I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m a music reviewer. I simply like and appreciate quality music that’s soulful, timeless, inspirational and that I can vibe to. Texas-born neo-soul, singer-songwriter Dionne delivers just that in her upcoming CD, Unrealistic, which debuts this summer.
Dionne is a classically-trained graduate of the Arts Magnet School in Dallas, an institution known best for cultivating such musical acts as Erykah Badu, Norah Jones and Kirk Whalum. With hopes to continue a legacy of soul music, she follows in the footsteps of her musical inspirations Anita Baker, Regina Belle, and India.Arie.
The Career Pioneer gets the inside scoop on this budding artist’s career as she bares all on overcoming doubt and her ultimate ‘Aha’ moment.
The following are excerpts from a recent interview.
The Career Pioneer: Take me on the journey that has brought you here. Your story. You, in a lot of ways, have changed careers going from a more traditional job — what many might consider a secure career in nonprofit education — to a profession that can be so uncertain. What was the impetus behind you saying, “I’m going to go for it and I’m not looking back.”
Dionne: It’s a very emotional story. Wow. Cause it’s so fresh too. It’s like right now and I’m explaining it to you.
I put something on Facebook recently about my last day at my previous job, packing up the office. And how I went through the vision I had written down for Interstages, not knowing it would be Interstages, but what I wanted in a job. I specified things I wanted even though it was a crazy list. And the last sentence in that post is that “The job found me.” I really feel like it found me.
The major factor that helped me to decide was that I worked so hard while I was at Interstages. I worked like I was in college. In college, I was up at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. Whatever it took to do my best. That’s what it took at Interstages. I never thought I’d work that hard in my life. And I didn’t want to. I told myself: “I’m working this hard now so that later I can chill!”
Since my major [in college] was education, I did want to teach. My original plan was to be a principal. That was the plan, then I realized that I wouldn’t be able to deal with the bureaucracy. I wanted a position that combined the arts and academics and allowed me to be in a leadership role as well as be a model for staff. I felt [Interstages] was really perfect. It was right on time for what I wanted to be doing. It was right on time for my desire to lead and the type of leadership that I was looking for.
The Career Pioneer: So you were at, what seemed to be, your ‘perfect’ job. At what point did you realize it was time to make a change? What was your ‘Aha’ moment?
Dionne: This was one of the moments that was a forced ‘Aha.’ One of my students was in the car with me and I was taking her home, which was something I did alot. I was singing like I always do. If they want to talk — cool — but, if they’re not talking I’m singing. So I’m singing and I get to her house and the car stops, and she says, ”Ms. Dionne, what are you doing?” I said, ”What do you mean? What are you talking about?” [Pause.] ”What are you doing at Interstages, Ms. Dionne?” she asked.
The Career Pioneer: How did you internalize that to mean you needed to leave that job to launch a music career as a performing artist?
Dionne: It didn’t necessarily mean that for me when she said it, but I knew that’s what she meant. That’s the message we wanted to give our students — it’s about strengthening and developing their skills and talents, and heightening their awareness. Pushing them towards what they want to do. Then she’s like, “What are you doing?” Something told me that was a pivotal moment. I didn’t know what it meant. But it meant something.
The Career Pioneer: Then what happened?
Dionne: That was probably two years ago. A year after that conversation, it started to sink in. And it became ‘what are you doing about it?’ At that time, my demo might have been finished, but I hadn’t decided what to do with it. I knew I wanted to complete that project, but beyond that I hadn’t decided what I wanted to do with the demo.
The Career Pioneer: What was your reason for recording a demo? You obviously somewhere in your life thought, at least subconsciously, to pursue a music career at some level. What was the purpose of the demo?
Dionne: In 2007, I was going through a very difficult time in my personal life. And I knew that I wanted to sing. I knew that I needed to experiment with it. In 2003, I had gotten married. But my ex-husband was pursuing his music and I was supporting [him]. I made a conscious decision that I was going to sing backup. And then when his career would get to a certain point, then I’d do my thing. But that was a very conscious decision on my part.
In 2007, after the marriage had ended, I had some time on my hands and I really needed to see what I could do with lyrics. After all, I wrote in my high school newspaper. I majored in English in college. So writing was always a part of me, but I would never finish a song. I wanted to find out if I could write and if I could finish a song. That’s why I decided to record the demo.
The first song I finished in two weeks. But the entire process took 6 months. My motivation kept waning. It just had not become a priority yet.
The Career Pioneer: In your song “Move,” you talk about facing doubts, which I’m sure many professionals in any industry can relate to. Do you face self-doubt? How do you deal with it?
Dionne: I’ve definitely felt doubts. One of the major things is just the timing of this. I’m not 21. And I’m like “Hmm, who else do I know who’s done this?” I knew Jill Scott and her story. I also knew Anita Baker. She had been singing for a long time. And had a lot of success with the group that she was in, but the masses didn’t really hear about her until she was, I believe, 29. I think that’s when her first album came out.
I use those stories to help keep me focused and to help me understand what mattered. The doubts definitely came, and I think that’s where “Move” came from. “Move” is really talking to me. “Keep moving girl, you can’t stop!” So that’s where it came from. It was the last song created for the album. And I felt like I needed a push.
The Career Pioneer: What would you like your listeners to come away with when they listen to Unrealistic?
Dionne: The best thing people can say to me is that they are inspired and that they are inspired to do something that they would not have done before. If it’s the thing that pushes you over, then the victory is there. Mission is accomplished. That’s what I hope.
Being more authentic is something I strive to do every day. And I hope that the music reflects that. I also want people to be able to step back and see God.
The Career Pioneer: What advice do you have for someone who feels they’re at a roadblock and who feels they can do more with their life, but are having difficulty moving forward?
Dionne: To be still. And write it down. I’m a writer so that makes a whole lot of sense for me. But for some people that aren’t writers, that’s not how they process things, and that may not work [for them].
The answers are within. The answers to every question we ever want to know is within us. And I think it’s about being still, being quiet, and figuring out what that is. But there’s a difference between being still and doing nothing.
Also, allow the answers to float up. What’s really hard is when you know what it is, to take a step. Fear is in the way. Being a full-time artist now, it’s still scary. The mortgage still needs to be paid. There’s a different level of trust that I need to go to.