GFM recently chatted with Soul Artist Teri Tobin about her debut project Love Infinity, her beginnings in music and more. Make sure you keep it locked to emancipationradio.com for the premiere of the audio portion of this interview.

GFM: Was there any particular moment in your life that pulled you toward a career in music?

Teri Tobin:
Music has always been like breathing for me. Of course starting in church and by driving my family crazy by singing every single jingle and commercial and all of that. But as far as a career choice… I did some community, charity stuff early on as a kid and because of that it gave me the opportunity to sing background for Jefferey Osborne on one of his songs. That was my first time being in a full fledged studio: Lion’s Share Studio, the album was being produced by George Duke, I mean names that I had read on liner notes as a kid (not knowing who they were) but, you know I had heard their names before.

As I kid I didn’t realize the magnitude, only the fact that I knew who Jeffery Osborne was. I knew that my mother had listened to LTD so I had been brainwashed with that music. So to actually be able to meet him and be in the studio (I’m probably like 10 or 11 years old) they wanted a kid’s choir behind the song and we actually got to sing with his regular background singers, one was Portia Griffin and I just fell in love with it. Then of course that coupled with getting my first check… that kinda sealed the deal for me. But like I said music has always been a part of me. Even though I said back then that “I want to do this!” I didn’t know how that was going to take shape, I didn’t know all the ends and outs of it so over the years I’ve been placed in situations where I can talk to other industry people who have been in the game a long time or just kinda partner up with other songwriters and producers and have a hands-on tutorial if you will, to figure out how I was going to navigate my way through this business.

GFM: Teri you’ve done stints as a background vocalist with Chico Debarge, Mica Paris and Chante Moore among others. Now as a leader what do you look for in a background singer and what were some of the lessons that you learned while backing others?

Teri Tobin: Well at the time I used it as a training ground. I’ve been blessed to have worked with some great people who didn’t taint my experience. In other words… there are people who have worked with other people and are like “Uh I don’t ever want to do that again.” but in my case I’ve worked with some really great people. Mica Paris was like the most fun out of everybody. She wasn’t like “You’re my background singer.” or “You’re not on my level.” or anything like that. She was very encouraging. She basically said to me “You’re doing this for me now but you really need to get your own stuff together.” I’m kinda the same way (with singers who sing backup for me).

When I went to Atlanta for The International Soul Music Summit one of the singers who sang background for me there is a friend of mine and he also has an album coming out and you know he was just excited to sing backgrounds for me. You know I’m always wanting to showcase those[singers] who back me up, because some of them may have aspirations to do something beyond doing backgrounds. So I never want to place anyone in a corner musically. So when I look for a background singer I do look for people who can obviously sing it, but at the same time there’s something that comes along with them when they have their own aspirations of leading. I think people take ownership when they are really working towards something, as opposed to “Yeah I’m just going to sing backgrounds for her.” You know what I mean? I think something happens to people mentally when you have further goals. At the same time as much as I like to hang on to a background singer, I also realize that there will be a time where I’ll have to let them go and fly and let them do what they have to do. To me there’s nothing more rewarding than that, because I used to be a mentor for high school students, that’s one thing I love to see is someone achieving their own growth. That’s kinda what I look for.

Honestly, I believe mentoring did more for me than the students. People don’t realize that when mentor someone… they may go into it saying “What can I bring to them?” but the reality is there is so much they bring to you. There’s no way that you can really explain it until you’ve experienced it. On that note the artwork on my album was actually done by one of my former students. I was a mentor for Act So which is a program sponsored by the NAACP, where students get to compete in 27 categories, sorta like an Academic Olympics. So when I was living in New Jersey, I was mentoring in the Newark branch and this particular student won numerous awards and is very, very talented. So I stayed in contact with him over the years and he went to Brown… so when it came to do my album, I always said I wanted him to do some work for me I just didn’t know how or what that was going to mean. So I went to him and said this is the idea that I have, let me know if you can do it and if nothing else, it was a full circle thing to be able to have him do the artwork. Shout out to Kern Bruce he’s really a talented guy. The fact that he is one of my former students is heartwarming for me.

GFM: Tell us about the inspiration behind Love Infinity

Terri Tobin: I think naturally because of my upbringing where my mom was always listening to various artists, and of course as a kid you always think you don’t want to listen to your parent’s music. As time went on I realized how much I really loved it and it was influencing me. During that period of time I think it set the stage for what kind of music I loved and one of the artists I loved was of course Donny Hathaway. I remember hearing Donny Hathaway’s voice at a very young age and just being captivated by the soul in his voice and hearing the emotion. Granted, I wasn’t really old enough to understand the kind of love he was talking about or any of that kind of stuff. I think what struck me was his ability to communicate the emotion that he was singing about.

When I set out to do my project, not even just my project, but whenever I’m performing I want people to feel it. I don’t profess to be the best singer in the world or anything like that but I do want to communicate whatever emotion it is and especially on this project because it is Love Infinity. I don’t think there is enough love in the world right now, I think particularly in R&B we spend a lot of time on how he’s no good. Or it’s strictly about sexuality. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to be able to bring another spin to it. Something for those people that I know who have been married for years or maybe folks who have just gotten married or maybe things have fizzled out or something. To be able to celebrate what it was like when you had butterflies when you first met, you know all that kind of stuff because I think we get away from that when routine sets in, life takes over, you’ve got kids all those different things. So I really wanted to be able to be a voice for those who may have forgotten what it’s like to get nervous when that person walks into the room and all that kind of stuff.

Some people have looked at it like it’s kinda fairy-tale like, I still believe in it, I’m a hopeless romantic. Aside from that I also believe that when you put positivity out there you get it back. Some of the songs on the album when I wrote them at the time I may not have been in love, but I believed that if I wrote about this prince riding in on his horse, that he would actually come. In essence that’s essentially what has happened, you know what I mean? I really believe that when you put positivity out there it comes back. That’s not to say that I’m not going to talk about failed relationships and that kind of thing because that’s real too. But on this particular project I wanted to celebrate love and give people the opportunity to go back to the days where things were just wonderful and we didn’t get caught up in the bills are due and all that kind of stuff.

GFM: If you could line up your sound with any element in nature what would it be?

Teri Tobin: As far as nature I think the first thing that comes to mind, and… it’s kind of strange… would be wind. I say that because when you think of wind it can either blow you over or it can cool you or it can warm you. I think if I had to think of something that would be the best way to describe it. Wind can impact you in ways you weren’t expecting and at least that’s what I’m hoping to achieve.

To purchase Love Infinity go here.

Also, make sure you cast your vote for Teri in this year’s Soul Tracks Readers’ Choice Awards here.

Ivan Orr is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, and writer. A native of Charlottesville, Virginia Ivan was involved with the forming and nascent days of The Music Resource Center as its first Program Director. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Music, Ivan currently resides in Richmond, VA where he maintains an active performance and production schedule while serving as the Music Editor for Grown Folks Music, a position he has held since 2010.