These conversations with Eliza Neals and Colleen Wild shed a profound light on the intricate dance between instinct and artistry – Photos

There is having intuition and then there is trusting your intuition. Creativity always works best when guided by intuition but that can neither be explained nor ignored. In this edition of Gestures, we are exploring intuition, gut feelings, and instincts. Today’s conversations are with two of my favorite guttural singers, Eliza Neals and Colleen Wild.

Eliza Neals, the Detroit-born Blues rockstar honors the gut-wrenching soul-splitting intent of contemporary American blues with her inspiring songs and live performances. Her album and song titled “Black Crow Moan” topped the charts in 2020. “The title track is a soulful, self-examining, call-and-response,” the late JD Nash wrote in American Blues Scene. “The lyrics give us the feeling that Neals had insight to the current state of the world. The isolation, and loneliness and desperation it causes are laid bare.”

She discusses her gut instinct in decision-making, citing examples from her experience hiring musicians and her songwriting process for Black Crow Moan. She emphasizes the importance of intuition in understanding her audience and crafting authentic music.

“Black Crow Moan was a story about growing up in the suburbs of Detroit. My dad was a great man, but he was very military style and he had three girls, so it was rough. He finally had his boy in the end, my brother. That song depicts growing up in the house but it also foreshadowed the pandemic, the loneliness, and everything that was coming. The gut feeling is everything.

“You don’t think about your gut instinct right away until you start asking questions. You always feel it but you’re not sure. Should I be listening to the pit in my stomach? I was talking to Will Lee, the bass player for the Saturday Night Live band. I asked him, ‘how do you hire musicians?’ He responded by saying, ‘I will tell you what, Eliza. I don’t even listen to their music. I know they’re good. I listen to their voices on the phone. I listen to myself. Do I like this person? Are they nice? Do they give me any kind of bad vibe from just a small conversation on the phone? Then I hire them. I’d rather be in the car with a nice person than someone nasty, so I listen to that.’

“I started listening more when I talk to somebody; how do I feel about that person?”

Colleen Wild hails from the Chicagoland South ‘burbs. She performs solo, with her duo Echo & Ransom, with jazz group The Black n Blues Hearts, and most notably her band Colleen Wild and The Haunted. In each new direction she moves, it’s as if she knows without proof and sees beyond the visible. The conviction is evident when you see her perform. Wild shares her insights into how she listens to her body’s signals to guide her decisions, both on stage and in the recording studio. She emphasizes the role of intuition in connecting with her audience and creating emotionally resonant music.

Colleen Wild 

“I’ve been singing since age twelve in children’s choirs and school choirs. That thing I have is nine times out of ten never wrong. I just wish my brain would jump on board most days. There are signs but do I always listen? No. I have this amazing group of humans around me and we bounce ideas off each other. Cheryl Rodey, an amazing collaborator friend of mine, we had a conversation one day. Her point of view was different from mine. I told her I was feeling a certain type of way and she asked, ‘Where do you feel it? Upper stomach? Lower stomach? Is it more like your gut? Or is it more like anxiety?’

“This had never occurred to me. Usually, when I am feeling a certain type of way I sit down and make a pro/con list or ask myself, am I just feeling this or is this fact? If this is fact how do I address it? Is this a feeling? Why am I feeling this way? That little nugget of wisdom stuck with me. Where are you feeling it in your body?

If it is my upper stomach, that’s just the anxiety talking. This isn’t real because I don’t have all the information and I need the information. Then I know I am just stressed about not having information or control.”

How do you tap into your source? For Colleen, when she first started playing guitar, playing three-hour cover shows, she would walk in with an incredibly rigid setlist. “I would not take requests. I would not change it. I was terrified. Now I walk into a three-hour cover show completely different, flipped on my head. I don’t have a setlist. I have a ballpark idea. I make sure I have enough variety so that I can feel out the room.

