Check out our exclusive interview with Jordin Sparks on her brand new Christmas album, Cider & Hennesy!
Grammy-Award nominated singer/songwriter and actress Jordin Sparks hasn’t let the Covid-19 pandemic stop her from bringing the music. Just three months after the release of her EP Sounds Like Me, Sparks released her first-Christmas album Cider & Hennessy this past November. Sparks recently chatted with The Knockturnal about working on the album.
The Knockturnal: So, how did you come up with the title Cider and Hennessy?
Jordin Sparks: So I was trying to figure out a title, for me that has always been one of the biggest struggles of making a project. Like, people think it’s the songwriting process, or singing in the booth a million times, or all of those things, but no, it’s always finding a title for me because how do you name a project that encompasses so many things, and you have to do it in probably like six words or less. So I was trying to think about it. I came up with this list and they were all good titles, they weren’t great, but they weren’t just like, yes, okay. And I was walking into the house and I was thinking about what do I like to drink that’s like a holiday drink. And then I thought of cider. And I love to drink that. I like warm cider. I like sparkling cider. I like hard cider. Like I like all of them. So I thought about that and I was like, oh, okay, how do I how can I bring this into a title somehow? And I was like, okay, that’s a holiday drink. And then I said, okay, well, how can we spike this drink? How can we make this a little bit more turnt? And so then I was like, okay, what drink does Dana like? And he really enjoys Hennessy. And I thought, oh my gosh, that actually would probably taste really good. Some cider and Hennessy. And then I thought, okay, cider is a little bit classic and Hennessy is a little bit lit. And that’s how the album is and that’s how I am. I’m a little bit classic and a little bit turnt. And there you have it. That was the title. The song Cider & Hennessy actually came after I came up with the title of the album. So that’s actually kind of insane that it worked out that way. Usually, well for me, what I’ve noticed is that we name an album after one of the tracks that was already done and it wasn’t the case this time. So that was definitely very unexpected.
The Knockturnal: Interesting story. And so you have a special guest feature from Kenneth Paige on Cider & Hennessy song. Can you talk about how that feature came about?
Jordin Sparks: So KP, this is crazy. We’ve only known each other for about a month and a half now at this point, maybe two months. And when we met, Cider and Hennessy was the first time that we met. My husband Dana, he and I actually A&R’d this entire project. And so he’s been the one going and seeing some of the producers and talking with them while I’m home with D.J. and figuring that stuff out. We’ve really been a tag team for this entire project, and it’s been so amazing to see. But I met KP, Kenneth Paige, I met him in the studio after they had already created Cider & Hennessy, because I told Dana the title and then he went to the studio and said, hey, we need this; we need a song for this. And they came up with the beat for the song. KP came up with the chorus ‘the cider and Henny baby’ and he came up with that. And then I came in and met him. It was like, you’re super dope. This is amazing. And then I wrote my verse and then we have this song and he is really talented. He’s an incredible writer. He’s an incredible producer. And he’s a great father and he’s a really great friend. So I’m really excited about everything that we’ve got going on because I feel like there’s a lot that we can build upon in our relationship as friends and also as business colleagues and people who love to work creatively. So I’m super, super excited. But KP is awesome. He’s awesome. Don’t sleep on KP.
The Knockturnal: I love the song, it was really groovy. So with everything that’s going on with the Covid-19 pandemic, did that affect the direction of the project?
Jordin Sparks: To be honest, the project came about because Covid ended up affecting something else that I was doing, so I was to shoot a Christmas film actually back in August and things still were up in the air on guidelines and how to do it all. And I just was like, you know what, let’s put this on hold until we can get this figured out. And I was working on music for that Christmas movie. And when it got postponed and everything was put on hold, we were still in the studio. And so it was like, well, let’s just stay in the studio, keep creating and see what we can come up with. And it’s been really nice, to be honest, to be in this Christmas spirit. I’ve been in this Christmas spirit since August. It’s been nice to be able to sing about stuff like that and the spirit of Christmas and how it makes you feel happy and cheerful and joyous. And it can be a sad time for people in a stressful time for people as well. So I wanted to encompass all those different things on the project. But I definitely was not expecting to put out a Christmas album this year or even work on one. So the lockdown has definitely impacted projects. But it’s also been a blessing in disguise, not the pandemic itself. I would never wish anybody that, but being able to have the time to work on the projects without any of the normal pressures that I would prior; like if this was the last year, I would be working on an album and also still having to travel and work and do appearances and all those other things which I do miss doing. Please don’t get me wrong, but to be able to just focus on the music was really, really lovely.
