JH: What do you think people are surprised to learn about you?
AH: That and I’m not 6’3” and 210lbs that I’m just 5’7” and barely a 110lbs. Guess that I’m not as pretentious as some people may resume than I am. I’ve walked into meetings and people are surprised I’m not accompanied by bodyguards and all that sort of stuff, they are surprised that I show up on time, that I don’t invoke the diva card as often as people think that I have.
JH: Do you think that’s because of the Whitney Houston connection?
AH: Oh yeah, she was definitely an entertainer she definitely was that and she brought some of that off stage too, but the Nippy that anyone who really knew her and really close, especially earlier in her life, they know the girl with the wicked sense of humour, who would just laugh non-stop, who would just walk around barefoot and no hair and makeup and lighting crew behind her, a very real person.
JH: If she was just starting out now, do you think that she would have been as big as she was or has the music industry moved on?
AH: I think the industry has changed, but truthfully with the voice and the talent that she had, the people around her, the Clive Davis’s or whoever it was – her champions, they would have framed that voice in some way that would have been marketable, because she was a phenomenon. There was a certain gravitas that surrounded her, that’s star quality and that’s undeniable.
She started her career about the time I was born and to this very day her influence is still being felt, every time you see a Mariah or you listen to a Leona Lewis, gosh, Alexandra Burke – it’s the Whitney influence. You see people going up for X-Factor and stuff and these 16-17-year-old girls – and which songs do they choose to sing? She set a standard. She set a precedent for people to live up to. But yeah, no matter what she still would have been a star and a big one.
JH: In your voice, I think you can hear a bit of influence, a bit of family resemblance…
AH: Oh lord…
JH: Well, I heard it…
AH: That’s a dangerous place for me to go!
JH: I’ll say it then. Do you ever channel Whitney in your recordings, or have you always been your own boss? Did you reach out for tips?
AH: Thing is, I do reach out to singers, different people I work with. In the studio, I’ve worked with Cindy Mizell. Cindy Mizell is one of my background singers on this project and she’s on the road with Bruce Springsteen all the time. Cindy was on tour with Whitney for many years, and with Luther Vandross for many years, she had a solo career of her own, and having her around has been great. But there have been times, I ‘m not gonna lie, we sit back, I’m like any other artist out there, you reach back and you think you know how would Whitney attack this – or let’s put some Houstonisms on this one (laughs). Emulation is the sincerest way of flattery.
At home I’m just plain Jane, making beds, vacuuming, picking up husband’s underwear off the floor – that’s me, I’m home, but when I’m on stage or in front of a camera, I’m hoping to be able to give some magic. I enjoy that. I grew up in an era of Michael Jackson, I grew up in era of watching Janet and Madonna do fantastic things, Madonna still – perhaps not as much now, but I remember when I was like 10, in the mid to late 90s I just loved Madonna’s videos, I just loved to see what she was going to do next. Just being wowed by this journey she took you on visually – and so I’m hoping I can somehow marry the vocal performance with something that is interesting visually.
JH: So are you going to go all Lady Gaga on us…
AH: Oh no that’s not me… But I am going to serve it, honey, I mean I’m not going to give you prosciutto dresses or anything but I intend to have fun. I’m going to bring everything that I am, and everything that I have in me on stage.
JH: So you say you’ve got two babies at home how many do you have?
AH: We got two little ones at home
JH: How old are they?
AH: Oooo really young (laughs)
JH: You used the word numb earlier after releasing your 1st album?
AH: I was tired, emotionally tired, not used to being bombarded by the spotlight, not fully understanding what it took to make things work – a bit frustrated with the business aspect of this industry and I just kinda burned out. I felt like a walking zombie for a little bit.
Being a solo artist you are a parent to everybody connected to your work. You are a provider to them, your makeup artist, your hairstylist, your band members, the people who drive you around, the people who feed you, publicists – a long laundry list – they don’t make money unless you make money, so like a parent you have to provide for them and at some point, you feel an incredible sense of responsibility and pressure to do that, because people are waiting on you.
JH: Do you get to perform live much?
AH: I hope to again… I’ve taken on a name, a pseudo name that I use and yes, if I do have an alter ego – it’s that one, there are group of little small performers places in Manhattan, Philadelphia and Connecticut and for a while I did a rotation where I would go and sing with my keyboard player or guitarist. You go in and you just sing some top 40 thing, and you have learn some, whatever Rihanna’s or Beyonce’s doing at the time and then you throw in some of your originals and it just gets me there. It helps me tremendously because I have a lot of stage fright, I mean I get terribly sick before I go on stage, I’m so nervous and anxious. But it also keeps my chops sharpened. People don’t know me from Adam.
JH: Do people recognise you?
AH: People come up… The 40-year-old drunk lady at the bar will say ‘Has anyone ever told you, you look like Whitney Houston, you sound just like her girl, maybe you should do this for a living.’ (laughs)
JH: Last time you were ‘Whitney’s Sister’ this time are we going to see more Alexis?
