Barbadian songbird Shontelle talks about her breakthrough experience. No time for gravity: on the grind 24/7. While she admits it could feel like “breathing under water” at times, homegrown songstress and songwriter extraordinaire, Shontelle Layne, is doing what it takes to make it to the peak of the pop music industry.
Happily relaxing at her St. James home for just over a week now, Shontelle reports she has easily returned to island time, clocking a heavy rotation of the beach, friends and family before she leaves on January 9 (to ensure she can be in Barbados for her mother Beverley Layne’s birthday the day before) to jump back into the heat of the hustle.
She reveals plans of a repackaged No Gravity, which features the smash single Impossible, a possible image tweak and more touring to expose as many people to her talent. But to achieve the dream, the hours are long and the schedule is longer.
“My schedule was so hectic that there were times that I would not hear my mother for like, two weeks, because I would just be on the go all the time. [My family] would be a bit upset that in order for them to keep up with me they would have to follow me on Twitter or Facebook to see where I was going. But once they saw my schedule, that anger and disappointment would turn into concern, and my mother would message me to ask me if I ate, and [find out] when was the last time I slept,” she tells Barbados TODAY via a recent telephone interview.
And this year was a perfect example. “It has been so crazy for me! Impossible has been doing really well on the Billboard charts, so I have been busy with touring and gigs, and we are also preparing to launch some boots with Caterpillar soon, so I had some photo shoots to do for that, and I recently came back from Malaysia doing some work with the Guess campaign.”
And as a true testament to her warm personality, Shontelle also makes time to perform at various charity events, including Mary J. Blige’s Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now, which assists underprivileged black women. “I feel as though if you are in a position to help someone, you should do it, because if you were in that position, you would want others to help you,” she states matter-of-factly.
The 25-year-old burst onto the US pop scene, ‘with nothing but a T-shirt on’ and bearing Shontelligence, released in 2008. The song made the Billboard pop charts, reaching the top 10 spot in the United Kingdom. She is still reeling from a solid year of touring in 2009, where she was an opening act for 90′s boy band New Kids on the Block and followed it up closely with Beyonce’s with the UK leg of Beyonc√’s I Am… tour from May to June.
While the New Kids on the Block tour was her first real taste of being on the road, touring with Beyonc√ last summer jolted her into the realities of super-mega stardom.
“All those people were there to see Beyonce, not me. It was not like a club gig, or 1,000 people, it was 50,000 people in a large arena, and they are screaming and wanting to see Beyonc√, and I had to perform right before her,” she recalls.
“Beyonce had a whole production with lighting and everything, but it was just me with just my two back up dancers. A lot of them did not know or care who I was, there was just there because Beyonce was in their city and they had to see the queen. Others would have known me, so it was about winning over those Beyonce fans, and proving myself to the fans I already had, and I was able to do that.
“I remember times where people would come up to me and ask for an autograph or a picture, and I was like, ‘wow, Beyonc√, who is like one of the biggest artistes on the planet is headlining this tour, and they want a picture with me? I was shocked and moved by that.”
And it was her ‘Colour-ful’ roots that helped her rock crowds the world over and impress Ms. Crazy in Love herself.
“Performing in the Caribbean with Natahlee and TC and other artistes really helped me, because we perform different to Americans. We in the Caribbean like to move the crowd and interact with them. [American] artistes like a production and I am grateful for that experience. I was able to get them to pay attention to me, and I gained some fans as a result of that tour…
“People in my camp would often tell me that when I really get into my performance the Bajan in me would come out…,” she adds with a giggle. Her cadet background also provided her with a steady foundation. “Cadets moulded my headstrong nature and not only taught me leadership and discipline qualities, but it helped me to learn that actions have consequences, and to be physically and mentally stronger, because we had to walk with 10 pound bags with food and supplies in it and trekking up a hill, we had to be strong,” she said.
“It also taught us to push through obstacles and functioning under pressure. That’s probably why Rih (what she calls Rihanna) can deal with her schedule, which is so much more hectic than mine.”
As was often publicised in the American media, Shontelle was a sergeant when Rihanna was a cadet. “A reporter asked me if I ever gave Rihanna push-ups, and it so happened that she was in a group of cadets that I ended up having to give push-ups to at a camp one time, but that was a normal part of cadets! Do you know how many push-ups I had to do?”
She also gained a fan in Beyonc√ while on the tour. “Many times on tour, the artistes do not see each other because we never have to cross paths. Sometimes our dressing rooms are on different sides of the arena and when I am on, they are preparing to come on stage and when they come off its off to the hotel or the tour bus,” Shontelle began.
“But one time after a show, her manager came to my manager to ask if I wanted to go hang out with Beyonce, and of course I was like yes!” she said with a laugh. “I was so afraid, that I couldn’t even go into her, and I literally had to be pushed inside and I almost tripped in my first meeting with Beyonce! I just stood there and she was like ‘I don’t bite you know’ and asked me to sit with her. She told me that while she was getting ready she could hear my performance, and she was impressed with me, ’cause I was ‘killing them’ (which is a great thing). It meant so much to hear that from her… because I looked up to her so much, and she is the queen. I grew up listening to Destiny’s Child, and she is a superstar right now.”
They have spoken to each other since the tour, and Beyonce has encouraged her on her musical journey. Shontelle was also glad for the experience, because she had made little friends among the stars. “Making true friends out there is hard, and I really missed my family. I wouldn’t hear from my mother, and sometimes I would almost forget my father’s birthday. One of my sisters was doing exams and I wasn’t there to help her and those things made me depressed.”
Shontelle also admits to becoming a bit jaded by the touring. “At first the travelling and seeing new places was really fun, but then it becomes a routine. After a while, its like all you can do is go in the hotel, perform and leave. Sometimes I get back to the hotel at 3 and the call time to leave is 5, and that means no sleep.”
Shontelle says that she has found solace in her fellow Barbadian artistes, some of whom, like Rihanna and Hal Linton, are SRP label mates. “Rih and I talk when we can, and she would play my songs for her friends and encourage them to check me out, and I am grateful for that. We had similar experiences in life and we came up in music around the same time, and I am really proud to see how she has grown in the business.”
Sometimes Jaicko and I would be on the same show, but not Hal so much because his music is different demographic, but we would still collaborate in songwriting.” Speaking of songwriting, Shontelle co-wrote Man Down on Rihanna’s Loud album.
She asserts that she does not feel slighted by local media by the fact that Rihanna’s achievements are often highly publicised, while Barbadians hear less about her or other Barbadian-born artistes like Hal Linton, Jaicko, Livvi Franc and Vita Chambers.
“I don’t feel as though people here are slighting me and bigging up Rihanna. In my opinion, when I do something big, people everywhere are going to talk about it… I can’t focus on what everyone says about me, my focus must always be the fans and keeping them interested and happy,” she clearly states.
“Sometimes I would end up in People or US Weekly and someone would have to tell me, because I don’t pay attention to those things.” “I am also enjoying the fact that I am not being followed everywhere I go, because you feel as you can live and if I am to get where I want to be, it is going to happen, so I will enjoy this life while it lasts… When my fans are demanding to know what is going on with me, they will send a message to the bloggers and ask them why they don’t see me on their blogs, and they will have to respond to the need.”
Article written by by Leigh-Ann Worrell.