“When I am playing with the band, I am not sure if this is the time for a love song or what. Maybe we should pull ‘Lover’ out and replace it with ‘Broken.’ We wiggle things around and feel out the audience. If people are feeling into the expressive stuff and being responsive to it or if they want heavier stuff, they hop around to it. You don’t know everyone in the room, so you’ve got to use your intuition. Intuitively read the room even if sometimes it feels like a big void. At the end of the night, everyone is having a great time or the alternative. Maybe you never hit the mark. That is the risk you take when you trust your gut instinct and read a room. When everyone is having a great time, I don’t know what it was that got us there but we found it. You just ride it out and learn.”

For Eliza, It’s a work in progress on stage. “I follow the crowd. I go with the feeling if the crowd feels electric and then starts dwindling, I’ll do something different. Right there in the middle, end the song sooner, and start a different one. I’m navigating according to their vibe.”

Eliza Neals

Does having that experience on stage help you to articulate the gut feeling? How does Eliza strengthen her intuition before she has gained that valuable experience? “I have a voice recorder on my phone, or I’ll jot notes on the subway, maybe three or four paragraphs when the songs come to me. I have a really old piano that was in a cabaret bar, and before that it was in a church. I feel this piano is talking to me. I can never get rid of this piano because every song I’ve written on it has gone on to Sirus XM Blues station. There is something going on with that.

“I just know when a song is done. I’ve had enough of it. I don’t feel the urge to keep going. I’ll bring it to the studio and record it. Sometimes I hear something I don’t like in the playback and I’ll go in to fix it. I write a little bit more after I hear it back. Then it’s done. I can’t keep going because if you keep going, years can go by and you’ll never get anything out of it. I learned to listen to that first feeling. You’re done. Like Kenny Rogers, know when to fold ‘em. It takes courage to do that. You get worried; are they going to like this? But you do it. Then people will respond with ‘I really like your vulnerability.’ They like that you can open up more. I think, the more you go deep, the more you let it out, and the better it is.”

“Dogs bark at people for seemingly no reason, but something is going on there. The more we listen to what is going on, the more accurate we can be as an artist. I know I don’t want to offend anyone but if you say it in a proper way, I think someone who doesn’t want to hear something may need to hear it. If we abolish everything we will have nothing left to say. It’s not offensive but lovingly is what I am trying to say. Love is the thing that drives me. I want everyone who comes to see me to feel like they are loved. They had love. I want to connect with people. It’s otherworldly when that happens!”

But how can you really trust your gut? Fine-tuning your intuition requires getting in touch with your emotions. It’s so easy to misread and nothing feels foolproof. “It could be my duty as a woman because we gotta break down the hate in this world. I can’t take it anymore. Music can help. If blues, rock, and soul music could take over politics, we’d have peace in the world, probably overnight. We just played Vero Beach, 20,000 people. Who knows where they all came from? At the end of the night, people were hugging. They were crying. That’s how you know no one really has hate in their heart.

The late Barrett Strong wrote ‘Heard It Through the Grapevine’ and ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone.’ He was a very spiritual man. He taught me so many things. He passed away last year. Everything I do, I dedicate to him. He would always tell me, ‘You know what you’re doing. My new single, ‘Something is Better Than Nothing,’ was co-written with him. He is so wise. He grew up in the church. He grew up on piano and he said, ‘If you don’t feel right, get rid of it. Don’t waste your freaking time with them. Get rid of the questions.’

“It takes a while to get that kind of confidence, especially if you’ve been abused or talked down to. Women have to go through a lot more. I know this probably sounds not nice – I don’t like to say it because I love guys, but we have a harder time in the business. We do! Guys would never try on men what they try on women. They would never give them money or say their name. How about when they forget your name? How about when you get on a flight to a show and they announce every guy on stage but forget yours after you paid for the flight? That has happened to me. You figure out who is who. They seem very nice when you accept the gig but then there is something underneath that you have to listen to. That person, there was something in his voice that just wasn’t right. So now, no. I am not doing your gig. You get to know it as you go along. Just listen to it.”

When it comes to recording your music, how do you know? That’s it. It’s done.

