Our Brave Soul Featured Artist for September [to end the summer & kick off the fall season] is a musical virtuoso whose work is steeped in sincerity, compassion, & love. It is demonstrated through her stirring vocal delivery, as well as through her self-penned poignant & honest lyrics. Her music hinges on heartless dissonance and jolting hope. Tracy Cruz's music represents a vast, magnificent blend of polarities. We never get just one side of her; we get the kaleidoscope.
Born in Quezon City on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, Tracy grew up in an encouraging household where she watched with eyes of wonder as her mother and grandmother serenaded around the house. In admiration, her grandfathers observed her budding talent and encouraged her to pursue further by offering her money to sing. Tracy's parents later enrolled her in piano, singing, and saxophone lessons. Her first vocal coach was Greg Farbizio of Darrell Leffler's Academy of Music. With the incredible boost from her family and coach Greg Farbizio, Tracy traveled across the United States by the age of twelve, competing in competitions and bringing home trophies.
With a vocal range that stretched from unbelievable lows to soprano highs, a refined tonal quality and a few scribbles in her notebook emerged. Without forgetting her indigenous roots, the singer developed musical mannerisms that were influenced by Filipino songwriting styles. The fearless admittance to thriving passion in Filipino ballads was something Tracy wanted to revitalize in her lyrics. That Tracy was influenced by her vocal coach ---Ledisi --- is obvious too. With the guidance of Ledisi's unapologetic, freewheeling style, Tracy soon gained the confidence to step out--and touch a wider audience.
As seminal traces of lyrical contemplation emerged in her book, Tracy met pianist Allen Ross in the gospel choir at San Jose State University. Who would have known that the one they call "The Man with Perfect Pitch" & the "Little Woman with the Big Voice" would evolve and soon conceive of two children along with three musical creations.
In 2005, her EP entitled, Illuminate Love, featured Kanetic Source, former emcee of Ozomatli, and accumulated national recognition. Tracy's debut album, Feel'osophy (2008), was awarded three Muse's Muse Awards for "Best R&B CD Project of 2008", "Best Lyrics Female", and "Best R&B Single Female". Acclaim from Feel'osophy boosted Tracy's profile in the industry. She was able to share the stage with Apl. de Ap of the Black Eyed Peas, Sy Smith, Mark de Clive-Lowe, Martin Luther, Jaguar Wright, Latoya London, Zion I, Pep Love, Living Legends, Breakestra, The Bangerz, and Crown City Rockers.
For her next project, Universoul Symphony (released August 2011), Tracy and producer Allen Ross decided to stretch and re-conceptualize their sound while remaining true to Tracy's core artistry. The album unveils the struggles of being an independent artist, the joys of being loved, the hardships of today's economy, and surviving in a world riddled with injustice. Yet, Tracy envelops all of it and re-fashions it in a beautiful light. Conceptually, Universoul Symphony is a work of art that is undeniably truthful. It seems the balance of motherhood, marriage, and songwriting has birthed a wonderland of love, courage, joy, pain and struggle.
I first learned of Tracy Cruz a couple years ago through a song called "Son-Shine" from her previous effort 'Feel'osophy' (2008) which was featured on a podcast by DJ Conscience. I remember hearing the song & being drawn to it not only because of the track but because of the lyrics & the voice riding the beat. A few months ago I kept seeing Tracy's name pop in my twitter timeline with regard to her new project, 'Universoul Symphony'. As SOON as it was released in August, I purchased & was delighted to find an album that was conceptual, colorful, & in a word...INSPIRING.
From there I followed Tracy on twitter & as I usually do when I believe in music, I started tweeting about it. She followed back on twitter & proceeded to thank me for the kind words about her music. I gladly extended an invitation for her to be a BSC Artist Feature & after viewing our website & seeing the impressive roster of former featured artists, she graciously accepted. Thus, what you will read below is the result of our exchange. I'm happy to share with the BSC readers such a talented young woman & beautiful spirit. Enjoy... & if you haven't heard this woman's music yet, DO YOURSELF A FAVOR & GET ON BOARD!!!
