Finding A Rhythm: Tikyra Shares Her Thoughts On Gospel, Blues, And Solo Release 'No More Fear'
Southern Avenue is a Grammy-nominated Blues band hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, and they've come off a solid five years of consistent touring, but like all bands right now, they are currently having a quieter time at home. Founding member and drummer Tikyra has been working on songwriting for a number of years and finally found herself with the time and the impetus to get to grips with her inspiration to produce her first solo single, "No More Fear".
The song is bold, direct, and sonically very interesting, both alluring and challenging. As many people have agreed since its release on August 14th, "No More Fear" is a song that deserves to be heard and really encapsulates the challenges and the hope we are facing right now in the groundswell of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Tikyra recently joined us on our Tower Instagram Live show, and you can still watch that show right here, but she also kindly joined us on Tower's PULSE! to talk about her roots, her close relationship to music, how "No More Fear" came to be, and she also gives her thoughts on how people can make a difference right now by using their unique skills and abilities.
Hannah Means-Shannon: Could you tell me a little bit about your experience working with Southern Avenue on the touring you did recently?
Tikyra: Southern Avenue feels like my second family, so in a way it kind of feels like the first half of my life was kind of stationary, going to church, going to school. Then as soon as I met this group of people and we took to the road, I soon understood what hard work meant. Everyone had this mentality that we all wanted the same thing, and loved and were passionate about what we did.
Touring with Southern Avenue for the past five years feels like I have a photo album in my head that I can flip through, playing movies from it. Having my sister in the band with me has been very cool, and I feel like that set the tone for our energy together. We had that family connection and everybody else just joined in and we all glued together. We had our days where we got into arguments, and the band almost disbanded once, but overcoming those moments brought us closer together. It was the time of my life. It feels like five years was longer than that, and now that we’re home, it feels like so long ago.
HMS: That’s real time in the trenches! There’s nothing like touring to show you what musical life is really life. What tips would you give to people who haven’t been on a long tour before about how to survive and keep bringing your best?
Tikyra: Definitely take care of your body and your mental health. Don’t eat junk food, don’t eat road food. It can be easy to eat takeout and fast food, but if you can stop at a grocery, get fruit and vegetables. Definitely try to find time for yourself where you can meditate. That always helped me, being on the road. I had a system, and a few things I’d bring along with me, to normalize it and make it my space. Establish a space for yourself and try to stay away from processed food.
HMS: Thank you. That sounds very wise. Were you one of the founding members of Southern Avenue?
Tikyra: Yes, I was one of the founding members. When we met Ori [Naftali] he had transitioned from an old solo band, and he hired my sister [Tieriniii Jackson] and I to be in the solo band, but shortly afterwards, we decided to start something new. Jeremy [Powell] was always there but he wasn’t officially with us until later.
HMS: Congratulations on surviving growing pains and keeping the band together! Those early days are always hard. Can you tell us a little bit about how growing up with Church music and Gospel music influenced you, or acted as a platform that you moved forward from musically?
Tikyra: Growing up in the Church, there was always this etiquette about being a Gospel musician in a service. It’s something like the “flow of energy”, as I like to call it. You have to learn early on how to play with the room and play with the energy, for instance if the minister is up preaching, the music goes along with the storytelling or the sermon. I had to learn from a young age when to play or when not to play. But also, you’d be moved while it was going on, so it was also natural.
The church I grew up in was also always overflowing with musicians. Everyone wanted to be a drummer. Oftentimes, I’d watch my older brother play drums, but around age 9 or 10, that’s when I became more involved. There’s a certain kind of music called “Shouting Music” where the organ plays chords, and then the drums, and everyone else joins in. And it speeds up, and you have to be able to play at this fast tempo for however long people are shouting, however long people are dancing.
That, specifically, really built up my stamina for playing drums. Because the church I grew up in didn’t know much about music, the sound of the drums often had to battle the sound of the organ, the sound of the guitars, anyone who was at the microphone. I learned how to play with a lot of power through my feet, so the volume to which I can play drums is actually unnecessary! [Laughs]
But I learned a lot about controlling sound after the fact, after leaving the Church scene. In Gospel music, there’s a lot of emotion, but it’s not necessarily led by a conductor or with sheet music. It all falls naturally instead. In coming into to collaborative work, I learned a lot about dynamics, and how to speak with other musicians, and how not to overplay against other people and how to find my connection. I fell in love with the idea of settling in and creating something for other people to contribute to and add onto to. Versus everybody on a stage just making noise. Early on, it was a process of getting comfortable with each other, also. I learned how to communicate better and express myself verbally and translate that to the music.
