It was very apparent when I was interviewing Tracy Cruz that she is an artist concerned with the purpose of music as a healing force to unite humanity. She is grounded, humble and quite simply: talented. At the end of our interview please check out the video for “Love’s Galaxy”. Also, Tracy’s latest project Universoul Symphony is out now and I encourage you to pick up a copy here. And without any further adieu…

GFM: I wanted to start by asking you to take us back to the beginning when you started taking voice lessons… and specifically your experience with participating in vocal competitions, I wanted to hear from you your thoughts on getting a solid musical foundation and how does the experience of competing from a young age impact you today?

TC: My mom really encouraged me to take vocal lessons, my mom and my grandma both loved to sing and they really encouraged me to pursue my passion for singing. I had met with a vocal coach Greg Farbizio at Darrell Leffler’s Academy of Music who I met when I was 12 and from there on he taught me the basics of singing and helped me to develop my style. I told him that I always loved R&B/Soul music so, he taught me a little bit of classical music and musical theater but then we really focused on R&B/Soul because he knew I really loved it.

My mom and my vocal coach encouraged me to go outside the studio and they really allowed to express myself in a different way, a way that I could interact with people. That interaction helped me to build a lot of sensitivity to musical expression. I was really able to dig into the essence of the songs that I was singing and tap into that really sensitive core and take that with me when I perform and share that on stage. I use that to try to interact with people, inspire people, move people and make them cry. I think taking vocal lessons and being in vocal competitions allowed me to have a better foundation. It allowed me to believe in my self more, I was very shy.

It also allowed me to branch out more and be more brave as far as expression. The wonderful thing is my former vocal coach had hired me to be a vocal coach as well so now I’m teaching the youth. I focus on children and teens, I’m now able to share my experiences with them, helping them to build their self-confidence and encouraging them. I always say singing takes a lot of courage, but if you just wrap yourself in the song and become one with the song and connect with people, that is the most important thing you could do. You could have a great voice but if you don’t have the ability to connect with people, what is the purpose? What is the use? It’s so beautiful to see you children and adults so passionate about music, it becomes really ingrained in their system, we really are helping them build their self-esteem.

GFM: Let’s talk a little about your influences

TC: There’s so many… I would say Jill Scott, I love all her albums, her songwriting really inspires me it’s very poetic, very truthful, very sentimental, romantic. I love her stage presence it’s very welcoming, you know like when you watch her onstage it’s like “Hey, we’re family!” “Come join me!” you can sit back and relax and have a good time and it’s like you’re talking to your sister. Like a family member. I really love Jill Scott and how she’s influenced by Hip Hop and she puts that into R&B and Soul music.

I love Ledisi cause she’s an amazing vocalist, she has great control, she’s a beast! She’s incredible, she has a huge vocal range and she sings with effortless mastery with her vocals. I love her stage presence she’s so energetic. She has so much enthusiasm when she performs, just a great performer and a great vocalist.

Stevie Wonder for his musical arrangements and of course his songwriting. Timeless music, I love his style of writing and his lyrics are so intricate, so deep when you read them line by line it’s like poetry. There’s just so many but if I had to choose, I would choose those three.

GFM: Could you share with us your thoughts on the power and importance of lyrics?

TC: As far as writing, I definitely get inspired by my everyday experiences… sometimes I get inspiration from stress or pain or frustration I release that through writing. Of course I get inspiration from God and my family and my children. When I think about just the blessing that I have in life, I do wanna put that down on paper and tell people “Hey, you know sometimes life gets really hard and I know you wanna give up.”

If you really take a moment everyday and reflect on everything you have we’re really blessed. Even if it’s really simple things, just the blessing of waking up every single day and taking another breath that’s a blessing. I really want to share my experiences with a lot of truth. I want to encourage people. I want my music to be very therapeutic a sort of medicine for the heart: Like if you’re hurting I want my music to make you feel better, to heal you of your pain and your sorrow. I really want to do that with my music, that’s my mission.

GFM: Wanted to switch gears a little bit and ask you about your partnership with your husband(Allen Ross) not only in life but in music as well.

TC: My husband and I as far as collaborating musically… I think our music can speak so much truth because we’re really close to each other. Like I said we create music from our own personal experiences and that definitely reflects on the compositions that we create. Working with each other… it’s fun but it can be challenging at times because we do have our differences. Sometimes he may say “Oh you need to sing softer!” and I’ll say “No I want to sing loud the whole entire time!” “I wanna belt because I’m small.”

I have to redeem myself because I’m really short. But then he encourages me by saying “You have to show the different styles of your vocal.” Sometimes I don’t wanna do it, but as we look at the songs as whole I come to realize the each song does call for a different vocal styling. You have to adapt to that[style changes] it just brings so much color into the music when you do that; you don’t want to sound the same every single time. You don’t want your music to have the same feel every single time. But I respect that when he reminds me to do that.

Also, the challenge is, as you know they always say don’t mix business with pleasure, and you know sometimes we’re creating and we get really sensitive, so we have to find a balance between family life, married life and business. We can’t intertwine our family life, married life and business because it shouldn’t go hand in hand. When you do that it strips the beauty of the marriage and the family life. You don’t want it to become so mechanical where all you do is business, business, business and you neglect spending time with your family, spending time with your husband, spending time with your children. I think the importance of balancing the two [family and business] is that you separate them at all times. But like I said creating music with my husband is such an amazing journey and I really feel blessed to do something that I love with the person that I love.

GFM: As an independent artist what are some of the biggest challenges that you have identified?

TC: I would say the biggest challenge in being an independent artist is having to do everything yourself. Whether it’s booking your shows, promoting your music online, trying to reach out to different parts of the world and telling people about your music. Also, the funding too: trying to promote your music takes hundreds and thousands of dollars, which we do not have, that’s a huge challenge. Also, if you work a fulltime job and you’re trying to pursue a music career, pursuing a music career is a fulltime job in itself.

I would say that the biggest challenge really is trying to do everything yourself with lack of funding. If you have a family, if you have a fulltime job it’s really hard. With my husband and I doing everything, even doing the simplest things like mailing out CD’s and doing the admin work as far as emailing people and making sure we’re on top of the people we need to contact, there’s just a million things to do everyday it ‘s very time consuming.

GFM: Tell us a little bit about the concept behind the new album Universoul Symphony.

TC: The concept for Universoul Symphony is basically saying that music is a universal language that everyone can understand through their heart. Universoul Symphony is inspired by the different sounds of the world. Whether it’s the Symphonies of Europe, the Passionate Ballads of the Philippines, the Soul of the South, the Basslines of Motown we pretty much merged all of our influences around the world and fuse it in a specific sound. Also, Universoul Symphony if you abbreviate it is US. So it’s US: it’s you, it’s me, it’s US. The concept is basically a celebration of life for music. Music can unite us, it can inspire us, it moves us, it motivates us. It’s so powerful: a musical life celebration for the whole universe.

GFM: If you could describe the sound of a Tracy Cruz Production by using an element, what would that element be?

TC: I would say water. My music is really inspired by life and water is essential to our survival. I think my music stems from the natural elements and the natural emotions of all human beings: you know whether it’s love, pain, hope, calm, just different emotions. I feel water is as essential as music because music allows us to get through the hard times and I hope my music can do that for others.

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.