Melody Thornton is getting candid.
Hot on the promotional trail for her debut EP ‘Lioness Eyes,’ the music superstar talked with That Grape Juice where she discussed the project, the Pussycat Dolls, going independent, her debut album, and more.
Join us below for her words on these topics and so much more…
That Grape Juice (Ryan): So, I really wanted to start this off by asking you with all the craziness going on this year, why was 2020 the right time to release ‘Lioness Eyes?’
Melody Thornton: Goodness. So, I’d spent three years, I gave up my house, I gave up my car. And I was really living on tour and just taking jobs and saving every single dime and working on the project in between as much as I possibly could. And then, everything happened with quarantine. And it’s all very unfortunate and scary. But I figured thinking like a major record label that I would not be – If I were a major record label, I wouldn’t be releasing anything. So, I thought it was a good time for an Independent because, I don’t have the budgets that some of these major artists have.
Melody Thornton: So how do you feed people something that they need at a time when they’re more willing to consume than ever, because they’re at home or they’re working from home? The time was perfect. And I just decided to roll out with the project, regardless of whether, touring was a possibility or not. There’s so many ways to work it out, but I really looked at it as my opportunity to kind of like reintroduce myself musically and to do it without really big names that have huge budgets.
That Grape Juice: With ‘Lioness Eyes’ being put out independently, what does it mean to be able to be in control of your sound and your image, when all these record labels are running the show?
Melody Thornton: I just want to make great music and leave it for when I’m gone. That’s it. Whether it reaches a gazillion people, a million people, whatever, you know, it’s like, this is what I had to say, this is how I had to say it, and this is really me, without other people and their influence. There’s freedom there. I still work at keeping, especially the music, to myself until it’s ready to be heard because I just don’t need it. Creative people are so sensitive.
Melody Thornton: And when you’re trying to develop something, you need room to play without people going, Oh, God, what’s this? So, I appreciate that. I enjoy that more. And one thing I will say about being independent is, you manage to be really organized. I have a way of trying to be as organized as I possibly can without breaking the bank. Sometimes people are like, Oh, this is great. It’s looking just as good as so and so who signed to a major and there’s a lot of demand, and you’re like, oh, let’s not forget, I’m independent. So that can be challenging. So, there’s a good side to it and a harder side to it and challenges to it.
That Grape Juice: But I think the EP still managed to be a very personal statement of who you are. And this time in your life, from songs like ‘Pray For Me’ to ‘Goodbye To Happiness,’ those are personal messages all throughout. So, what can tell me about your creative process of beginning this EP, to finishing it as a whole?
Melody Thornton: I can’t really give you a full breakdown of how songs come to me, they just kind of come to me. I could be walking the dog and I just hear something and I’m like, Oh, that’s too good. It’s too good to pack that. And, you know, I record it on my phone and make sure I save that melody. Sometimes, words come with it, and I’m like, oh, my goodness, I have to stop what I’m doing. And just like, okay, it’s here now, you know. It’s like having a baby, it’s like, well, it’s coming. And it strangely just drops into my mind. But this EP really does kind of flow from beginning to end. For me anyway, it’s kind of like a story from innocence to experience. I don’t personally believe that you go from innocence to guilt. You just gain more experience. And I’ve been so inspired by different messages, like from songs written by the Eagles, you know, ‘Hotel California’ is a real thing.
It’s like, once you get into the industry, you can check out, but you can never leave. And this project kind of talks about, how I had no idea. I just didn’t know what I was doing. How you form and just come into yourself. And it’s brilliant when you find that lioness within you, when you look in the mirror, and you’re like, ‘Okay, you’re good. I got it.’ ‘Pray for me’ is the only thing I can tell my family, because I couldn’t help them understand what I was going through, learning this industry. If you’re not here, there’s no way for me to break it down for you from day to day. And you lose people when they just don’t understand what you’re going through and you have to focus and stay on track.
There’s so many little gems in and throughout it. But yeah, that’s how I describe it kind of from innocence to experience with 60s and 70s inspired and Southwestern influences as well, because I’m from Arizona. My parents were in their prime in the 60s and the 70s. So that’s the kind of music that I grew up on and that I love.
That Grape Juice: Who were some of your inspirations behind it?
Melody Thornton: I grew up on like, my dad, B.B. King is life. You know, that’s it. That’s what he likes. There have been little glimpses of hope for other artists even throughout his – I mean, in my 36 years since I’ve known him, it’s just B.B. King. And so, I can’t, you know, it’s just it’s everywhere I go. There was a little bit of Al Green. Definitely Aretha Franklin, The Jackson 5, Johnny Guitar Watson, and a number of other mostly soul but blues artists you know. And my mom! She loved disco. Disco and songs in Spanish and different artists from José José to Selena, and a number of different artists. So, it was such a little mishmash of like different musical influences for me and my sister. And my dad ran the show like he ran the radio and the TV and so whatever we consumed, it was what he thought was good. I still I am very much influenced by that aside from what I came to love, Whitney Houston, obviously vocally untouchable, Mariah Carey, Luther Vandross. And later on, Donny Hathaway and Maria Callas.
That Grape Juice: Now, you talked about this earlier. But you were young, when you first joined the Pussycat Dolls, you were 19 years old. Can you tell me a little bit of some of the most important lessons you learned along your musical journey?
