PaviElle speaks her truth on 'Sovereign'


Sean McPherson interviews PaviElle about her new album, 'Sovereign.' (MPR Video)
PaviElle interview: radio edit
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PaviElle's new album, Sovereign, releases on September 17, and will be celebrated Friday night with an album-release show at Icehouse in Minneapolis.

"It's about the healing, the healer, the nurturer, the warrior, you know, the priestess, the revolutionary," PaviElle says about the new album. "All these facets of me that I had to come back to myself and find so that I could step into my next level."

In the run-up to the album release, PaviElle spoke to The Current's Sean McPherson about Sovereign and also about her deep-rooted connection to St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood. PaviElle also talks about a concert she'll be doing soon at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Watch the entire interview in the video above, and read a transcript below.

Interview Transcript

SEAN MCPHERSON: You're with The Current and Purple Current, and I am chatting with PaviElle. PaviElle, since the last time I spoke with you, you've had an incredible run professionally. And I'm talking about some serious accolades, things like a Jerome Artist Fellowship, McKnight, MacPhail Global Artists Initiative, Schubert Club involvement. It hasn't been ... we talked to you around Christmas of 2019, Sani and I did. It hasn't been an easy couple of years for anyone, but it's been really good professionally for you. I want to congratulate you on the professional accolades. And then ask you how are you doing as a spirit, as a soul?

PAVIELLE: Thank you so much, Sean, I really appreciate that and appreciate the love and the encouragement you've always given me, you and Sani both, I just really — and The Current, you know — y'all been supporters since Fear Not. So I just thank y'all for what you've done, too. I am okay, I'm doing good. I am feeling freer than I've ever felt in my life. Been doing a lot of self work, introspective work. And, you know, seeking the path and the righteousness and the help that I need, so I feel great!

Well, that is beautiful and well deserved. And I actually heard you in an early interview, talking about taking some real time for yourself. And, and thank you for doing that. Because if you don't take care of yourself, there's not a lot of point and you getting up on stage and doing things for other people.

That's right.

Now you are doing something for the world and putting out this release, Sovereign which is really exciting. And from talking to you a little bit before we started rolling, it sounds like there's sovereignty in some bigger cultural ways and some identity ways. But there's also some self-sovereignty, it seems, like about your path and how you're making your art. Can you tell me a little bit about what folks can expect from this record, which is coming out on the 17th?

What the record is, it's our concept album. It's a full story that kind of Chronicles everything that I've been through in 2020. And at that time, you know, with the murder of George Floyd and the murder of Breonna Taylor and some of the others, and the COVID pandemic and being forced to have to sit with myself, I kind of just lost my voice and lost my way. And so I took the time and, like you said earlier, I was I was a recipient of a few grants, the Jerome and the McKnight. And I took advantage of that and took sabbaticals and bought a Maschine MK3. So then with this MK3, I made all these beats, you know, I kind of zoned in and found my way back and, you know, through therapy and working on myself and healing my inner child, I kind of just chronicled how I heal: healed myself from a breakup, healed myself from all the pain and frustration and the anger and the things I was dealing with having to be Black in this world and having to code switch and having to put these masks on, you know, outside of just our COVID masks, you know what I mean? Like the mask that I have to wear when I go and be around, you know, white folks in a white-centered space, and the higher that I elevate, I keep having to deal with more and more racism and white supremacist systems. You know what I mean? It's not easier, the higher you get. So I just talked about that whole thing, how I feel: politics, my life, the accountability that I need to have for myself, for the things that I did and my actions and my behaviors in the way that I handled my triggers and mismanaged my emotions, like straight up. That is what this album is about. It's about the healing, the healer, the nurturer, the warrior, you know, the priestess, the revolutionary. All these facets of me that I had to come back to myself and find so that I could step into my next level, being in the adolescence of my adulthood, I guess, you know?

You give us so much powerful energy. And I know that it comes at a toll for you, especially coming into — I represent, I'm a white man, I represent a largely white media organization. And I just, I just want to say, thank you, I know that that doing even the work of having this conversation and representing yourself is an uphill battle, I must say for every artist, but I think very uniquely, for women, very uniquely for Black people.

Yes, yes.

And thank you. So I just—

Thank you.

I want to put that in there. You're already dropping song titles on us and people love music. So you through code switch in, and "Codes Switch" is one of the tracks on the new record. Can you tell me a little bit about this song and maybe we'll give it a listen.