The Knockturnal: And can you talk about what producers you decided to work with on the project and your selection process for that?
Jordin Sparks: There weren’t very many, actually. I had an existing relationship with Keith Harris, who is absolutely incredible. We’ve worked on a few songs over the past couple of years and he put out a project this year that I did two songs on. One of them is called Radiating and one is called Solid Gold. They’re amazing. I think you would actually really love them. But Keith, I had known for the last couple of years and so we brought him in on the project. He’s an incredible producer and Grammy Award-winner. He’s toured with the Black Eyed Peas forever and he’s been all around the world, but he’s incredible. And so it was nice to have his experience and expertise. And then the other producers that I worked with, we actually met during this year, during this time, and they are young. And so Sam Yun, KP, Smooth, Lance Tolbert, John Whitt, Sad Alex, Rami Jrade, and Elijah Blake. So there were people that I really trusted. So Elijah is just one of those artists that we’ve known each other for years and he’s one of those people that I can trust to always help me figure out a song which I truly appreciate. He’s so talented in and of himself. And so I kept his background vocals on some of the songs because his voice is incredible in his texture. And then the other producers, a lot of them, most of who I listen to I met this year, but just, it was a gut feeling, really. It’s like I meet people and then we sit for a little bit. And if I feel like it merges, like what you can bring to the table and what I bring to the table creates this beautiful harmonious, creative gift, then I want to do that. And that was basically the process. I didn’t really leave the house. And so it’s been interesting that I was able to meet safely, of course, meet some new people who really helped bring this project to life.
The Knockturnal: On your song, A Baby Changes Everything, you collaborated with Matt Bloyd. So can you tell me about how that came about?
Jordin Sparks: Actually, it’s a short story. So Matt was doing his Christmas album and he thought about me. We didn’t know each other. I did not know Matt. We didn’t even follow each other on Instagram, I don’t think. But I’m pretty sure I knew of Matt because we have a lot of the same, like friends and acquaintances. So it’s just a matter of time before we met and it happened to be this. So Matt thought of me for the project, but he didn’t have my information. And so he asked Todrick Hall, who is our mutual friend, if he would send it over to me. Todrick reached out to me, said, hey, my friend Matt has this song. There’s no pressure, but if you love it, he was wondering if you’d want to do it. And I played the demo and my jaw was on the floor. The song is just so incredibly beautiful. It just reminds me of how I felt every time I would listen to, like Celine Dion or Whitney or Mariah when they would have just beautiful power ballads, piano power ballads, just so gorgeous. And I was actually kind of like, they want me to replace this singer on the demo because she was so incredible. I had goosies all over my body listening to Matt and this beautiful woman singing on it. And I said yes. And then we got into the studio a week later and we are now in the final stages of editing the video. So it’s crazy how things happen, you know, but I will say that I’m learning when you’re open to things and you just say yes to something, you know, there’s something really beautiful on the other side. Even if it’s the unknown or it’s something that might be a little bit outside of your comfort zone, you know, there’s such a beauty saying yes and like taking that risk because something so amazing can happen. Like a Baby Changes Everything is so beautiful. I can’t wait to perform it. I’m going to perform it live one day on a stage somewhere. So hopefully we can all get it together so artists can get back on those stages and entertaining and doing what we love so people can also go and enjoy and do what they love.
The Knockturnal: We’ll be looking forward to that. And so what was the most challenging song to work on, on this project?
