Imani Coppola discusses her new album, forging her own path as an artist and what’s next

New York-based singer and multi-instrumentalist Imani Coppola cultivated a love of music at an early age, with a jazz musician father, bass playing mother and siblings who were also musicians.  She learned the violin at the age of six and studied studio composition briefly at State University of New York at Purchase before leaving.   While in college, Coppola was introduced to producer Michael Mangini, who was known for his work with Digable Planets and went on to cut three demo tracks with the band that got the attention of several labels.  In 1997 she signed with one such label, Colombia Records, and released her debut single “Legend Of A Cowgirl”.  Within weeks of it’s release it charted in the top 40 on Billboard’s Top 100, as well as achieving international success.  In October of that year, she released her debut album Chupacabra to critical acclaim and drew comparisons to De La Soul and Nenah Cherry.  She was dropped from the label in 2000 and started recording music at home and went on to be a part of the band supporting Sandra Bernhardt in her Off-Broadway production of ‘The Love Machine’, stared in the movie ‘The Singing Biologist’ as the main character Rose and has collaborated with various artists on their music.  Although she has operated as a mostly independent artist over the past several years, she signed to Mike Patton’s label Ipecac Recordings in 2007 and released her eighth studio album The Black & White Album, her first easily available release since her debut album, to favorable reviews.  She recently re-signed with the label to release her latest album The Protagonist. The Protagonist poured out of Imani’s brain partly as a creative reaction to her own life at the time. “I didn’t come here to hop over rats and kill roaches,” she says. “But during that time in my life that’s all I was really doing, aside from drinking and sending people weird, overly felt, psychotic text messages at 4am. I was completely paralyzed by fear about my future. I was so dissatisfied and disappointed with myself and the world. I had to take a radical stand and fight back against my own despondency and resignation. I was prepared to kick my own ass. All of the effort I put into the album gave me a sense of pride that I hadn’t felt in quite a long time.”  For several tracks on the album, Coppola turned her focus inward to address her own issues with mental illness such as depression, chemical dependency, self-medication, isolation and self-harm, topics that she says are often ignored until it’s too late.  The album also focuses on the state of the country.  Aside from her solo work, Coppola has a side pop duo project with producer and multi-instrumentalist Adam Pallin called Little Jackie, which has seen much success.  They have released three albums.  With upcoming plans to score her first film and collaborate on more songwriting with others, Coppola has many exciting things coming up!  You can follow Imani Coppola and stay up-to-date on all upcoming music and artist news via the following links.  Check out her videos for “Lying To My Therapist” and “SAMO” below.  photo credit: Alex Elena.

 

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You released your latest album The Protagonist on October 4th which touches on your reaction to the state of the country, as well as your own experience with mental health issues, and has been described as a creative reaction to your life at the time.  What was your journey like in making such a personal album and what inspired you to be hands on with every aspect of the process?

 

Every song in it’s conception is a labyrinth, a puzzle, a joke that needs a punchline, a riddle that needs to be solved. You become obsessed and at the same time you’re essentially falling in love. You dream about it, wake up with it on your mind and go throughout your day only wanting to be with it. Every encounter you have brings a new understanding to this love. When you finally commit to this idea, the initial maniacal burst of energy and inspiration becomes the grounded  proverbial ‘honeymoon is over’ phase, and then the real work begins. The day to day. Making sure the songs needs are met with every note, every chord progression, every lyric and every sound applied. But honestly, like a marriage, some days it felt like self imposed slavery but most days it felt like self flagellation. During those hot summer months tracking with the AC off in my home studio to avoid sound bleeding onto the track, I sweat so much through my headphones the skin behind both of my ears peeled off, they were raw and sore and required ointment. But I got through it, labor of love. Nothing more satisfying to me than hearing your mind playback in real life.

 

 

You also re-signed with Ipecac Recordings for the new album, who also released your 2007 album The Black & White Album.  What was it like working with them again?  

 

It’s basically the same as it was 10 years ago when I put out the Black and White Album on their label. They provide a platform for the underdog. It is different, it is unexpected, they’re like a shelter for the artistically homeless.

 

You signed with Columbia Records at the age of 19 for your first album, with you parting ways soon after due to creative differences.  Having released several albums independently since then, what kinds of lessons have you learned over the years with regards to the music industry and how you want to operate as an artist within it?  Do you feel that operating independently for so many years has shaped the artist you are now? 

 

Without a doubt it has shaped who I am not only as an artist but also as a person. I more or less do what I please, granted not all of it is pleasing. I value being able to explore my creativity more than anything. As far as how I function within the industry, well that’s always been interesting to navigate. But being able to write for other artists kind of reels me in and enables me to focus on one specific type of sound. Which I could never really do for myself, because I just never wanted to. I’m like a pan sexual when it comes to musical tastes. I like it all.

 

You have always considered yourself a songwriter first and foremost.  When did you first start writing songs and what sparked your interest in songwriting?  