I outdid myself on this song. I will say that first. Like, I can't believe that I created something like that. You know what I mean? Like it's one of those out-of-body experiences. I remember, like the day I recorded it. I came home from a session that I was working with a commercial agency that I you know, do commercials with, and I was so hyped from the session. And I just sat down, and I started going tk-tk-tk, you know, with the cymbal, and I just kicked it off from there. And it's all these different journeys and twists and turns all the way through the song. And then I sat down to pen it, and just really thought about growing up and always knowing my purpose, like I've known who I am and what my purpose is, since I was a child. I've never questioned it. And anytime I stray off the path of it, you know, things don't go right. Let's just put it that way. When I when I walk my path, then you see the things that have been manifesting, you know, the blessings and the abundance and the opportunities that have been happening in my life, it's because I'm walking my path. And I'm honoring my truth, right? So I started talking about that, growing up and being around people that — being around a village, being around Rondo, you know, and understanding who I was, and learning who I was through the people that my mom put me around, through the, you know, through the way that my mom calculated other people pouring into me what she couldn't, and giving me different perspectives and different understandings of my artistry, letting me be free, letting me find myself. And understanding that I've always known who I am. And the world wants me to continue to come into these spaces and act a certain way and be about respectability politics, and what I'm told, I'm supposed to do through the reinforcement of me being myself all the way through school, and, you know, just growing up and understanding every time I'm myself, I get penalized for that. And how do I deal with that, because I'm still gonna be myself, and I'm gonna keep being myself. And this isn't gonna stop!

So like really trying to deal with that frustration of people trying to put me in a box, and all this stuff. And I talked through this whole song, sing this whole song, rap this whole song. And it just keeps getting higher and higher to the point where I'm getting ready to blow. And then I get free. And then I tell it like it T-I-S, like my mom would say, you know, I just I tell everything about what it's like, to have to assume another's culture, because my culture is not the standard to them. But it's the standard to me, and I need to work that out, I need to decolonize, I need to figure out how and what my standards are as a Black person. And as a person who knows my DNA now. And I know that I'm 38% Nigerian and I know I'm 75% West African and 25% Irish, so I know my history and what it is that I come from. It's all these things, everything is aligned, you know, and so that song just really is like me busting out. It's like me having a proclamation and saying yeah, I've been through something really terrible through this last year, just like you all. And, you know, I'm going through the same things you all face. And so sometimes I can't speak because I'm processing it on my feet. I don't even mean to rhyme like that. That was weird. I'm telling you, I'm, I'm in creative mode.

PaviElle is like, "Listen, I'm rapping and now that's all I do. I don't care if I'm at the grocery store. I have to just rap!" Let's get into this song. I am so excited to hear this statement in musical form. So let's check out "Code Switch" with PaviElle. Thanks for being tuned into The Current and Purple Current.

You're listening to The Current and Purple Current, and we're chatting with PaviElle. And PaviElle, you got a show coming up to celebrate the release of this new record; it's on Friday, September 17, over at Icehouse in Minneapolis. Now I know that you've done a little bit of during-the-pandemic performing, including a pretty early one at Icehouse like with zero crowd. As you start to get in front of more crowds, including at Icehouse, what have you missed not being around crowds for much of this last year?

Oh, the energy. You know? The energy, by mid-show, the way that we take the audience there, you know, and that feeling, I missed that. I missed that a whole bunch. Just the celebration of life that we give when we do our show and when I'm with the guys.


Yeah, I really do.

I'm glad you brought up "the guys." You ride really hard for your band. I think it's a big part of every vocalist's puzzle to have a band that supports them. But you know, there's some vocalists that don't even know the name of their drummer, right? They just go, "It's in C sharp! And the drummer doesn't even have to know that!" This is very different with you. You've had close to the same cast of people rolling with you for the grand majority of the last decade and beyond. Tell me about your band and why they're so central to your identity as an artist.

They are my family. You know? I've been playing for most of them for so long, they've known me since I was a kid. And so that's, you know, like me ... Tiyo and Ahanti and I were in Edupoetic Enterbrainment together. And I was 16. You know, when I first joined that group, and Ahanti and Tyler, are my family, that's my brother and my cousin. And, you know, Nick Dodd, the drummer, I've been playing with him since I was 19. Me and him started playing with Billy Holloman.

Little B3 organ nights, I'm sure?