HMS: I find that really interesting. It seems like there’s not just one single way to talk about music, within a band, or with fans. You kind of have to come up with a way of speaking that works. This is stuff that can be intuitive, but hard to verbalize. It’s so cool that you had that experience working with so many people in an improvisational setting because many young musicians, when they join a band, are not flexible in that way and they have to adapt.
Tikyra: The fact that Southern Avenue is based in Blues, which is hand-in-hand with Gospel music, and encompasses all, meant we had a lot of shared language, which made it easier to connect than if I had been joining a Heavy Metal band or a Smooth Jazz band. [Laughs]
HMS: What are some aspects of Blues that connect with you and that you appreciate?
Tikyra: I love the storytelling. Whenever you get with a group of people, you want to connect and converse, and I think that when people can be honest and vulnerable on stage, you get something that’s so magnificent versus any other genre. The music in other genres may not allow you to be so free. Blues brings out true colors and also makes it digestible and approachable. You’re on a stage, and there’s an audience, but the music breaks that barrier, and you’re just one room.
View this post on Instagram
NO MORE FEAR IS OUT NOW!🔥🔥🔥🙌🏾. Follow the link in my Bio to download the single! 💓 If you want to catch the rest of this performance, I suggest tuning into @inclusionfestival 8/21-8/23! They are pushing the message of Inclusion and Equality through music. I’m beyond excited to be apart of this.✊🏾❤️❤️ #nomorefear #yourvoicematters #inclusionfestival #tunein
HMS: That’s a wonderful description. I’m a big Blues fan. I love the relationship between Blues and early Rock and current Blues-Rock. It just keeps informing all these music traditions.
Tikyra: I love the way it’s still evolving. I think Blues is one of the few genres that still encompasses history within its sound. You get to listen to the evolution of it, but you’re confident that how many different ways you play it, Blues will always be Blues. Unlike other genres.
HMS: It’s so concentrated, it’s like whatever you add to it, it doesn’t disappear. With your solo work, do you find you’re moving into other sounds? Is that part of the reason for you to do solo work?
Tikyra: In terms of solo work, I find that I always have a lot to say. I’m the most talkative in the band, as well. But I’ve always grown up being interested in other instruments and I can express myself through them in a way that works for me. I love writing from the guitar, or writing from the bass, or writing from the drums, and put it all together to create a story. Lately, technology has given me a way to do all these things. I realized I could use these tools to build ideas.
When it comes to this single, I was in my room in a very emotional place, but I was inspired at the same time. I started to write. I usually go into my room, light a candle, close the blinds, and that’s how I get into my mode of writing. I plugged in my bass guitar and I was just singing with bass. All the sudden, the lyrics started to flow, and I just laid it all down.
At the time, I was listening to Quincy Jones, and he has this album called Back to Black. And the very first song on it inspired a feeling like grooves in my body and that I couldn’t get out. With quarantine, things have slowed down, and I’m also at the point in my life that I can take time for myself, and not be on the go constantly. It felt like the right time to release something, and also amplify the message right now. There’s a whole movement going on. The way that I’ve been contributing to this world is through music, so why not continue that in whatever way I feel?
HMS: That’s a great origin story for “No More Fear”. Had you been writing music on your own, just privately, before this time?
Tikyra: Yes, I’ve been writing songs here and there since high school, but I never really put out any music. It was just for my soul, or for my heart, I guess you could say. Lately, I’ve been writing a lot more, and I have songs that I plan to release, or put into a collaborative project. I’ve been working more like that. With Southern Avenue, I was kind of a baby, and it was a safe place to explore my creative process and find a rhythm. But today, I think I found a rhythm that works for me!
HMS: Absolutely. Because you can play multiple instruments, is it typical for you to start by thinking of one instrument, or is it different for different songs?
Tikyra: It’s definitely different for different songs. Sometimes I’ll hear the full arrangement, or the full instrumentation in my head, but I’ll pick one. If I was writing for Southern Avenue, automatically I’m writing for the drums. That’s what I hear. But I’m also a singer, so when my sister is singing, often my drums will accent what she’s singing. My brain works differently in different situations. I wouldn’t consider myself to be someone you should hire to play the guitar, or the bass guitar, on gigs, but I do understand the bass guitar enough to speak with it, with what I’m trying to say. But there aren’t really any rules when it comes to just being you. That’s what I love about writing on my own. It’s an ever-changing story. I’ll never get bored with it or run out of ideas.
