Her name is Shontelle Layne. Who is she? She’s the next big thing in music and the latest import that is about to take America by storm. Her debut album released last week features many feel good songs, but also contains messages that touch upon society through her eyes or Shontelligence, which is the title of the album. Besides her unique music style, Shontelle is a real person who is genuine and no diva. The former aspiring lawyer and college student believes in the truth and despises the fake or Plastic People who she sings about. Besides that, her childhood friend Rihanna has taken the music world by storm over the last year and now it’s her turn to show why the island girls are rocking the states and bringing warmth.
Listen to the Shontelle Layne interview:
Chris Yandek: Does this feel like this is your breakout moment?
Shontelle Layne: “(Laughs) Yes. It does. I feel really excited…really about everything that’s happening. We had a big party last night in New York. It was packed wall to wall and we had a fantastic time. It was so good. I’m thrilled right now.”
CY: Who has probably given you the most support?
SL: “Hopefully everybody. I’ve been getting really great feedback from everyone that I’ve done an interview with, every magazine, every newspaper. The reviews have been really really positive from everybody. Last night my event was presented by Hanes and Vibe. We’re getting support from corporate too. I think everyone is responding very well. Like when I go on My Space, the kids on there, they have been so…so wonderful to me. I am feeling really positive about everything that’s going on so far. Today is the first day. I am gonna keep my eye on things and see how it goes.”
CY: You go from being this aspiring lawyer, you’re in college, and now you’re one of music’s rising talents. I admire the fact you furthered your education but kept your dreams always by your side. Where did you get the mentality of I better have a backup plan if this music thing doesn’t work out?
SL: “My parents, my parents definitely. I would say my parents and my family. They’ve always instilled that in me about how important education is and how important it is to always have a backup plan or like you said, a fallback plan. It kind of always made sense to me, but they wouldn’t have let me fall by the wayside. My parents, they don’t play. I didn’t really have a choice anyway. They really wouldn’t have let me do anything else. What it was up for me to do was to prove to them that I could balance it and that I had a plan. That was always important to them. What they always said was it’s not that we don’t want you to do something or we don’t encourage you to do something. We just don’t want you to do something blindly or wild or just be crazy about it. We want you think about it and feel comfortable that you have a plan or doing it sensibly. Once they got to that point, they just let go the reigns and let me run free.”
CY: This is kind of your introduction to the music industry and world where you say here I am, this is who I am. So what should we know about you that we don’t?
SL: “I don’t know how many people know that I was almost in the army. I almost joined the army, apart from the fact that I enjoy body boarding at home in Barbados. I was almost in the army. I just had to sign the dotted line. I was cadets, which is like a sub-military organization within the high schools in Barbados. It’s actually run by the army and a lot of the kids the natural progression is to keep going through the ranks and move in straight into the army and I almost became like a commissioned officer. I was going through the training camps and everything. Then one day it was like the final thing where I was supposed to go in, sign it, and then it would be a wrap and I just couldn’t do it. I just got up in the morning and was like, dad, I don’t know. I don’t know about this. It’s a good thing I didn’t because I probably wouldn’t be doing this right now.”
CY: Yeah. Absolutely not. So what is the message you’re trying to send with Shontelligence?
SL: “It’s a very feel good album. I did write the majority of the songs on there. I really wanted to write an album that was going to be a lot of fun, real edgy, and fresh, an album that I could present to the world – some of the sounds of the Caribbean in a way that they can appreciate it. Share some of my home with people. I definitely wanted to inspire and motivate people. I would say for the most part that album is very positive and very uplifting. I felt like in these times there is a lot of dark clouds looming over us. I feel like people just want to feel happy and they need something or someone to relate to. My album addresses a lot of things that are going on in the world. I would say it’s definitely something that most people would relate to and that is definitely what I wanted to do. I think I achieved that.”
