Exenia (ek-SEN-ya) is a singer/songwriter and dancer/choreographer based in NYC.
Neo2soul met up with Exenia to discuss the new EP “5 Sides” as well many other areas of her career to date.
Can you tell the readers a bit more about you?
I’m originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, and I have been a dancer all my life. My mother has been teaching ballroom dance for over 35 years.
Growing up dancing so much – from ballroom to salsa, hustle, hip hop, contemporary, west coast swing, etc. – I heard and learned to appreciate all kinds of music. I moved to New York City almost five years ago to pursue my goals and dreams.
When did you know that you could do this for a career, and who gave you the push to get here?
I always wanted to leave the midwest for the “big city.” I watched my mother hustle really hard as a dance teacher, but she was able to do what she loved because of it.
She encouraged me to believe I could do anything. When I was 12 years old, I felt very strongly that I wanted to sing and dance for the rest of my life. I’m not where I want to be yet but I’m working on it!
Who were your first musical influences that you can remember?
I heard a lot of latin music as a kid… Frank Sinatra, standards too… just being in the dance studio. I loved swing music, blues and jazz. Mariah Carey, Whitney, and Celine Dion – vocal powerhouses – were huge stars when I was a kid. I loved hip hop and r&b and that was my favorite style to listen to in terms of “popular” music when I was young and clicking radio buttons. I loved anything funky and groovy. I also started imitating Michael Jackson very young.
Exenia – “Smile” Acapella Cover
How would you describe the music that you make? I know it’s hard to compare yourself to other artists and styles, but what kind of vibe is your music on?
I have gotten some really great comparisons to people like Alicia Keys, India.Arie, and Sade so far. I listened to a lot of Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Prince, Maxwell, Eric Benet, and Jill Scott the year before I made this EP, so you can definitely hear those influences in there. I would describe the music as r&b/soul/pop, and those are broad umbrella terms but you hear touches of each of those things on the record. I would also say it sounds “sweet.” It has a lightness, a femininity and a softness about it. It’s also sexy, intelligent, and very groove-oriented.
About how long did it take to put together?
The EP actually took a long time from start to finish. I started writing most of the songs in the spring of 2012, and we began recording in May of that year. Jesse Fischer – my producer, engineer and main collaborator – was very busy and so was I, because I was going to college full-time, so we had to fit in sessions whenever we could.
But he was incredibly helpful and accommodating, as were the other musicians I chose to work with. The record was finally mastered in the Spring of 2013, just before I graduated from college. But I had to take more time to build my confidence, also to get the money together to do the photo shoot for the cover, etc.
I finally did a Kickstarter this past spring to raise the fees necessary to put the record out independently. So technically, it was created in about a year, but it took 2 years to release it so people could hear it. I would have liked to have moved faster… especially because I’ve been changing and evolving as an artist so much since I recorded it.
But it is tough to do everything yourself, independently, with no label support, and I feel proud of myself for doing things that way, maintaining my agency and ownership of my work, and I have faith that the timing was for the best. It’s all good – and I am just so happy it’s out now! I love watching things unfold as more people hear it, and I can’t wait to find more career opportunities to do more things, and in due time, release a full-length album.
Exenia – Cover of “Rocket” by Beyonce
How many of these songs are written about your own personal experiences?
All of them. The EP is called “5 Sides” because we refer to songs as “sides” in music, but also because it is like 5 sides of my personality and my experience.
Studio work or performing live, which of these do you prefer most and why?
I like them both for different reasons. Studio work is so detailed, like a fine art, and you explore and develop yourself in that process.
But performing live, I feel alive in a different way, and I love the energy of being on stage so much! I love to create things on the spot, dance, and entertain people.
Which aspect of being an independent artist and the music making process excites you most and which aspect discourages you most?
I am most encouraged by the positive responses I have received from people who have worked with me and heard the music, and by the creative freedom of doing things independently.
I love creative collaborations that just feel “right,” too. I am most discouraged by… I guess how slow things can be. There are definitely periods when you are doing things on your own where not much is happening or you feel like you are waiting around. It is hard sometimes to stay excited when things slow down, but the creative process has an ebb and flow where that is going to happen. I love music so much, and I’ve had such big dreams since I was a kid, so I often feel like I want to get where I am going “NOW! Right now!”… But anything worth doing requires patience.
Exenia – Crazy For You by Adele (Cover)
If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be and why?
I would love to work with Timbaland. I think he has a really unique sound and as a dancer I am drawn to the intricacy of his sonic palette. This record is so acoustic and band-oriented, but I aspire to do some more with electronic sounds and a pop aesthetic as well. I would also love to collaborate with Prince… that would be a dream.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Putting out my debut EP! Definitely!
So what does the future hold for you as an artist? Have you got any big plans that you can tell us about before you go?
I plan to bring the music to life through dance at some point… and I want all of you watching that when it happens. I’m seeking the right connections to make my next moves right now.
Where can We find You?
You can find me at my website and Tumblr blog at http://www.exeniamusic.com, and you can follow me on Twitter, FB, Youtube, and Instagram @ExeniaMusic as well. You can get your copy of the EP at http://www.exenia.bandcamp.com
Exenia – Latch (Sam Smith)
CLICK PHOTO TO BUY Exenia 5 Sides – EP