Goapele is a synesthete. “I see colors along with sounds and words,” the singer and songwriter tells Rated R&B.
“They’re associated naturally in my mind. Sometimes, when I am writing or working with producers, and notes come together in a certain way, it’s visually harmonious for me. That’s part of my songwriting process. It was subconscious for me before, and I’m a little more aware of it now.”
For her seventh album, Colours, the Oakland, California, native invites fans and listeners to experience music as she processes it.
Select songs from the album are paired with scented candles that evoke the song’s mood. “I wanted to share [Colours] with the audience as a sensory experience, not as much visually, but more so to extend it into scents.”
The opening track and lead single, “Time Heals,” is a reassuring reminder that rough times soon fade away.
“The storm and rain washed away / The pain that I endured / Just as the sun will rise each morning / Just like the day returns to night / Without our say,” Goapele sings over jazzy instrumentation.
“Time Heals” features contributions from musicians Errol Cooney, Mike Aaberg, Chris Dave, and Keyon Harrold.
The song’s optimistic message is as warm as the sun’s rays. Regarding the color and scent, Goapele shares, “That is in the Golden Hour tone — burnt orange to sunset — and like a bergamot kind of warming, fall scent.”
“Purple,” another standout single from the album, has a more apparent color associated with it. On the Prince-inspired tune, Goapele is filled with euphoria as she basks in her partner’s love.
“One touch my walls fall away / Don’t know what happens / Just know that I want to stay / Right here inside your purple haze,” she sings in her breathless falsetto over a lush arrangement.
She explains, “‘Purple’ is in the indigo realm. It has a sensual, amber, smoky scent to it. Everything is kind of dark and moody in that tone.”
Then there’s “Color My Heart,” a romantic slow jam that captures the fulfilling sensation of being enveloped by love.” Goapele notes, “It’s more in the red, merlot all the way to a cherry blossom pink type of tone.”
Across the album’s eight tracks, Goapele takes listeners on a personal journey dotted with trust (“Time Heals”), love (“Color My Heart”), longing (“Need You”) and self-doubt (“Enough”). “I’m learning to be more comfortable with being a bit uncomfortable and vulnerable,” Goapele shares about the stories she tells on the album.
In Rated R&B’s interview with Goapele, the singer discusses Colours in depth.
You mentioned you wanted Colours to be a sensory experience. When making the album, did you create your own sensory experience to set the mood?
It’s more like I created the songs and tried to figure out how to express them the way I feel and see them. There’s all these things in me as I’m creating and working with folks to create the songs. Then there’s how to communicate it to the public and give people something they can feel in a similar way I feel. I’m trying to evolve in how to connect with the audience [whether] when we’re in person or when they’re just listening in their own home.
What does Colours represent to you?
It represents all the aspects of love, introspection, trusting myself and just letting people in on the journey.
How did the cover art for Colours come about?
There’s an artist from the Bay Area called Hueman. She is phenomenal. She does murals, canvas, all kinds of stuff. I really wanted to work with a fine artist on this because it felt like something else personal. She created original art for it. We had originally met at her immersive art show that I sung at. I was like, “We gotta work together.” I’m excited to keep building with her. I love what she did.
Your music typically has an underlying theme of empowerment, from your signature song “Closer” to your new song “Time Heals.” Where do you seek inspiration?
Well, thank you for recognizing that in the songs. I feel like sometimes I’m writing from a place of sorting through my emotions and trying to figure it out. I always wanted for the lasting note to be more optimistic, even if it doesn’t start from that place. For me, I’m constantly making playlists of other artists so I can stay inspired: “Don’t Forget Who You Are” by Common or just different songs that lift me up. That goes into so many different genres. Also, just being around good people to keep me feeling uplifted. Being in the sun, getting some fresh air, being in nature — or anything that supports my health and wellbeing. All those things are kind of like my tools.
It’s easy to get lost in your music. Songs like “Purple” really take me to another realm. When you’re creating an album, how difficult is it for you to get to the point where you’ve felt you’ve said all that you wanted to say?
It’s not easy. That’s a great question. How do you know when to stop? How do you know that you’ve communicated something fully and how to not overproduce it and leave some rawness? Those are the questions that I ask myself. I’m usually in and out of the studio. I’ll keep revisiting a song until I feel like that’s the best I could do. I worked with Bedrock, who produced that track, and we revisited that song for a long time. I didn’t want it to feel contrived. I wanted it to be a really strong vibe. Usually, it’s like a puzzle for me. I might have to keep exchanging pieces until it fits and feels natural. But it’s hard to step away.
It feels really vulnerable to walk away and be like, “Okay, it’s done. Now I’m gonna share it with other people, and I don’t know if they’re gonna get it.” That part always feels vulnerable until I run into people and they’re like, “Ooh, I feel this. I get this. This is how it makes me feel,” or whatever. And then I’m like, “Okay, I did my job” (laughs). Sometimes, I’m almost holding my breath.
Is there a song on the album that took you out of your comfort zone when creating it?
I would say when I was writing “Enough.” It speaks to that exact feeling of self-doubt. I think it’s the most literal I’ve been about feeling unsure and insecure sometimes. With this album, I used the least amount of metaphors and was a lot more to the point. Writing “Enough” and “Gamble” both felt super raw and honest in a way that was a little different for me. Those songs aren’t really a read between the lines. It is just putting myself out there. There’s something that’s liberating about it, even though it feels more vulnerable at first. It makes me feel more present.
What’s the inspiration behind “Time Heals”?
“Time Heals” was definitely during the pandemic with the most uncertainty going on, processing a death in the family. There [are] moments I’ve felt really overwhelmed and powerless. This song was written like an aha moment. I was driving through the rain and the piano part came first. Bedrock had this idea and it was so beautiful to me. I was trying to put words to it. There were a couple of signs that I had got that day where there were tangible examples of how time makes things easier and how pain is fading. If we do the healing, do the work and trust, everything’s going to get easier, even if it seems so huge in the moment.
There was a certain amount of peace that came over me and it made me trust. There’s so many things that are bigger than us. As long as all of us are on this earth and this earth keeps spinning, the sun is going to rise every day. The sun is going to set every day. We don’t have to do anything to make that happen. There [are] certain things that fall into order if we walk on our path.
Speaking of time, “Ojai” hears you singing about how it seems too slow when you’re with a special person. What’s the story behind it?
That song is something I revisited. I started recording that song a whole different year. After I recorded “Purple,” I wanted something else to fit in that vibe — that Prince vibe, super synth, heavy, moody, sexy, but very layered. We went back and listened to some other song ideas I had started. That one stuck out. It clicked in a different way than when I first started it. It’s about those amazing moments when you’re with people, and you would rather be nowhere else. It’s like, “Can you just make this moment last forever?” I wanted to play with that, which is a different feeling than “Time Heals,” where you really have to trust the process and do the work. “Ojai” is where you’re chasing time to get back to that person and how to stay in that moment.
What do you hope listeners take away from the Colours experience?
I hope people feel less alone in whatever they’re going through. I hope that it inspires them to get to the next place that they’re trying to arrive. I hope it stirs their soul and makes them feel something if they need some motivation [and] permission to be who you are, where you are in your life.
You recently mentioned that there’s more music coming after Colours. Does this album set the tone for the direction you’re taking next?
Not necessarily. I think Colours was a bunch of thoughts and feelings I had to get out of my system to make room for new energy. I think the next thing that people hear is going to be the next zone I’m in. I mean, my voice will sound the same, but the production will be a whole different mood.
Stream Goapele’s new album Colours below.