CY: Well jumping into that, Plastic People is a song where you reflect on society and say that we live in a plastic nation. Who are plastic people in particular?
SL: “Oh man, plastic people. There is a lot of plastic people.”
CY: Are they the superficial, the users, the haters, the liars?
SL: “That’s what it is. Oh yeah. Those are the plastic people, all the pretenders. The people who smile in your face, and then stab you in the back when you turn around. They’re the people who pretend that they’re something that they’re not. They’re the people who preach one thing and practice another. We know there is just so many. The plastic people are the liars like you said, the haters, all those people are plastic. That was like one of the last songs we wrote. I actually wrote that with Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers from SRP, my production company. They were really thinking about a lot of stuff and we were seeing a lot of interesting things around us and we thought we have to write this song. So many people point that song out because a lot of people understand what that’s about. There is a lot of plastic people out there. Plastic People covers everything from people who hide behind – if you just hide behind something you know what I mean? You’re just not real. There is nothing real about you. I am not gonna get deep into it, but just not being real.”
CY: I could spend an hour with you talking about this, but we don’t have an hour.
SL: “Yeah. We should write a book on it.”
CY: Well, that’s another story for another day, but someone once told me, a lot of people hide behind the mask. We’ve heard about the comparisons between you and Rihanna being from the same country, friends, but how do you feel you are different from her? What do you feel you will contribute to the music society that is not like her?
SL: “I guess I can answer that question in a sense that there is so many rappers who come from the same state or the same city and there are so many R&B singers that come from the same place. Just as an individual, their styles are so different, the delivery and the personalities. Everything that makes up who they are can be so different. In that way, Ri and I we definitely come from the same place and there are a lot of similarities as far as maybe the way we pronounce words or say certain things, the way that we speak. We’re such different girls and our music reflects that. I’ve written so much of my music. So definitely what comes out in my music is what I bring to the table.
Those are just a couple of things that separate us. As I always tell people, if you listen to our music, you’ll see that there really is a difference in the sound and in both of our music. I think both of us- we’ve really made really incredible music. I really think people are going to see that difference very soon and really grow to appreciate both of us for our similarities and our differences. The spotlight is on Barbados as I always tell people. Barbados is an island that is so small. You don’t even see a representation of Barbados on the global map. You just see a dot, the word Barbados. The fact that people are looking at Barbados right now and two other artists recently signed to major record labels from Barbados since Rihanna and myself. We’re really excited about all this stuff that’s going on.”
CY: Amazed where she is right now?
SL: “Oh man, Ri is killing it. She is worldwide right now. I feel like a proud big sister. I am so happy that just growing up and seeing her as a little girl in Barbados, a young cadet to not even knowing that she was into music to her just taking the whole music scene by storm. She owns it right now.”
CY: You got your t-shirt and she’s got her umbrella right now.
SL: “Oh yeah baby. The island girls are just trying to spread some warmth. Trying to spread some warmth and sunshine.”
CY: Why do you feel other areas of the world like the Caribbean and a country like Barbados are getting a lot of recognition right now in the music in the United States?
SL: “Maybe people just needed something fresh. I kind of think the sounds of the West Indies and Caribbean, our music has always been bubbling around. We can go back to people like Bob Marley and people like Patra. There is always someone who’s making a buzz or representative of the Caribbean, but right now I think that people really just recognize talent comes from anywhere. I think people are more open to accepting different cultures. With globalization so many barriers are being broken and basically you meet West Indians everywhere you go. Now people are exposed to their culture so they can relate to our music more than ever before. I think the more of us that come out it’s just gonna keep growing that way now as one time hip hop is playing on pop stations. Just like music of all genres is crossing over.
It’s so blurry nowadays that do you call this pop? Hip Hop? R&B? What do you call it? I think the lines are just being blurred and people are recognizing the same way an artist like Shakira can come from where she comes from and bring her vibe and her culture and people can love it. It can come from anywhere. Maybe they just love how warm we are.”