HMS: That’s really cool. Would you be able to tell us a little bit about your experience of the Black Lives Matter movement in Memphis? How has the community come together there?
Tikyra: Memphis has been really amazing in the way we’ve managed to have all these protests and not have any violent situations, like the burning of buildings we’ve been seeing elsewhere. In general, Memphis has always had a tight community with social issues. There are entities who work hard behind the scenes, who often don’t get recognition, but now you see them with the megaphones. The people with the megaphones are the people who two weeks ago, or two months ago, were working with the youth on projects and things like that.
We’ve been blessed to have amazing leaders of different generations working together. There are a lot of issues in Memphis that are very blatant that we are still fighting against. We have racists owners of restaurants and businesses that still exist. Memphis has soul. It has so much that it overpowers this other stuff.
It’s just a matter or perseverance and taking part, contributing the best way you can. People may not be wanting to go to a protest, but some people have been arrested at the protest, and there’s a fund where you can donate bail money, so a lot of people have been donating. It’s amazing to see people chipping in.
We recognize changes, and when people are trying to make an effort. I think it’s important to say that we are all in this together. There’s not really a division in trying to fight for what’s right. The only division is where there’s racism and inequality. I’m very proud to come from this city and I’m very proud of the work that we’ve accomplished, and also the example that we’ve set.
Often people seem to expect one of two things from Memphis: Beale Street or crime. But Memphis is so much more than that. It’s beautiful and we have other ways than news outlets to tell our story. Shout out to Memphis.
HMS: Thank you for sharing that. I grew up in Memphis until the age of 10, but I’m out of touch with it these days, so I appreciate hearing how things are going. It’s great to hear that everyone is coming together.
Tower Records has a motto that can be written, “No Music, No Life” and “Know Music, Know Life”. How do you think that applies to you?
Tikyra: Considering that music has been all I’ve known since I was a child, it’s been my outlet and my voice, my lifeline. I feel like if it hadn’t been for music, I might have run away or something like that. I grew up in the Church, and in the South, sometimes it feels like a cult. But music was really my life, and I would look forward the music every Sunday, and specifically, to playing the drums.
It was these events that brought me excitement and joy in life. Then, when I got older, I realized that you could affect people, and touch people in the same way, not just through Gospel music, but through music in general. Then, I understood how valuable a tool that it can be. You don’t need money, you don’t even need food, to have music. No Music, No Life? If there’s not music here, I’m out. I’ll pass. [Laughs] Catch me on the next plane, or in the next universe. Wherever there’s music, that’s where I’ll be.
HMS: That’s a great answer. I grew up in the Church too, so I understand some of that.
Generally speaking, what would you say to people who want to support change right now? What should they be doing?
Tikyra: I think that they should figure out something that they are good at, that they are passionate about, and then ask themselves how they can use that to the advantage of minorities and the situation that’s going on right now. If people own businesses, can you cultivate that to amplify the message that Black Lives Matter?
Nobody is saying that everybody needs to get on their hands and knees on the pavement and lie down, but the fact that you see us doing that means, ask us, talk to us. Then figure out what you can do to amplify that message. I don’t want to tell people, “You need to do this! You need to do that!” But I find that we all contribute to this world through doing what we’re good at, and being honest about it.
HMS: Thank you. That’s a great point. I think, also, looking at where you might be, in your community, and seeing what needs might be right around you is a good idea.
Like you said, music doesn’t take a lot of money, well, help doesn’t take a lot of money. It takes you being there.
Tikyra: Yes. I think a big issue, too, is education right now. The pandemic has put people in a really tough situation. Every child does not have the same opportunity at home that they do at school. I feel like, wherever you live, if you know there are low-income areas, check and see if they are doing these “Back to School Drives”. Definitely look for those. Through the youth, investing in the youth, is one of the biggest ways to affect society. Older minds are hard to change, but the youth do.
The world is being driven by what’s social media, and everybody is online. Musicians are playing virtual live shows, and there are kids who watch those musicians and want to be musicians or Rock stars when they grow up. If they see that you’re supporting musicians, and musicians are finding their way through this, they’ll still be inspired. We just have to keep kids well taken care of and inspired, regardless of whether they are your own. Invest in the youth. That’s the bottom line.
Leave a comment