"I write songs based on my personal experiences because I always want to create "honest" music. It's definitely easier for me to write about a situation I've gone through or themes I strongly believe in. I draw my inspiration from God, my husband, my children, my parents, my grandma, my teachers, my friends, my students, my dreams, my emotions, my thoughts whenever I write music. It's not me who is singing; it is God moving through me. Music is so powerful to me. You can really touch someone's life by the songs you create"
Can you speak briefly about what your experience has been as an independent recording artist? (Please feel free to speak candidly about the pros & cons of being an indie artist if could please)
My experience as an independent artist has been an enlightening yet challenging journey. I love the fact that I have complete creative control-this situation has definitely allowed me to consistently evolve as a singer, songwriter and performer. No one is telling me how I should sing, act, or look. I'm in charge of how my music should sound, what my songs will be about, what clothes I will wear to my shows, how I act in public, when my projects will be released, and who I choose to collaborate with. However, being an independent artist can be very difficult when it comes to having to do "everything" on your own. You have to be your own promoter, booking agent, secretary, accountant, and so forth. Also, getting the word out about your music can be an arduous task when you don't have a team of people helping you out or when you don't have enough money to pay for promotions.
How was your most recent project, "Universoul Symphony" created conceptually & where did the title come from?
My husband/producer Allen Ross and I were completely fascinated in creating an album that had a prelude, a finale and interludes. We wanted to create a concept album rather than string a bunch of random songs together. We wanted to step outside of our comfort zones and entirely reinvent our sound by combining Soul music with symphonic and electronic sounds. We envisioned Universoul Symphony to be more musically accelerated than my previous releases "Feel'osophy and "Illuminate Love", which both consisted of mellow grooves. Universoul Symphony would have abstract musical arrangements, extravagant vocal harmonies, and unexpected soundscapes. Universoul Symphony was birthed from the idea that music is a "universal" language that all of our hearts can understand. It doesn't matter what part of the world we're from or how old we are-our hearts are moved by the lyrics and sounds of music. Music has the power to make us cry, smile, laugh, dance, sing, change, inspire, grow-etc. Music unites us. It allows us to relate to each other on an emotional, physical, mental and spiritual level. Universoul Symphony is you, it's me. If you abbreviate Universoul Symphony, it would be U.S., It's US. Universoul Symphony is a universal musical celebration, a symphony for the soul.
There are various themes such as love & relationships, financial hardships/the economy, & injustice that show up repeatedly throughout "Universoul Symphony". From a lyrical standpoint, was it your intention to address these subjects?
It was my intention to address these subjects. As a songwriter, I write songs based on my personal experiences because I always want to create "honest" music. It's definitely easier for me to write about a situation I've gone through or themes I strongly believe in. I draw my inspiration from God, my husband, my children, my parents, my grandma, my teachers, my friends, my students, my dreams, my emotions, my thoughts whenever I write music.
Can you speak about how you first became involved with music?
I fell in love with music at a young age. I started singing at the age of 2 and performing when I was 12. My mother and grandmother were both singers and performers so they strongly encouraged me to pursue my love for singing. My grandfathers would always ask me to sing to them and offered me money so I had a lot of fun performing in front of my family! :) My parents enrolled me in piano and saxophone lessons during my elementary school years then enrolled me in vocal lessons when I turned 12. My vocal teacher at the time, Greg Farbizio, and my mother inspired me to express myself by performing at various community, cultural, and church events as well as competing in state and national talent competitions. In high school, I joined the concert choir and in college, I joined the Gospel ensemble and small Jazz ensemble. I'm currently a member of my church choir and working as a private vocal coach at Darrell Leffler's Academy of Music alongside my former vocal coach Greg Farbizio. No matter what, music has been a prominent part of my life. It has carved my identity as a person and has heavily influenced how I choose to express myself on a daily basis.
What are your feelings about the use social media (i.e. facebook, twitter, youtube) to help spread the word about music, particularly for independent artists?
I think that social media is extremely valuable and imperative in helping independent artists spread the word about their music. Facebook and Twitter allow us to promote to a large group of people around the world at any time. We're able to share our videos, songs and photos instantly. Also, Youtube helps us promote our music video and update our fans with upcoming projects or performances. It's crucial to use social media to interact with people nowadays because it seems like everyone is using it. Social media definitely keeps us updated with the music world and allows us to be visible to the public eye.
