Today, NYC artist Cindy Latin releases “I Am Looking,” a jazz-powered track fit for our reclusive times. Culturas caught up with her to learn more about the song, her pivot to songwriting and what it was like growing up so close to Broadway.
Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?
I’m a musician based in NYC. I perform, write, arrange, produce and mix. Prior to the pandemic, I performed weekly around the city. My music is mainly R&B/soul with a jazz influence. I also LOVE musical theater. Some of my favorite artists/bands right now are Lawrence, Brasstracks, and Thomas Headon. Outside of music, I’m a big book reader. I love dystopian novels and fantasy.
How did growing up in Long Island invigorate your love for music? Can you tell us about some impactful experiences?
Like most, I did a lot of community and school theater as I grew up. Getting to experiment and mess up and play roles I probably wasn’t right for were all experiences that shaped my love for the arts. Living so close, I was also able to go into Manhattan often and go see Broadway shows. In high school especially, my friends and I would go about once a week to see something on or off Broadway. I have to admit, I was SUCH a stage door nerd. Meeting and speaking with the professional actors was really meaningful for me. So many of them were generous with their time and would speak to me about their experiences growing up, in college and in the industry. I often wrote fan mail (so embarrassing), and a lot of them would reply and give such in depth answers to my questions. Sometimes I would take masterclasses with my favorite performers. Getting to perform for them was so nerve-racking, but receiving any type of praise from someone I admired was really encouraging and often made me smile for the whole week after.
During my junior year of high school, I fell in LOVE with this off-Broadway musical, “Bare.” I saw it 11 times. The music was so great; it was a pop/rock musical. I’ve never been a traditional musical theater vocalist, so hearing that type of music and those types of contemporary voices showed me that there was a place for me in the industry. The characters were around my age as well, and I could relate to many of the storylines about wanting to fit in and simultaneously wanting to stand out, pressure from parents and the complex relationships that happen between people who aren’t fully mature yet. I felt a belonging being in that theater. The actors of that show were also so kind and gracious. I definitely met them too many times, and I’m still so embarrassed for being a crazy fangirl, but seeing that show was something I looked forward to and was always talking about in school. I would bring new friends to the show and felt pretty satisfied when they ended up loving the show themselves.
You switched from studying musical theater at Boston Conservatory to songwriting at Berklee College of Music. What was it like making that decision? Did a particular moment spark the pivot? And once you made the change, did you have any difficulties making such an adjustment? I’m curious about switching from musical performance to solo artist.
The summer after my sophomore year at the Conservatory, I took a few classes at NYU Clive Davis and started songwriting. I really loved it and was eager to do more. I also felt a bit less restricted in the type of work I could do. I learned a lot at the Conservatory, skills that I am so grateful for today as a performer, but I often felt like I was being limited and had to do certain material because it was what everyone else was doing, even if I felt that it didn’t suit me or my goals as a performer. Once I got to Berklee, the culture and education was so different, but in a really wonderful way. The students and teachers were from all around the world, and the school was a lot bigger, so I enjoyed getting to meet more people in each class. The students were also incredibly motivated, talented and interesting people. Everyone was always working so hard and even though we were all competitive, it was never in a vicious/nasty way. Additionally, the music theory classes were way more advanced than anything I had done before. I was fortunate enough to have studied and tested into a higher level harmony class, but the students in there were really intelligent and more experienced than me with music theory. That was intimidating at first, along with the strict teacher. Fortunately, he let us redo assignments as many times as we wanted until we got the grade we wanted. I would sometimes do an assignment 3 times which helped me improve very quickly. Harmony is now something I love and thrive at. Even after the one semester, I knew it was something I wanted to learn more about. I chose “The Theory of Jazz and Popular Song” as my minor, which consists of all Harmony and Theory classes.
Additionally, I came into the school knowing I wanted to study songwriting, but my second major “Contemporary Writing and Production,” came later on. I saw how useful production and arranging skills were, and I wanted to have full control over my music. I didn’t want to feel like I had to rely on someone else to try to accomplish something that I wanted but couldn’t articulate. That major gave me so many tools and really strengthened my ears and taste. I now feel independent and like a full leader when working on my music because I have those skills.
