TO HEAR HER TELL IT, it was fate that Diviniti linked up with Josh Milan for In Due Time, her debut album of soul and jazz tracks released on Milan’s Honeycomb Music. “If I’m honest, I’ll say that I think it was inevitable. Scratch that. I KNOW that it was inevitable,” Diviniti tells 5 Mag. “I don’t see a way that we would not have ended up creating music together at some point.”
What may be more surprising to the listener is the “soul and jazz” part. The Detroit artist is probably best known for her distinctively powerful but uniquely emotive vocals on dance music tracks produced by the likes of Louie Vega (“Everlasting Love” from the Grammy nominated Louie Vega Starring… XXVIII album), Moodymann (“Slow Down”), Omar S (“On Your Way”), Andy Compton (“Where I Want To Be,” “In Love Again”), Pirahnahead (tons of them, starting with “Find A Way” in 2004), Charles Webster, Souldynamic, DJ Minx, Shuya Okino and more.
“House music is where I started and stayed for a while, but I’ve done some more jazzy and downtempo songs in there too,” she explains. “So while others may see this as a switch I see it as me more fully expressing who I always have been as an artist.
“There are a few different genres and vibes,” she adds. “I think we did a great job of capturing a little bit of this and that from what I’ve been listening to and turning that into something beautiful.”
5 Mag spoke with Diviniti a short time after the album’s release for a wide-ranging interview, about the making of In Due Time (with lead vocals by Diviniti and nearly all instruments by Milan), performing and teaching, and the “grit and glamor,” the survival tactics and thriving techniques” learned & earned as an artist in Detroit.
So tell me about the origins of this project. Where did the idea come from and why Honeycomb as the label and Josh as producer? Who brought the seeds and who planted them?
It’s hard to say who had the idea first. It just feels like one day we just decided to see what we could come up with in the studio. If I’m honest, I’ll say that I think it was inevitable. Scratch that. I know that it was inevitable. I don’t see a way that we would not have ended up creating music together at some point.
Initially the plan was for us to complete a single. So we recorded “I’m The Best.” After that went over so well, we batted around the idea of an EP very briefly. But then one of us said “album” and it was on from there. So, we both had seeds and we both had soil. That’s the only way any garden can flourish. It was a true collaborative effort.
You’ve made a name as one of the top house vocalists in the world. Why a jazz/soul album?
I’ve always loved all kinds of music. I grew up playing classical violin. In my house growing up I listened to everything from The Beatles and The Nutcracker to Led Zeppelin and Parliament Funkadelic. I’ve never been just one type of artist. I was labeled as just a house music vocalist. House music is where I started and stayed for a while, but I’ve done some more jazzy and downtempo songs in there too. So while others may see this as a switch I see it as me more fully expressing who I always have been as an artist.
Growing up in Detroit exposed me to both grit and glamor; survival tactics and thriving techniques. I don’t know when I really became aware of it, but you have to know how to find and keep your balance in this city. There’s a lot of duality here. You have to find your way. Like I said, I don’t know when I become aware of this energy, but I’m clear that it’s in me.
From the credits it seems you almost worked entirely alone, just the two of you, on all of this. Is that right?
For the most part that’s correct but I can’t say it was intentional. My sister and label-mate Dawn Tallman sang background vocals on “I’m The Best.” Big Moses played the bass on “Inside Out” — and let me say again how he KILLED that baseline. That’s a huge part of what validates my version of the song.
As Josh and I were recording and fleshing out ideas for the songs he talked about wanting to call in a musician to add this or that but it just never happened. So outside of the bass on “Inside Out,” all instrumentation is Josh. And besides he and Dawn on backgrounds on two songs all vocals are me.
Were the sessions in person or remote?
Each time we recorded the sessions were in person. I would have an instrumental or a working draft in my ears at home, so I would be writing. Then once we got together in the studio again I’d record the newly written vocals. We did a lot of writing together in the studio as well.
5 Mag Issue 208
Out July 2023
WE STILL CALL IT HOUSE: This was originally published in 5 Mag Issue #208 featuring the story of Chicago house music collective 3 Degrees Global, a tribute to DJ Deeon, a cover mix by and profile of Gratts, Detroit vocalist Diviniti, John Davis of the disco’s scariest orchestra, the great vanishing of pirate sites more. Help keep our vibe alive by becoming a member for $2/month and get every issue in your inbox right away!
Is this different than the usual way you work?
I’ve worked both in person and remotely during my career. When I was a part of Shuya Okino’s United Legends project in the early 2000s we worked remotely. Shuya was in Japan and I was here in Detroit. It was a matter of making music and magic via email and internet. I loved the idea of being able to create such amazing music with someone I had never met personally.
I worked that same way with Andy Compton, Charles Webster and other producers who live in other countries. When it comes to the work I have done with Moodymann, Omar S., and others that live here in the city, of course, we just get in the studio together.
As I’m sure you know, there is a long, long tradition of jazz artists covering Beatles songs, from Jaco Pastorius’ “Blackbird” to Shirley Horn’s “Yesterday.” Why “Hey Jude”?
Simply because I’ve always loved the song. Honestly, I didn’t think of it from the position of what other artists have done. The Beatles were a significant part of my love for music when I was very young. The radio station I would listen to when getting ready for school in the mornings would play a wide variety of music. That’s where I remember hearing The Beatles first. Something about the simplicity of the songs made me feel them in a very significant way. The idea of the lyrics encouraging Jude to open his heart and just give this person a chance just resonated with me — as a child and an adult. I have a connection to the song.
I always like looking through our back issues and the first time I heard your name was on “Can’t Explain The Dub” on Minx’s label. That was back in 2008. Tell me about how you got started in the house part of this industry? Was that the start or are there records before that?
