Lucy Pearl Singer: Group's Eclecticism Comes Naturally

Supergroup's Dawn Robinson, formerly of En Vogue, says, 'Whatever worked, we used.'

For Lucy Pearl singer Dawn Robinson, the diverse sound of the supergroup's self-titled debut — released Tuesday (May 23) — is more a result of the trio's personalities than a premeditated effort to mix genres.

"The eclecticism was not purposeful," Robinson said from a Los Angeles rehearsal hall. "We would just go into the studio and throw ideas around, and whatever worked, we used."

Each member of Lucy Pearl came into the group with a well-established musical identity. Robinson was a member of En Vogue, whose radio-friendly, girl-group sound set the tone for such current superstars as Destiny's Child and TLC. Rafael Saadiq was a founding member of R&B group Tony Toni Toné, who themselves blended old- and new-school styles into their own sound. And Ali Shaheed Muhammad dabbled in jazz and rock with hip-hop innovators A Tribe Called Quest in the early 1990s.

While each member had strong musical ideas, Robinson said they were equally open to each other's suggestions. "It was fun and very free," Robinson, 31, said of the recording sessions. "If something didn't work, we just moved on. There were no hurt feelings, there was no jockeying for position."

Lucy Pearl includes the group's first single, "Dance Tonight" (RealAudio excerpt), which appeared on the "Love and Basketball" movie soundtrack. The album also features the lighthearted "LaLa" and "Hollywood" (RealAudio excerpt), a straight-ahead rock track.

Opting For Creative Control

Robinson, who left En Vogue in 1997, was working on her first solo album when Saadiq and Muhammad approached her about working together. Though she was close to signing a deal with a major label, Robinson said joining Lucy Pearl offered her a chance to experiment.

"My album was about 70 percent done," she said. "But I just decided Lucy Pearl would be a better way to go, rather than getting back into the corporate scene." Lucy Pearl is on Saadiq's own Pookie label.

Robinson said she wanted the album to reflect a sensibility akin to alternative rock, and she thinks "Can't Stand Your Mother" (RealAudio excerpt) displays an irreverence not found in contemporary R&B. In fact, she said En Vogue had a chance to record the song once, but one of the group members felt it would be offensive to her mother-in-law. Robinson thinks a sense of humor is something too many R&B groups lack.

"Alternative music has a lot more fun," she said. "I think ["Can't Stand Your Mother"] is hilarious. "My mom heard it and said, 'You know, I think some of the stuff in there is about me.' I said, 'You know, you're right!' "

Robinson also decries the lack of imagination in current R&B.

"I don't know if people are just not inspired to do something different or to venture out into something new," she said. "Maybe they're worried about R&B fans thinking they're selling out if they do something alternative."

She said she can't help but wonder how radio and fans will respond to "Hollywood" because of its heavy rock guitars. But she's gone down that road before.

"Even with En Vogue, when we did 'Free Your Mind,' R&B stations didn't want to play it because it was too rock 'n' roll," she said. "I was like, 'What's the big deal?' You should try new things. Why not experiment?"

En Vogue Disc Makes Own Debut

En Vogue release their Masterpiece Theater CD on Tuesday, and Robinson said that album's sound reaffirms her decision to leave the group — whose members she's not in touch with. "That was not an amicable breakup," Robinson said.

While Robinson and En Vogue may not be talking to each other, En Vogue's Maxine Jones said she wishes her former partner the best. "I just hope we both do really well," Jones said. "It's great that both albums are coming out on the same day."

Lucy Pearl began an eight-date club tour Sunday at SOB's in New York. Robinson said the group may mount a longer tour, but no dates have been made. In the meantime, she said she plans to get back to her solo album, about which she's excited and a little nervous.

"When I used to look to my left or my right, I had En Vogue with me," she said. "I started out with those girls, so it was scary starting out by myself. But I figure you come into this world alone as a baby, and you die on your own. Why worry about it?"