Jordin Sparks: The most challenging song crazily enough, was Love is Alive, we had that song written for I think probably since August, and it took us until maybe three weeks before we turned the project in that we were like, okay, this is it, we got it down. Like, we couldn’t figure out the production line originally. Oh, yeah, Garren. This lovely artist named Garren wrote on it as well as Elijah and their vocals were on it at first and with my vocals as well. And it was a really cool idea, but it ended up not working. And so then we just put my vocals on the entire song and changed the tempo of it. And that song went through a lot. It went through the ringer. It was a ballad, it was like a mid-tempo, and then it became uptempo. But we got it right. And that song, to be honest, that was my baby’s song. That was Dana’s song, that’s his baby. He never gave up on it. He was like, this song is it. I promise. So I’ve got to shout out my husband, he helped A&R the project. I’m so proud of the project and the teamwork that we put into it. But yeah, Love is Alive was the most challenging one. But it definitely turned out so great.
The Knockturnal: And can you talk about the album cover and how did you come about choosing the artwork?
Jordin Sparks: Yes, so the album cover, actually, I’m a procrastinator, so I am like, oh yeah, that’s cool. I’ve got some pictures over to do a photoshoot and because of everything going on, it’s not as easy to just be able to set stuff up like that and get the right things. Softer clothes. It’s hard to find the clothes and like, where do I get all these different things. So anyway I had done a photo shoot earlier this summer, and I bought the suit, I had the pictures because everybody needs content. And I was like, oh my gosh, okay, we’re not going to have time to do a photoshoot and edit the pictures and send you the whole thing. So I went and looked through the photos from that photoshoot from the summer and I was wearing white. It wasn’t a Christmas outfit at all, but I was wearing white. And I thought to myself, how can I do this? And somebody can probably make this look more Christmassy. And then I remembered I had reached out to this incredible illustrator whose name is Michael Trujillo, and he did my Homebody artwork cover. He illustrated a cover of me at home with like a little party and everything, and I loved it. And so I reached out to him again and I said, hey, do you think you could illustrate this for me? And we can figure out how to make them Christmassy. And so he did. He really nailed it. They’re incredible. I saw it blown up on a laptop the other day. And I just was like, okay, it’s so amazing how talented people are. So he did that. And then as far as the handwriting, that’s my dad’s handwriting. I was trying to figure out what I wanted it to look like. And they kept asking me. They were like, we need a font so we can get this done. And I didn’t want to have to look through thousands of fonts online and I didn’t want to have to pay for one either. So I just called up my dad. And I said, hey, would you mind writing this out for me? I would really appreciate it if you’d write these out. And he was like, Yeah, sure. And so all the stuff that’s written on there is my dad’s handwriting.
The Knockturnal: Very interesting. So when you think of Christmas songs, is there any song in particular that you haven’t performed yet that you like to do?
Jordin Sparks: I want to perform the ones on the album of course, but let me think. I’ve always wanted to sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel but like how Whitney Houston did her version. It was so pretty and it’s so beautiful. And I would love to be able to do that song. I’ve done All I Want For Christmas is You. I do love that song. This is going to come out of left field, but I want to do Up on the Housetop Pentatonix version, you know, the a cappella group. It’s really, really fun. And it just seems like it would be a fun song to sing on stage and sing live.
The Knockturnal: That would definitely be interesting. And so my last question to you would be, what advice would you give to other artists who want to make a truly unique Christmas holiday-themed album?
Jordin Sparks: Oh, my gosh. Well, for one I would say start early. Don’t do what I did and be like, okay, let’s make the project and then be scrambling because we have to turn it in so that it’s available for people to listen to because the holiday season really is a short season when you think about it. So I would just start early and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Christmas can be really intimidating just because the sound of it is so distinct. And I feel like if you try too hard, then people can tell. People can tell when something’s authentic or when you’re actually feeling it or when it doesn’t feel forced. It’s just something that makes you feel good. And so I would just say, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, give yourself some grace, go in and have a good time. And also, you know, talk it out, talk to your other collaborators and traitors in the room about their memories and how they feel about Christmas and how it makes them feel because, at the end of the day our stories and our memories are really, really important. And it’s a beautiful thing when you can put that feeling into a song and invoke that emotion to whoever’s listening to it on the other end. So start early. Don’t put pressure on yourself and have fun. Christmas is a fun time. And so just go in and enjoy it.