On the eve of Valentine’s Day, now going on its eighth year, NYC based singer/songwriter Xavier returns to downtown’s Joe’s Pub for an all Chaka Khan edition of his heralded, annual Ladies of Soul Tribute. Past guests have included Tony Award winner Lena Hall, Stephin Merritt, Joan As Policewoman, Sxip Shirey, Rizo, Adeline, Rachael Price of Lake Street Dive, Del Marquis of Scissor Sisters, Mykal Kilgore (Post Modern Jukebox / The Wiz Live!), Cassondra James, and Bridget Barkan.
Joining him this year for the Chaka Khan flavored celebration are some artists you would expect and some you would not. The lineup includes Crystal Joy (Motown: The Musical), Luke Jenner (The Rapture), Martha Redbone, Nicki B. (Escort), Sheherazade Holman (Darlene Love, H.E.R.), Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields) and possibly a few surprises.
New York Magazine rated the show “Brilliant” on its famed Approval Matrix!
We have been following Xavier’s career for quite some time and have certainly loved the variety of his artistic output, providing guest vocals on some of NYC’s fiercest underground dance and electronic music producers as well as some very soulful expeditions of his own. Xavier truly is someone that represents the core values of what a New York City artist is, with a combination of edginess and classic soul sensibilities that enable him to gleefully glide through a variety of music genres with ease. Mix that in with his critically praised vocal stylings, strong work ethic and sense of humor, an Xavier show is definitely a one of a kind experience. Tickets for this Thursday’s show are available here.
Xavier has received un-coerced praise for his vocal skills from some of the biggest names in the business, including Madonna, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, Devo, Daryl Hall, Anita Baker, Lena Horne, TV on the Radio, Anohni, Danny Tenaglia, Toshi Reagon, The Rapture, and Ashford & Simpson. His UK debut on Virgin Records earned him a top ten hit. The Boys Choir of Harlem alum has collaborated on recordings with Poolside, Scissor Sisters, Horse Meat Disco, JD Samson, Slow Knights, Nova Social, Tamar Kali, Young & Sick, New Power Generation, Basement Jaxx vocalists Vula & Sharlene, Diane Birch, Bright Light Bright Light, Stephin Merritt, Sxip Shirey, and LL Cool J.
We managed to catch up with the crooner and ask him some questions about the show, his influences and his upcoming projects.
CHAUNCEY: Congratulations on your 8th year gathering such a talent-filled tribute to The Ladies Of Soul at Joe’s Pub. This year, you have chosen Chaka Khan to invoke. How do you decide which lady of soul’s work you will be showcasing?
XAVIER: Usually the show honors multiple female artists under the soul music umbrella. The song selection process isn’t very straightforward but mainly I choose artists and songs I’ve been enamored with and sung to myself for a long time…with new discoveries tossed in from time to time. I also heavily factor in the band members and what I think they’d enjoy playing. The Aretha takeover last year happened because the Queen had passed and I felt compelled to give her a proper send-off. This year’s all Chaka Khan show is an anomaly. I’d planned to return to form, but a friend who knows I’m a Chakaholic put the idea in my head.
C: Chaka just released a new album recently. What is your favorite track off of that collection?
X: “Like Sugar”.That one will burn many calories on the dancefloor. The reggae-infused “Isn’t That Enough” is a close second.
C: What is the significance of doing your show the night before Valentine’s Day every year?
X: For several years, I used to release a free song on Valentine’s Day. My Ladies Of Soul Tribute birthed itself out of that. The free song one year was an Anita Baker cover. And she tweeted it! She’d been moved to tears! That got the gears rolling. Black women’s voices were integral to shaping my own. Why not have a night to express my love and gratitude?
C: The lineup this year, as always, is quite diverse, from Broadway stars to indie artists. How do you gather these people to be a part of your concert? Are they friends? Do they owe you a favor?
X: They’re all friends. Occasionally, they’re friends of friends. I’m pretty particular about how I curate the show. Usually, there’s a song I love and want to sing myself—but then my head says, “You know who would really kill on this song? So and so!” The right pairing is super crucial. And I absolutely love taking people out of their comfort zone. Sometimes there’s pushback, but it’s always ended up being wonderful. One of my favorite moments like that was when pop singer Bright Light Bright Light sang Aretha Franklin’s “Master Of Eyes” (The Deepness Of Your Eyes). He sang the hell out of that song. Another initially reluctant to slay on stage moment was when Adeline sang the Diana Ross 80’s hit “Mirror, Mirror” so well, I swore her hair started blowing and she was summoning spirits.
C: You’ve collaborated with some of the most creative producers and bands, with varying levels of popularity and longevity in the business. What are some of the qualities of these artists that make working with them an easy decision?
X: Talent. And a shared all-encompassing dedicated, obsessive love of music.
C: A very cliche question in an interview, but with a twist. Who is your dream duet on stage…and have you conquered that wish or still waiting for it to happen?
X: Whitney Houston. I got to share a stage with her at Carnegie Hall when I was a choir boy, but it wasn’t a duet. I’d still love to sing with Stevie Wonder. I was super lucky to share the stage with him as a choir boy as well.
Check out his brilliant cover of Whitney’s “It’s Not Right But It’s Ok”
C: Any new music in the works we can expect to be released soon from The Xavier Factory?
X: Yes. I just recorded a song with Horse Meat Disco. I also have a project called Body Music with The Rapture and Poolside drummer Vito Roccoforte and multi-instrumentalist dj Bosq. We just finished some new original stuff, but the first thing you’ll probably hear is a Poolside remix off the new album featuring my vocals.
C: Joe’s Pub is definitely one of my favorite venues to enjoy a show. What is it about that place that keeps you coming back year after year?
X: Simply put, Joe’s Pub has been very good to me. I still remember Shanta Thacke’s warm and enthusiastic email inviting me to perform. I’m immensely grateful to them. Ben, Shanta, Alex, Sacha, Jon, Thanassis, David, Madonna K. Thank you.
C: Any hints or teasers from this year’s show you’d like to share?
X: If you were ever curious what Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields would sound like singing a Chaka Khan tune written by drag queen Flawless Sabrina’s brother with a Dilla/D’Angelo beat and 3 killer backing singers behind him (including me!), this is your chance.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us, Xavier!
Follow him @lovexaviermusic