Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter, Judith Hill, stays on the offensive. Creatively, she doesn’t want to lose sight or control for a moment. It’s something she learned when collaborating with the hall of fame musician, Prince. If she disengages with her career, opportunities may fall in her lap, Hill says. But if she’s not in control of them, then she is not addressing her creativity or passion honestly. The moment one lets up is the moment someone else takes over.
As a result, Hill’s life is saturated in successful endeavors: Hill was featured in the documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom, for which she won a Grammy. She had a successful run on NBC’s The Voice. She’s collaborated with Michael Jackson, Elton John and John Legend and she recently appeared in a video during the National Basketball Association’s 2020 Draft telecast. But Hill’s latest achievement is the release of her video for the poignant song, “Americana.”
“All of them have been incredible journeys,” Hill says. “But really what I find important is being able to take control of your life and be on the offensive so that nobody gets a ‘great idea’ for you. Prince had a hard and fast rule: nothing comes from the outside. You decide you want to do this thing and you do it. It was really powerful to see him move this way.”
Hill remembers being young and letting life too often dictate her next moves. While she’s learned from these experiences to maintain her strong independence, she admits no one can take control of life completely at all times. Therefore, she says, it’s important for her to also keep a jubilant foundation while navigating the world around her. It’s a balance between feeling like a keen-eyed “warrior” in the wild on the creative attack and keeping a smile on her face.
“It should feel like play the whole time,” Hill says. “Not to say that there aren’t times when it doesn’t. But the creative space, allowing it to be something that feels fun, that has always been when things are at their best for me.”
As a child, Hill grew up in a musical home in Los Angeles. In fact, both of her parents were musicians (her dad played in Billy Preston’s band, her mom was a classical pianist). She remembers writing her first song at four-years-old, a tune in 5/4 time that she called, “God is Made.” She was bossy writing it, her mother has told her, wanting it her way. Hill still has the recording in a drawer somewhere. But even then, for the artist, music was her central language. She was shy but music was her voice box. She absorbed songs, including old jazz, funk, soul and rock. And once she started writing, she never turned back.
“I do feel music is in my DNA,” Hill says. “The reason why I know that is when I don’t create, that energy turns on me. I become a nemesis to myself.”
In a way, Hill creates as a mode to exorcise the bubbling energies within her. If she doesn’t she says she begins to feel depressed or anxious. She’s compelled to make new work and this is most clear for her when performing. Surrounded by so much music as a young person, she’s like a sponge when on stage, letting all that sonic water out into the audience. These days, however, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hill is unable to undertake all this. So, she’s thrown her self into writing and recording. Hill, whose forthcoming autobiographical LP, Baby, I’m Hollywood, is due out in February 2021, released her latest single on November 20th. The song – “Americana” – addresses materialism, narcissism and a desire to achieve.
“The song was definitely a reckoning with the country,” Hill says. “Just seeing how all these things piled up into the moment we are in right now. The song reckons with all the core values and core issues we have in this country. I’m posing the question back to America: how can we be better and strive for greatness without stepping on someone else?”
With myriad achievements in her back pocket, Hill is quick to say she’s experienced as many lows as she’s had highs. She is not blind to the valleys of life whatsoever. Hill, who is biracial and multi-lingual, has never really felt accepted in any single area. She’s often felt that she exists between societal lines, without a true home. This, too, shapes her perspective as an artist who uses her empathy as much as her knowledge of music theory.
“I think that the thing I’ve struggled with all of it is not being whole of one thing,” Hill says. “So, do you deny one part of you to be whole of something else? But, thankfully, my journey has gotten to the point where I can embrace all sides of me. Right now feels like an intense time where we wear our colors so strongly. Being biracial, I struggle with that a lot. I feel very deeply on so many sides of things. I can relate to so many people because of my journey.”
Yet, there is at least one through-line amidst Hill’s illustrious life. And that is music, of course. Ever since writing her first song, she’s worked to hone her ear, style, voice and feelings of self-acceptance. With each note sung, she’s gotten that much closer. The art form is so powerful for her, she says, it charges her with new abilities she might not otherwise be able to experience hadn’t she embraced music as fully, deeply or ardently.
“I love music because it allows me to accept the world I can’t see,” Hill says. “It allows me to feel almost super-human and feel like I am in a dimension that’s more real than the things that I actually could touch, taste and feel. It’s so euphoric. It’s psychedelic. It’s so potent in its ability to heal people and revolutionize and mobilize. When I experience something beyond words, that’s when music comes into play.”