Grammy-Nominated Songstress Andra Day Talks Performing at the Award Show, Working With Stevie Wonder, and So Much More

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It’s so wonderful to see powerful females get recognized for their hard work, wouldn’t you agree? Such is happening in a major way to the magnificently talented songstress Andra Day. Her debut summer album, Cheers To the Fall, is a post-heartbreak musical knockout—and the pipes on that girl? Wow. Her voice is like velvet—a little Lauren Hill, a little Amy Winehouse, a little Billie Holiday—and the vocal equivalent of whiskey for your soul. “I will rise a thousand times again,” she sings in “Rise Up.” Rising is exactly what she’s doing, and it’s so exciting to see it happen. (What’s more: She’s touring with Leon Bridges this summer. The thought of the two of them on stage literally melts me away. Deep breaths.)

And just this morning it was announced that on top of her two nominations for Best R&B Performance for “Rise Up” and Best R&B Album for Cheers To the Fall, Day will also be performing a duet on stage with Ellie Goulding at the Grammys. Naturally, we were thrilled by pairing and couldn’t wait to hear more, so we caught up with the incredibly gracious Andra by phone on what must be a rare free day she was spending in Chicago.

First of all, congratulations on the Grammy nominations!
Andra Day: Thank you.

And on the duet performance with Ellie Goulding. How did that come to be?
AD: So [Grammy producer] Ken Ehrlich thought our songs would compliment each other really well, and we actually shared a stage at Apple Music Festival in London too. She’s great. I really like her and her energy. We’ve got rehearsal as well, so we’ll definitely have time to talk and to get to know each other and to figure out the music. I’m looking forward to it.

What was your reaction when you heard you were nominated for two Grammys?
AD: I think exciting is the word. It felt gratifying too. I was actually at a hotel in downtown LA, asleep, when the announcement came in. And then my phone started ringing off the hook at 6 A.M., and I was like, “Oh no. This is way too early.” Then my boyfriend came in to tell me! So, I just said a prayer and was grateful for everybody who’s been involved with this project and believed for so many years. I tell people it sort of feels like you won already, ’cause this is the first album. The album was only out about three months before we actually heard the news, so it was pretty amazing—just really, really surreal.

Do you think you’re gonna go in with a prepared speech in your pocket? Or will you wing it if they call your name up for the gramophone?
AD: I’m definitely the person who wings it probably more often than I should. I like when things come out naturally like that. But I’ve never thought about really preparing the speech until I have been asked the question in the last like, two weeks. So, maybe I’ll just have a note or something.

Maybe there’s something to that. Who are the people that you think you’ll be thanking on stage if it comes to that?
AD: I probably will thank my ex-boyfriend. Not in a spiteful way—he helped me out and supported me a lot. I wrote a lot of the album about him.

Who else are you rooting for and hoping to see?
AD: I’m definitely rooting for Kendrick Lamar. I feel like his album was just so incredible and had such a message and such a statement to it. And I’m also rooting for Tori Kelly for Best New Artist. I think everyone’s looking forward to Adele’s performance. There are also people in my category who I’m like, “I really want to meet them and see them.” The band Hiatus Kaiyote, they are really amazing. I’m hoping I get a chance to meet D’Angelo as well.

Speaking of someone else you’re up against for best R&B album: Leon Bridges, who is one of my favorites. I know you guys are touring together later this summer—you’re the perfect match!
AD: I would be just as happy if he won. The album’s incredible, and he’s incredible. I actually was introduced to him last year at a Nina Simone tribute at Sundance. We were talking backstage, and he’s really, really cool. And then he gets on stage and he starts singing, and I’m like, “What is that?”

Straight to your soul.
AD: His voice is just so rich. He’s a modern day crooner. It’s just so beautiful. That’s how we were introduced to each other, and our camps kept in touch. And it just was like, a natural fit to do a tour together. I’m so excited about that tour. I’m hoping we can maybe figure out a little collab-duet thing. So, we’ll see how that goes.

My fingers are crossed. Do you have any favorite Grammy performances? For me, it’s Pharrell and Daft Punk and Stevie Wonder.
AD: That’s definitely one of them. And the Beyonce and Prince performance is pretty seminal. That one always stands out in my mind as show-stopping.

Any idea of what you’re going to wear or how you’re going to get dressed that night?
AD: I’m definitely gonna be wearing leopard print. It has to be leopard print, and it has to be kind of tacky. I just can’t help it.

And some red lip and gorgeous hoops! Going back a little to Stevie—he discovered you! What was it like when you picked up the phone, and he said, “This is Stevie Wonder.”
AD: Fortunately, I knew the call was coming because if I didn’t know it was coming, I probably would have hung up, like “OK, guys, it’s not funny. Goodbye.”

Right, like, who’s pranking me?
AD: Right, it’s exactly that. So, you know, the nerves started right before the call came. Like, “OK, what am I gonna say?” And I might just faint, so don’t get too nervous and don’t say anything. But he was very nice. I feel like he knows the legacy that he’s created over the years. I’m sure he knows how intimidating it can be to be in a room with other artists, particularly up-and-coming artists. He just diffuses the environment so quickly. It’s amazing. So, he got on the phone, we talked about, you know, astrology and all that too. And talked about writing songs together, and one in particular.

That is so cool. Who are the other artists that influenced you?
AD: I’m essentially a jazz singer at heart. I love Billie Holiday. She’s pretty much the reason I sing. And Nina Simone too. And Dinah Washington. But even the newer, you know, soul/jazz singers like Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Lauren Hill… And then even on down to Adele and to Amy Winehouse. These extremely identifiable and soulful voices that I just love. And then you obviously have your big power belters, the Arethas and Pattis. I’m a stickler and always drawn to voices—voice as an identity and the power behind them.

So, what’s next in 2016? I know you’re on the road a lot this year.
AD: Yes, a lot of touring. We’re getting ready for a few more shows and the Grammys. Oh, and also festivals: Sasquatch and Bonnaroo. And some interesting collaborations. I can’t tell you now, but there will be a few artists that I collaborate with and we’ll come up with some really cool things. I try not to structure it out so much, just kind of one foot in front of the other, one moment at a time.

And do you have any great pieces of advice you’d like to share with our readers?
AD: Never lose yourself. Never, never, lose who you are, lose your foundation, lose your beliefs, lose your conviction for what it is that you do. Because people will come in and will try to change you. No matter how well-intended they may be, you were born with your own identity, so you don’t have to create a new one. Just be exactly who you are. That is something that I live by.

Preach! Catch Andra Day before at the Grammy Awards on February 15, 2016.

Photos: Courtesy of Getty

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