CY: I can definitely agree with that being a Floridian.
SL: “Yeah man because the islands, we’re chill. We’re laid back. We don’t like to stress. I feel like people can just like feel that vibe. People just know that we’re here to make people happy.”
CY: Way more peaceful perspective on life than many in the United States. That’s for sure. I can definitely tell you that.
CY: So now you’re here on this big stage with a lot of pressures and I feel Rihanna has handled it amazingly, but how do you avoid the downfalls of the fellow 20 something stars who have had so many troubles whether it be legal, substance abuse, or anything else?
SL: “I think luckily for me this has happened at a stage of my life where I feel like I’ve been there, done that. I have been through the whole partying thing and the whole clubbing and being very extreme. I’m kind of like I am past it. I am not sure how easy it would be for me to fall back into a lifestyle where I can easily lose myself. I think I like kinda grew up in my mind a little bit. I have a sense of where I am, where I’ve been, and where I want to be. That kind of makes things easy, but I still feel like I still really have to keep my guard up at all times because nothing is impossible. Anything can happen. I just really have to try to move forward, take each step one day at a time, and always at the end of each day just try to always take that time where I reflect on how my life is going, how the day has been, try to think of where I’ve been wrong and where I’ve been right, and just always try to stay on that positive, that positive path.
I try really hard to do that. I know it’s so easy to get caught up in so many things when you’re always surrounded but what I call the yes people when everything is yes. It’s very easy to get caught up in everything and the excitement. You kind of get dragged along so you have to be strong and kind of always find a way to pull yourself back and observe things from a few steps back instead of getting caught in the middle of it all. I really try to do that.”
CY: Yeah. It’s like what someone once said to me. You look at the end of the day and you say to yourself, am I content with everything I did today? Secondly, anyone whose got a lot of success is gonna have a lot of failures and a lot of negatives, but you need concentrate on the positives. Finally, you always have to reflect back upon what you’ve contributed to your life over the last how many months, how many years, and you say how far have I come? Where have I come from? And where am I right now?
SL: Yeah. I know. I was gonna say the way I look at life also is not only what I’ve done positive in my life, but I kind of feel like if I am not – I don’t feel good if I haven’t inspired someone for the day or motivated someone. So it’s almost like – I am the oldest of three sisters. I always kind of have this very like big sister kind of feeling about life and about people and everything I do. I know people are looking up to me so I always want to set a good example. That is one of the things that always keeps me in line other than the fact I am going to get crap from my parents forever if I ever do anything wrong. Those are some of the things that keep me on the right path. I always think about my little sisters, and how they’re looking at me, and the example I am setting for them. I just try to do the right thing all the time and stay out of trouble.”
CY: You and me both, but I am definitely not a big sister. That’s for sure. That is definitely for sure.
CY: In closing, anything you’d like to add? Anything you like to share? Anything you’d like to note?
SL: “I am just gonna say one more time, hey! This is me Shontelle. My album Shontelligence is out there. Make sure you go check it out even if you’re not sure if you want to buy it yet you can listen to the music on my MySpace page or on my website www.shontellemusic.com. There is tons of websites out there that are streaming. MySpace is even featuring the album. You can listen to the tracks all the way down from 1 to 11 and decide how you feel about it and go out there and all your support is appreciated. I’ve been getting a lot of support so far and I just want to really say thanks to everyone who has been riding the Shontelle train and helping me. I get tons of emails every day and I really…really appreciate that. That’s the stuff that gets me through every day. I just want to say thanks to everyone who has supported me and I am gonna do my best to keep your continued support.”
CY: So for Chris Yandek with Shontelle Layne, I will definitely keep that proposal for writing that book about haters one day, on my list of to do things.
SL: “(Laughs) Ah. You go. (Laughs)”
You can find out more about Shontelle Layne and her debut album Shontelligence at http://www.shontellemusic.com
You can check out her official MySpace page at