AH: Now, I’m no longer Alexis Houston really anymore, I’m my husband’s wife, This time it’s just Alexis on the album cover and on the project is just simply Alexis. They know it’s Alexis Houston – good and fine , but that’s not everything about me and I have to accept there are certain things that are going to be attached to me forever. Janet Jackson, is Janet. You know in the back of your mind that’s Michael’s baby sister, but she’s still Janet Jackson, an entity of her own. She earned that.
JH: After Whitney’s passing did things get better with the Houston’s? Or is it still no go?
AH: There are some members of the family that you are always going to have some issues with. Some of them aren’t even blood relatives. They’re married to other members of the family. Sometimes there are people who have married into the family that have assumed a bigger place in the Houston family than they actually…(trails off) But there is always love. We were raised that way. We will argue and fight like any other family except we don’t do it in elevators…
Hopefully, we respect each other enough to accept that some things will never change. I was in Church a couple of past weekends, here in New Jersey. We went for easter. I took my family with me, the family matriarch Cissy Houston was there and she was all smiles and warm to my kids and they’re all excited to see her. She’s like the nearest thing they have to a Grandmother right now, because my momma’s travelling all over the place. They get to sit there, front row of the church practically and watch the Grand Dame go up there in front of a microphone and sing. And she tore it up…
She’ll sit in her chair and say ‘ You know I’m so tired, and I so this and I’m so that…’ But you get this woman behind the microphone and all of a sudden 50 – 60 years just shaved off of her life and she’s just having fun. If you really wanna see what the real story is, what’s really going here on just come to Church. You’ll see it, you’ll feel it you’ll know it – that’s where we are. We are living our lives,. We realise that you don’t have as much time with each other as we might think we do, so its just not worth it, spending it all angry and bitter and petty jealousies on what happened 20/30 years ago.
JH: Does your mum sing?
AH: My Dad and my Mom would leave music for me to listen to. The first song I learnt to sing was nothing from Church it was some song called ‘Groove Me Baby’ – so imagine a two or three-year-old learning to put on the record player, putting on a 45 and singing ‘Groove Me Baby’.
My parents raised me like that. Brooke Benton, Nat King Cole, Shaka and Aretha and Dion – I grew up listening to those voices like that all the time. So I came from this family that nurtured that whole thing for me.
JH: Do you have a quote that you live by?
AH: ‘To thy own self be true’. There is a cheeky one that my father told…
My father used to believe in toeing the line and of course, when people are difficult with you sometimes you just have to say ‘okay’ and go along with it. His expression was ‘You kiss ass until you can kick it…’ (laughs)
JH: We love that one… Was your father a tough man, was he a Joe Jackson or Matthew Knowles type character?
AH: No, no. He was tough to people outside of his realm, he was putty in the hand of a girl. He was very protective very loving. I think his need to protect and take care of you meant that he would fight on your behalf. When it came to business what he didn’t know he would bring people in who knew to make sure that you got the best of everything. He was a man who fought in the war and he was born shortly after the turn of the century so he had seen a lot, he had seen a great deal. He had seen the music business from its underbelly. But at the same time he was loving and sweet – he was just Daddy. You know? He was the guy who would get emotional at the airport. He would hold you and wouldn’t want to let you go and you’d see tears behind the Ray-Bans and you’d watch this big man in his ten-gallon hat – that was my John Wayne.
JH: Living or dead who’d you like to duet with.
AH: Oh god – just one person? There’s two. I wanna work in the recording studio with George Michael. I want to work with him. I want to create something from start to finish and sing my ass off with him. (At the time of the interview George Michael was alive) The other singer, not to record with but maybe, some charity event, I would love to sit on stage and sing with Shirley Bassey. Dame Shirley Bassey and allow myself to do things that I know that I not I’m allow the opportunity to do often. As a child I sang along with her and I wanted to be as powerful as her… I’d throw on my mother’s furs and sing ‘Diamonds are forever…’
JH: We love it…
AH: So that was my drag moment. My mother’s wigs and her furs and singing Dame Shirley Bassey into a brush.
JH: We can see you’re a driven woman, all-round personality, singing and writing and business? Do you have time to shut down and have time to yourself?
AH: Hum, I’m definitely trying harder to do so. I’ve always told myself that I would never allow the work to run my life and that is a feat in itself. Just this past weekend I took a couple of days just to myself and hung out and looked at waterfalls (laughs) and wandered through the woods and just had a quiet time to myself and I felt like I did when four years ago, when the first album came out, I did the same thing. I recorded a project and I took time to savour, because I knew it would get crazy through the whole promotion period. But I don’t get a chance to do so a whole lot, but I’m making that my priority – and with my husband, we’re just trying to do that.
We love what we do – and he loves being there supporting when he’s not doing his own thing – so having him around is so much fun.
The editor and chief of THEGAYUK. All in a previous life wrote and produced songs on multi-platinum records.
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