“I have been singing professionally since I was five,” PaviElle French says, laughing and sighing nonchalantly. And after hearing some of the tracks off her forthcoming solo debut, Fear Not, it should come as no surprise—with skills honed over the years in church choirs, slam poetry groups and spoken-word collectives, the 29-year-old soul singer is stepping into the spotlight with a batch of original songs that prove that she’s more than ready for her close-up.
Born and raised in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul, French—who goes by simply PaviElle on stage—grew up surrounded by vibrant and pulsing soul music. Both her mother and her uncle played saxophone in groups
around town (her uncle, George Young, was best known for his stint in Purple Haze), and her father was a music lover who introduced her to a wide variety of influential artists.
“There wasn’t a way in the world that I wasn’t going to become a musician,” she says, laughing. “I was raised very old school. I listened to everything from Ma Rainey to Bessie Smith to Lena Horne, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd.” With her new album, Fear Not, French says she intends pay tribute to the rich history of black soul music and honor the traditions that were so deeply instilled in her by her upbringing. “With the millennials, that black soul music appreciation seems to be gone,” she wrote recently
on her website, and speaking over the phone she expands on that thought: “Everything is so electronic now, and so mass produced. And it has been since the 1980s,” she says. “You know how they say ‘video killed the radio star?’ Well once everything became so electronic, soul music changed. Whereas before, people had to form a band and sit down and hone a craft and be great, now somebody can go out on stage alone with a computer.”
French recorded her album at Bellows Studio in downtown St. Paul, not far from the Rondo neighborhood that she calls home (“that neighborhood made me, broke me, taught me, and saved me,” she says), and teamed up with bassist and producer Casey O’Brien to flesh out her songs and put them to tape. The resulting songs stand in sharp contrast to much of today’s neo-soul music; rather than try to dazzle the listener with flashy hooks or showy vocal runs, PaviElle draws her audience in close to create an intimate, warm, and emotional experience, her voice unspooling one slow-burning and expressive line after another. “I want you to take this spiritual ride with me,” French says.[apmaudio id=”/minnesota/the_current/local_current/2014/01/21/pavielle_be_right_there”]PaviElle, “Be Right There”[/apmaudio]
PaviElle will launch a Kickstarter soon to help fund the release of Fear Not, and she expects it to be out in the spring of 2014. For now, you can buy her new single on Bandcamp and see her perform live on Friday, January 24 at the Pillsbury House and on the third Wednesday of every month at Icehouse beginning February 19.