You describe artists like Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu and John Coltrane as influences. How does their artistry infuse into your music?
I was fortunate to study all three of these artists pretty in depth in college. I think Stevie Wonder is one of the greatest musicians and writers of all time. He has managed to use complex musical elements without making them sound complex. In other words, all kinds of people like his music, not just musicians. Usually when musicians (myself included) use tools that are more advanced, the song can lose some of its relatability with non-musicians and sound too “out.” On the other hand, it can be fun as a musician to hear a piece of music that has something a little special or “spicy” in there. I want my music to be heard and enjoyed by everyone, so Stevie Wonder is someone I admire and whose music I love. He’s also just SO groovy, and his ballads are stunning and rip me apart. Erykah obviously has a great voice, but what really stands out to me about her is her ability to sit really well in the groove of a song. She sounds so relaxed. I find myself rushing and being a bit anxious in my performing style, so I truly admire the space she finds herself in. She also is SO sassy, and I love that attitude. Coltrane is somebody whose harmonic palate is just incredible. He’s found so many ways to take typical patterns and put them in a different setting. This way, a writer doesn’t need to learn a completely new harmonic vocabulary, we can use what we already have in new ways and create different sounds, patterns, and ideas. I also admire his dedication and work ethic. He was so in love with what he did.
You have a new song coming out January 12. It sounds like lockdown actually served as a muse. From inception to production, can you tell us about “I Am Looking?”
I wrote this song in January 2019. I am a pretty anxious person. When I feel this way (as I have MANY times throughout the pandemic), I often try to distract myself with books, movies, talking to people, junk food, etc. Sometimes that helps temporarily, but unfortunately the only way to deal with the anxiety is to go through it, not around it. In other words, I have to face my problem head on. I spent January and February working on the arrangements for the original songs I would be recording (I did four), and late February and early March, I went to the studio and recorded the songs, including “I Am Looking.” One of the last days before the lockdown started, I had finished the vocals in the studio. So I spent the pandemic doing the rest— mixing, adding more production elements, working on the video, the artwork, etc. The timing worked out quite nicely. I’m very grateful that I was able to record the 18 musicians (myself included) prior to lockdown. It wouldn’t have been possible during this pandemic.
Jazz isn’t exactly popular among young people, but it really brings “I Am Looking” to life. What drew you to the genre and why do you incorporate it into your musical tapestry (alongside soul and R&B)?
Since I studied a lot of jazz harmony and writing in school, I find that a lot of my harmonic and arrangement choices just fall into the genre. It’s how my ears work and what they gravitate towards. I think a lot of people approach R&B/soul with the same production elements or instrumentation, so I thought taking a standard jazz setup (a Big Band), but creating more of an R&B/soul arrangement and groove would give the piece a different character (my character) and something new. I love both of these styles, and I think this mixture helps represent me.
What are your plans for the future? We want to hear about goals for 2021 and hopes for your career!
I’ve still got one song left that I recorded with the Big Band to release. It was ready a few months ago, but I got some awesome feedback from Brasstracks during one of their Twitch “Track for Track” streams and am making changes so it can be even stronger. I’ve also been writing a lot of songs over the last few months, (in both October and November, I wrote over 40 songs), and I plan to pick the best ones and arrange/produce them. Since we’re still at home, one of my goals this year is to put out music that is mostly made from home (with some outside elements), rather than my usual, where the foundation was recorded at the outside studio and then I added some other elements at home. I like to write as many songs as I can before arranging/producing so that I can have the best source material possible. So many of the songs I write are duds, so I have to be patient with myself and get those out of the way before the good stuff comes. When Broadway re-opens, I also plan to start auditioning again. After college, I wasn’t sure if Broadway was what I wanted to be doing, but I started seeing some Broadway shows again, and I realized how much I missed that area of the arts and was eager to get back into it. RIGHT before the lockdown, I had started going on auditions again. I still love musical theater and plan for it to be part of my career.
Stream “I Am Looking” here or watch below.