Yes! With Big John Dickerson and all them! Yep. Johnny Hodges. Hey, we was in there. Yeah, it was, it was, it was live! You know, like, they've known me since I was a kid, and, you know, Ted Godbout, we've been playing with I think, eight years, you know, as long as the band has been this iteration. And James Towns has been with us, I think, three, four years now. So you know, like, we've been rocking together for so long. And they've been riding this, you know, this roller coaster with me of, like, the adventure of my career. And we've been just so tight and so together, that I can trust them, you know, so that I can be an artist and I can go to that space that I need to, because I know that they got me. So like, whatever happens, and you know, when I click off, and I go to that place, they know how to hold it down. You know, I don't have to worry about checking in, making sure people are not just going back to the hook and just doing whatever, you know, because I've been, you know, you've been part of that, where it's like people just play whatever, and they don't read the room or read what's going on in that we're trying to vibe right now. And they pick that kind of stuff up with me, you know, because I'm so about improv, and they just ride. You know, I think that's so integral to all musicians: that you play with people that work with you and not against you.

PaviElle and her band
PaviElle and her band. (courtesy the artist)

Well, you're lucky. You got — I mean, "lucky" is the wrong word, you got a really good band behind you. And that's a lot of your work and a lot of their work. And it's it's a really special thing to view and very, very cool that that'll be on display at Icehouse. You know, to tell you the truth PaviElle, on The Current and Purple Current, we play a fair amount of artists from St. Paul. But it's not every artist that I always backsell going, "That's the pride of St. Paul right there." But that's something I always say, when I'm playing you. And it's not just because you're from St. Paul, it's not just because you've made most of your career here in St. Paul. You've given a lot of your energy and a lot of your spirit to this city and to celebrating the city and celebrating the Rondo neighborhood in particular, and celebrating the Black community in St. Paul in particular. So as a fellow St. Paul resident, first, I just want to say thank you, because I know it's not for a check. I know you're not like "Oh, I'm gonna work hard for St. Paul," like you've, and even, we talked about your career. I don't know, maybe five years ago, and you talked about how that's a priority. The hereness, the St. Paulness, is a priority. And I'd like to hear about that in general. And and I also hope you can touch on a little work that I know that you and Tish Jones have been involved in recently, in making sure that Black people are at the center of whatever is going to happen with the Rondo neighborhood. So I'm hoping you can talk a little bit about St. Paul, but also about that work. And I know we don't want to get into it too much. It's a joint effort, but I'm just curious for the folks listening.

Um, yeah, so the Rondo community, it's everything that I am, you know what I mean? Like, and it should be historically preserved in that way. You know, and it should be looked at in that way, like, you know, those towns that they have in the East Coast, and they have all those signs and stuff for some of those old streets and, you know, places that they've preserved and things of that nature, like, I mean, it should be treated in that same type of way. And that's why I honor it so much. And I talk about it so much, because people don't understand what it was like to have a freeway ran through your neighborhood, and through the soul of in the center of your neighborhood. And then the things that happen after that, the aftereffects of having, you know, a freeway, split your neighborhood and, you know, things turning into, you know, different sects of the neighborhood and different, you know, places and socio economic standards and all this other stuff, like, people don't understand how much trauma and violence that that inflicts upon a people.

And, you know, even though there has been an atonement, in you know, words, there hasn't been an atonement in repatriation or in land or, you know, things that we lost, collectively, you know, and so that's one of the centers of my artistry because it's just one of the centers of my life because my mom and dad were activists in that community. And so that's just what I've seen and anything that my mom did for the most part, I was trying to do, too. Like she was the model, you know what I'm saying? She was the one, and so it was like, "Okay, I see my mom going up in here and making change." And just watching my mom make change. And taking the initiative along with other community members like Melvin Giles and the Giles family. And, you know, and [name], you know, or Caty Royce and David Wilde, and, you know, Julie Cruz, and like all these folks that my mom worked with throughout the community, to just make it better for the people that were there. It's like, how could you not do that? You know, or how could you not, at least use your power or your platform in however you can, you know, to tell people that we are here, you know, and we are still here, even though the neighborhood has been gentrified. You know, twice, you know, because this is not the first time; the first time was the early 90s when I was a kid. Yeah, you know, post-crack era, all that, you know, and Mississippi Market and all that stuff came. So, you know, like, things were just slowly happening all this time.

And, you know, Tish and so many others in the community, because it's quite a few co leaders involved with the Preserve Rondo effort. But we just want to make sure that the people stay at the center of whatever happens, and that it is what the people want, and what the people need. And really thinking about, is it reasonable to invest, you know, $500 million into a land bridge that is owned by the state, as opposed to investing that into the community that stands and investing that where it needs to go with the people, with the taxpayers and the citizens of that community? And those communities adjacent to it? You know, the the Frogtown, Lex Ham, East Side communities? Yeah, it's real.

It's is very real. Also very real: your doorbell rang! Do you need a minute?