WOW! And I mean the literally and figuratively. My first record was “Find A Way” in 2004 and that was released on Minx’s label, Women On Wax (W.O.W.). It’s interesting that “Can’t Explain” was your introduction to my work. There were about 7 releases between those two records!
I met Pirahnahead in 2003 and was blown away by his talent. He was working with a few artists at the time, but the more I listened to what was being created the more I wanted to be a part of it. Eventually, he created the music for “Find A Way,” we wrote it, I recorded it and that was the beginning.
How has living in Detroit shaped you as an artist and a person?
I feel like living in the city definitely provided me with a rich canvas from which to work when it comes to being an artist. I grew up with access to all kinds of music. The radio stations were extremely diverse then so you could get a wide variety of genres on one station. Besides the different types of music in my home — gospel, jazz — I played classical violin when I was young as well, so there was classical music as well.
As a person, I appreciate that growing up in Detroit exposed me to both grit and glamor; survival tactics and thriving techniques. I don’t know when I really became aware of it, but you have to know how to find and keep your balance in this city. There’s a lot of duality here. You have to find your way. Like I said, I don’t know when I become aware of this energy, but I’m clear that it’s in me. I don’t think it was learned or that it’s something I parroted after watching someone else. I think that’s just Detroit.
I know so many vocalists in house music who are involved in education. What was your path?
I’m pretty clear that a huge part of my purpose is to teach in some way. I come from a family of teachers. I always admired my teachers. Even though I have loved music for as long as I can remember as well, teaching was right up there. For a while I thought of being a marine biologist because of how much I love the water. But that was too much science and math — two areas where I’m not the strongest. I went through a phase of wanting to be a nurse as well. I wanted to help people. But again, there was too much math and science there. And once I added in the blood — I could count nursing out. So, teaching it is!
Honestly, I feel I was born to be a teacher. It’s just as simple as that.
There was a time when the vocalist depended on the DJ to ensure they got their “due” but that’s no more. We are all out here pushing and promoting ourselves and if we’re really blessed we have some other folks who help to spread the word about our work as well.
Who inspired you when you began singing?
When I started singing I was inspired by all of the music I had been listening to growing up. There were so many different voices across genres. It’s tough to say what artist specifically.
Now, what voice do I remember hearing around the house consistently? My mother’s voice. We would listen to the radio in the mornings when we would be preparing to leave the house for the day. She’d sing along with the songs on the radio. She sang while doing things around the house. So did my dad sometimes. I was literally enveloped in music growing up.
Who inspires you now as an artist?
Initially, my mind went directly to vocalists to answer this question. But so much more than just singers inspire me. I’m hesitant to start naming artists and groups because I know I’ll leave someone out that I’ll kick myself for later. I will say this — my taste is varied. My playlists go from Adult Contemporary to Worldbeat; from “A Love Supreme” to “Zora’s Moon”; from Àbáse to 2000BLACK. I’m literally all over the place. I think you get a snapshot of that in the album. There are a few different genres and vibes there. I think we did a great job of capturing a little bit of this and that from what I’ve been listening to and turning that into something beautiful.
I’m also letting life inspire me too right now. I try to use the things that happen from day-to-day move me forward with a little bit of information that I didn’t have before. I learned to do that all throughout the completion of this project. I’m still learning.
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What do you wish you knew when you got started in the industry?
I wish I knew to trust myself. That’s not just something I’d say about starting in the industry either. That’s across the board. It’s tough not to look back and wonder how things would have been different in my career if I had more confidence. Besides being in a different genre, the biggest thing that stands out for me with In Due Time is that you can hear that growth and confidence. Trusting yourself and standing on that truth is essential. Like my song says, “When you know better, then you do better.”
House is very DJ-driven, and the making of it very producer-driven. Do you think vocalists get a fair shake?
I feel like in the age of social media the playing field is a bit more even when it comes to who is known — the DJ or the vocalist. There was a time when the vocalist more or less depended on the DJ to ensure they got their “due” but that’s no more. We are all out here pushing and promoting ourselves and if we’re really blessed we have some other folks who help to spread the word about our work as well.
On the same subject, I think something that’s definitely different from past decades is how many vocalists also DJ now. Lady Kier was the first I knew of personally, then Ultra Naté, now there’s Alex Mills and yourself too. When did you first start learning and what kind of joy does it bring to you?
Well, I talked about learning to DJ way back in the day. I even remember practicing with blending two copies of the same song together. But again, my confidence wasn’t there at all. And there were some that I listened to who weren’t exactly encouraging. So I pushed it out of my mind.
Fast forward to me regularly tuning in to Josh Milan’s radio show, the Honeycomb Music Non-Radio Lunch Break. I loved that I could play and share the music I loved and I didn’t have to mix! It didn’t have to be one genre or another! So he invited me to submit a playlist and that was it. I did a few more guest spots on his show and then started thinking about hosting my own. With his encouragement, I started curating and hosting a monthly online radio show. It’s been running for several years now. The show is called “Little Bit Radio” — named after my nonprofit organization. Producing the show helped me to get comfortable with sharing different genres and a bit of who I am personally.
Then a great friend of mine who is also a great DJ, Vince, asked me to be one of his guest DJs at his residency at a restaurant. I had the time of my life! And I actually secured my next booking at my first booking!
I’m glad you mentioned joy. That’s exactly what it is. It’s another way for me to express myself and share what I hear and love. And to see people connect to what I play and dance and enjoy themselves — it’s a totally different experience to do that as a DJ.
What are your future plans with the album (remixes etc)?
That’s something that we have time to decide on and discuss. I have a few people in mind that I would love to touch the project but it’s not just about me. This has been a team effort from the beginning. I’m sure that will be no exception.
In Due Time is out now from Honeycomb Music.