It may take more than talent or luck for Terry Letman’s dream to ignite. In fact, a little divine intervention may be required.
For Letman’s big plan to play out, little Asheville has to become the next big hotbed for R&B and soul musicians. And that sounds unlikely.
Letman, a respected producer, former touring gospel singer, and a man with a fine promotional mind, is now recording under the name “Lovechilde.” He and collaborating singers Kormelo and Jemiah are about to release The Movement, an album of big-city-smooth R&B and urban pop. The record shines with an easy groove that suggests some big-bucks major-metro studio.
So give the man’s vision its due: Letman sees a day when an entire community of like-minded, urban-music makers will add their vibe to Asheville’s mostly crunchy music culture.
Right now, though, he’s just trying to get his group heard.
Mountain Xpress: “How did you, Kormelo and Jemiah first decide to record The Movement?”
Terry Letman: “Well, I run a recording studio, New Vision Studios, and I was doing some work with Kormelo’s previous group. I’d been working with Jemiah, who had been in an all-girl group that didn’t have a name. I started thinking about bringing all these other projects together, something we could do together nationally.”
MX: “I understand the album took a fairly long time to put together — more than a year from start to finish.”
TL: “We just did it one song at a time. At first, when we got together, we’d just talk about what we wanted to do, and what kind of album we wanted to put together. Even though we are individual artists, we wanted the whole thing to have a certain sound.
“It wasn’t a matter of us each having four songs to do, and rushing it to get it all done. It was more about asking each other questions, like: ‘What is this first song going to really be about?,’ and ‘Who do we really want to touch with this song?’ We spent enough time with each song to give it its own character, so that when it was finished, it had a life of its own.”
MX: “Why was that so important to you?”
TL: “Because when you listen to some albums, all of the songs sound the same. There are maybe two or three hits, and the rest of the album is filler. We didn’t want that. [This is] an eclectic album. There’s reggae-type tunes, there’s older-style R&B, there’s newer-style soul stuff.
“That was our whole perspective on the project — just to touch everybody we can …, so that everyone will have at least one song on there that they love.”
MX: “You’re aiming for mainstream national success in soul and R&B, but the area you come from is really only known nationally for its bluegrass and folk. That’s got to be a little strange, being the soul group from the Blue Ridge Mountains.”
TL: “It is, it is. But, I’ve done a little bit of everything as a producer, from working on the Asheville Mall’s jingle to working with my own gospel group, and I’ve come in contact with all kinds of music.
“The best way to get across to other audiences is to have a hint of something that they like in the music that you play. We have some hard-edged rock guitar in some of the songs, almost a little Earth, Wind & Fire feel, and I think that helps.”
MX: “What’s the biggest challenge you see in creating an R&B-friendly community in this region?”
TL: “The biggest challenge is making the rest of the world believe that it could happen, because the national perception isn’t that Asheville has a lot of great urban-R&B artists. I mean, Asheville itself is eclectic, but getting people outside of Asheville — people in California and New York, even down to Georgia and Texas — to believe that urban-R&B can come from a place like this is a challenge.
“Once you get people in these heavily populated places to realize that it can, people will go along with it, and talent will start to flock here just to see what’s going on. It’s like what happened to grunge in Seattle.”
MX: “That’s an interesting comparison.”
TL: “It could happen. Our biggest challenge, though, is getting to the buyers, getting on the radio and trying to get into the mainstream. The record companies and producers will come if we can make them notice what we’re doing. This area could become for soul and R&B the same thing that it is for bluegrass.”
MX: “What’s the next step for promoting Lovechilde, Kormelo and Jemiah?”
TL: “We’ve got a national release through our distributor for The Movement on Feb. 6, which will get us into the FYE and Borders stores, and also other mainstream retail stores.
“Until then, we’ve just been selling [albums] out of the trunks of our cars, and people are buying them. Once they hear [the record], they usually buy it. [But] we know we’re going to have national distribution, and at least we’ll be able to touch everyone through that. Until then, we’re going to be promoting ourselves in the Southeast, as money will allow.”
MX: “One of your first big gigs together will be playing for the crowd at an upcoming Asheville Altitude game. It’s a pretty big deal, really. I hear you’re even going to have some dancers from Asheville High Dance Troupe backing you up. I’ve got to ask: Are you a fan of the team?”
TL: “Yeah, I am. But, I’m not going to lie. … I haven’t been to every game.”
Terry “Lovechilde” Letman will perform with collaborators Kormelo and Jemiah at the Asheville Altitude/Columbus Riverdragons basketball game at the Asheville Civic Center on Saturday, Jan. 31. Tickets to the event range from $6-$34. For more information, call 259-5544, or visit www.protainment.com.