Andra Day has circled the outskirts of the music industry for four years.
But it seemed that suddenly, in late 2015, the elegant R&B singer with the distinctive head wraps and the look of a classic dame from a 1940s matinee, defined ubiquity.
Her debut, “Cheers to the Fall,” arrived in August; she contributed Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam” to the soundtrack of the Netflix documentary about the fiery singer; a couple of Grammy nominations popped up in December (for best R&B performance for "Rise Up" and best R&B album for “Cheers to the Fall”); and then came her most visible mainstream appearance – sharing the small screen with Stevie Wonder for an Apple commercial at Christmas, singing the legend’s “Someday at Christmas” with him.
Day, 31, performs a sold-out show at Center Stage on Thursday – likely the last time you’ll see her in such an intimate venue – as part of her solo tour. She’ll team with fellow rising R&B star Leon Bridges for dates through June and then, the charming Day said with a hearty laugh, “I’m going to take a long vacation!”
Last week, before hopping on a plane in New York to perform a show in Texas, Day chatted about The Grammys, her affection for pajamas, politics and why she still loves Lucy.
Q: I’ve been reading all of these stories about how you’re zipping around the country on red-eyes because you’ve got so much going on right now. How are you holding it all together?
A: (Laughs) My body gets tired, but my spirit is full. I’m enjoying it. I’m trying to stay healthy, drinking a lot of warm drinks, nothing cold, staying hydrated, and trying not to talk as much. The show relies heavily on the vocals so I have to rest (my voice) as much as I can. There’s no magic formula. I like laughing with my band, so I told them to stop making me laugh!
Q: You have a little bit of a history in Atlanta.
A: I used to live there, for a few months when I was 18. All of my family is there. My grandmother (in Stone Mountain) and aunts and cousins live there and in Birmingham (Ala.) Basically at the show it will all be my cousins!
Q: What are you most proud to share with your fans on this tour? What do you want them to take away from the show?
A: I think, first, I’m a very spiritual person so I don’t shy away from my relationship with God and that is the core of who I am. But also to discover their true path by looking at my life and the things I’ve been able to experience and write about. I want them to be encouraged to persevere and seek out what their purpose is. My audiences…I always smile because I love my audiences. I can’t express how engaging it is up there on stage. They listen, they care about lyrics. When we’re together it feels like we’re in church. My audiences are very interactive as well.
Q: Are the pajamas the go-to outfit for the tour?
A: That’s it, that’s the one (laughs)! I remember (my team) asking if I was going to change outfits during the show and I thought for a second and said ‘PJs,’ and everyone’s jaw dropped, and I said, ‘That’s it.’ It was so complicated at first looking for high-end pajamas. So I went to Macy’s with my gift card! It’s so important for me to be comfortable to onstage, that’s why I don’t wear heels, I wear flats. If I’m thinking about my wardrobe, I’m not concentrating on singing. There’s something about the pajamas look that I think is so stylish.
Q: You have such a distinctive look. Who are your inspirations for it?
A: At the core of everything is rockabilly; that’s such a huge subculture in the southwest. I sort of immersed myself in it a lot when I was younger. I’d go to classic car shows with my father and I went to performing arts school in San Diego and the cinema and music we studied had a mid-century focus. I came to love Lucille Ball, her style with the scarf and the red hair and red lipstick. Her character was so strong. She’s one of my biggest style icons.
Q: Your Grammy duet with Ellie Goulding was a definite highlight of the show last month. Whose idea was it to mash up “Love Me Like You Do” and “Rise Up”?
A: It was something the producers came up with. (Show producer) Ken Ehrlich, God bless him for believing in us enough to put us on the show. When we first heard they wanted to combine our songs, we were like, ‘Huh. OK,’ because the songs are so different. But (Grammys house bandleader) Greg (Phillinganes) is a genius…he created something that was so beautiful, we couldn’t have been happier about it. And I have nothing but fantastic things to say about Ellie. We were having a blast. We did our own rehearsal beforehand and I swear we did more laughing than singing.
Q: What did those Grammy nominations (for best R&B performance for "Rise Up" and best R&B album for “Cheers to the Fall”) mean to you?
A: Oh wow, I think I’m still reeling from it. The timeline of everything was insane to me – the album released at the end of August and we found out about nominations in December. It just blew my mind, that timeline.
Q: Since you performed at the Hillary Clinton (“I’m With Her” fundraiser) concert recently in New York, is that your way of saying you’re publicly supporting her?
A: I do support her, yeah. I don’t shy away from that. I did an event for the Global Fund for Women, which supports smaller on-the-ground organizations for women’s rights and (Clinton) did a speech there. She had hinted at running (then) and the room went nuts. When they called me to come sing at this event, first of all, I was shocked because I was like, they know about my music? It was an easy yes for me.
Q: How important do you think it is for artists to use their public platform during this election season?
A: I’m not in politics for a reason, but there are things I believe in, and if you do believe things you should stand up for what you believe in, not just politically, but socially. This is why I’m such a big advocate for putting more arts programs in school. We underestimate the power of music in schools.
Q: You worked with some cool people on “Cheers to the Fall.” Have you started a wish list of people for your next album?
A: There are a few people, and some are coming true. I’m hoping to get together with Stevie (Wonder) soon. With the next album he’ll be more actively involved; he just did harmonica on (“Cheers”). I would love to work with John Legend and Common and some more with Ellie Goulding. When we were at the White House (for a Ray Charles tribute last month), Demi Lovato and I talked about doing something. I might make the next album more of a mixtape. I’m not in a rush.
With Kendra Foster. 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Sold out. Center Stage, 1374 W. Peachtree St., Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com.
Check out Day singing "Rise Up":