London Beck beautifully reveals the earnestness and empowerment of being vulnerable.
The Ann Arbor R&B vocalist-instrumentalist-producer and Amplify fellow openly shares a personal, emotive journey of defeating inner demons and embracing newfound strength on their latest album, The Black Satin Sessions.
“This project really showed me that it’s OK to be vulnerable and ask for help. It’s OK to use the resources that are available to you if you feel like you’re giving it your all and nothing’s really working. Even though there’s this outspoken, loud and formidable essence of London, I want people to understand there’s a softer, more thoughtful side of me,” Beck said.
“In that vulnerability, it’s OK to move toward a path of healing, and it’s OK to heal with people who have your best interests at heart. I can still encourage people and open doors for them while making space for me to have my needs met.”
Beck openly chronicles confronting dark emotional terrain while uncovering an enlightened path of self-redemption across 13 passionate, metamorphic tracks on The Black Satin Sessions. Each multi-genre track shifts, shimmies and soars over introspective lyrics, exquisite instrumentation and fiery vocals.
With Beck at the helm, listeners seamlessly absorb enchanting sonic snippets of R&B, electro pop, dance, Motown, rock, classical and folk rolled into a refreshing auditory experience.
“I had initially intended to put out two smaller EPs, one that was rock, acoustic-focused and one that had the electro vibes that people typically know me for. As we were working through this project and with the Amplify fellows, I was really thinking about my journey, and it all came together in the most beautiful, unexpected way,” said Beck, who’s also a classically trained violist.
“I decided to write and make music that’s on my heart and my mind. Once I had finished all of the music, and I listened to it, I was like ‘Wow, this really tells my story.’”
Uninvited Shadows to True North
One of Beck’s most enticing stories includes “Uninvited Shadows,” a dreamy, atmospheric exploration of the dark psyche as rotating, echoey electric strums, glistening synths and pensive bass dive beneath the surface.
They reflect, “Valley of the lost ones/Sink into a fantasy/Blurring all together/This is like a fever dream/And this is how we take it/Oscillate from beat to beat/Opposite realities.”
Everett elegantly sings, “I’ve come too far just to fall/And I’ve carried these burdens with me all my life/How can I face it all?/It’s unimaginable I curl up into a ball/Let’s get down to the meat of it/I can see the strength in it/But I won’t have a heart to commit/Until I move on and let love in again.”
“It’s a really dark, but an incredibly intimate and captivating moment. The more I listened to it, I was like, ‘I can’t touch this.’ It’s already right where it needs to be,” said Beck, who’s inspired by Nina Simone and Eartha Kitt.
“‘Uninvited Shadows’ is that slow motion descent into a blanket of darkness, and there’s that suspense of when am I gonna hit the floor. It’s like that broken glass visual in movies where everything is in slow motion, and you’re able to capture every little detail. That’s how that came about.”
Beck continues to challenge that stifling darkness on “Black Satin” as a bold lion’s roar quickly erupts into fuzzy, raw electric guitars, pounding drums, thumping bass and tingling cymbals.
They proudly sing, “Where do all the angels go when it’s lights out?/Sin so sweet (wooh)/On my tongue a dirty secret/Show me where you wanna keep it. Feel me like you’re paying the price/Hellfire with a roll of the dice/Swallow you down in black satin/Spin you around/Must be magic/Let me take you on very last ride, yeah boy/Every night/Have you die my cherry pie, ooh boy.”
“Out of all 13 tracks, ‘Black Satin’ is the most unexpected territory that I have ever gone, and I had so much fun doing it. Rock music was actually a big influence for me, and it helped me break the mold and find my own way,” Beck said.
“I always think of Tina Turner because she started out doing R&B and soul with Ike, and as soon as they split, she was like, ‘I’m going my own way.’ She made it work and became this huge international sensation because she listened to her gut.”
Beck boldly listens to their gut on the folky aspirational anthem, “True North,” as gentle acoustic plucks, vibrant electric guitars, thoughtful bass, lingering organ and calm drums envelope listeners in a warm, reassuring embrace.
They reflect, “Heard the north star call me back home/A thousand hungry echoes bouncing in my bones/And when you know, you know when the sun sets/I can say it’s real.”
Ann Arbor folk singer-songwriter Anne Erlewine joins Beck on “True North” as she adds, “I saw the north star light this path I’m on/Bury every shadow/Break me before dawn/Sounding out my truth left unsaid/ Sing my heart into my head.”
“There was the theme of I left it all in the city, and I’m making amends with everything that I’ve been afraid to deal with up until this point in my life. I’m getting ready to clear the energy so I can enter this next part with renewed sight,” Beck said.
“I wanted it to be this folky, country ballad, and I kept thinking, ‘I cannot be the only voice on this track.’ Anne had released her project, and it was so beautiful and incredible. I was like, ‘I have to get Anne on my album.’”
Amplifying The Black Satin Sessions
The Black Satin Sessions also spotlights Beck’s “True North” as a multi-instrumentalist, producer and engineer of their third full-length album. They assembled a host of talented musical collaborators, including executive producer Rod Wallace, drummer Taylor Greenshields, double bassist Dominic Kenny, violinists Meg Rohrer and Julie Zhou, violist Andrea Murray and cellist Abby Alwin, to add a mesmerizing, expansive sound to the project.
Murray and Alwin also serve as former teachers and mentors of Beck, who attended Ann Arbor Public Schools and performed in middle and high school student orchestras.
“I felt like I was a captain of a real ship, and there was something about this process that was just magical in being able to organize different times to collaborate with people. It was being able to share and show them the path to everything that I was envisioning in my head,” said Beck, who recorded The Black Satin Sessions at LNDN Row Records and Grove Studios.
Beck is the first of three Amplify fellows to release their new project this month. Last fall, Leon Speakers and Grove Studios introduced the Amplify Fellowship to provide three Black artists with 40 hours of studio time and engineering and production support for a new project.
Along with their two co-fellows, Ann Arbor chanteuse-guitarist Dani Darling and Ypsilanti R&B artist Kenyatta Rashon, Beck receives funding and assistance with artist development, performance and marketing. Each fellow also selects a local nonprofit to support during their eight-month fellowship, which runs from November to June.
“Once this first class is done it’s going to open up a lot of pathways for a lot of artists that look like us in our community. I’m so incredibly blessed and grateful and everywhere in between to be on this ride and be part of this first group to lead the way,” Beck said.
“I’m excited to see what the proceeding group of fellows will do with this opportunity. They will ask us back in whatever capacity that we can contribute. I’m looking forward to all of our projects releasing and seeing the ripples that are being made in our community.”
Beck’s The Black Satin Sessions will be followed by Rashon’s The Art of Keeping It Real on June 18 and Darling’s The Future on June 25. Beck will celebrate their album’s release with a June 18 Ann Arbor Summerfest live show, which will feature the project it in its entirety and spotlight past favorites from their growing catalog.
“This will be my very first Ann Arbor Summerfest. I’m going to be able to do this with new tools in my tool belt, and I’m going to be able to do it with fresh eyes. And I’m going to be able to make this one of the most memorable shows ever,” Beck said.