Who are some of your artistic inspirations & influences? For each that you list, please share a specific work or project by said artist that has significance for you.
There are three female artists who have heavily influenced my music-Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill, and Ledisi. Jill Scott's "Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1", Ledisi's "Soulsinger" and Lauryn Hill's "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" have greatly inspired me vocally, lyrically, and creatively. For example, Ledisi's "Soulsinger" motivated me to write "honest" songs. Ledisi addressed real life topics such as physical abuse, the struggles of being an independent artist, and how to deal with negative people in "Soulsinger". Meanwhile, Jill Scott's "Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1" and Lauryn Hill's "The Miseducation of Lauryn HIll" inspired me to write poetic, heartfelt lyrics. I loved how Jill Scott incorporated spoken word in some of her songs and Lauryn Hill rapped. Ledisi, Lauryn Hill, and Jill Scott also used different vocal stylings to enhance the messages of their songs and evoke powerful emotions.
How does "Universoul Symphony" differ from your previous effort, "Feel'osophy"?
Universoul Symphony is more energetic and adventurous than my previous album-it contains fast and experimental songs. "Feel'osophy" offered more of a laid-back Neo-soul sound, whereas Universoul Symphony provides a combination of R&B, Soul, Hip Hop, Jazz, Electronic and Classical music. "Universoul Symphony" is a concept album--it's a musical story that needs to be listened to from the beginning to the very end. "Feel'osophy" on the other hand is more of an emotional album--you chose what songs you want to listen to base on what you're feeling at the moment. Also live instrumentation was incorporated into "Universoul Symphony" to give it a richer, vibrant, livelier sound.
Past or present who are some musicians, artists that you would love to work with & why?
I would love to work with Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones and Dianne Warren. I think they are three of the best songwriters of all time. They have all created beautiful, timeless music that have positively impacted so many lives around the world. I would also love to work with Jill Scott and Ledisi-they are my favorite vocalists/performers. They are both incredibly talented in the sense that they can do it all-sing, perform, act, write songs, and more.
How do you balance your work as a mother & an artist?
Balancing work as a mother and an artist can be physically and mentally demanding at times. It requires a great deal of patience, focus, persistence, and dedication. Since work as a mother and an artist are both full-time jobs, I have to make sure I follow a specific schedule every single day. I always set specific hours to hang out with my children and to work on music so everything runs smoothly throughout the day. For example, in the morning I like to handle all of my online music promotions and respond to business emails. During the afternoon, I spend my time playing with my kids and reading to them. My nights are reserved for family time and/or writing/recording music and performing at shows.
Our Brave Soul discussion topic for the month of September is ACCEPTANCE. What are your feelings about this topic as it pertains to your work as a musician, as well as in general as it pertains to your life in general?
I believe that acceptance is crucial when it comes to improving yourself and your life. You have to accept your strengths and weaknesses before you can move forward. Acceptance allows you to be happy with who you are and what you're capable of doing and it also helps you discover what you need to change or improve so that you can reach your full potential! When we accept ourselves, we learn how to love ourselves. :)
You are an artist who is pretty active in responding to supporters of your music through outlets like twitter. How important is it for you to connect with those who are fans & supporters of your music?
It's really important for me to consistently connect with my fans and supporters of my music. I like getting to know the people who buy my records and support what I love to do. I will always take the time to show my appreciation to those who support my music.
What's next on tap for Tracy Cruz? Any plans to tour the states in support of the new album?
I'm currently working on a remix album for "Universoul Symphony". I'm giving DJs & music producers the opportunity to remix my songs. The deadline for submissions is October 1. For more info, please go to: http://www.tracycruz.com/Tracy_Cruz/djpro.html. I also plan to tour around the U.S. and overseas in the near future to promote Universoul Symphony.
For more on Tracy Cruz, please visit:
Tracy Cruz Official Website
To hear some of Tracy's AMAZING MUSIC & purchase Universoul Symphony, click here:
Tracy Cruz Music