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Regional Interests

VINCINT's Debut Album Is A Vulnerable Soundtrack For Newly Reopened Dancefloors

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For the last year, I've been talking to musicians about making art in a time of death and isolation. Well, now things are changing. People are getting vaccinated, reuniting with family members, hugging friends and opening back up to the world. And the debut album from VINCINT feels like the right soundtrack for that experience.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIGHER")

VINCINT: (Singing) Lost in a dark room. Walking on air. Don't need to see you there to know you're there.

SHAPIRO: It's called "There Will Be Tears." The sound of the album beckons you to those newly re-opened dance floors, but it's also raw and vulnerable.

VINCINT: I started writing the album because I sat with my therapist. And she said, I need you to write down all the things that you're struggling with right now. So I bought a hundred index cards, and I covered my bedroom. And then I wrote down everything that I wanted to talk to about, everything that I wanted to fix and confront and explain in my life. And I, one by one, took them down and started to fix things.

SHAPIRO: Give us an example of one of the things that was on a card that is now in one of these songs.

VINCINT: Loss of my dad was one of the big things on one of the cards. I lost my dad in 2018, October 5.

SHAPIRO: Oh, I'm sorry.

VINCINT: Thank you. And he was instrumental in my music and just everything. And so it was something that I hadn't been dealing with, I don't think, because I had just been on the go. So I hadn't really unpacked that. And I think having so much time alone, like we all did last year, made me really confront my feelings and talk about things that I needed to talk about. And it was sort of healing for me.

SHAPIRO: Where can we hear that on this album?

VINCINT: It's on the song "All Over Again."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL OVER AGAIN")

VINCINT: (Singing) Maybe we tried too hard to be happy. Maybe nobody's to blame. Maybe you and I ran out of love. Doesn't matter anyway. If I knew...

SHAPIRO: I know you were raised in the Baptist Church. Your father was a gospel singer. And here you are making this, like, danceable poppy music that feels, I don't know, more like Celine Dion than The Staple Singers, right?

VINCINT: (Laughter) It's funny that you say that.

SHAPIRO: Why is that? What do you mean?

VINCINT: Because my mother played Celine Dion from the day that I was born in our house. And so I'm a Celine Dion stan. And that is probably why it sounds that way.

SHAPIRO: But I'm just wondering, you know, if you had a Celine Dion mother and a gospel music father, can you tell me about the sort of how your family responded to your emergence in this world of pop music?

VINCINT: I think they were a bit confused at first because we listened to so much R&B and gospel and my family, but they understood where my heart was. And because they're some of the greatest people in the world, they were just like, we support you. And we love it.

SHAPIRO: I think your mother kicks off one of the tracks on this album, right? The song "You."

VINCINT: She does.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Unintelligible) and I'm crying. All your dreams is coming true. I don't know what to do. I'm just so proud of you.

SHAPIRO: So tell us what we're hearing here.

VINCINT: It's a voicemail from my mom that I got. And I remember sitting in my living room floor just crying because my mom and I always have the best conversations, and she's probably one of the most empathetic people I know. But it sounded like she was meeting me for the first time and seeing me in a way that she hadn't before. And for me, it was like overwhelming. And I was trying to figure out, because "You" is about my mother, and "You" is about every person who has someone who's fighting for them and has no idea that they're going through so much just so they can be happy. And it just fit so perfectly. When I finished the song, I was thinking. I said, this needs to go with the sound of it. And we put it there, and we all just sat in the room and just cried for maybe 30 minutes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU")

VINCINT: (Singing) I'm only doing this for you, you, you.

SHAPIRO: You know, I first heard of you when you were a finalist on the singing competition show "The Four." You covered the Radiohead song "Creep."

VINCINT: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FOUR")

VINCINT: (Singing) When you were here before...

SHAPIRO: This video has more than 15 million views on YouTube.

VINCINT: Insane.

SHAPIRO: And one thing that I think is so moving is that you took a tune that, to me, feels like almost cliche straight white dudes sob song.

VINCINT: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: And you made it sound like it was written for the Black queer person that you are.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FOUR")

VINCINT: (Singing) You float like a feather.

SHAPIRO: Which I think goes beyond, oh, he has an amazing voice, and is more about making yourself vulnerable in performance, which is in some ways even rarer.

VINCINT: Thank you for that. I sang that song because I've always loved - just the lyrics to that song really resonated with me, and especially in the circumstance that I was in on the show, I felt very out of place. Reality TV is a vortex of crazy people.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

VINCINT: And so I was very, very overwhelmed. And I had fought them tooth and nail to sing this song because they wanted me to sing, I think, a Brian McKnight song or Usher song. And I was like, I really want to sing this because this is how I feel right now. And I think it's going to come across the most genuine.

SHAPIRO: This is actually something I've heard other artists talk about, like Moses Sumney, Dawn Richard. They've all talked about being Black artists who want to sound a certain way and are being kind of shoved into an R&B box. How difficult was it to, like, stand up to network television producers as somebody early in your career and say, I know how you want me to sound, that's not what I'm going to sound like?

VINCINT: Oh, they called down the heads of the network. They were in the room. It was Diddy. It was Meghan Trainor.

SHAPIRO: You had to tell Diddy that you weren't going to sing what Diddy wanted you to say?

VINCINT: Of course.

SHAPIRO: Of course, he says, as though it's the easiest thing in the world to stand up to this music icon.

VINCINT: Listen. My dad was a 6'7" former prison guard. I have no issue talking to anyone.

SHAPIRO: So how'd that conversation go?

VINCINT: They all come and sit down and they go, hi, we may have to replace you if you don't - you signed a contract. I signed a contract to use my likeness. I did not sign a contract to be told what to do. So if you let me sing what I want to sing, I promise it'll be great. Just give me a chance, and hear me out. And I sang it. And they all stood up and clapped. And then I said, great. This is what happens when you listen to people who know what they want to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FOUR")

VINCINT: (Singing) I don't care if it hurts. I want to have control.

Don't force us to sound like how you think we should sound. Black people are multifaceted. We have so many different forms of expression. And to think that we can only do one thing because that's the thing you've heard the most would be doing us a disservice to our community and our culture.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: If it's OK for me to ask this question, if your dad were here to hear the album, how do you think he'd respond to it?

VINCINT: Now you're getting me emotional. I think he'd be really proud. My dad wanted to hear my first album for as long as I can remember. And I think the most beautiful part about all of this is that, in some form, he is hearing and he has heard it and he has been a part of it the whole time. And while it sucks that he's not here to, like, hug and to tell me what a great job it is and tell me what he likes and what he doesn't like, it is still really beautiful because I got this gift from him, and if in some small way he's a part of it, it would be through that. It's him singing on the tracks. And it's me singing with my dad. And so, in some form, he has heard all of it, and he's proud that I'm proud.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVING YOU 88")

VINCINT: (Singing) What a thing to discover in the arms of another.

SHAPIRO: VINCINT's new album is "There Will Be Tears." Congratulations. And thank you for talking with us about it.

VINCINT: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.