Shemekia Copeland Victoria Smith photo

I’ve had the privilege of interviewing Shemekia Copeland ever since she first came to Maine at the beginning of her career in 1998 and have chatted with her four times since 2012. She is a force to be reckoned with when she sings due to the emotive strength of her convictions and a voice unlike any other. Her latest Alligator Records CD “Done Come Too Far” highlights not only her unflinching courage but also a witty side showing that there’s also humor at work here, and in a recent telephone interview from her Oceanside, California, home Copeland discussed this new release as well as other aspects of her life and times.

Q: It never ceases to amaze me how you can nail an emotion so completely as you do when you sing, and this was really an incredibly powerful collection you have here on “Done Come Too Far.”
Copeland: Thank you, thank you (light chuckle) … oh you know, I’m just getting to the point where I’m getting older and what I’m putting out into the universe is so important to me. This just kind of ended up being a trilogy. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, in fact. I mean, I had my little guy who is almost 6 now, and that’s when I did the first record like this which was “America’s Child,” and on it, I did a song called “We Ain’t Got Time to Hate,” and I felt like, “Man, ain’t nobody hearing me!” ya know? (Chuckle). And so it didn’t really feel complete to me, it felt almost like I could have continued making it, so I ended up doing “Uncivil War.”

Q: And that was another powerful release, as well.
Copeland: Well, I finished that one in December of 2019, and then we all know what happened in 2020. It was like all hell broke loose, and I was like, “Oh my goodness (laughter), I guess it’s going to be a trilogy!” And that was what was happening in the world and this was what I wanted to put out there (pause), and I’ve always wanted to make little pieces of art not just records. I always thought that if somebody found one of my records a hundred years from now, that they would listen to it and they would go, “Wow, this is what was happening in the world during that time.”

Q: Well, what I did like, along with the fact that you still have that passion, is that you were willing to throw in some humorous moments, as well, because you’ve got to laugh, too.
Copeland: Oh, absolutely, and to me, this album shows all my personalities: some on the serious side (and some on) the silly part of me — all of it (laughter).

Q: And you’ve got a songwriting team with John Hahn (who was also the executive producer) and Will Kimbrough (who produced as well as played guitar on the album), that I think has captured how you feel.
Copeland: Absolutely!

Q: So, what is it like with them putting words in your mouth, so to speak?
Copeland: Well, how I try to explain it is, it’s like if you go to a seamstress, who you know, to get a suit tailor-made for you, that’s what these songs are for me; we’re all very like-minded. I’ve known John Hahn since I was 8 years old (chuckle).

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Q: Wow.
Copeland: Yeah, a lot of people don’t know that, the history. But I’ve (known) him pretty much my whole life. So we just come up with all these amazing things in conversation, but he’s a real poet, and he’s able to put it into words. You know what I mean?

Q: Yes, I do.
Copeland: And then, of course, Will Kimbrough, he’s just a genius. I’ve loved working with him.

Q: And this is the third time you’ve worked with him, right?
Copeland: Yes and it started when I was recording albums with Oliver Wood — who’s also brilliant — and he brought Will into the studio just to play on some stuff and that’s where I met him and, oh my God, it was a match made in heaven.

Q: And I noticed that Mr. Wood had a hand in “The Dolls Are Sleeping” as both a co-writer and an acoustic guitarist.
Copeland: Yes, exactly, yeah. I haven’t stopped working with him, and he also did a song on the last record, as well.

Q: And I did like the fact that you ended the album with “Nobody But You.”
Copeland: (Softly) Yeah, which is ironic because my mom died on the same day this record came out.

Q: Oh, Lord …
Copeland: I’m heart-broken and devastated. So that was on Aug. 19, but anyhow, I always do one of my dad’s songs on the records, and that one was one that he wrote about her, so it was ironic that it happened that way.

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Q: The day before your mother died, my mother-in-law passed.
Copeland: Oh, no.

Q: She and I were close and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through, so I know how you feel Shemekia. … I’m so sorry for you. I shouldn’t have brought up my loss, I didn’t think, getting you upset is the last thing I wanted to do.
Copeland: No, no, this is how we heal: talking and communicating. I’m a firm believer of that, which is why we have so many issues in this country, communications stopped and then the arguing started and we don’t take the time to learn and get to know one another. That’s just a terrible and ignorant way to be, ya know?

Q: I do, and on a more pleasant note, you are coming back to Maine again. One would think that you like it up here, and the Waterville Opera House in particular.
Copeland: Yeah, I do (soft chuckle) I love Maine in general, and politically, I don’t know why they love me so much in New England, I really don’t (laugh), but I’m grateful for it, you know what I mean?

Q: Yes, I do.
Copeland: It’s because some of the things I am saying (pause then a sigh) for me, what I’m saying and doing is not at all political, I’m just me talking about what’s happening in the world. I’m Black in America so for me (laugh) politicians on either side have never meant me any good, so what I’m saying is not political, I’m talking about my experience in my life, and I’m hoping that through music people can get to know me better and understand me better, and that’s what I’m doing. But people do accept me so well in that area of the world, so I love it. I’ll be coming up soon in October, and then I’ll be back in December on Christmas Eve (chuckle). I think they love me, because I’m not afraid to come in the wintertime.

Q: Is there anything, Shemekia that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Copeland: Well, just that I’m really excited to come, as usual. I’m very excited and can’t wait to play some of the stuff for them. You know, I’ve had two records out that I’ve not really gotten a chance to perform because of the pandemic, so I’ve got a lot of nice surprises and stuff for everyone.

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.