Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Creative Life: An Interview with Event Designer Erika Jones of A Social Life

Erika Jones is an event designer and owner of A Social Life. She also doubles as Erocka J, soulful background singer on the national underground scene.

YLW: You have an unparalleled confidence about you. What do you attribute that to?

EJ: I reflect a lot. I don't live with regrets. I often ask myself if you could do it again, would you do it again? It helps me find my center for myself. Also, my parents are older so when I came into the picture, I had older brothers and sisters, which caused me to have an older personality. It just helped shape certain things for me.

YLW: I thought you came up with a really cool design element for the Post Black Launch Party. What was your vision?

EJ: With Post Black I thought, let's focus on the book and let's have the book be the basis for the design. The thought process was about promoting the book through edgy moments within the book. I played on the controversy through the design element. I was using the book excerpts as fuel for the design. Sometimes in event design simple is more classy. You don't have to have gold chandeliers hanging or tumblers unless that's what the client wants.

Sometimes people want something really nice, really different. So we had visual recreations of the book with a quote. People think they're picking up the book, but it's really a design element that highlights a passage. People just want to feel good and by creating that feel good atmosphere you get what you want, too.

YLW: You have a knack for creating unique simple elements that elevate affairs. What are some of your other favorites?

EJ: I'm very proud of this last event I did at for the movie premier of Online at The Wit. It was a simple event but effective. Because the movie was fashion forward we took two of the outfits from the event and brought that to life in the vignette.

I had another art event where the artist did his rendition of pin up models and instead of having someone be a bartender, I had a model sit on top of a bar and pour the wine. So we had a model in 1950s style as a wine bearer.

YLW: How did you get into event design?

EJ: My mom was a caterer and she would do event design as well. Growing up we would always watch certain shows. I grew up watching Martha Stewart who did design as well as catering. I loved the aspect of making a place look plush or pretty. I knew I could plan a party well, but I also loved the ambiance. I knew that I could be crafty and creative and do things on a budget. It's kind of innate. I can visually see how it can go and putting those aspects together and finding the people who make it happen.

YLW: Did you study event design formally?

EJ: No, I didn't. I was into tablescapes and branched off from there. I have a lot of designers as friends. I just had an eye for it. It was something I was taught as a child – how to do design on a budget. I learned it from watching different shows. Basically, I taught myself.

YLW: How did you become a background singer?

EJ: I always knew I had a voice. I remember the very first time I sang something I was in catholic school, I remember growing up singing and thinking I could do something with this. In college, I hooked up with some other people who were singers. My brother is a guitarist in Chicago so we would be paired together and we would perform together.

In college, I started meeting different musicians . My brother was in a band and I said I can sing background for you. I started singing with them. From there, I would do background for different artists. Then I sang background for Esthero, a Canadian artists who was really known underground. She took a seven year hiatus and she needed a background singer to sing the low parts. A woman I frequently sang background with referred me, and the lady said Erika Jones will be the only person who will give you what you need. I auditioned over the phone and it moved from there. You know how people fall back on a degree? Well, I have a degree, so I fall back on singing.

EJ: Who do you sing back up for?

A lot of underground artist like Discopoet Khari B., Bumpus. I'm just for hire. I sing in studio, too. I'm a background singer for hire.

YLW: What's your vocal range?

EJ: I'm a contralto, mezzo soprano.

YLW: You run an event planning company and you sing backup? How do you juggle both responsibilities?

EJ: I turn into a whole different person. When I am party planning, I'm Erika Jones, I can still come to you as corporate as you need to be. When I'm singing background, I'm Erocka J. She's the chick who wears all the stuff she wants to where, as funky as she wants to be. I'm an artist.  I'm able to find balance in that as long as I remember I'm an artist and that everyone will see the artist in me. There's people who know me as a singer, but don't know me from a Social Life. There's people who know me as A Social Life, but don't know me as a singer.

YLW: That's funny, because I shared with a friend of mine that you were planning my event, and he said, wait you mean Erika the singer? He was very surprised.

EJ: Happens all the time.

YLW: Many women today feel incredible pressure to “do it all.” Do it all doesn't just refer to balancing work and home, but also having so many options and talents and not knowing what to do. Did you ever feel you were at a crisis point?

EJ: I was in that state right before I went on tour. I had graduated from Columbia College in Chicago with an Arts Management Degree with a concentration in music business. In 2002, the music industry was changing and I didn't know what I wanted to do. I had started a company before and I was producing events. It was going slower than your average start up.

Then I got into the mundane of getting a job that had nothing to do with what I wanted to do. I always knew in the back of my mind that this was not going to be for the long run. I was just trying to stay afloat. I don't think I was singing at that time. It was a noncreative time in my life. That lasted for a year and a half. I would dabble in some creative things but it wasn't enough. I kept saying I need to get on somebody's tour singing background. It's amazing how what you say will come into fruition. Then next thing you know I was at the brink of crying at my job.

EJ: I wanted to quit but I couldn't quit. Then I got a phone call from Astero, saying she needed a background singer. I said this could change the rest of my life. I could say to hell with it, don't do anymore party planning and just sing background. You can always do whatever you want to do after you do this particular thing. After that tour ended, I looked into reality with a whole different eye. The tour ended, you don't know if another tour will happen, so I dissolved my old company, started a new company. I got back into the workforce, but I had a different mindset. This job was to fund what I wanted to do.

I tell a lot of women sometimes when you look at where you are right now, that doesn't mean that's where you're going to be next week, next month. For people who are in their job and hate it, when you hate it the most, that's the time to get creative. Write down the things you like to do and figure out how you're going to make it happen.  People need to realize that sometimes when you lose your job it's a blessing in disguise.
YLW: Are you bombarded with questions about your locks?

EJ: People ask how long is it or how many years have I had it. They don't ask too much. They may say they like it. It's amazing in the hood some people try to compliment you by not complimenting you at the same time. They say, your hair looks like Medusa. They're not trying to cap on it, they just don't know how to say it. I still get compliments on my bad hair days. I don't get too much flack. I've gotten some of my best jobs since I got locks. I remember my mom telling me don't lock your hair because you'll need to get a job and I' m like what are you talking about? It's been a plus and has become a part of me. I have a piercing in my lip, too.

YLW: You do? I've never seen it, which is odd because I see you frequently.

EJ: I forget that it's there. I've gotten my best jobs with my piercing. I got my piercing and hair locked in the same year. It's interesting that I was able to get my best jobs with both. I've worked with clients from across the U.S, with doctors and corporate managers and I had this piercing in my lip. But it's all about how you perceive yourself. I didn't come across like I'm a teenager with a piercing. I thought about changing it and getting a black ball instead of a silver. But I said don't fix something that's working.

YLW: So no one says anything?

EJ: I get compliments. They say it looks really nice on you. You think when you get a piercing you can only work in retail. I basically carry myself like I'm a grown women. If anything they'll see you're an artist. It all depends on how you perceive yourself.

YLW: Amazing. Where is it?

EJ: It's right under my nose, like a mole. I put it in a place where you wouldn't see it. I've had my locks for 11 years and this piercing for 11. I knew it was OK when my mother and father saw it separately but together. I got off the plane and my dad gave me a hug and said 'wow, did it hurt?' My mom said I would give you a whippin if it wasn't so cute. So I knew that I was OK.

For more info on Erika Jones contact ejones@asocialife.com

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