Melody Thornton: I mean, I learned to…I learned to learn fast. I can tell you that. My goodness, I don’t come from a background. Everybody in my family’s musical, but no one was really like, let’s get you some lessons and make sure that it was you either got it or you don’t. And it would have been so useful, you know. Just some techniques, some helpful things. So, learning to try not to complain. And just get on with it. That was kind of like, I was in a washing machine for a long time, just trying to make sure that I perform it at a professional level, with no experience. I learned to definitely, just be careful, be careful with yourself and with who you allow around you.
That Grape Juice: Interesting!
Melody Thornton: You’re just a sponge when you’re young, and you’re wanting to learn as much as you possibly can. And also, kind of keeping in mind that maybe this won’t last forever. So where am I gonna go after this? And I had to learn to create security around myself when it was going to the studio and recording a song. And it wasn’t through the label or whatever. All of these ambitious, tenacious moves that you’re trying to make, so that you can create something for yourself after the fact. Protect your mind, protect your magic. And show up, be on time, and just try not to complain, as much as you possibly can.
That Grape Juice: Those are for sure all-important lessons. It’s tough for everybody to learn as you go too.
Melody Thornton: And, you know, just forgive yourself as much as you can. If you don’t feel comfortable somewhere, and it’s like, darn it, you know? Oh, what if that was gonna be a hit song? It’s like, no, but it wasn’t your hit song and it wasn’t meant for you. If you don’t feel safe somewhere, you should definitely not be there.
That Grape Juice: Oh, for sure. Now, I know, you probably get asked this all the time. And I know ‘Lioness Eyes’ is your main focus right now. But, do you ever see yourself rejoining the Pussycat Dolls at some point? Any kind of reunion with new music with them at all?
Melody Thornton: I don’t know. I don’t see it, not because I’m a nasty person. And I hate everybody. That’s not why. Just because I think that life is so short, you know?
Melody Thornton: All I want to do with the time that I have left and who knows how much time I have left as well to sing, to have an able body, to, you know…
I don’t know when children and a husband – when priorities change. What I want to do is, make music that represents me. So, when I’m not here, I can rest easy knowing that at least I did what I was supposed to do. I feel like I had this agreement with God, I’m very spiritual. And I don’t think that I sing for me. And I just want to make sure that I do that before I go, or before I don’t have time or things get in the way. That’s my priorities. Just making sure that I do that because I made an agreement with the Almighty.
That Grape Juice: Now, ‘Lioness Eyes,’ how did you ever come up with that name? It’s a unique name. So, can where that name came from? And how you hope the listeners kind of see you in this project?
Melody Thornton: So, ‘Lioness Eyes’ is like a mystery to me as well because when I started writing it, I was like, what are you talking about? I was reflecting on just the kind of things that I’ve been through and how I had turned a corner. And, I found myself really stuck. Like, I’m trying to be so careful with my reputation. And I mean, the conversation has come up this year, but it’s always been a thing. Like on the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ reunion, Janet Hubert talked to Will Smith about how easy it is to sabotage a black female entertainer and just say, she’s difficult. And I found myself for a long time being really careful. Like, oh, I don’t want anybody to think I’m difficult.
It’s so challenging. Like, when do I speak up? And I turned a corner and kind of found myself going. I’m so over this. Like, I’m not wrong. And I’m not typical. And it was a look in my eyes even that kind of changed. I’m not gonna tolerate abuse anymore. I’m just not. That’s what it was. I’m not doing this anymore. I’m not wrong. I’m just standing up for myself, you know?
And the ‘Lioness Eyes’ just showed up, because it was a thing. I could feel my face changing, when someone was trying to get me to like, just shut up and do it. Like, no, I’m not gonna shut up and do it anymore. It’s wrong. It’s not helpful for me, it’s not useful for me. It’s not an environment where I can thrive. Because, you’re asking me to like, live on rice and beans. And I can’t. There’s no way I can be powerful, so I’m taking my power back. And it worked. I don’t want people to think I’m the mean, black girl. I’m not the mean, black girl. But I also I can’t just get walked all over, my God.
And so that’s kind of, that’s where it showed up. And I decided to put it like, the second to last song because that’s where the pivot is, you know. You hear all of these ‘Pray For Me’ and ‘Goodbye To Happiness,’ and ‘Love Will Return.’ I will wait. I will find that feeling again, and it will make me wanna sing again. And I will wait and sing about you because I pretty much all the time.
That Grape Juice: Is that what you’re hoping though for the listeners seeing this, is that strength and courage?
Melody Thornton: Yeah. I hope that there’s someone, doesn’t have to be a woman. I hope that people hear it and they go, I’m leaving. I’m not doing this anymore. Or, you know, I’m not going to tolerate abuse anymore. I just, because I don’t have to.
That Grape Juice: I have to ask, because everybody’s gonna want to know. Now that we got a taste of music with ‘Lioness Eyes,’ we want to know, when the debut album is coming out. What are your plans for new music?
Melody Thornton: Yeah, I mean, I’m working all the time. And as I say, you know, I think it’s really special, how the song’s come to me, and I really can’t force it now. I think I would have done better in the 90s, like artists from the 90s, where social media wasn’t a thing. And there wasn’t so much. It’s like social media is so great. And then it’s kind of really not, because less accessibility is what created mega stars and that mystery. I think that that’s what creates like a love for that person even more. And so, I know that I’ll be asked and asked and asked, but all I can say is that I can’t force it. If you want it to be great, I can’t force it. I’m working on it. I’ll just keep meditating, waiting for songs to come to me. But, it’s in the pipeline.
Melody’s ‘Lioness Eyes’ is available to download and stream on all music platforms.