It's a package.


It's a package because I got clothes coming for my gig in San Fran.

Oh, wait. A humblebrag for your gig in San Fran. What are you playing in San Francisco?

I am playing the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. I get to go play A Requiem for Zula for their annual concert, and I get to do a residency alongside Michi Wiancko. So she's going to do some co-leading with me and stuff, because you know, it's like my first residency and I get to go in and workshop the piece that we're going to do with SPCO, in January, the piece I was commissioned by the Sands family to do for their anniversary called Sands of Time. So I'm looking forward to that. I'm going to go sleep that weekend, because I'm flying out the morning after the Icehouse, the album release.

San Francisco, you are lucky because PaviElle is an absolute treasure. You cannot keep her we need her back in St. Paul because we love her. PaviElle, on the show is on the 17th. The first tune you sent The Current is a monster tune. I'm curious if the Maschine played into it because it had a little different of a groove than I've heard before from PaviElle. And also an intensity in delivery. And you've always been very frank about who you are, where you come from, and your feelings about Black liberation. This, this still feels like another level up. Before we get this tune in and say goodbye to you for the day, can you tell us a little bit about the track, "Rights"?

So "Rights," it was like the second or third track I created. And I had thought about it right around the election time, the words, you know, started forming in my head. So when I kind of went at this in January or whatever and finished it up, I created it on the Maschine. And it's like the whole track is the Maschine, and then we added, or I added, James Towns to come in and play the bass. I added a Ahanti Young to come in and play the djembe. And I added Ted Godbout come in and put some piano on it. So it could — there was just like things that I was needing to fatten up in what I was hearing, and it was so cool because I got to, like, arrange and be like, "This is what I need," and I'd just sing it or just be, you know, work it through with the musicians and stuff because I kind of work a little differently. I don't do sheet music; I don't read sheet music; I just do music. So like it was awesome to be able to get my point across and to really get what I want without being able to do music-speak like that! You know, and it's sharpening my skills for the things that I'm doing too.

But overall, I just think "Rights," for me was really about the election. It was really ... that's why I say I'm not excited and dancing in the streets because I still have the same problems of yesterday and tomorrow right in front of me. You know, ain't nothing changed. Same bag, different groceries. And so like, just as just as I said that, I just wrote it down, because I've seen all them people dancing, and all those people in the streets on the news, and just the coverage of it. And I was just like, "What are you doing?" You know, this is status quo. This was to the Democratic Party, the safe choice. And to me, it was them saying, "Well, you know, we don't have your back." And so it got me thinking, you know, like, what have you all done? Nothing, right? So you do the work of undoing the loss that empower y'all and disfranchise the marginalized, because, you know, and it seems to me now, after a 500-year fight for personal liberties and humanity and rights, those rights are ours, we have them. It's just white supremacy infringes on our rights. Right? And so I'm looking at it from that standpoint, where like, you're infringing upon what it is that that's my personal freedom. You know, you're you're infringing upon it, it's not that there's, there is nothing wrong with being who I am in this world; like, all the messages reinforced through television, and media, all these things that they tell you, as you grow up, that are anti-Black sentiment, these things are wrong. These things are not true. And I don't need to continue to tell people that I'm a human being and like that's so violent, you know, for me to have to say that. It's so stupid, you know? And I'm like, "Nah, you're just infringing on my rights. You can't give me my rights. They're mine. How does that work?"

So it's like, really those thoughts that were going on through my head as I was writing it, and that's, you know, listen to the listen to the words, I say: You have no ownership with me. You cannot give me my rights. You know? You can't continue to have this patriarchal relationship, that, you know, the government and white folks that are supremist and that feel like they have, you know, the right to oppress and the right to tell us that we have to conform and assimilate. You know, like, "No, that's for you. And you want to do that, you want to live like that? Live like that." But that's not for me, right?



You know, I'll tell you, for you to take all of that and turn it into a song is a is a really impressive step and also a valuable step because a lot of people take their medicine better in a song, you know, and getting those things through. Thank you for making this music. Thank you for getting another record out. It's called Sovereign and the release party is on Friday, September 17, over at Icehouse. PaviElle, every time I speak to you it is an honor. Every time I get to hear you crack a microphone, it is an honor. And I thank you for all the work you're doing. I thank you for all your enthusiasm, and I thank you for taking time for yourself and still making a record for us, you know, in the world when it was time to do it.

That's right. It was time you said it. It was time. Thank you.


Host - Sean McPherson
Guest - PaviElle
Producers - Sean McPherson, Luke Taylor

External Link

PaviElle - Facebook page

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