June 24th, 2024

Q&A: Andra Day talks new album, playing a villain and regaining confidence after injuring vocals

By Jonathan Landrum Jr., The Associated Press on May 30, 2024.

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Andra Day gained acting acclaim after her starring role in a 2021 Billie Holiday biopic, but the soulful singer nearly lost the strength of her powerful voice during the process.

Day injured her vocals after she smoked cigarettes as part of her role in Lee Daniels’ film “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” It took some time to recover after she experienced hemorrhaging in her vocal cords, but now the singer sounds as if she’s returning to form with her latest album “Cassandra,” which released earlier this month.

“Cassandra,” which is Day’s legal first name, is her first album in nine years since her 2015 debut “Cheers to the Fall,” which earned a Grammy nomination along with standout single “Rise Up.” On her new album, she explores the complexities of her past relationships and spiritual walk with God.

Day has been on a journey to regain confidence in her voice since the “Holiday” film, which helped her win a Grammy and Golden Globe for her acting and musical work. She’s been training her vocals through studio sessions and on a few big stages including several performances during Grammy week and the Super Bowl pregame, where she performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” earlier this year.

In a recent interview, Day spoke with The Associated Press about her latest album, how her faith helped her overcome heartbreak and her wish to play a villain.

Remarks have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

AP: How important was it for you to touch on your faith on “Cassandra”?

DAY: Faith is my whole grounding. It’s who I am. If someone asked to sum up my identity, I would say “I’m a follower of Christ. I’m a child of God.” It matters how you show up. No one is perfect. With making this album, I wanted people to experience what mistakes I made. You don’t want to stay in that place. You want to grow from it. No matter what mistakes were made, or I didn’t perform well, I was so loved.

AP: How has your faith helped you overcome heartbreaks?

Day: I’m intensely reminded in this season that I am loved. That’s the thing for me. I feel like I’m difficult to love. I feel like when people get to know me, they’ll feel like “Oh, God, she’s really not that great or interesting.” I’ve dealt with a lot of that sort of the imposter syndrome. It’s love that I actually need. There’s a scripture that talks about how God’s plans are not to harm you. But they are there to give you hope and a future. I stand on that. I believe that. It’s super heartbreaking for me because I do love really hard – which I recently discovered. But at the same time, it’s a reminder that God’s plan for me is not just for me in this romantic relationship. That can be a part of it. That’s amazing. But it’s a holistic thing for everyone’s life. His plans for me are good. God’s love and plans for me. That’s what really helps me eventually.

AP: How bad were your vocal cords damaged?

DAY: There was some hemorrhaging. You could see inflamed blood vessels. I have one that’s kind of bad right now, but it hasn’t fully hemorrhaged, which is great. That’s been my saving grace. It’s just drier, hemorrhaging, more damage and breakup.

AP: Do you regret smoking cigarettes for the Billie Holiday role?

DAY: It made me question if it was the right decision. I was really desperate. It was my first role. But it definitely had … impact. I left Billie feeling more confident, because of who she was and how she walked in the room and dealt with her own confident issues. My voice as a singer, I’ve been dealing with my confidence heavily the last year or two. It’s really hard when you know your voice is one way, then all of a sudden, you’re like “Oh my God, I can’t hit those (notes) or I’m struggling to hit those (notes). You kind of have to figure out how to sing again. It’s completely new. It definitely wore on my self-confidence. As of recently, things actually feel like they are starting to recover.

AP: Was it required for you to smoke for the role?

DAY: I didn’t have to smoke for Billie. I’m just extra. It felt like one of those roles where you need dedication. I can’t just immolate it well on screen.

AP: Has your voice felt up to your standard lately?

DAY: We did Blue Note (Jazz Festival) in New York. God was so great. We sold out two nights. It was amazing. There were moments in the show where I was like it wasn’t my own voice. I was able to hit certain notes and go certain places. It has lately given me more confidence. I just need to get back on the horse, continue to do this again and strengthen the muscles like anything else.

AP: What are your next plans career-wise?

DAY: I do want to act more. I want to make more music as well. I do want to put together more music, more consistently. I’ll take another break at some point. It won’t be another nine years. I really want to make EPs with artists that I love. Just drop a whole bunch of EPs. All types of genres. All types of styles. I want to bolster other producers that worked on this album.

AP: Any particular role you want to play?

DAY: I like sci-fi futuristic things. I like to play some type of hero warrior. Biopics too. There’re three roles I’m hyper-focused on. I would love to play the original version of Poison Ivy. I would definitely love to play Eartha Kitt and Angela Davis. Those are my dream roles.

AP: It would be interesting to see you play a villain like Poison Ivy. Why her?

DAY: Here’s the funny part of playing a bad girl. She’s only bad to you. She’s only bad to the audience. For me, as the actor, I’m not playing a bad girl. I’m never playing an evil character. That’s what I learned from Tasha Smith and Lee (Daniels.) In order for you to actually perform well or be convincing, everything in your head has to be justified. Every move that I make. Every single thing is for a reason. Violent passion. In my mind and head, how do I not function like that in real life, because now I’ve justified every terrible thing I’ve done and said. I’m not looking at Poison Ivy like “Yes, I’m playing a villain.” I’m like “My God, she’s an amazing savior of plants. She’s got to kill all these people, because look at these environmental assholes.” That’s the difference.

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