With an uninhibited warmth, my conversation over Zoom with Cii La'Cole Stewart, aka Lola Honeye, began with Stewart talking about the music she has been listening to recently. SiR, H.E.R, and Jay Electronica, whose new song, "The Neverending Story", she identifies with: “It’s really conscious rap, conscious R&B.”
Stewart's influences and current musical tastes kicked things off, further diving into the process of recording her forthcoming debut album, Uncharted. “Like uncharted waters, untouched territory” she said, as the album is scheduled to be released in late August.
While on the subject of her new album, she explained how quarantine has affected her and others in the recording studio. “People don’t think about little things like getting on someone’s microphone" she said. "Some people take the booth more seriously, or deeper than others. I definitely do, my engineers definitely do, so it’s been touchy.” Uncharted is what Stewart calls “universal soul music” — comprised of influences from R&B, inspirational, even house music. It’s very experimental, with a central theme of peace, love, and growth.
Uncharted features even more experimentation beyond music — much of which has to do with her brain, and using more of it. She explained, “They say we only use so much of our brains, so I want to get into all of those spaces, I want to see all of my waters.”
She spoke about how she goes about doing that, crediting meditation, writing, and doing what she can to learn new things every day to gain knowledge. This includes learning more about herself, which brought us to the people who have influenced her album. She spoke with admiration of her favorite artists, as well as her friends, and her sisters, calling them a “powerful force of feminine energy” in her life.
Delving further into her musical background, Stewart says she was “born into” music. “My mom sang us to sleep every night. We were in the church growing up so we were always in choir, always singing, always on stage, ever since I was little” she said. She plays saxophone and piano, and despite these components not being on Uncharted, she mentioned her next album where they will be featured: a live album.
Stewart went on to reflect on live performances in comparison to the studio. When asked which she preferred, she said “I can’t say. Getting in the booth is so intimate, I feel like it prepares me for what I’m going to do, what I really want. Live is an energy thing; you get to feel and see natural reactions. They’re both weighted, I can’t decide.”
It is easy to remensicse about performing in venues now that the pandemic has changed the way we engage with live music. Stewart mentioned the Metro in Chicago as the favorite place she's performed. “I played there my freshman year [of college]. It was one of the first big venues I played. I love how the crowd is sort of in this pit, they’re all in the mosh pit. I love that place.” She loves to interact with the audience at shows. Sadly, that is one of the things that a pandemic takes away.
Photo by Kelsey Greene.
When performing in New Souls, all of the band members wear masks. Following a recent performance at Pour Bros Craft Taproom in Downtown Champaign, and she discussed about how different it was compared to a "normal" show. “It was weird" she said. "The dance floor is closed... I feel like, the more we do this, this is going to get old, too. Sure, I’m tired of seeing everybody with masks on, I’m tired of not being able to talk to people. [But that's because] At our shows, there’s so much going on. People are walking up to make requests, and they can’t do that anymore." The pandemic has certainly affected live music and how it is devliered with the audience in mind. Stewart continued, "[That said] I have to buckle down and get to it because if I didn’t, it would look like I couldn’t play the game. And I can play the game. There’s a lot of ‘anti’ going on, and I don’t have even a little bit of time for it.”
It was clear the entire time we spoke, Stewart is very passionate and engaged in her music, qualities that ensure that her debut album will have all the stops pulled out to make it a success.