 

I first started writing songs when I was about 6.  My little brother and I would just mess around and make each other laugh by being as ridiculous as possible. I was exposed to music constantly with my older brothers and sister all playing instruments, and my father being a musician as well. There was really nowhere to hide from it. All hours of the day and night were filled with music. I got more serious about the writing aspect around 16 when my friend Amanda showed me some songs she had written. I was so impressed that she had the moxie to write her own songs. They were weird and fascinating to me, about aliens and strange feelings. I thought, how cool to be able to express this mind fuck that is life in song form. I should be doing this to.

Having to make a living as a songwriter is what perhaps puts me in a different category than that of an artist. You learn to serve the song more than you serve your need for self expression. You become more confident in your choices, you become more willing to let something go that isn’t working. Your ego plays second fiddle, so to speak.

 

You have said that in the industry, a lot of artists say goodbye to their ideals and stick with what resonates with a specific audience and play towards that group.  What has kept you inspired over the years to keep growing and evolving your sound and forging your own path?

 

Relentlessness. Almost a pathological need to prove myself to the world. Which is probably not the best motivation. But I am different. I had to forge my own place in this biased world. There were no preexisting boots for me to fill. I had to make my own. And it’s hard.  There are times I want to stop because I feel so burnt out and exhausted, emotionally and spiritually. But taking a break is one thing, quitting altogether is another. I have no intention to quit, but I do feel like it might be time for me to do some life inventory. This does not get easier, it only gets harder as you get older. The nagging anxiety only gets stronger.  Will I survive this?  Who’s gonna hire me in 10 years?  Who’s gonna hire me in 5 months?  How will I pay rent when I’m 60?  Women don’t have it easy in the music industry.  Unless you’re like Linda Perry, the female anomaly, you’re basically always planning for the apocalypse.

 

What can you tell me about the documentary you recently released called “Imitation of Insanity” that played at the “Art of Recovery” film festival?  What inspired you to make the documentary and document your own struggles with mental health? 

 

It happened organically. There was a lot happening in my life at that time. I was drinking too much to stave off isolation, anxiety and depression, which just made everything worse. I had injured my hand, severed a nerve and couldn’t play instruments, I lab ratted myself with new medications for my mood disorders, my parents were losing their house, my brother was just diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and was dying and I was a complete fucking mess. It was the perfect storm to just roll camera and see what would happen. It was the hardest thing I ever went through in life. I’m still grieving and recovering. Not so sure you ever recover 100 percent from the trauma of the death of a loved one. Right now I feel as if I’m just going through the motions. I am just profoundly heart broken. But I’m glad we made that film when we did, because I would not be able to do that right now. I am on some next level depression shit. As inconvenient as it was to have to promote an album in the wake of my brothers death, it was probably the one thing that saved me from the descent into self destruction and irreversible blackness.

 

 

 

 

What can you tell me about your decision to make and release your compilation of older material that was recently released as Unsung?

 

Iain Lee is a talk radio and reality TV celebrity across the pond and is also one of my biggest fans and one of my favorite people. It was his idea and he was very enthusiastic about it. He has a small label called 7A records where he puts out rare Monkees albums.

 

What inspired you to start your other project, the soul-pop duo Little Jackie?  How did you meet and come to collaborate with Adam Pallin on the project?  

 

Little Jackie happened by chance. I was actually back in the studio with Mike Mangini, producer of Chupacabra, writing for another artist. I guess it was one of those situations where I was the only one who could really pull off singing the lyrics I was writing. They were too…me. Adam was programming beats and getting coffee. He was the intern. I think the idea at the time was to be a duo, because they were a thing. I know, sounds really un-heartfelt. But sometimes that’s just how it is. However, Adam and I continued to make albums after the initial label release. It wasn’t until then that it became a thing to us. “Little Jackie” got to grow up a little.

 

You have said that Imani Coppola is your “Real” artist persona and that Little Jackie represents your “Popular Artist” persona.  What do you see as the main difference between the two for you in how you approach each project? 

 

I guess the difference is that I don’t make money and Little Jackie makes some.

 

You recently had an art show called ‘The Earth That Fell To Man’.  What were your inspirations behind the paintings for that show and do you have any other art shows coming up?  What led you to start painting? What are some of your favorite art galleries in NY?

 

Woodstock, NY was my inspiration. I started taking weekends trips up to decompress from the cluster fuck and excesses of city life. I began to feel a flutter in my soul again, being surrounded by tall trees and stars, deep in the woods is all my heart ever needs to feel loved. Painting is my little oasis from sound. It is the most beautiful meditation for an unquiet mind. I just recently had a release party/gallery show at BAF gallery. It was a nice night. Sold a painting. Broke even.

 

What’s next for you? 

 

I’m about to score a film for the first time. The film maker, Anthony Cortez Fernandez, has shot a few of my videos, Rattle, SAMO and Cock block. It’s great to have ongoing collaborations with talented friends in many different incarnations throughout the years. Other than that, I’m doing some writing for Titus Andromedon from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt with Mike Mangini and Daniel Edinburg. So far it’s off to a really cool start. After that, I have no fucking clue. Maybe a psych ward.

 

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