Colleen Wild puts on her headphones, closes her eyes, and turns it up probably louder than she should. “Then I just sit in the dark with it and listen to it. The first time, if I listen to it and I can feel it, then I’m done. It doesn’t matter how many flaws are in it, it doesn’t matter how many things are missed. If I can feel it, I’m done. Ultimately, that is all I want out of music; I want to be able to connect on that emotional level. I don’t want to pump out textbook-perfect songs. There is a lot of audio techno stuff that is textbook-perfect music. As a vocalist, for me, I want you to be able to feel the music. When I wrote it, it came from a place of feeling and I don’t want that feeling to get lost when we start processing, building, and creating in the recording studio. That’s when I know I’m done. If it hits me and I cry, boom. It’s done.

“I attribute a lot of my ability to trust my gut to the people I work with, honestly. I know no one can make you do or not do things. I understand that we are in charge of our own destiny. Yet, having the network of the really cool people that I have in my network just makes it easier to trust myself. When I play with Jason, that’s my church. Jason and I have been singing together since I was 14. We’ve got decades together, and we know what each other needs musically. It really is that community aspect. So many people push you, saying you can do this all by yourself. But that is such a lie. Yes, to an extent you can do a lot of things by yourself, but it is so much more magical when you are with other people.”

If you don’t have producers like Rick Rubin in your corner and you don’t know who to trust to gain valuable feedback, Eliza suggests, “Sometimes if something isn’t right, you put it away for a while. Sometimes after I sing something, I don’t want to hear it. A week goes by, then I don’t mind it so much. You’ve got to revisit something from time to time and realize that is not for me right now. Don’t give up right away, give it a couple of shots. If you keep getting the same answer, then give it a rest.

“If you have a love for it, you will find a way to do it. Don’t stop doing it. If you need a rest for a minute, take a rest. Then go back to it. Pretty soon, the answer is going to come. Don’t quit.”

Singing, humming, and chanting activates the vagus nerve. Research shows that singing is good for you. It helps improve memory. We all know little songs to help us memorize but it also works in a broader sense. Singing helps you cope and lower stress, therefore, singing can help you to create a relationship with yourself and learn what soothes you. It is possible to get in touch with your Jiminy Cricket, the good angel on your shoulder, your inner ticker, if you just whistle your way through it!

Colleen Wild talks about it when she says, “Josh Nestor, in my band The Haunted, said to me that this band is the most freeing band he has worked with because he can create whatever he wants. I’d rather have too many things than not enough. Together, we throw everything at the board. Then we sit down and look at everything. This is great but maybe not for this song. Maybe it’s for this one! Hold on to that. It’s a really cool idea, maybe try it over here. The point of collaboration is that it works for every individual. The songs that I am bringing to the table are terrifying to me because it’s so intimate. The next song we are releasing is called ‘Savior.’

“I wrote that song at an incredibly, painfully low point of my life. I wrote it basically saying I’m done throwing myself these pity parties. Who the hell do I think I am that somebody should come over here and fix me? That’s absolute bullshit. I need to fix my own damn self. I went through these motions, emotions, and wrote the damn song. I brought it to the band and just kind of said, I don’t know if we are going to do anything with this. They said ‘We love it, let’s do it!’ To hear from my husband that he loves it. It feels very vulnerable. From that point at 2am in the kitchen or in the garage to where it’s at now where it will come out to the whole world, whoever decides to stream it. It’s out there in the world and it’s so cool to be able to have that trust in people that have the same trust back to me. It’s a long and winding way of speaking community. The fact that Jason and I are recording at Third City Sound this year. I’ve been waiting 10 years to do this!”

These conversations with Eliza Neals and Colleen Wild shed a profound light on the intricate dance between instinct and artistry. From the soul-stirring “Black Crown Moan” to the raw sensitivity of Eliza’s songwriting process, her dedication to her mentors to her ability to resonate with audiences, she embodies intuition.

Heeding the whispers of her inner voice, Colleen Wild’s journey to becoming the essence of gut instinct has come through her connection to her community. From navigating the dynamics of live performing to the intimate process of recording her music, Wild’s introspective approach draws attention to her absolute authenticity. Colleen Wild represents the transformative power of trusting your gut. Together, I hope their stories serve as a gentle reminder of the boundless possibilities that unfold when you trust your own gut instincts.

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