By Harriet Kaplan
On May 6, Ibiza EDM DJ duo, the Astrofeeks, featuring the female vocal trio Next Step (Norma Jean Wright, Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin) headlined the official launch part for a new label formed by Jerry Greenberg and DJ Max Matire, Pacific Electronic Music, at LIGHT Nightclub, Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino. Next Step is comprised of the former lead singers of the multi-platinum selling legendary and ground-breaking band, Chic. After releasing Aristrofreeks remixes of Chic classics “Le Freak” and “Good Times,” Next Step is set to release its first original single “Get On Up.” The Light event doubled as a release party for the new track.’
More recently, Black on the Canvas had the opportunity to interview Norma Jean Wright, Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin individually via e-mail. BOC got the exclusive scoop about the new project, found out more their performance at The Light and their observations about EDM versus disco and being back in the spotlight.
Was your recent performance at the PEM launch party the first time you performed together since you were in Chic?
Alfa Black: No it wasn’t, but it was certainly the most fun and the most momentous.
Luci Martin: It was our first performance as Next Step. We had a couple of shows together previously but only a few that included all three of us together. We worked individually and as a duet prior. The name itself represents our taking the next step in our careers collectively as a unit.
Norma Jean Black: Actually the PEM launch party was our first time performing under the banner of Next Step, but Alfa, Luci, and I started performing together (as a trio) back in May of 2014.
How did it feel to play in front of an audience at Mandalay Bay and what was the response to the music?
Alfa: Playing in front of the audience at LIGHT was incredible. I was a little concerned about how a group composed mostly of millennials would respond to us, but it couldn’t have gone better. We received so much love, not only for the classic songs but for our new material as well. Shades of Studio 54.
Luci: I have always been a fan of the Mandalay and its adjacent hotels, The Four Seasons and The Hotel (now called Delano), so having an opportunity to actually perform there was wonderful. It seemed kismet since I always stay at one of these hotels, depending on my mood, whenever I visit Las Vegas.
Norma: Performing in Vegas at Mandalay Bay was off the chain. The audience welcomed us with open arms and from the moment we hit the stage, they gave us love. They were not only enthused to hear us perform Good Times, Sorcerer and Le Freak but also embraced our new songs “Get On Up” “Get Busy”, and Could This Be Love.
How did this project come about?
Alfa: This project was the brainchild of Jerry Greenberg, former President of Atlantic Records, and the Aristofreeks. It really is the next step for dance music.
Luci: We ladies had always discussed getting together and forming a group but never had the opportunity until we were asked to be a part of a performance in Palm Springs as part of The First Ladies of Disco Show. From there we met Max Matire and Jerry Greenberg whom we are known since the chic days when he was head of Atlantic Records. The rest fell into place.
Norma: The project was spearheaded by our label executives at PEM, Jerry Greenberg, and Joe Vasconcellos.
Is Next Step working on a full length LP? What can old fans and new fans expect on this LP? We definitely want to work on a full length LP. Fans can expect to hear a familiar vocal sound soaring atop the energy and pulse of the new genre of dance music. We would also love to do some mid-tempo tunes and a ballad or two.
Alfa: We definitely want to work on a full length LP. Fans can expect to hear a familiar vocal sound soaring atop the energy and pulse of the new genre of dance music. We would also love to do some mid-tempo tunes and a ballad or two.
Luci: Nowadays, LP’s seem to be a thing of the past but we have recorded 5 songs with P.E.M. 4 original and one remake of Good Times. I am not sure what the future will hold after those releases, but hopefully the response will be one that enables us to continue. Initially we agreed to make dance records in the vein of our past history, however I am hoping our fans will allow us the chance to show that we are more than that and accept parts of us that have not been shown in the past.
Norma: We’ve completed recording 5 songs thus far. One is a cover of Good Times, and the others are all new songs, co-written by Next Step and Aristofreeks. Our first single Get On Up, features Kathy Sledge, and she co-wrote it.
What was it like to work on this project and any experiences you would like to share with our readers that stand from what you have done in the past?
Alfa: I was super excited to work on this project with Norma Jean and Luci. We always wanted to work together but the opportunity had not presented itself yet. This collaboration seemed right for us.
Luci: It was interesting since the process was a bit different working with DJ producers as opposed to musicians. The digital market is a lot different, less labor intensive on the performance end. We were trained to sing the entire track and its over dubs perfectly each time. Now you sing it once and they “fly in the rest. Pretty much all cut and paste.
Norma: With our producers/Aristofreeks living in Ibiza, and us residing in the states, during the writing process, we utilized the computer/Skype to demo and finalize our song ideas. Once we finalized the songs, Alfa, Luci, and I traveled to Ibiza and recorded 4 of the songs with Aristofreeks, and we recorded our 5th song in LA with Max and Shanti.
Are you fans of EDM? Have you been following the trend closely and wanted to be part of it?
Alfa: They say lightening never strikes twice in the same place. In this instance, I hope that’s not true. When Luther Vandross asked me to join him and other New York session singers to sing background on a new album by his friend Nile Rodgers, I was a little hesitant because I was not a lover of dance music. That all changed when I heard Everybody Dance and Dance, Dance, Dance. That one session changed my life. I was asked to join the group after Norma Jean left to pursue a solo career and sang on some of the most classic dance music ever created. Fast forward to 2014. I was not a lover of EDM. But I couldn’t resist the infectious grooves of the Aristofreeks tracks or the opportunity to work with both Luci and Norma Jean. Who knows? Maybe lightening will strike twice and we will continue the legacy of creating uber cool dance music for a new generation.
Luci: To me, EDM is just another application of music. It is just the process because music is music, if its good it works in whatever form you place it. The idea of an alternative mix is not new.
Do you think EDM is a natural extension/progression to disco?
Alfa: Yes, I do.
Luci: Not really, Disco itself is nothing more than dance music to me. A bit more production maybe but still dance. I’m not a fan of labels.
Norma: I’ve always been a big fan of dance music, and with EDM’s diversity, housing varied styles and flavors of dance music, I enjoy a lot of it.
Will Next Step launch a tour to support the LP?
Alfa: We would love to tour. This is something we are speaking with the label about. Can’t wait to perform for fans who have been supportive through the years and to introduce ourselves to a new generation of dance music enthusiasts. I think it will be kinda nice to see gen-xers and millennials dancing in wild abandonment like we used to. Nothing breaks down barriers between people like a good party.
Luci: It’s a goal.
Norma: Yes, we’re looking forward to launching a tour.