can do to help and apologize, and that’s amazing,” she says. “But it’s unbelievable how they bypass me. ‘How can I help the Black community?’ Well, here I am, Black, and I released an album, and you can help me and download that.”
She also hopes people heed the message of “Come Together” and combat hate by banding together with love. “The fight’s not over,” she says. “I’m amongst it and I’m with it and I’m here for it and I’m screaming at everyone. And I’m using the Beatles to help me out.”
Follow Lisa Ramey on Facebook for ongoing updates.
The world doesn’t make believing in yourself easy—especially if you’re treading a path less traveled. No one knows that better than Sarah Potenza, the powerhouse vocalist and songwriter who went from being virtually unknown to wowing judges and becoming a semi-finalist on NBC’s The Voice in 2015. Her stint on the show helped jettison her talents out into the world, but now she’s forging ahead on her own terms—and exuding passion and tenacity in the process.
“Diamond,” the new single off her forthcoming full-length, Road to Rome, is a perfect example of the newfound sense of self she’s uncovered since The Voice. With Potenza’s triumphant lyrics, a soaring background choir, and diverting percussion breaks, “Diamond” is an anthem of self-acceptance and just the sort of song we all need when we’ve lost touch with our own shine.
Listen to “Diamond” and read the full interview with Potenza below.
AF: “Diamond” has such a powerful message. What inspired you to write this song?
SP: From my earliest crushes through my bachelorette years the pattern was always the same: the boys would laugh at all my jokes, be in awe of my talents, and then ask me if my quiet, more submissive girlfriend would go out with them. I spent a lot of time feeling ashamed of who I was. I tried so hard to crack the code, tried to be smaller in every way, but I just couldn’t squeeze myself into the glass slipper. Today I am grateful to have failed, because I wanted things that they could never give to me. “Diamond” is an open letter to a fourteen-year-old Sarah. I want to tell her not to cry over those boys. I want to reach all the little Sarahs out there and tell them, “Girl, just wait. Your turn is coming. You’re a diamond.”
AF: What was the biggest challenge in writing this song? The biggest successes in it?
SP: It was actually a blast to write—it was very freeing, and took lots off my chest. But, pound for pound it was just as heavy. Looking back, I wasn’t kind to myself, and I wasted a lot of time pursuing the attention of boys. My assessment of my own attractiveness was based on the following: Was I pretty? Was small enough? Was I submissive/passive enough? Nope. I was smart, funny, outspoken, a leader, talented and big in every way. I really had to pack a lot, you see? But for me, this kind of anger is healing and acting it out onstage about a hundred times a year really gets that shit out of your system so you can move on.
AF: What’s your writing process look like? Do you have a routine?
SP: It starts with a central concept. Then, I begin to play until I have some words to inform the music. For me, the words dictate everything. If I have to work with someone who doesn’t feel that way, the process can become difficult for me. Next, and still alone, I use my mind to dream of a melody for what little words I have. Then that melody finds its voice. I sing it out loud until it’s solidified, then I go to the piano, find what I am singing, and start to surround it with chords. This turns into a series of pivots and explorations and a lot of times I come back to the first thing I had in the end. But, I have to go searching.
AF: How do you know you’ve landed on something worthwhile? What are your next steps for polishing a song?
SP: Once I have something going that I feel has enough direction—or that I like what I have but feel stuck on—I will record it on a voice memo, send it to my friend Justin, and then he will send me back a garage band file with a more mocked up version of the music, and I track the vocals to that. Typically, that yields a nugget that my husband and guitar player, Ian Crossman, hears. He usually comes up with constructive criticism or a sound or musical idea that gives the whole thing a new perspective. That’s when it gets really fun.
AF: You’re such a confident performer and you wear the RADDEST onstage outfits! What do you do to prep yourself for performance? How do you cultivate confidence in yourself and your work?
SP: I work hard on that shit, then I try to make it look easy. In fact, tonight after we talk, I need to go do my cardio. This new album has been humbling to perform. Lots of fast paced lyrics, big notes and moving around onstage. The songs just call for that, so I gotta step it up. I also watch videos of myself and assess what could be better and what worked. For example, I noticed that the faster songs on this album look better without a mic stand. My lyrics are very playful, so you have to perform them with sass and swag. This is different then my last album, which could mostly be presented on an acoustic guitar while standing still. But, if all else fails, I like to look good. If you’re out there and you feel like a million, you’re gonna show it.
AF: Was there a moment in your life when you realized you’d been undervaluing yourself?
SP: It took me a long time to have that moment. After The Voice, I felt like I had totally lost touch with my inner compass. I was navigating lots of new things, and dealing with adrenal fatigue. Being on reality TV was as much of a confidence builder as it was a killer.
AF: How did you bounce back and find your “Diamond”-ness again?
SP: I was asked to be a part of a project called ‘Sixthman Sessions.’ It’s collaboration of writers assigned to co-write and record an entire album on a cruise ship in three days. I was terrified. I hated co-writing. But when I got going, it turned out I was great at co-writing and it was just what I needed. Because this was not a ‘Sarah Potenza’ album, I was free to fuck it up. And so, I stopped thinking and just chased the ideas, had fun, and stayed focused. With only three days to go, agonizing over every line or chord wasn’t an option. And, the songs were good—like really good. Like, the sound I had been looking for good. After that, I felt like I could hear myself again. And suddenly I felt 14 again, in a pair of my older brother’s Dr. Martins and my vintage army navy store jacket—I found my confidence.
AF: You definitely have your own authentic thing going on, but I’m wondering what influences helped get you here. Who are you listening to most right now?
SP: When I was writing this album I made a playlist for anyone who was working with me on it. A lot of times, I can’t find the words to describe the sound I want, but I can show them. So, I made this list that I would reference, and it directly influenced me. It’s called S&J—Where is the booty album influences. It was an inside joke about a disco song called “Where is the Booty.” Go ahead and look that song up—you’re welcome.
AF: When is your new album due out? Is there one theme that drives the new album?
SP: International Women’s Day (!!!!), March 8th. The theme of the album is shred your shame. Ditch it.
3/8 – Houston, TX @ Mcgonigel’s Mucky Duck
3/13 – SXSW, Austin, TX @ Midcoast Stage
3/15 – SXSW, Austin, TX @ Party in My Pants Showcase
3/15 – SXSW, Austin, TX @ Rebelle Road Presents
3/15 – SXSW, Austin, TX @ New Nashville Riverboat Road Show
3/16 – Dallas, TX @ Opening Bell
3/17 – Tulsa, OK @ The Stone Church
3/31-4/7 – The Melissa Etheridge Cruise
Each week Audiofemme gives away a set of tickets to our featured shows in NYC! Scroll down to enter for the following shindigs.