Analogue Music | Judith Hill

Judith Hill

By Matt Conner

Judith Hill has always been a vocal powerhouse whose songs expand to fill any room in which she's performing, but the songs on her latest album, Letters From A Black Widow, were tailor-made for the live setting, lending even more dynamism to her presence.

For our latest feature, we sat down with Judith on her late spring tour to talk to her about a new set of anthems and the heavy weight she's lifted off her back by writing them. They're inspired when sung live, but that's more than just Hill's incredible vocal work. They're rooted in her authentic self and that has made all the difference.

Analogue: The songs on the new album feel like a lot of fun or dynamic in the live setting. How much do you think about that aspect when you’re writing?

Judith Hill: Yeah, that’s definitely a big part of what I think about when I do write songs. I am a performing artist and always consider how songs will translate on stage and the arrangements. That’s really important to me as an artist because I spend most of my time on the road performing. That’s what brings me joy and that’s the bulk of my style, so I definitely consider that when writing.

Analogue: Does that make it difficult to write your material or are you so used to life on the road that you can make that happen?

Judith: I don’t usually write on the road. I gather information and I get inspiration and then I usually block out a time to get into the creative space whenever I’m at home or wherever I want to write.

"Once I get past the first song, it all just flows like water. Everything feeds itself and that’s how it was on this album."

Analogue: How did that work out for this album?

Judith: I did this record when I was off the road and was finally in a place where the inspiration was coming. Once I get into that place, it becomes a lockdown and I can’t think of anything else but just writing music. So it was just on an offseason from touring that I was able to do all of that.

Analogue: Are you always that creatively focused?

Judith: Yeah I’m able to lock in pretty easily. It also depends. When I’m writing for my projects or for my album, I allow myself time to really gather enough information and feel like I have enough that I want to say. Once I get past the first song, it all just flows like water. Everything feeds itself and that’s how it was on this album.

Analogue: What was the first song here?

Judith: The first song I really did have shaped the most was “Flame.” Then after “Flame”, I had “Black Widow” and everything else kind of came in pieces.

Analogue: I’m glad you brought up “Flame” in particular or empowering songs like it. It made me wonder how much of that is intentional from you in wanting to lift up and encourage others, like some artistic responsibility, and how much of it is flowing from you without those external thoughts.

Judith: I was very much just channeling my inner voice. It was really for me. I was writing what I needed to write to sort of liberate myself. The songs gave me the chance to feel empowered when I wasn’t feeling empowered, so songs like “Flame” were sort of my spirit animal that was crying out and assuring me of my own strength.

In life, I was just feeling the weight of the world, feeling the weight of my own personal struggles. You know, a lot of this record is about my journey with trauma. Starting with the mountain, this whole album came to be when I went with my friends to the mountains. I took a mushroom and had a really spiritual trip and realized that I had all this weight I was carrying.

So that’s why that first song is really about that trip I had. “Flame” and all of these songs are coming out of me finally recognizing and addressing this heavy thing I’ve been carrying for so long.

Analogue: Did you schedule that mountain trip with this in mind?

Judith: No, I just scheduled a trip with my friends thinking we were going to have a good time and just party. [Laughs] They ended up having a good time. I ended up having a spiritual trip that took me down a really dark but very powerful path, and so that was the first time I’d ever had a trip like that. But it’s what inspired me to have the courage to write about stuff.

Analogue: That makes it sound like you couldn’t have written songs like these in the past.

Judith: Yeah, in my earlier years, I don’t think I could have written about this type of stuff, just because it was way too vulnerable. Putting myself out there… you don’t know what the world’s going to do with the fragile parts of you, so you don’t feel like they need it and it’s scary to do. But this brought me so much freedom to speak about things—things that are darker—and I’m really glad I did it. But yeah, prior to that, I would keep things a little more general.

When you’re a funk artist, in culture, we’ve always thought of funk as a form of dance music or music you hear when you’re partying in the clubs or at a good social time. You never think of it with reference to deeper, heavier issues. So for me, it was a challenge to break out of a genre and challenge the genre. So that’s what gave me the inspiration to try to dig deeper.

Analogue: Have people responded the way you thought they would?

Judith: It depends on the person. The people who get it really get it. Those who are used to something a little easier or a little bit more obvious, they’re not getting it as easily. So it’s interesting because it really separates out people in a way. This record is finding its own audience but the audience is passionate about it.

Analogue: Did you anticipate that?

Judith: No, I really didn’t have any sort of expectations about what kind of reception it would be. I just wrote what was authentic to me, you know? I didn’t map out anything, so this is all just an experiment.

VISIT: Judith Hill

Photo: Ginger Sole Photography