Marsha Ambrosius is stepping out. The former lead singer for early 2000s neo-soul group Floetry has spent the last few years writing, producing, and/or performing on tracks from an unstoppable list of artists – Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, Nas, The Game, Solange, Queen Latifah, and so on. She goes it alone on her debut solo album, Late Nights & Early Mornings, which is shaping up to be one of the mostly hotly anticipated album drops of 2011.
Ambrosius broke new ground with the video for the second single off the album, “Far Away.” The raw, emotional video tackled bullying and suicide in the gay community and drew widespread praise from her rabid gay fanbase. “The Songstress” (as she was known during her Floetry days) rang us from her Philadelphia home to talk about her connection with gay fans, the personal experience behind the gut-wrenching “Far Away,” and preparing to jump to the next level.
Fenuxe: So Marsha, your debut solo album is finally coming out. Why was the timing right?
Ambrosius: Well for me it feels like it’s happened overnight now that it’s really happening. I only signed with J Records at the end of ’09. So throughout that, I recorded for about three or four months and had pretty much all the material that I wanted to put together. But with that comes the real work, working with other people and not just myself producing it and writing it. So it takes time to pull all those things together and making sure that you have the right visuals and everything that I wanted to attach in creating a major label album.
I think people have been so accustomed to me throwing stuff out there as far as mixtapes and I’ve been featured and written on so many other projects. So it was just expected that I’d have something to turn around as quickly as my other work. Business doesn’t work that way.
Fenuxe: How early on could you tell that you had made a connection with gay audiences?
Ambrosius: I guess it was when I started to do a lot of live performances, just checking the diversity of the audience. I get from young to old, black to white, and then it was straight or gay. I found a lot of the gay audience were very receptive to the music and would reach out and make it known. And I was like “Ahh wow!” You know? With music, you feel like you know someone. You create this best friend in your mind. You know, in my ideal world me and Prince are besties. And it’s like overnight I became peoples’ besties, it was really, really weird.
But just with that familiarity, I’ve had a lot of people reach out and give me their personal stories and it feels very direct so I don’t feel like I’m just making music for me because, you know, when you’re young and you’re selfish that’s what you do. I feel like I have a voice for these people that want to say something but can’t. So it is holding that responsibility as an artist, and I hold that. And as far as the gay audience, whether it’s gay, straight or whatever it may be, I’m just thankful to be heard.
Fenuxe: “Far Away” has gotten a lot of attention. Was there a personal experience behind the song and the video?
Ambrosius: Umm…it definitely derived from a personal experience. I’d written the song, co-written by Sterling Simms and produced by Just Blaze, in 2008. And at the time I’d gone through a serious situation with a friend of mine who’d attempted suicide. And when you’re best friends with someone that’s in such a dark place in their lives, it’s difficult for you to stand by them when they push you away so much. And I think no one really spoke about that angle of the pain, like what it does to people. This song is only coming to light now but it’s still very necessary as there are so many other people relating to what was going on within the song. Without them knowing my backstory behind it, everyone had a story to tell based on “Far Away.” So I think when it was time to shoot the video, it was only right that we added the necessary visuals to speak for the unspoken.
Fenuxe: Was your friend dealing with similar issues to the one in the video? Homosexuality and bullying?
Ambrosius: Yeah it’s everything. It can be a cruel world for those who have no tolerance and just have no one that they feel they can trust and listen to. You know, behind closed doors, everyone’s comfortable and everyone’s all smiles but when faced with reality, that can be as harsh as a punch in the gut. It really hits you over the head. And with “Far Away” I really wanted to hit a few people over the head with that.
Fenuxe: You’ve worked with a wide range of celebrated hip-hop artists through the years. Have you seen any improvement with the issue of homophobia in hip-hop?
Ambrosius: It doesn’t really come up but it’s the way of the world everywhere. It’s not just in hip-hop, it’s not just in R&B. And it’s whether or not people are going to accept people for who they are – not based on race, creed or color, sexuality, nothing. It’s, “Who are you? Are you a good person or a bad person?” It has nothing to do with anything else that’s going on and I think music can speak directly to people, and I feel that in music I think we’re at a time where artists do have a responsibility to speak out. There’s a lot going on in the world, and there are a lot of people that don’t have too much to hold onto. And if it’s one song that touches you somewhere that kind of changes your mind, I’m willing to do that.
The thing with “Far Away,” even with the overwhelming positive response online I got, even from people that tended to be negative, like “Well I don’t agree with this, but I understand what you’re saying”—you know, I’ll take that as changing someone’s mind somewhere. Homophobia is real. I’ve seen people hate for absolutely no reason. And I’m like, is this a trend or something? I don’t even know if people understand why they hate sometimes. And I think with “Far Away” it forced people to address how they really felt.
Fenuxe: Do you feel that, with this solo album and your name out front and center for the first time in 10 years, you’re about to experience a jump to the next level of being a household name?
Ambrosius: I feel like everything I’ve done the last 10 years has been like baby steps towards…something. And even when I thought I’d reached the pinnacle in one area, there’s still a ways to go. Like, I’m not going to be Quincy Jones overnight. I’m not going to be a Patrice Rushen overnight, a Diane Warren. It’s not gonna happen. I’ve got a ways to go and I’m just enjoying the ride right now. Whether or not my solo record puts me…well, you know when they say “put you on the map”? I thought I was on it [laughs]. I’m on it somewhere in Philadelphia right now making a larger mark somewhere. And I’ll see where this one takes me.
Fenuxe: So are you going on tour and will we be seeing you in Atlanta?
Ambrosius: I am! I’m gonna be touring. The dates will go up soon. I believe it will be late nights and early mornings for awhile [laughs]. It will be fun, I can’t wait. And I’ll definitely be there in Atlanta for sure.
Late Nights & Early Mornings
Available Everywhere March 1, 2011