“A toast then, Jedidiah, to love on my terms. The only terms a man ever knows… his own.”
In Citizen Kane, those are the words of the film’s title character, at that particular point a troubled public figure whose influence has plateaued, and who struggles for the rest of the picture to seize upon his shrinking control and attention, at home and in public, with ever-grander gestures of cheap magnanimity, while deluding himself of his stature by crafting ever more bombastic indices of greatness.
Not to draw direct comparisons with public figures today, the quote itself is notable even out of context, because it describes a common crisis of the human condition: broadly, that the curse of subjective experience renders it difficult to understand or feel comfortable with other, distant frames of reference, especially when pertaining to something as highly personal and psychologically non-negotiable as interpretations of love and friendship.
Trying to cognize these different ‘languages’ and developing a more universal way of communicating his passions and virtues—and what better platform to experiment with that than music?—has been one of independent singer/songwriter Elijah Bland’s longest learning experiences.
Bland is another man on the rise. Born in Hackensack, New Jersey, and an autodidact from the age of five, he refused formal piano lessons as a child, and was happy to be forging his own path plinking on the basement piano, recreating the melodies wafting down from the hi-fi as a background hobby to school and sports.
After having earned a scholarship to play college basketball, Bland soon befriended an upperclassman, photographer Chiké Ijeh, who had built his own dorm room studio, and contributed his keyboarding skills while learning the technical side of recording, inspiring him to create his own dorm studio where he would spend every bit of spare time, pushing his talent. Bland’s extracurricular activities got recognized by a local label in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he was hired to produce the work of other artists, until an engineer at a studio in Boston, MA, noticing the passion and polish in Bland’s own voice, suggested he record some of his own material there.
Reluctant at first, the recognition he received would spur him to develop his first underground release, Just Me (—so named because Bland wore every hat, at every stage of production) which introduced Bland to the independent soul scene. With the help of advertising and distribution on the web, the part-time passion project he started out of his apartment began to find customers internationally; “I was like, “What?”” Bland laughs, “This started something, where I thought maybe I should look into doing this for a living.”
Bland sought to collaborate with fellow artists in his NY/NJ circles whom he respected, like Wayna, Sarah Ashley, Bomani Armah, and Vinnie Cutro, for his 2008 release Soulcentric. The single “Talk To Me” rose to national attention when the Michael Baisden Show put it into rotation. With syndication in 55 cities, the plug was an immediate injection into major national markets. “For The Record”, Bland’s newest sultry single, has also covered 30 major U.S. markets with a year-long tour. And with his headlining act on the Capital Jazz SuperCruise, Bland has shared stage and spotlight with such highly regarded and rarefied Soul and Jazz stars as Lalah Hathaway, Gerald Albright, Yolanda Adams, Dwele, Boney James, Stanley Clarke, and the late, great George Duke.
In addition to his musical endeavors, Bland has seen success as an entrepreneur, as Owner & Creative Director of Mojo Visual. He also works as an actor, based in New York City, appearing in a variety of television, film, theater, and voiceover projects.
This soul singer cannot help but wear his heart on his musical sleeve, whether it is choosing only to represent a brand whose values reflect his own, or in his anthems of self-respect and empowerment; for women, in ‘Wash The Mirror (Love Yourself)’, “Don’t let the magazines dictate your size, I mean since when is zero a real size?”, and criticizing the loss of higher ambitions from the hip-hop genre in ‘For The Love (feat. SoulPro)’, Mr. Bland aims to use his art to inspire strength and represent greatness, but tempered with an emotional sensitivity the likes of Kane would be all but deaf to.
His latest single, “For the Record” is available on iTunes, and his highly anticipated follow-up single “The One” will be released on March 25, 2016.
Interview conducted by Marissa Caliguire
MC: So in the course of when you got truly started in the beginning of your career, your college years, and up to now, what would you find was your biggest obstacle to overcome as it pertains to music?
EB: Exposure. Before that, the biggest obstacle is having the resources to produce the type of music and quality of product that, in my heart and in my mind, I believe I want to put out. But as an independent artist, it’s very difficult to make your financial resources match what you believe your music is supposed to sound like, and the packaging and so forth. I think one of the biggest obstacles is getting a launchpad, or support, to set you up for success. It’s easier to promote an album and let everyone in the world know that it’s out, if you have millions [$$] behind you—it’s not so easy to do when you’re funding it out of your kitchen.
MC: That’s definitely one of the biggest, because as an independent artist, you’re wearing all the hats of a record label. But the music industry has changed dramatically since the days when labels used to back everybody up, and if you got a good record deal it was almost a sure thing for you to be successful, but now it’s tougher. So what kinds of challenges are you facing at this point in time, apart from what we’ve already covered?
EB: I’d say one challenge, specifically, is that lately I’ve taken a step back from being so present. It’s almost like reintroducing my brand to audiences, which can be challenging, because we’re such a short-term memory type of society; if it’s not constantly in your face, then it’s out of sight and out of mind. So, this is why it’s such a single-driven world—you can put out a whole album, and two months later it’s like, “Okay, now what? What’s next?” I just spent the past year putting this album together, and now who cares? It’s just so instant and quick, so that’s one challenge.
Another one for me too, is trying to find a balance between making music that is palatable for a mainstream audience, yet still true to my artistry. I’m not necessarily selling out, but being able to communicate, and reach people, reach a younger generation… Most of my fans are typically older than me. But what about the people younger than me? You gotta find a way to reach people, and most of the time that’s through authenticity. So it’s a challenge, but it’s something we’ve got to remind ourselves as artists, that the only thing you can absolutely do without anybody else’s influence, is be authentic. No one has control of that but you.
MC: In your music, in your lyrics, what type of message are you trying to deliver?
EB: For me it breaks down into four things: passion, purpose, faith, and love. And I think any one of those things really defines the reason why I sing, why I’m a musician, why I create anything. If it wasn’t for love of what I do, or love of people, or for a particular subject that I’m singing about, there is no way that I would choose to do this, for all the obstacles that we face as artists. It’s the best, and the worst thing to do with your life, being an artist. It can be miserable, and grueling, and discouraging, and at the next time be the most rewarding thing in the world. And I think passion really fuels that, finding your purpose, and this being a part of my purpose on this earth, to communicate to people through my creativity. And faith factors into that; knowing that there is a plan bigger than me, that there is a power bigger than me, that God has me in his care, and it’s just up to me to execute the plan that he has given me. To me, most of what I think about is rooted in love, because that’s what has nurtured me enough to be able to get to this point, and for me to able to do what I do.
MC: What would be the most important thing to you as a singer/songwriter?
EB: Honesty. Not everything I sing about is my own personal experience, verbatim, but there is always an honest emotion attached to the situation. It might be inspired by a desire, or dream, but it’s always rooted in an honest emotion, and I think if people can connect to something they can relate to, that makes things real. Soul is something we intrinsically connect to, and you can’t deny that, it’s going to connect somehow.