By Jade Solomon
Tamara Chauniece, Kasi Jones and Stacy Johnson come together to make up the soulful multi-vocal group, the Shindellas. Putting on for Nashville, Tennessee, the three ladies began their careers in the music industry by way of season 5 of NBC’s The Voice (Tamara Chauniece), singing jingles for commercials (Stacy Johnson), and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (Kasi Jones). The trio’s paths would cross when they each met the likes of Louis York a.k.a. Chuck Harmony and Claude Kelly, the multi-Grammy nominated songwriting-production duo; most esteemed for their work with artists such as Fantasia, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Brandy. With an overall take on today’s pop music, each of the ladies bring in their own unique background of vocals: Chauniece’s includes gospel, Jones’ includes jazz and Johnson’s includes reggae. Together they deliver soulful tunes of self love, empowerment, and positivity; while reminding listeners to consistently ask themselves, “Are you happy? Are you being yourself? Are you speaking up for yourself when you need to?”
How did the name The Shindellas come about?
Stacy: The Shindellas came from a made up word called Shindo. And we use that word in the studio all the time. It’s the word we use when we get super inspired and we get a great idea that moves us. It’s like getting chills up your back – it’s just that feeling. And that is what the Shindellas are named after, that’s what we want to make people feel.
You ladies are known as the “brainchild” of multi-Grammy nominated songwriting-production duo Louis York a.k.a. Chuck Harmony & Claude Kelly. How does it feel working with these musical legends? And what have you been able to learn about the craft of singing and songwriting through them?
Tamara: Working with them has been such an incredible experience. It’s been enlightening to say the least. They’ve worked with all the greats, from Rihanna to Michael Jackson to Celine Dion. We’re in great company and it gives us huge shoes to fill but we’ve done extremely well. They’ve pulled out of us all the best parts, which is great. But we’ve also challenged them and pushed them out of the box, and it’s been inspiring to watch the whole thing unfold.
You all have voices and a stage presence that is very soulful and elegant. Who are some of the musical legends that have inspired you?
Kasi: Collectively we have a set of girl groups that we really pull from: the Andrews Sisters, the Pointer Sisters, the Clark Sisters and The Supremes. And all of those groups have found ways to use everyone’s unique voice and have embodied this elegance, femininity, and power that we find really attractive.
I love the nostalgia that your stage presence and image as a group invokes. How much input or control do you all have when it comes to things like your performance outfits, music videos, and overall image as a group?
Stacy: We have a lot of control. We’re an independent group and label. So most of the ideas we have come from us and we have to make them real. We did have a lot of input in our last music video, “Fear Has No Place.” We actually edited that video ourselves. We knew exactly how we wanted to present it and present ourselves. On stage our natural personas come out and we just allow it to shine. And we push ourselves to be our best selves. Our costumes are done by Brea Stinson and she has designed our sequined jumpsuits and our neon looks. She’s just a super creative who listens to the music, and vibes with us and took it to another level with the costumes.
It seems as though the times of seeing multi vocal groups like Destiny’s Child, Jagged Edge, Boys 2 Men, or even acts like Run DMC and Salt n Pepa etc., have passed. Do you feel like the art of multi-vocal groups or its presence in mainstream Hip Hop or R&B has been lost?
Tamara: I don’t think the art has been lost but I do think the presence of multi-vocal groups has been lost a little bit, just because of the fact that the world is moving so fast and a lot of what we see and what we hear is via social media. I think it’s a matter of actually digging and finding what is out there. I’m grateful for The Shindellas because we are knocking that door down again. I don’t think the art is lost, I think it just needs to be amplified a little more.
In your NPR feature, the journalist wrote “People have tended to overlook the creative labor and performing precision it takes to not just polish a multi-voice sound and repertoire, but present a cohesive and engaging group identity.” What do you think has been the biggest challenge or struggle for you all as a group?
Kasi: I think we’ve gotten so heavily dependent on feature culture that I would assume it saves a little bit of labor for labels. Because it’s difficult taking three people with three different perspectives, and finding a way to tell an individual story as well as a collective story. Initially the hardest part was getting really vulnerable. We had to be open with one another. And that opening up process is scary – to allow yourself to be completely raw, to say â€˜this is what I care about’ and â€˜this is what I want to say.’ We coined a phrase after we went through the process of getting transparent with each other, called “show me love.” After a couple nights of going in for rehearsal and laying on the floor crying it was, “and so we love.” That was also the hardest and most rewarding part.
When I see you three ladies together, I see a group. It’s three ladies, working together, having fun, looking stunning, singing positive and uplifting messages together, whereas today a lot of the successful women that are championed in mainstream music are solo acts. And there’s also this air of “there can only be one successful female artist.” What do you all think having a group like The Shindellas, people being able to see a group like The Shindellas, says for women empowerment and just women being able to work together?
Kasi: That is what drew us all from our individual paths to join in this movement. We wanted to be the people we needed to see as little girls, and we were noticing that we have so much respect for how every artist expresses themselves but we noticed only a certain artist was being amplified. There’s a lot of stuff showing divisiveness and competition. From our own experiences, we know we have been empowered and supported by our fellow women, fellow black women. And we wanted to show people, look at this harmony, look at us, we can do it together.
Stacy: Each person in The Shindellas opens the door for someone out there to reach us. It allows people to see us differently. Each person in The Shindellas is a mirror for another person out there. It strengthens our reach.
One of your mantras as a group is, “You’re allowed to be yourself, without fear.” And it’s true you all are very unique. How do you all keep away from comparing yourselves to other musical acts or groups? How do you follow and stay confident within your path?
Tamara: One thing that has kept us focused on our own specific purpose is just conversations we have with each other. We’ve gotten so transparent about what we individually want, how we want to be perceived, what ideals are most important to us. And that’s how we’ve stayed focused. There are so many times that we’ve actually seen ideas we had come to life for other artists, but we take that as indication that we seem to be on the right path. It’s inspiring to see other artists doing their thing, it’s more inspiring than us comparing ourselves. Just us being more focused on our own purpose has kept us away from comparison. It is the thief of joy.
Stacy: I also love that the phrase opens the convo for you to think about: what is that? What does it look like when I’m being myself? It opens up the rabbit hole. Just being allowed sometimes is really powerful. It just opens the door.
Kasi: The intention is giving people permission to be their most authentic selves and I think it comes across because we’ve given each other permission to be our authentic selves as well.
You recently released your latest single “Money,” off of your upcoming album Hits that Stick Like Grits. What can we expect from this album? Will the Shindellas be stepping into any new realms? Any sounds or genres that you haven’t yet touched? Do we have an anticipated release date?
Stacy: All of the above. We’ve been exploring so many different parts of our voices, influences and are cultivating a new sound that we’ve coined as: New American Soul. We’re excited to present that to the world. It’s a melting pot of all things The Shindellas individually and collectively. It’s really our story and it’s really dope watching it manifest. We can say that the project will drop when there’s warm weather, and hopefully the world will be open.
Be sure to visit the ladies at www.theshindellas.com, where you can sign up for their email list, watch their newest music videos, and keep up with their latest releases. Their music is available for streaming or download via all digital platforms.