OKLAHOMA CITY – Cooki Turner is a veteran artist and released her debut EP “Heart of Me Vol. 1” earlier this year. Her two singles include the inspiring “Try” and contemplative yet groovy “Take Me Away.” She talks with us about her singles, recording her debut, and her philosophy of showmanship.
Who is Cooki Turner?
Cooki Turner is a daughter, sister, aunt, and first and foremost a child of God She is also a lover of music, harmonies and white chocolate mochas.
Where did the song “Take Me Away” come from?
That’s easy. I love “love.” I love seeing real and true love, but I am a person of self-awareness. I feel like anybody can lie and say “I don’t need a man, I don’t need a woman; I’m too cool for that.” Every person wants that one person that they can confide in, be with, and have an un-denying connection. It’s even more so when you see your friends have that connection. That’s the connection that I want. I want to be ready for it. To be transparent with you, I haven’t been in a serious relationship in a long time. I’ve been dating here and there but it was nothing that I saw a future with. So I was like, clearly I’m not gonna try and force stuff. I’m chillin’, and I’m working on me but I really wish it would hurry up and get here. That’s what the first verse is talking about.
Then it’s kinda like making sure that I’m self-aware. Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing? Am I looking right? Is my mindset right? Are my goals together? Am I getting my finances together? Am I doing the stuff that’s gonna prepare me to be with the person I want to be with? So the chorus says; don’t worry I’ll wait for what I want, but can you come a little bit faster?!
What was the process of writing that song?
I used Soul Avenew, which is the lovely Lashaye’ “Stacy” Aiyah and Kwan “Will” Miller (also Oklahoma City local artists). I came to them and explained the concept. It was first written from a man’s perspective so I altered it to fit a woman’s perspective. I made sure that it was everything that I wanted to say. Stacy’s poetry was all her own, so when I first heard it I was so excited. I was expecting, it wasn’t something that we discussed, I literally let them have their creative juices fly. That’s kinda how it happened.
What does collaboration look like to you?
Collaboration looks like an eclectic rainbow. Let’s say the rainbow as hues of purple and green. Royal purple by itself is cute, people like it and use it for certain things. Teal by itself is also great, people like that and use it for certain things. If you bring all the hues together, it sparks an awakening that says “oh my God, I didn’t know that this would look great together. I didn’t know that they complimented each other.”
I love to sit in a room and pick the brains of other people who are collectively talented whom I respect, can grow and learn from. It’s always a shock to me to hear artists that say they learn from me as well. I’m trying to learn from you and for you to hear my thoughts and think that they’re cool is a very humbling experience. Collaboration also builds confidence. As artists, we have great thoughts but we think it’s too far out there. It’s affirming when you have someone there that affirms you.
Who are you listening to?
I’m a musical buffet. I’m on Gretchen Parlato really hard right now, I’m listening to The Walls Group, I love KING, some underground artists like Gene Noble, and Jazmine Sullivan has given me back my whole life. I’m really into instrumentation. I’m really into the very rawness of music, and I want to feel earth when I’m listening to music. I want to feel like sand between my toes, but to my ears. I try to venture out every now and listen to stuff like Mayor Hawthorne. I search for real good live instrumentation, good tones and voices. Runs are cute but I’ve never been a fan of track, so you’re gonna miss me with all those runs. That’s the problem with R&B and gospel, they’re trying to ‘run’ a marathon and I don’t want that. I want to hear the feeling. My inspiration is always fresh and it can come from anybody.
How you described your preference in ‘feeling’ music, is that how you want to present your music?
When I sing, whether it be covers or original, I really want you to hear and feel what I’m doing. I want you to feel where I’m coming from. For my live shows I strategically pick songs where you get what I felt when I heard it. For the most part, if it’s something new, I want you to feel what I’ve felt or hear what I’ve heard when I heard it. For example, we cover Radiohead’s “High And Dry,” and we worked really hard on it. The way we did it in rehearsal was so pure so much so that when we perform it, every one in the venue has to shut up when we do it. There are Parlato and Robert Glasper, and other songs that require attention. If I can’t get your attention then I can’t do it. Even with my own music I am extremely sensitive about it.
I want to talk about your showmanship. What was your first show like?
I’ve been singing live music with a band for almost twelve years. My first show wasn’t really different than what I do now. Maybe less polished and less confident, but I’ve never had a problem with talking with people. I never had a problem getting people’s attention. When I’m on stage and in the music, it gives me that push to make you listen. Whatever I need to do to make you understand where the song was coming from and where it’s going is what I’m gonna do. My very first show was comfortable. It was at a banquet where I knew half of the audience and I was with a band that rehearsed once a week. We made it do what it do.
One of the biggest things that I get from a Cooki Turner show is ‘good times.’ I love screaming at the background singers, I love the arrangements, I love how you make people and it’s not something that rookies can do. I know you’re a veteran. What would be your advice would you give to artists that want to do what you’re doing now?
I would say find your sound but don’t limit yourself. There are a couple things that you need to remember as an artist. You never know who’s watching you. You never know who comes to your shows, especially open shows. If where you want to be is a top-selling artist that sells out arenas, you need to conduct yourself that way now. Not in a diva standpoint but in professionalism. Know your setlist, what your sound is like, rehearse, and be about your presence. Be about your presence the minute you step into a venue. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting free drinks or not, you’re working. This is a job. When I’m working, I need to be my full self and at my full capacity.
There are three things that you have in this life: your word, your name and your character. You jack any of those up at any given time and it can mess you up for life. Stand by what you believe in. I don’t do this as a hobby, this is my life. If I stopped singing it would not be good for my mind and well being; I’ve tried. I have standards that I’ve set for myself and I don’t lower them for anybody.
You don’t have to rehearse, that’s on you. If you think the band has a good vibe and they can just show up to the show and can make it do what it do, that’s on you. I don’t mind vibes, vibes are great. Thumbs up for vibes. But what we’re gonna know is what we’re doing before we actually hit this show. You don’t need background vocalists, that’s not necessary, that’s on you. Kill the show by yourself. I can kill the show by myself and I don’t want people to think that I can’t. I choose not to because: I’m not sacrificing my voice for an extra twenty five dollars, and I’m not sacrificing the music for an extra fifty dollars. If that means that I have to sacrifice my own money so the musicians can get paid, than I will gladly do it because the music won and I’ve done my job.
Tell me about “Try.”
Four years ago, I was working on an EP. One of them was going to be a live cover of Outkast’s “Prototype,” and the others were going to be originals. I was sitting in my living room with my band and I asked if they could write for me. The keyboardist said “This is your show, how are you gonna ask someone else to write music for your show?” So I said that I liked Curtis Mayfield and there was an intro to a song that I loved, so we started playing around with it and I started singing a melody. From there I started writing; right there on the back of my couch. The lyrics were literally from the experiences I was going through at that moment. I hated writing. I have concepts but I didn’t feel like I had strong lyrics, but I wrote anyway.
The funny thing is that at the live recording I couldn’t even remember the second verse to the song. I had lyrics for them but I couldn’t remember it. For the first two years I would only sing the first verse. It took me going back into the song to get everything. It’s humbling to me that people are encouraged by that song because it encourages me. It describes all that I’ve been through in the last few years.
What does it mean to be a risk taker?
Faith; that’s all risk is. Risk is saying that my faith is above my fear. I am scared of failing, but I have to trust that what I’m called to do is greater. I’m going to step out on what I can’t see but what I know is there.